- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2000

Sometimes it's convenient having someone who knows you as well as you know yourself.

Ben and Len Berman are identical twins who share a common interest in antique automobiles. While brother Len is a doctor in Cleveland and brother Ben is a lawyer in Washington, they both keep an eye out for antique cars to buy.

In the past, one has located cars that didn't quite fit into his own collection but meshed perfectly with his brother's collection.

They both like Buicks and even share favorite model years, one of them being 1961.

That's why Mr. Ben Berman was not surprised when more than a decade ago Dr. Len Berman telephoned to report his yearlong search for a 1961 Buick convertible was over.

Dr. Berman said the recently restored LeSabre convertible was red and ready to go. The singular little detail to overcome was that the car was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and he couldn't get away long enough to retrieve it.

Could his brother?

Yes.

Would his brother?

Of course.

"It's hard not to like a red convertible," Mr. Berman explains. Besides, he knew his brother would do the same for him.

The next weekend Mr. Berman flew to Cedar Rapids where he took possession of the gleaming antique Buick. Even though it was late in the morning, he fired up the 364-cubic-inch V-8 engine and started driving east. The odometer indicated 65,000 miles.

Once he had crossed the Mississippi River, he thought he'd see how much of Illinois he could clear before stopping for the night.

Before he knew it Indiana had come into view and had gone out of view. Since he was now in Ohio, it would be silly to stop so close to his brother's Cleveland home.

Just before midnight the headlights illuminated his brother's driveway. The Buick performed flawlessly across the four-state odyssey unless you want to count the irritating "Speed Alert" buzzer that sounds when the speed preset by the driver is exceeded. That was one of the extra cost options in those pre-cruise control days. The solution was to either ease up on the throttle or to set the speed dial higher. Mr. Berman said he can't recall which option he chose.

"It's a nice car to drive," he said. "It's very driveable."

Mr. Berman said he was very impressed by every aspect of the Buick, especially the interior, but his brother already knew as much. "I love the garish red and black interior," he said.

After half a decade passed, Mr. Berman found a beautifully restored 1965 Buick convertible in Northern Virginia that he knew his brother would love to have.

Indeed, he would like the 1965, but then he would have one car too many.

What to do?

Mr. Berman came to the rescue by offering to buy the 1961 Buick he had driven from Iowa years before.

So in the autumn of 1995, Dr. Berman drove his still sparkling 1961 Buick from Cleveland to his brother's house in Herndon where he swapped it for the 1965 Buick.

It was a win-win situation where everyone was happy with the outcome.

Mr. Berman has learned only 11,951 Buicks like his were manufactured. He said he is especially happy with the design details that abound on his Buick.

The ribbed red taillight lenses are shaded by chrome-plated hoods.

On either side of the license plate in the rear bumper, following the curvature of the bumper, are the backup lights. Of course, it wouldn't be a Buick without the three stylized ventiports on each front fender.

When new, the 4,186-pound convertible had a base price of $3,382. It was 4 inches shorter than the finned Buick that preceded it.

The turbine automatic transmission has a shift pattern that model year (from the left) of Park-Neutral-Drive-Low-Reverse. "It's not the fastest off the line," Mr. Berman said, "but it's so-o-o-o-o smooth. It never shifts."

In order to move such a heavy car in such a smooth, sophisticated manner, fuel economy suffers. Mr. Berman reports an absolute best highway-only mileage of between 16 and 18 mpg.

Stretching 17-feet, 9 and 3/4-inches from bumper to bumper, the Buick rides easily on a 123-inch wheelbase to give passengers a proper "Buick ride."

Mr. Berman's well-appointed Buick has a tinted windshield, an AM push-button radio and a rear-seat speaker. Power steering and power brakes are clearly labeled as such, but other features are hidden, such as the under-seat heat ducts for the comfort of the rear-seat passengers.

Probably Mr. Berman's favorite accessory is the Space Age clock in a raised pod mounted in the center of the dashboard.

Another nice touch, relatively new in 1961, is the reflector on the rear of the door armrests to catch the lights of approaching cars.

The power-operated top with the plastic rear window is easily lowered. More time is spent attaching the 26 snaps to secure the boot that covers the lowered top.

The farthest Mr. Berman has driven his red LeSabre is to St. Louis for a Buick convention. The mileage recorded on the odometer is now approaching 78,500, but Mr. Berman said he wouldn't hesitate to drive it anywhere as long as these was a protected parking space when he got there.

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