This Buick’s path from rustbucket to show winner took eight years
Jim Pickard can thank his dad for providing the tools and motivation that helped him to turn a rusting hulk of a ’57 Buick Estate Wagon into the beautiful, show-winning machine seen here.
Turn the clock back almost half a century, when Jim’s dad was working outside the family’s Michigan home. Jim’s pride and joy, a hot-rod ’57 Chevy, was parked in the driveway. At one point in the project, the car got in Dad’s way, so he backed the vehicle into the street—just as a neighbor’s minivan arrived on the scene. The two vehicles met violently, crushing the quarter panel of the shoebox Chevy.
Dad said the damage was nothing to worry about; he had a pal in the body shop business. Turns out Dad’s pal wanted $1200 to repair the damage. Jim, who made $2.10 an hour bagging groceries, ran the numbers in his head: It would take years for him to pay for the repair.
Jim was left with two choices: rob a bank or learn bodywork. He chose the latter. After studying automotive repair books at the library and acquiring a rough idea of how to repair a damaged quarter panel, he torched off the offending sheetmetal and cut a corresponding hunk of good steel from a $100 donor car. After welding in the new piece and finishing it as best he could, he judged the result satisfactory.
The project would lead to a lifelong hobby as a backyard restoration expert. Yielding to a fondness for Buicks, Jim bought a ’57 Model 48 Sedan with only 15,000 miles on the clock. Seems it had belonged to an older gentleman who had purchased it new in Chicago, used it until he was 65 years old, and then parked it in his driveway. There the car sat for many years. It was fired up now and then and driven up and down the driveway, but it never saw the street again. Years later it was sold to the kid next door, who disassembled it before losing interest.
Jim hauled home the stripped Buick and the boxes of parts. He put the car back together, did some basic repairs, and used it for family cruising. Eventually, he decided it was worthy of restoration and, with his ever-improving skills, turned it into a show winner.
That brings us to the Estate Wagon. Like many of us who grew up at a time when large station wagons roamed the earth, Jim had long coveted a wagon. Of course, it had to be a Buick. Like many of us who lust for a special automobile, he searched eBay for the right one. One day, he saw a ’57 Buick Estate Wagon for sale in California. What could be better than a California car? He asked a friend to have a look. “It has some rust,” the friend said, “but it looks like a good car to restore.” Jim bought it sight unseen and shipped it to Michigan.
The extent of automotive rust can’t be determined at a glance. Turns out this “California car” had spent most of its life in Toledo, Ohio, and in Ontario, Canada—both areas where road salt is used extensively to combat ice in winter months. Very little of the car’s sheetmetal was salvageable.
Fortunately, by this time, Jim had acquired a network of Buick hobbyist friends, many of whom had garages full of spare parts. Perhaps more importantly, he had discovered that donor cars are often the best solution when it comes to major sheetmetal repair. The Buick world is not like the Tri-Five Chevy universe where every part is available as a repop. There aren’t many new body parts for old Buicks out there. So, armed with his connections and donor panels, Jim set to work in his two-car garage.
With no room for a rotisserie, restoration was a matter of disassembly and repair, one part at a time. The rusted front floor pans were crumbling and had to be replaced. In the second row, the floor pans had rusted completely and fallen out. The trunk below the rear cargo floor was rotted out but too large to be taken out of the vehicle in one piece; Jim had to replace it in sections, cutting each one out of a donor wagon. Both rocker panels and their supports had to be replaced. Ultimately, every part in the car, save the hood and tailgate, was replaced or repaired.
Fortunately, Jim’s skills had progressed to the point where he could readily form metal using body-shop tools and was an expert with the MIG welder. The cycle continued for eight long years. Cut out the bad metal, find the good, weld it in place, and finish. Eventually, the body and floor pans were as perfect as the day they left the factory.
The Buick had left that factory in gray and white paint. That combination didn’t float Jim’s boat. Looking for inspiration, he found an ad in an old Life magazine for a ’57 Buick Century clad in Dawn Gray, which leans toward beige, and Seminole Red. Bingo, beautiful. Jim sprayed those colors on his now near-perfect metal. (Of course, he did it himself. Did you really have to ask?)
The Buick’s interior was reupholstered in gray and red as well. Happily, that was also the color of the original upholstery, as the two different exterior paint schemes had shared the same interior colors in the ’57 catalog.
The 250-horsepower 364-cubic-inch Nailhead V-8 was rebuilt to like-new standards, as was the Dynaflow transmission. The vast majority of mechanicals remain original, including the somewhat infamous Buick torque tube. The other systems were likewise restored to factory specs—with one important exception. Four-wheel disc brakes replaced the original binders. Why? To better tow the Pickard family’s reproduction ’61 Shasta Airflight “ham can” travel trailer. A long trip down Route 66 is in the Pickard family’s future.
Within minutes after attaching the rear bumper—the final step of the restoration—Jim fired up the wagon and took it to the Motor Muster show at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. Two weeks later, he drove it all the way to Lisle, Illinois, for the Buick Nationals but didn’t enter it in judging.
Jim drives. He drove his restored Buick sedan from his Michigan home to the Buick Nationals in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he won senior gold, scoring 395 points out of a possible 400. The following year, he drove it to the nationals in Allentown, Pennsylvania. In 2018, he motored out west to Oklahoma City where he won another senior gold. That’s a lot of driving and a great record of success, especially when the competition includes trailer queens.
Speaking of prestigious automotive shows, I spotted Jim’s beautiful Buick wagon at Hagerty’s Detroit Concours d’Elegance, a limited-entry show that eagerly accepted Jim’s wagon. “Just having been chosen for the concours was quite an honor,” said Jim. “When the team of judges, which included Barn Find Hunter Tom Cotter, gave it a design and style award, it was like winning the lottery.”