When Juan Freeman decides to look into something, he does it ever so thoroughly. Each tiny detail is minutely examined. Nothing is left to chance or supposition. Juan arrives at all of his decisions after carefully considering every single piece of information that he has been able to acquire about whatever it is that he is working on. Juan applies his career skills to his hot rod and custom building efforts. Each component of his '47 Buick Super convertible has been scrutinized for function, form, and applicability. Juan's thorough approach has resulted in a car that has stood the real test for a stout custom; Juan has driven the big, bad Buick 108,000 miles as of this writing. That is a real world car.
Juan fell in love with Buicks as a kid. His first one was acquired when he was a callow 17-year-old. Juan recalls selling it for a $100-and the sting is not the loss of that car as much as the fact that the buyer never paid it off! Juan's involvement with cars began at age 16. At 17 he had his first, a '50 Chevy acquired in a trade for a go-kart. A series of hot rods followed through the years. Juan was driving a customized '47 Buick four-door sedan that was so flamboyantly painted that the color and girth of the car earned it the nickname "The Pink Pig".
Juan and his wife, Blondie, were driving this car when they met Bill Mendoza. Mendoza had purchased a '47 Buick convertible from an estate sale that, while not running, was in original condition. The Freemans bought the car and immediately ripped into it. The first iteration of the car was a less glitzy version; primer, dull chrome, and a beefy 425 Nailhead. It took some time to get the car onto the road, but when it was ready in the fall of 2000, Juan and Blondie put 12,000 miles on the car through 33 states pulling a Chalet trailer. Juan is a chief safety inspector for the NSRA and the trip included all the national meets. The first build took 18 months, the second three months, and the final version (seen here) took six months. After Juan's friend, Darrell Siggens, helped with the chassis and wiring on the first build, the bulk of the efforts on the car were accomplished by Juan in his home shop. Along the way he learned paint and body and now does custom paintwork in his hometown of Eureka, California, a little slice of heaven near the Oregon border.
The Deco-ish body contours of the Buick shroud a host of hot rod innovation. Home-built in every sense of the word, it was accomplished with a lot of junkyard parts and an even larger part of ingenuity and all-night elbow grease.
The chassis employs a '77 Nova clip that is welded to the Buick frame, fully boxed with welded reinforcing plates. The subframe and the X-members are grafted to the GM chassis. Juan says, "It isn't that pretty, but it's really strong."
The limited-slip rearend is a Ford 9-inch with 2.75 (Bonneville) gears and is hung on parallel leaf springs. Hefty, 31-spline, forged axles won't give up under hard highway and trailer pulling miles. KYB shocks from a Dodge Dakota 4x4 snub the travel and independent airbags add lift and control ride height. The rear 'rails are kicked up and have custom spring pockets in them to create the 3-inch rear drop without having to use lowering blocks. An interesting point about the air ride is that there is no pump for raising and lowering the car at will. Inside the engine compartment are Schraeder valves that you use to fill the bags from a remote air source. Ride height is pretty low and the 'bags are used primarily to adjust for hauling and touring. The car has yet to see the inside of a trailer. Up front the Nova suspension uses Chevy van shocks and the Nova brakes. A Saginaw steering box couples to the Nova tilt column. The chassis rolls on steel 15x7 wheels, stock up front and reversed in the back. All four tires are 215/70R15s.
The big Nailhead has been exchanged for a more efficient 383 stroker small-block Chevy. Rick Harper, of Smith River, California, did the machine work and the engine assembly. Scat rods and crank pushing hypereutectic 9:1 slugs make up the lower end while a Crane hydraulic roller cam actuates the stainless steel valves. Aluminum valve covers, sandblasted and clearcoated, dress up the mighty mouse. The induction system is comprised of an Edelbrock Performer manifold and four-barrel carburetor. By keeping the accessories to a factory component whenever possible, Chevy ram horn exhaust manifolds instead of headers for instance, Juan gains practical performance that means little or no maintenance on the road. The hop-up efforts resulted in a 375-horse motor that produces 400 lb-ft of torque.
Using reclaimed parts, such as the GTO mufflers, is another way that Juan adheres to the old ways of car building. Juan hitches the ponies to the cart with a Turbo 400 trans fitted with an Allison converter from a motor home that has a 1,200-rpm stall speed. The column gear selection lever gives a nice stock look and actuates the Street Fighter shift kit. A custom-made driveshaft fills the tranny to rearend void.
The customizing of the body is subtle but arresting. The top of the convertible remains un-chopped. The major mods are in the body itself. The hood and fenders are peaked, the hood ornament is peaked, and the fenders, quarter-panels, and door caps are welded and molded. The great styling on the rear fenders comes from the reshaped wheel openings. The trunk lid has been sunken to affect a superior fit. Juan, who did all of his own bodywork, used a paint stick as a guide to maintain equal panel gaps throughout. He also applied the Sikkens Molten Bronze finish. The stainless trim has been chrome-plated and all of the trim pieces, including the bumpers, are stock. The extensive plating was done by Walker's Custom Chrome in Shasta Lake, California. Some little styling details that might escape the casual observer are the use of '48 Harley taillights as license plate illumination and the chief safety inspector badge as a tunnel hitch cover. By the way the "brodie knob," on the original Buick steering wheel is a gennie '40s item. Original (updated) gauges provide pilot info.
Juan put his skills into the interior as well. The German leather and square-weave carpeting were installed by Thomas Brennan at Ocean Awning in Eureka and the console is owner built. Juan had a hand in the install of the wiring, and the many custom touches that accommodate the AirTique A/C system. A Vintage Air condenser and Sanden compressor pump the frost through the custom Vintage Air vents. Cabin inhabitants relax on the comfortable seats and are either soothed or highly over stimulated by the sounds that emanate from the Alpine stereo. The stereo is pretty evolved and it could be argued that a car that is driven as much as this Buick is really needs good music to wile away those cross country miles.
Juan Freeman is obviously thorough, and his attention to detail and willingness to take an active role in the build of his car are remarkable. Those are the very traits that have made him so successful in his career. He has a job that requires an extraordinary ability to focus and a keen eye for detail, as he is a (now retired) homicide detective. Juan has an excellent case clearance record and was instrumental in bringing a high-profile serial killer to justice. The patience and focus required to do that job are exactly the skills that make a long car build successful. The amount of miles on this no-trailer car is the evidence of a case that was fully solved. The case of the longterm Buick is now closed.