- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

Ninety-nine years ago, David Dunbar Buick built the first car to carry his name.

Soon thereafter, Buick automobiles were quick to prove reliable and were among the sales leaders. Various Buick models evolved to suit a diverse array of requirements. One such car was the two-cylinder Model F single-chain-drive touring car.

A total of 14,606 Buick automobiles were manufactured in 1909, 26 percent of them Model F five-passenger touring cars with wooden bodies. One Model F, with a serial number of 11552, was manufactured late in the model year, one of 3,856 such Buicks. Initially, the cars sold for $1,250, but later in the year, the base price was reduced to $1,000.

The whereabouts of that particular car for the first 30 years is unknown. From the time of World War II, this right-hand-drive Buick was in western Massachusetts, followed by stints in Florida, Connecticut and Virginia.

In June, 2001, computer systems analyst Douglas Tomb and his wife, Beverly, began looking for a pre-World War I automobile.

On the Fourth of July, they saw the 1,850-pound 1909 Buick at a car show in Milford, Conn.

"Two-cylinder Buicks are hot," Mr. Tomb explains. He made arrangements to go to the owner's home on Aug. 5. After adjusting the spark and throttle levers near the hub of the steering wheel, the owner stepped to the right side of the Buick and turned the crank. "It started on the second pull of the crank," Mr. Tomb relates.

Upon hearing the strong sound of the engine, Mr. Tomb exclaimed, "Sold."

Mr. Tomb returned in September with a trailer to claim his treasure on Labor Day weekend.

Once he had his vehicle back in Falls Church, he rolled the 11-foot-long car off the trailer on 4x33-inch Firestone tires mounted on 25-inch rims. The car rode on a 92-inch wheelbase supporting an angle-iron frame.

Somewhere along the last nine decades, various parts of the car have been lost, misplaced or otherwise appropriated for other uses. Mr. Tomb has replaced many missing items, such as the kerosene cowl lanterns and is actively working to find others, such as the top and the supporting framework.

"It's a quiet car," Mr. Tomb says. "It's probably overmuffled." The 6-inch-diameter muffler is as long as the car is wide and is mounted sideways beneath and behind the rear seat.

Buicks in 1909 were much different from modern-day Buicks. Nobody back then knew what a car should be or even what a car should look like. "They were making it up as they went along," Mr. Tomb says with admiration.

The two-cylinder T-head engine is mounted under the front seat with access provided by removing the front and rear floorboards. The drip-oiler lubrication system is under the front passenger's seat. The 159-cubic-inch, valve-in-head, cast-iron power plant generates 22 horsepower. "In good tune," Mr. Tomb estimates, "the car will do 25 to 30 [mph]."

Under the car on the right is the engine, while the planetary transmission is on the left. The single-chain-drive is in between and extends to the rear and around the rear axle.

Beneath the 10-pound hood, with a dozen inexplicable louvers on either side, is not the engine but a galvanized gasoline tank. The tank sits on five planks supported by the two frame rails.

Because the gas tank is where most people today would expect the engine to be and the engine is under the front seat, there is no need for a fuel pump. Gravity feeds fuel to the float-feed Schebler carburetor. Such an arrangement provides both good news and bad news.

The bad news, Mr. Tomb notes, is that "going downhill, the engine is starved for gas."

The good news, he says, is "you're going down hill."

Even though Mr. Tomb's Model F Buick is coated with white, he suspects the paint was applied during a restoration in the 1970s.

Records indicate that all the bumperless, 11-foot-long Model F Buicks left the factory with wooden bodies painted maroon, with red wheels and running gear.

Typical of cars of that era, the Buick had only rear doors. Standard equipment included kerosene cowl lamps and a kerosene tail lamp with a red lens to the rear and a clear lens to the side to illuminate the license plate.

An acetylene tank on the left side of the car was ingeniously designed to provide gas to the brass headlamps. Also included was a generator and a repair outfit. Optional extras included the top, magneto, windshield and speedometer.

Once the Buick's engine is running, the driver sitting behind the four-spoke, hard-rubber steering wheel is confronted with two hand levers on the outside of the car and four foot pedals. The pedals are labeled left to right: Brake, Slow, Speed and Reverse.

One of the hand levers operates the rear-wheel brakes. The aforementioned foot brake operates a clincher on the rear axle. There are no front brakes. All the wheels have 12 wooden spokes.

The other hand lever has two positions. All the way back is neutral and all the way forward is high speed.

Seated high atop his 93-year-old Buick, behind the six-position steering column, Mr. Tomb avoids mentioning any shortcomings of his 1909 automobile by focusing on the positive aspects.

"The air conditioner works fine," he boasts, "and the windshield wipers don't break."

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