When Giants Ruled the Road

July 14, 2009
54 buick

I called one of my old high school buddies last night, and we wound up spending about half the call talking about his 1954 Buick. This picture isn’t his car, but it’s actually the same color and so it’s pretty much a dead ringer.

He bought the car a couple of years ago when his dad died in Fergus Falls. His dad had been living in a retirement home, and when my friend was getting his dad’s things together, he noticed the car parked in the underground garage. He asked around about it, and it turned out that it belonged to one of the residents who hadn’t driven it in years. My buddy bought it on the spot and drove it back to Colorado, where he lives.

I never knew him to be a car buff, but he clearly gets a lot of pleasure out of the Buick. He told me about people’s reactions to it, how they wave and give him the thumbs-up when he drives it. He can park it next to the latest Bimmer or Corvette, but when he comes out of the store, it’s his car that has drawn the crowd.

Of course people notice the car because it’s so different from today’s models. Anything old is bound to attract attention, whether it’s a car or a bike or a hat.

But with the American auto industry flailing, I can’t help but wonder if people are also drawn to the Buick because of what it represents emotionally and psychologically. This machine represents a time when America was the unquestioned leader of the world, when our industries effortlessly performed economic and technological miracles. Life was great, everyone had a good job (well, every man, anyway) and even though there was that little problem of the nuclear arms race, it was easy enough to shove into the back of our minds.

When our kids are looking back 50 years from now, I wonder what they’ll look to as the tangible symbol of this era? An iPod? A cellphone? A Prius? A granite countertop?

I’ll take the ’54 Buick.