- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2002

Station wagons are a lot like scotch and oysters. They are an acquired taste.
But once that taste has been cultivated and established, nothing else will do.
A half dozen years ago Steve Pieper was driving a modern station wagon, his first, and found the longer he had it the more useful it seemed to become. That's when the seed was planted.
He decided the car for him would be a B-I-G wagon from the razzle-dazzle days of the 1950s. A wagon with both flash and dash would be ideal.
By the summer of 2001 he was actively looking for the appropriate station wagon. He answered an ad for a 1956 Buick wagon and although the car was interesting, it was very rough. Mr. Pieper mulled it over for a few days before deciding to go for it.
Too late, the owner said. It was already sold.
That's when Mr. Pieper, intrigued by the Buick, began to seriously research old Buick Estate Wagons and discovered the pillarless hardtop models introduced in 1957. He resumed shopping with a goal in mind.
In the early autumn of 2001 he located a 1957 Buick Special Riviera hardtop Estate Wagon in Pennsylvania. It was an original Utah car. The second owner had recently purchased it and had it delivered to the Harrisburg area.
Soon thereafter the Dynaflow transmission, with a shift pattern left to right of Park-Neutral-Drive-Low-Reverse, gave up the ghost.
The transmission was removed and sent to a repair shop. When the owner was told the price of the repair, he lost interest in the car.
After a little negotiating, the deal was done in September. The 17-foot, 4-inch-long Buick was trucked home to Mr. Pieper's Oakton home with the disassembled Dynaflow transmission in three boxes in the cargo bay of the wagon.
Returning the transmission to working order was the highest priority.
Mr. Pieper found a transmission repair shop in Sandusky, Ohio, about the time he learned of another Dynaflow transmission for sale in Michigan.
Hedging his bets, Mr. Pieper drove to Ohio with his transmission in boxes hoping all the pieces were there where he delivered it to the transmission shop for rebuilding.
From there he motored on to Michigan to purchase another Dynaflow transmission in case the first one was a failure. Four men lifted the transmission into the cargo bay of his modern wagon.
On his return trip home Mr. Pieper was driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at midnight in a construction zone when a tire went flat. Naturally, the space-saver spare tire was under the cargo floor beneath the Dynaflow transmission.
By folding the back seat flat with the rear cargo floor Mr. Pieper was able to roll the transmission forward enough to provide access to the spare tire and jack.
With the space-saver spare tire in place Mr. Pieper limped into a Breezewood, Pa., truck stop where an all-night tire store provided a replacement tire. The rest of the trip home was uneventful.
A few weeks later the rebuilt transmission, reinstalled in the Buick, performed beautifully. The Michigan transmission, no longer needed, was pushed to the rear of the garage where it still rests.
While the transmission was being serviced, Mr. Pieper turned his attention to the 364-cubic-inch V-8 power plant. "I didn't touch the engine," Mr. Pieper said. A two-barrel carburetor delivers fuel to the 250-horsepower V-8.
He removed and cleaned the radiator. At the same time he replaced all the rubber hoses and belts. After the entire brake system was replaced, Mr. Pieper was surprised to learn that, when the brake drums were turned, they were at the original dimensions.
"I spent four solid days removing the paint," he reports. The original two-tone color was pink over red.
With the car reduced to bare metal, he discovered no hidden rust or any evidence of an accident. Mr. Pieper attributes the rust-free condition of his 75-inch-wide, 58.5-inch-high Buick to decades spent in Utah near the Nevada border.
The interior was another story. The pad in the padded dashboard was OK, but the vinyl covering needed to be replaced.
After carefully removing all the seat covers and door panels, he faithfully found color matching material which his wife, Wendy, carefully sewed together to match the original upholstery.
The original rubber floor mats have been replaced with carpeting. "I wasn't trying to restore this car to original condition," Mr. Pieper explains. "I just wanted a neat daily driver."
As the Buick neared the repainting stage, he wasn't sure what colors he wanted; however, he was certain that he didn't want what was on the car when it left the factory.
At his church one Sunday he saw an aquamarine Saturn drive in. Later checking out the General Motors color site, he discovered a Cadillac silver to create the two-tone color scheme.
After prepping the 4,309-pound car for priming, he spent two days sanding it for the final coat of paint.
About the only options on this well-appointed Buick are a speed warning alarm and a pair of fender-mounted mirrors.
Inside the car is typical Buick luxury. There are four crossbows supporting the perforated headliner. In the dashboard is a sonomatic AM radio above a very W-I-D-E glove compartment. The steering wheel has three spokes that support a 360-degree chrome horn ring. "It looks like a boat and sounds like a boat," Mr. Pieper observes.
Driving down the interstate highway on the 122-inch wheelbase Mr. Pieper enjoys comfort second to none. While doing so, the gas mileage is about 12.
In 1957 Ward's Automotive Yearbook reports that of the 6,212,000 cars built that model year, 843,500 were station wagons, a total of 13.6 percent.
This particular Buick, one of 6,817 manufactured, carried a base price of $3,167.
As a winter project, Mr. Pieper purchased on Ebay a complete 1957 Buick power-steering assembly that will make cruising in his Estate Wagon next year even more pleasant.

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