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Rain Man ’49 Buick Helps Raise Awareness For Autism

The movie Rain Man came out several years after our daughter Kimberly was diagnosed with autism. Back then, autism wasn’t a topic commonly discussed, so Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of an autistic man with savant syndrome got people talking. Kimberly isn’t a savant, although she shares many mannerisms and habits with Hoffman’s character, Raymond Babbitt.

The movie made autism real for so many people and has raised autism awareness significantly.

After seeing it a second time, we realized that the Sequoia Cream ’49 Buick was as much a character as those played by the actors. The car was on screen multiple times, and it defined the relationship between Charlie Babbitt (played by Tom Cruise) and his father.

Two years ago, I was asked if I’d like to paint a 1949 Buick. When it was in the shop I kept thinking: “That car looks like the Rain Man Buick.” The next time I spoke to the owner’s assistant, I asked and she said it was one of two cars used in the film: One had been for the green screen scenes, while this was the car that was actually driven. After production, her boss, director Barry Levinson, bought it.

The car came to our shop because Levinson owns a summer home in Connecticut and keeps the Buick there. When the work he requested wasn’t going well at a New York shop, he had his assistant contact us. I felt that the car needed more than paint, but Mr. Levinson was hesitant to put much money into it.

When I explained that the Buick was worth more than he had imagined, Levinson agreed to let us paint the car, detail the instruments and dash, freshen most of the mechanicals, and attend to the chrome and the stainless trim.

I put extra love into it, because the car means so much to my family. It appeared on an episode of my show, Chasing Classic Cars, and Mr. Levinson gave permission for us to show it at Amelia Island and use it to raise funds for autism-related charities. This year, it will be shown again at Amelia Island in the “Iconic Movie Cars” class.

I was also able to take Kimberly for a ride, and that has been the best part of restoring the car — one that has done so much for autism awareness. Who knows, some day Mr. Levinson might even let me buy his Rain Man Buick.

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