Buick a true original

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story original appeared in The Eagle and online on Sept. 13, 2008.

Growing up, Terry Wiegand watched his dad develop a national reputation as one of the top restorers of old John Deere 2-cylinder tractors.

But when his father bought an unblemished 1916, five-passenger Buick touring car in 1963, something clicked inside the high school kid's head.

He was suddenly a "car guy" and a "Buick guy," in particular. "The first real nice car I had was a'59 Buick, the 'batwing Buick,' " he said.

But he really loved working on the old 1916 Buick with his father. "When that thing came home to live with us, I was in hog heaven. One of Dad's friends really wanted that car. But he wouldn't sell it. He said, 'Nah, I better keep it for the kid.' "

Eventually, that Buick was passed down, as promised. Wiegand still has the car.

But it has to share garage space with two other early Buicks, a big, wide 1922 four-passenger coupe and a slightly smaller 1920 four-passenger coupe.

"I'm a purist. I like them to be original," Wiegand said. And they don't get much more original than the 1920 car, which has fewer than 5,000 miles on it.

He watched as the car went unsold during an online auction. Months later, he contacted the owner in Milwaukee and arranged to see the car while he was on a business trip to Green Bay.

"As soon as I put my hand on the door handle, I knew this was the real deal. There is no wear or tear on anything," Wiegand said.

"A doctor in New York ordered the car new, but he died before it was delivered. So the dealer's dad drove it for a while . . . but then it sat in the basement of the dealership for 61 years. I have all the documents on it," Wiegand said.

The amazingly pristine 1920 coupe still wears its original lacquer paint job. Inside, the only change from new is the upholstery on the seats, which had to be recovered in period-correct cloth due to moth damage.

Recently, Wiegand borrowed the updraft carburetor off the 1920 coupe and put it on the 1922 coupe, also a survivor at 57,000 miles.

He and his wife, Barbara, had been invited to participate in General Motors' 100th anniversary celebration in Flint, Mich., in July. The car's original carburetor is in need of a complete rebuild, and since they were identical, the swap worked out nicely.

"We love driving this one," Wiegand said of the 1922 model, found in Vermont about six years ago.

"It will run down the road about 30 miles an hour. This thing would get almost 20 miles to the gallon when it was new," he said.

The 1922 Buick is powered by an in-line 242-cubic-inch overhead valve engine. The head is cast as an integral part of the engine block, and an external powered shaft drives the water pump, the distributor and the combination generator/starter on the car.

The four-passenger coupe was designed to allow a fold-up front passenger seat to be pushed under the dashboard to give back seat occupants easy access to the mohair-covered rear seat.

"We had a crowd of guys around this car in Flint," he said. "I could talk to you for three days about Buicks.

"I just love 'em," he said. "They are a fantastically designed, well-engineered automobile."

And like his father before him, Terry Wiegand has no plans to sell any of his Buick survivors.