Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Buick Phaeton

1930 Buick Seven-Passenger Phaeton Advertisement
(this is a 1931 vehicle shown in ad--See the wire wheels? 1930 Buick had wood spoke wheels)

Today was a gorgeous, warm sunny day in the Northwest. By 9:30 in the morning it was already warm enough to drive with the windows open. What better weather to back my dad's 1930 Buick Seven-Passenger Phaeton out of the garage and get my first driving lesson. I called my parents.
"Okay," they said, "meet you in an hour."
My father, Ralph, started it up and backed it out of the garage. He let it idle while we looked for the front passenger floorboard, which we could not find. We had removed the floorboard to attach the trickle-charger to the battery a few days ago. Oops. We hope it did not get thrown away.

We piled in, along with a neighbor that happened to be walking by, and my father drove us around the block a couple of times, smooth as satin on a hoop skirt.

Then I got behind the wheel. "So what is this here?" I asked.
"That is the parking brake," Ralph explained patiently.
"Okay, so what is all this stuff on the steering wheel?"
"You don't have to worry about that, just put it into gear and ease out the clutch," he said.
Ralph's shoulders met his ears, but he didn't say a word.
I heard a whimper.
Griinnd. Okay, it was in first. I eased out the clutch and we jerked forward, eehhaa eehhaa eehhaaaaa.
"Give it less gas," Ralph shouted as our necks snapped back and forth.
"More gas," my mother, Luanne, mewled from the back.
"Oooooh, my--" my sister, Nina, moaned.
"Put it in second," my dad shouted.
"That's reverse," he groaned on a sob.
"Sorry," I said.
"We're coming to a stop sign. Go right," my sister warned. "Start stopping now, now. It doesn't have ABS."
"Put in the clutch," Ralph wheezed.
"Signal your turn," Luanne cautioned.

We jerked up to the stop and I ground it into gear.
"That's reverse again," Ralph panted. I glanced at him and noticed his eyes were unfocused and his knuckles were white where he gripped the dashboard.
"Sorry." I ground it into first and we jerked to the right. After a while I decided to put it in second.
Groans came from all areas of the car. When I let out the clutch the car jerked and moaned, jerked more, shimmied.
"Try third," Ralph pleaded.

I pushed in the clutch, pulled down the gearshift and it slid into third with only a short grrrrrthunk. As I eased out the clutch, it responded in a smooth transition from bucking bronc to carriage horse. We were off, all around the residential streets, honking the four-note horn, waving, driving into the golf course parking lot, swinging a wide u-turn, back out onto the street, around a couple more blocks, dodging bicyclists, dashing past dogs on leashes, swerving around girl scouts with armloads of cookie boxes.

We finally slid to a stop in front of the house and I applied the brake. We all hopped out. Except Ralph.
"Dad?" I said. I waved my hand in front of his face. "Dad, it is okay. I've stopped driving it." He began to suck in great gulps of air and color returned to his face. His eyes refocused.
"Want me to drive it into the garage?" I asked.
"NO." He began to cough and Luanne thumped him on the back a five or six times. "No, I'll pull it in, thank you."
I think it went pretty well. I can barely wait to get it on the freeway.


  1. HAHA. Great. And it's a lovely car, as lovely as any machine without a rudder can ever be. ;)

  2. What - a - car! Wow! I would Sooo love to drive it, polish it and admire it whilst it being parked in my garage. What a beauty!

    I have similar 'learning to drive' stories. But it's probably best not to go there....

    Loved this post, Melanie :) As always....

  3. That is a beautiful car and a hilarious story Melanie! I agree with Wendy, As always

  4. You are one brave soul, Melanie! 3 backseat drivers while you learn to shift that wonderful car. And let it be known you already know how to shift, right!? Isn't your Cabrio a stick? So the Buick must be really tricky. I admire your courage. Wonderful story.

  5. I felt like I was driving along with all of you as I read about it. Such a beautiful car! Has poor Ralph recovered yet?

  6. Jenku,

    I'm pretty sure, with the top down, one could jury-rig a mast, and there is room, aft, for all of the many officers.

  7. Wendy,

    You do realize I try to read your comments with an accent, but then I realized I'm not positive what a New Zealand accent sounds like. It has really thrown me. Please hurry and sell your book so you can come do a book signing here.

  8. Karen,

    Almost all my vehicles, including my Cabrio, have been manual transmissions, so using a clutch is second nature to me. THAT is how different it is to shift this one. Plus, of course, that upper left position--first gear in a four speed--is reverse on the Buick. Poor, poor Ralphy.

  9. NWFoodie and Krystean

    I hope you will join me in wishing Ralph a speedy recovery. Thanks so much for your comments.

  10. Lordy. And you did about 75% better than I did the first time.

  11. Nina,

    Did you notice it doesn't have power steering?

  12. Actually the advertizement for a 1930 Buick is in fact correct for 1930, not 1931 as the author states. Wire wheels were optional in 1930 and are shown in the ad. I am pretty familiar with these cars as I currently have one parked in my garage.

  13. Dear Anonymous,

    How I wish you had left your email address. 1.) I thought you might like to talk with Ralph, the owner of the above vehicle, and let him know that it was, indeed, an option for the wire wheels in 1930, as he insists it wasn't and he enjoys a lively discussion about these cars. 2.) We would love to see pictures of your vehicle. Very much.

    Please email me at

    C'mon, we won't bite.

  14. Hi

    I'm a different anonymous, but I would like to add that I too know that the wire wheels were an option in 1931. At least it says so in the Standard Catalog of Buick.

  15. Thanks so much for your comment. My father and I have had fun discussing this very subject. I hope you enjoyed seeing the photos and please drop by again.

  16. Hi Melanie, I am the original anonymous above. The ad shown above is definitely from 1930 not 1931. I have the brochure that ad is taken from. Note that Buick did not build a "Model 69" in 1931 with a wheelbase of 132". In 1931 it was called the "Model 95" for what was fundamentally the same car except for having an 8 cylinder engine and synchromesh transmission. My 1930 Buick Model 68 has its original wheels which are in fact wire and not wood. Wire wheels were indeed an option in 1930 with wood wheels standard equipment. Thanks, Michael


Comments are great fun. Really. I love them. Except from the bots that have found my blog. I'm enabling the word verification to block them. Sorry.