- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2000

Very few antique automobiles on the eve of the 21st century have their origin in Yaccarino's Auto Wrecking Inc. on Staten Island, N.Y.

Yet that is where Steve Gehring found his 1957 four-holer Buick Century two-door Riviera hardtop coupe. At the time, Mr. Gehring was a high school student on Staten Island.

He had accompanied his father to the junkyard in search of parts for another car when they spotted the then-black-and-white Buick, recently relegated to Yaccarino's. Compared to the surrounding cars, the Buick looked great. Both father and son were smitten.

Just because the variable-pitch Dynaflow transmission didn't work and the 364-cubic-inch, 300-horsepower, V-8 engine had a knock that could be heard in Ohio, the previous owner had thrown in the towel and called Yaccarino's to tow the Buick out of his life.

Such incidentals didn't faze Mr. Gehring or his father. They purchased the well-worn Buick, which had been built in nearby Linden, N.J., for $200. On Oct. 14, 1983, the Buick was towed to their home on Staten Island. The Gehrings had to find room for its 17-foot-4 and 1/3-inch length.

The ailing engine that once had made the Century roar was replaced by an engine of the same displacement from a 1957 Buick Special, but that was rated at only 250 horsepower. Of course, Yaccarino's furnished the replacement engine.

Seventeen years later, Mr. Gehring still has the original engine, which eventually will be rebuilt and reinstalled in its rightful place.

The automatic transmission was redone to original specifications and performance, although Mr. Gehring said, "It took two shots to do it."

Only 17,029 such model Buicks were manufactured in 1957 and each carried a base price of $3,270. Mr. Gehring's Buick was outfitted with extra-cost optional equipment including:

* Power brakes.

* Backup lights.

* No-glare mirror.

* Sonomatic radio.

* Signal indicators.

* Heater/defroster.

* White sidewall tires.

* Brake warning light.

* Speedminder speedometer.

The options are known because Mr. Gehring found the original factory build sheet under the seat in the car. Amazingly, power windows were not on the list, for which Mr. Gehring is thankful. He would rather crank the windows up and down than keep the power equipment in working order.

The partially padded dashboard was standard equipment, as was the severely wrapped windshield. The control for the windshield wiper and washer is on the left side of the car, below the windshield. Even when the wipers are on, Mr. Gehring comments, "They're really bad."

In 1984, Mr. Gehring left home for General Motors Institute in Flint, Mich., leaving the 4,081-pound Buick in his father's care. For the next two years, his father kept improving the car with frequent trips back to Yaccarino's for parts. Occasionally he would roam as far afield as a New Jersey junkyard for rubber gaskets for around the doors or a genuine underdash Buick tissue dispenser.

By 1987, Mr. Gehring was tired of life without his Buick. On a visit home he had the Century repainted Biscay blue and Dover white and had necessary trim parts replated.

Then he was ready for the return trip to Michigan. How long could it take?

How about three days?

Fortunately, Mr. Gehring's father, being a good parent, went along for the ride, not having as much confidence in the 30-year-old car as did his son.

First, the radiator overheated in rural Pennsylvania. After that problem was remedied, the rear bushings in the generator burned out in even more rural Pennsylvania. That dilemma was followed by the demise of a worn-out voltage regulator. That was the bad news.

The good news was that the four-barrel carburetor, under an oil-bath air cleaner, kept feeding fuel from the 20-gallon gas tank to the healthy V-8. Additionally, the new-for-1957 ball-joint suspension on the 122-inch wheelbase performed flawlessly.

Once Mr. Gehring had his Buick at GMI, he was able to suitably impress a fellow student by the name of Cathi. Despite the Buick and its idiosyncrasies, she saw fit to marry him. Perhaps it was the 101 teeth in the grille smiling at her each time he came calling.

After graduation, the Gehrings moved to the Maryland suburbs of Washington and had the Buick trucked to its new home.

Mr. Gehring, now working for Mazda in the Government and Industry Affairs Office, has yet to drive his big Buick to work in downtown Washington.

Looking back, he says he's amazed that a car that was sent to the junkyard 17 years ago still survives in good health.

"How wacky is that?" he asks.

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