The 1956 Buick Special Riviera was purchased in the late fall of 1956 by my father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. William L. Baites in Greensboro, North Carolina. They traded in a 1950 Studebaker for the automobile. The Buick served as the family’s primary source of transportation until 1966 when a second car, a Buick LeSabre, was purchased for the family’s use. During the weekdays, the Buick was driven by my father to and from his job as a buyer for Sears, Roebuck & Company in Greensboro. It was used to travel in for all of the family vacations from 1956 to 1966. Those vacations included trips to the North Carolina coast and mountains, trips to Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, Georgia and to Huntsville, Alabama to visit relatives.
That Buick was my father’s pride and joy and he kept it in top condition. Most Saturdays, if the weather was favorable, my brother and sister and I were enlisted to scrub it down from top to bottom, inside and out. To own a Buick in the 1950s was a true status symbol for many people and my father was proud of the fact that he could afford one (even if it didn’t have air conditioning!) He was so proud of the power steering and the Dynaflow drive!
When I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, I began driving the Buick. Sometime, in the 10th or 11th grade, my father allowed me, for some insane reason, to take the Buick to Earl Scheib Paint Co. and have the car painted a horrible bright shade of red for $29.95. I remember the paint job was so cheap that you could still see the black and white paint under the red paint.
My brother and sister and I continued to drive the Buick into the early 1970’s and in 1973, my father died suddenly of a heart attack. By then, I was in college and had my own car and likewise, my brother and sister. My mother also had her own more modern car to drive. For about a year, the Buick sat in the driveway unattended. By this point in time, the car had really become a member of the family. We could not bear the thought of selling it. So, I drove it out to my grandparents’ farm and parked it in a shed beside a tobacco barn. There it sat with its 1975 North Carolina tags until about 3 years ago.
As fate some times intervenes in life, I was introduced to Marvin Oliver who manages the Body Shop at Green Ford in Greensboro and learned that restoring automobiles on the side was his passion and he agreed to take on the project. He took two friends with him along with a bobcat out to get the Buick. We forget how big and heavy those cars were. When they put the forks under the Buick and started to lift it, it flipped the bobcat over the car. They eventually managed to get it onto the truck. Marvin took the car to his workshop in Oak Ridge, North Carolina where he has lovingly restored the car over the past 3 years.
Last Saturday I went out to the workshop to see Marvin’s progress and for the first time since 1975, I sat down in the newly upholstered seat and put my hands on the steering wheel and started the engine. It was a very emotional experience and time, just for a few minutes, stood still.