- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2001

Back in the 1980s, when Richard Fortin was a printer in Washington, he restored a 1937 Oldsmobile coupe. It turned out beautifully in every way with one exception the old car couldn't keep up with modern-day traffic.

Not wanting a car he would have to tow in a trailer everywhere, Mr. Fortin sold the old Oldsmobile and began shopping for a newer old car.

While scouring all the usual places where antique cars can be found, his daily trip to work from his home in Hollywood, Md., took him past a used car lot. Eventually he noticed a 1956 Buick Century Deluxe Riviera four-door hardtop. The Tahiti coral and Dover white paint combination was riddled by surface rust, which explains why he passed it by day after day.

At last Mr. Fortin stopped by the used car lot to check out the rusty old Buick.

"If it hadn't been a hardtop I wouldn't have stopped," Mr. Fortin said. As fate would have it, the Buick was not only a hardtop but a four-door hardtop as well.

On Oct. 1, 1988, after a quick once-over, Mr. Fortin bought the Buick with 81,000 miles on the odometer. He had the two-ton car towed home in a trailer because of a carburetor leak. "I was a little afraid of it," he said.

He also didn't expect the Buick to be in such good condition. "It was a real solid car," Mr. Fortin said.

As he dismantled the four-hole Buick, he was happily surprised to find very little rust, beyond the surface variety and no evidence that the car was ever wrecked.

Even better news was the 322-cubic-inch V-8 engine checked out as healthy with no need for mechanical surgery. The powerful engine, fed by a four-barrel Rochester carburetor, develops 255 horsepower. Additionally, the Dynaflow transmission proved to be healthy. The gear selector reading from the left: Park-Neutral-Drive-Low-Reverse.

Mr. Fortin concedes the positioning of the gears can be confusing after driving modern-era cars. The floor pan of the Buick was pretty much eaten away, so the floors were reworked. With the rest of the interior in remarkably good shape, Mr. Fortin had the black and red upholstery replaced at St. Charles Auto Upholstery in Waldorf. The red part matches the shade of the original painted parts of the dashboard and the red headliner.

Those colors prompted Mr. Fortin to reconsider the exterior colors. The original Tahiti coral color really clashed with the red interior, so Mr. Fortin chose an attractive Seminole red and Dover white combination for the exterior.

Mr. Fortin's nephew, Fran Fortin, a painter at Matchless Auto Body in Virginia gave the Buick a finish coat to meet his uncle's specifications.

"It was a complete car when I got it," Mr. Fortin said. While he polished all the stainless steel trim, the rest was sent off for re-chroming.

During the almost eight-year-long restoration, the cracked wraparound windshield was replaced, as well as some of the flat glass on the sides of the car.

Helping in the restoration were two parts cars Mr. Fortin purchased. From the three cars emerged one whole, healthy one rolling along on 7.60x15-inch, white-sidewall tires mounted on wheels capped with brilliant full wheel covers.

Mr. Fortin discovered the base price of his Buick Century when new was $3,537. The extra-cost accessories include:

• Dynaflow…………………$209.00.

• AM radio…………………..98.00.

• Dual exhausts………………29.00.

• Tissue dispenser…………….5.20.

Along with these goodies Mr. Fortin's Buick was equipped with several service groups, which brought the price up to about $4,150.

New brakes were installed, since stopping is more important than going.

Mr. Fortin has learned that his swanky Buick was first sold in Georgia. After that he is unsure of its history. He's very comfortable today, admiring the three-spoke steering wheel with its full horn ring and the 120 mph speedometer under the black padded dashboard.

"It's pretty quick," Mr. Fortin said. A road test in 1956 clocked the car at 0 to 60 in 10.5 seconds. "That sucker will fly."

The odometer now shows 87,000 miles on the Buick with a 122-inch wheelbase. "It's a real road car," Mr. Fortin said. "It runs real strong."

Although he was occasionally discouraged during the restoration process, he said, "I'm pretty tenacious."

Now that the project is done, Mr. Fortin can rightfully say, "It's been a good old car."


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