The Oldest Surviving Buicks - Where Are They Now?
With the cooperation of vintage car collectors and
researchers, Buick Motor Division has identified 14
Model C Buicks manufactured in 1905 and 1906 as the
oldest known survivors among about 35 million Buicks
produced over more than nine decades.
Five are in museums, one is on display in a Las
Vegas casino, one is owned by Buick and the rest are
in private ownership.
Using engine numbers to refine the list, the
researchers believe a Model C owned by Harold Warp
Pioneer Village, a museum in Minden, Nebraska, is the
oldest survivor. It has the lowest engine serial
number (2873) among the known Model Cs. Researchers
believe it was built in April, 1905, the second month
of production of that model.
It was once owned by the late Alton Walker, a
widely known car collector from Pebble Beach, Calif.,
who at various times owned five Model C Buicks. He had
bought it from a man named Riley of Los Altos, Calif.,
in about 1946 and sold it to Warp in 1957. It is now
painted a bright red.
Buick Motor Division owns a Model C that is
probably the fourth oldest existing Buick, and which
has long been claimed to be the first Buick ever sold
But it's possible an older Buick is out there
somewhere -- even, perhaps, one of the storied 37
Model Bs from 1904. If so, it has eluded collectors
Buick Motor Co., which formed the foundation for
the creation of General Motors, was incorporated May
19, 1903, in Detroit. The company moved to Flint later
that year. It grew out of earlier companies formed by
David Dunbar Buick -- Buick Auto-Vim and Power Co.
(1899) and Buick Manufacturing Co. (1901 or 1902).
David Buick's companies produced one experimental
Buick automobile about 1900 and another in 1902-03,
both in Detroit, and began production with 37 Model B
Buicks in Flint in 1904.
Buick produced 729 Model Cs in 1905 and 58 in 1906,
all in Jackson, Mich., before switching to the Model F
The Model C recalls the beginning of Buick's rush
to become one of the most dramatic successes in the
history of the American automobile. Although Buick
started production in Flint in 1904, the Model C of
1905 was the first Buick built in significant numbers,
700 being significant at that time.
In 1905, David Buick, who founded the firm and
designed the body, was still with the company. So was
Walter L. Marr, who helped develop the famous
valve-in-head engine. The Model C was the first model
distributed nationwide by Buick's dazzling early
promoter, William C. "Billy" Durant, who
would use Buick as the foundation for his creation of
General Motors in 1908.
No. 4 on the list of the oldest Buick survivors --
the car now owned by Buick -- was first sold by a
colorful figure who would become the world's largest
car distributor. He was Charles S. "Rough Rider
"Rough Rider Charley" got his nickname by
charging up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt in the
Spanish-American War before becoming Buick's early
distributor on the West Coast. Howard sold 85 Buicks
in 1905 after opening his dealership in San Francisco
that summer. He sold his first -- the No. 4 survivor
-- to a Dr. A. J. Villain and later bought it back.
(The Howard car was described in a 1919 issue of
The Buick Bulletin as the first Buick sold on the West
Coast. But before becoming a distributor, Howard had
persuaded Pioneer Motor Co. of San Francisco to handle
Buicks for a brief period, and there was another early
California dealer, so there is some question about the
Howard was a dominant, colorful figure. In 1906, he
dug a few Buicks out of the wreckage of his dealership
destroyed by the San Francisco earthquake and pressed
them into service as ambulances and taxis for the
injured and homeless.
Later opening a dealership in Hollywood, he and his
dealers catered to movie stars and in the process made
Buick the car of choice in early motion pictures. He
owned the famous race horse "Seabiscuit." He
bought Buicks by the trainload as he took control of
Buick distribution throughout the West. "Rough
Rider Charley" soon became better known as
"Train Load Charley."
And he made that No. 4 survivor famous. By 1919 he
was displaying it in auto shows as an antique. A
surviving photo shows a crowd gathered around it that
year. Other photos survive of it in a '20s parade in
San Francisco and in antique car races in the '30s,
when it won trophies now owned by Buick.
Alton Walker bought the car in 1970 from Howard's
grandson, Charles S. Howard III. In a letter, Walker
once wrote: "I would say this is the finest of
all the old Buicks (because) it has a real history as
it has been in one family 65 years...the '05 Buick is
always the best tour car for the hobby as it is always
dependable." Earnest Faggart and his son, Ted,
owners of a Buick dealership in Porterville, Calif.,
bought the Howard car from Walker in 1978 and arranged
for Buick to take ownership in 1991. "This car
belongs at Buick headquarters in Flint, where more
people can see it," said Ted Faggart.
The Model B and Model C were both relatively large
cars with two individual seats in front and a rear
tonneau roomy enough for three more passengers. The
original two-cylinder engine produced 21 horsepower at
1230 rpm -- which was considered so powerful at the
time that a prominent writer, Hugh Dolnar, had to set
up a special test to prove that result to his doubting
editors and colleagues. Buick demonstrated its power
quickly -- winning a major hill climb with one of the
first Model Bs and becoming a major player in early
The search for the oldest surviving Buicks began
with the research of lists provided by antique car
clubs, discussions with experts and known owners of
Model Cs and the study of old records, photos and
newspaper articles. The research group was a
loose-knit collection of Model C owners, writers,
restorers, museum curators and people who make a hobby
of Buick historical research.
There are minor differences between the Model B and
Model C. The earliest Model Bs had an engine with
pushrods on the bottom, a narrow brass molding along
the front of the hood and an 83-inch wheelbase. The
Model C had an engine with pushrods on the top, a
wider brass molding and an 85 to 87-inch wheelbase.
Some experts believe Model Bs built late in 1904 had
Model C characteristics and some claim a few of the 37
cars of 1904 were Model Cs.
While some of the surviving Model Cs have Selden
patent numbers and frame numbers, others do not. Most
surviving cars have been ranked by engine number,
found on the flywheel. The Howard car has a replaced
flywheel with a serial number of 8014 but documents
show the original number was 3044, which was used to
Many of the surviving Model Cs have been
incorrectly identified through the years as 1904 (or
even 1903) cars, and the Howard car is no exception.
Although the 1919 The Buick Bulletin correctly
identifies it as a 1905 car, photos from the '30s show
it with brass "1904" numbers on the radiator
cover, which were still on the car when Buick received
And there is a metal license plate on the
dashboard, issued by Oakland, Calif., with a number of
98 and a date of January 1, 1905 -- but the 5 appears
to be a strikeover of a 6.
While the original factory records are now missing,
William G. Gregor of Flint, who once owned a Model C,
quoted from the then-existing records in a 1951 letter
to Warwick Eastwood, of Pasadena, Calif., who still
has his Model C.
According to Gregor, 729 model Cs were built in
1905 -- 38 in March, 109 in April, 141 in May, 78 in
June, 78 in July, 174 in August, 31 in September, 37
in October, 26 in November and 17 in December. He
recorded 58 more built in 1906 -- 17 in January, 35 in
February, 2 in March, 3 in April and 1 in May. He said
his car (now owned by Imperial Palace Casino in Las
Vegas) was built August 31, 1905. Gregor's data
suggests the oldest surviving Buick was built in April
of 1905 and the car now owned by Buick was built in
Ownership of known Model C Buicks, in order of
1. Harold Warp Pioneer Village, Minden, Neb., 2873
2. Grant Burns, Costa Mesa, Calif., 2938.
3. C.A. "Skip" Carpenter, Shrewsbury,
4. Buick Motor Division, Flint, Mich. (number is
now 8014 but documents show original flywheel had a
number of 3044).
5. Richard I. Braund, Elroy, Wis. (number missing
but reported frame number of 348 indicates 4th or 5th
6. Robert "B.J." Coombes, Jr., La Canada,
7. Sloan Museum, Flint, Mich., 3076.
8. National Museum of Science & Technology,
Ottawa, Ont., Canada, 3081.
9. Imperial Palace Casino, Las Vegas, Nev., 3359.
10. Lowell Anderson, Glenham, S.D., 3399.
11. J.B. Nethercutt, Sylmar, Calif., 3459.
12. Sloan Museum, Flint, Mich., 3476.
13. Warwick Eastwood, Pasadena, Calif., 3355
(probably a 1906 car).
14. Duane Dreesen, Hartington, Neb. (no engine or
numbers so unranked).
One of the cars owned by the Sloan Museum (No. 7
above) was used to help build a replica of the first
Model B Buick built in Flint. The car has an original
1904 (pushrods-on-bottom) Buick engine, one of only
two believed to exist.
As for an original Model B, the search goes on.
Through the years, there have been reports and claims
of existing Model B Buicks. But to date, the claims
have evaporated under expert examination. Usually the
cars turn out to be a Model C, or even a Model F or
But the experts acknowledge that not every vintage
Buick owner has been reached. Not every old garage has
been opened. Not every field, or warehouse, or
scrapyard, has been searched.
Source: Buick Motor Division
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