14 July 2016

Along came a 1974 Buick Spider

After getting licensed at the age of 16, most of my driving time focused on turning perfectly good used cars into piles of totaled junk. Once my skills improved enough, however, my daddy decided to help me buy a nice car for high school graduation.

Buicks were a particular family favorite since their sheer bulk had protected me well while I tested their structural resilience. They were really the only option. So I puzzled over which of the bloated models to purchase.

Returning from work one moonless winter evening, I was smitten by a vision in front of the local Cadillac dealer's used car lot. There, parked atop a slanted display ramp and brilliantly illuminated like a spacecraft about to be launched, was a very gently used one-year-old 1974 Buick Le Sabre Luxus convertible. It was white and featured a white top, red interior and only 18,000 original miles. Returning the next day, I was told that a real estate sales lady had traded it in and upgraded to a new Cadillac.

At an affordable $3800, I experienced the rare sensation of being able to pay cash for one of the most beautiful vehicles I had ever seen. Apart from the slightly odd “coffin-nosed” design up front, the entire car didn’t have a bad line. (This is proof positive that even a great designer can slip up and incorporate a bad design on a good car. e.g., reference the current wacky toothless grin on the snouts of otherwise perfectly good Lexii.)

This Le Sabre, being of the Luxus trim level, featured a 455-ci engine, bright chrome starfish style factory mag wheels with black inserts and the one option I could not live without – a 60/40 split front power bench seat complete with a girlfriend-friendly third seat belt in the center so she could be seated right next to the lucky (but now extremely cautious) driver.

Downshifting into passing gear began with what sounded like a toilet flushing as the mighty Rochester carburetor topping the V-8 dumped all four barrels. The astounding engine noise sent small animals scurrying and the insane power made the behemoth absolutely fly. At an average of eight miles per gallon, the only meaningful thing you could say to a gallon of premium super unleaded gasoline was “goodbye.”

The Buick faithfully soldiered on, albeit with obscene expenditures (there’s probably a ‘flushing’ metaphor here too) spent to fix the now notorious 1970s GM foibles: Three transmissions all of which leaked viciously both before and after repair, two complete valve jobs, three air conditioners and countless starters and alternators.

One day while cruising down a side street at low speed with the top down a small light brown spider crawled out of the hood's left shut line and stood facing front with its forelegs raised in the air apparently enjoying the windy ride. I slowed to a stop to try and kill the offender but was amazed to see it dart back under the hood before I could reach around the windshield to dispatch it.

Not much later it developed the unnerving habit of appearing inside the car in the far right corner atop the dashboard but only at highway speeds, making for an impossible target. It would always face front with lifted outstretched forelegs, its creepy eyes eerily recording all the excitement that high-speed motoring had to offer the adventurous arachnid.

After many vain attempts at killing the critter and then deciding that this particular spider's tastes did not include human flesh, I guardedly accepted its presence as long as it kept to the aforementioned dwelling places. Naming it 'Snider the Spider', I came to accept it as just the most visible of the many bugs GM had given me for my money.

Over the next few months we developed a grudging respect for each other and I even patiently explained it's presence to any incredulous passengers. Snider never wavered from our unspoken mutual rules of the road.

Spring break back in my college years meant a rapid jaunt to Corpus Christi to visit my cousins on the south Texas coast. My beautiful white chariot was the perfect land based 'party barge'. The top stayed down the whole time except for trips through the undercarriage spritz at the local carwash after a salty, sandy romp on the beach at Mustang Island.

The great sparkling land yacht could accommodate as many as seven partying passengers. Telltale empties could be discarded with abandon by simple tossing them upwards into the rushing air. Driving top down at highway speeds also eliminated any offensive telltale odors from various smoking consumables.

It was against this familiar backdrop during spring break number three that one of my cousins and I pulled into a popular drive-in on a starry Monday evening and chatted over rum-spiked colas. Looking to my right, over my jeans’ fashionably torn knee while reclining with my back against the driver door, I noticed something strange.

Snider had quietly crept out on the right rear fender and with it's bulbous tail up began spinning a web that floated into the air on a light breeze like a parasail until anchoring on the awning above our heads. The arachnid then released its grip on the car and inched upward on the silvery thread to the sheltered comfort of a fluorescent light most likely to feast on a bounty of south Texas bugs and seek a mate with similar motoring interests. I could almost swear it waived a hairy foreleg at me as it climbed.

Adulthood’s time and financial realities required me to sell my treasured chariot. With a mere 84,000 miles, two starry-eyed college gents purchased it.

A few weeks later, I saw the old coupe speeding, top down, on LBJ freeway apparently serving double date duty – the hapless wind-blown female passengers doubtlessly pleading in vain to erect the convertible top to stop the windy assault on their expensive scarved coiffures. Ironically, they passed within sight of the Cadillac dealership where my dream began so many years ago on that dark, moonless winter's eve.

Many years have passed since the sad day I furtively fingered the 15 hundred dollar bills that bought my old friend. I hope the dream continued for the old Buick's young new owners; however, with the high cost of restoration and today's icy lack of interest in mid 1970s convertible Buicks, I'm afraid it probably rests nobly in one of the many overgrown auto graveyards dotting the Texas landscape.

Perhaps the old Buick's venerable rusting hulk with its strange coffin nose now hosts a whole new generation of eight-legged occupants – a sort of spider condominium. The Buick I once treasured now lives only in the old color photographs of my youth – the years having faded them all to a weird green tint – and in the tattered cobwebs of my aging mind.

4 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Zoltan Gergely Ithaca, NY July 20, 2016 at 23:25
    That's some fine writing, Raleigh — thank you! — Z.
  • 2
    Stachoo Traverse City, MI July 21, 2016 at 08:26
    This is a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it. I have a similar story of my first car, a '58 Ford. It's not until we retire that we once again can have such relationships with our cars. During our working years, we're all too busy with life, having no time for emotional ties to our vehicles. Thanks again for a great story.
  • 3
    Grayem Port Elgin, Ontario July 21, 2016 at 09:26
    Great story! Best one yet, thanks Raleigh.
  • 4
    Motomomx3 SF Bay Area July 21, 2016 at 11:35
    What a fabulous story! I have loved many a Buick growing up. My grandfather worked at the original GM Mfg plant in Fremont CA. In junior high school I was even lucky enough to help my dad restore a 1941 Buick that I had nicknamed "Getaway" because I thought it looked like a gangster's car and had a trunk big enough to fit several bodies in it.

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