- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2003

In the spring of 1973, a willow green Buick Estate Wagon left the Wilmington, Del., General Motors factory bound for the Scranton Buick dealership in Pennsylvania.
  
  The initial owner purchased the car April 2, 1973, and drove it sparingly, somehow managing to avoid wintertime road salt and corrosive chemicals. After 27 years, the odometer on the rust-free car had recorded only 25,000 miles.
  
  That’s when the pristine wagon was sold to its second owner who promptly took the car home to Rockville. The Buick continued to receive special treatment, but was driven more frequently. The car had another 12,000 miles on it 18 months later when the owner advertised the wagon for sale in July 2001.
  
  Along about that time, Jamie Steve decided that an old station wagon would be ideal for transporting his mountain bicycle. He had long admired the real wood-sided wagons. However, he knew they would be too expensive.
  
  Mr. Steve thought a newer wagon, one with flanks covered with wood-patterned vinyl, would be an affordable compromise.
  
  Enlisting the aid of a trusted friend who is antique-automobile knowledgeable, Mr. Steve went to inspect the Buick. It was better than advertised. “Everything was original,” Mr. Steve recalls, “and everything was perfect.”
  
  He was about to tell the seller that he would think about it overnight and let him know his decision tomorrow when his car-savvy companion took him aside and whispered, “The car won’t be here tomorrow. Better take it now.”
  
  Mr. Steve was easily convinced and left a deposit on the outstanding Buick. He returned to claim his prize a couple of days later accompanied by his encouraging friend and a neighbor couple with their baby.
  
  Driving the 4,952-pound Buick Estate Wagon filled with friends to Bethesda, Mr. Steve did the only natural thing. “We stopped at a Dairy Queen,” he says. “It was a warm, summer night and ice cream at a Dairy Queen brought back great memories.”
  
  The only problem that night was finding a parking space big enough to accommodate the vehicle, which is an eyelash shy of 20 feet long.
  
  The original window sticker was with the car so Mr. Steve knows that it, like every other Buick Estate Wagon, came equipped with the following standard equipment:
  
  Power brakes.
  
  Backup lamps.
  
  Power steering.
  
  Glove box lamp.
  
  Inside hood lock.
  
  Side guard beams.
  
  Side marker lamps.
  
  Full-flow ventilation.
  
  Power tailgate window.
  
  Four-barrel carburetor.
  
  Automatic transmission.
  
  Bumper protective strips.
  
  Reinforced front bumpers.
  
  455-cubic-inch V-8 engine.
  
  Full-foam seat construction.
  
  Semi-closed cooling system.
  
  Double-panel roof construction.
  
  Energy absorbing steer column.
  
  Four-way hazard warn flashers.
  
  All of those goodies were included in the base price of $4,668.40.
  
   This particular Buick has extra accessories that total almost half of the base price of the car.
  
   They include:
  
  Auto climate control A/C…$507
  
  Sonomatic AM/FM 8-track..363
  
  Custom notchback seat……194
  
  Wood grain applique……..177
  
  Power windows………….129
  
  Six-way power seat……….103
  
  Luggage rack……………..82
  
  Electric door locks………..69
  
  Cruise master…………….67
  
  Soft Ray tinted glass……….49
  
  Tilt steering wheel………..44
  
  L78x15 white sidewall tires…41
  
  Power tailgate door………..41
  
  Cornering lights…………..36
  
  Accessory group………35.75
  
  Front/rear bumper guards..31
  
  Custom door window frames.27
  
  Deluxe wheel covers………26
  
  Front lamp monitors……….22
  
  Speed alert/ trip odometer….17
  
  Carpet savers/ handy mats….15
  
  Remote control left mirror….12
  
  Deluxe steering wheel……..12
  
  To this total was added a $132 destination charge, which brought the total sticker price of the car to the princely sum of $6,900.15. “The sticker prices crack me up,” Mr. Steve says with the luxury of a time gap of 30 years.
  
  Government-mandated emissions apparatus virtually strangled the mighty 455-cubic-inch V-8 to an output of 225-horsepower.
  
  A total of 12,282 of the 1973 Buick Estate Wagons were built with two seats like the one Mr. Steve has. Almost twice as many were delivered for an extra $145 with a third seat.
  
  “The car is a time capsule,” Mr. Steve says. “Everything works except the clock.” To that minor flaw a friend responded, “Of course it doesn’t work because it’s in a time warp.”
  
  Visits to a few garage sales were rewarded with a handful of bulky eight-track tapes. When they are inserted into the sound system, they work just fine after the few seconds it takes to get the machinery up to speed.
  
  “A lot of the car is crude,” Mr. Steve says, “but that’s part of its charm.”
  
  Mr. Steve acknowledges that he has succumbed to that rare malady known as “wagon fever.” He can’t bring himself to load his dirty mountain bike into the Buick. Because it has survived 30 years in pristine condition, who was he to despoil this flower? “It’s too nice to haul anything,” he says. “The original floor mats aren’t even worn.”
  
  Consequently, he purchased a late-model station wagon that he uses to transport his mountain bike. Since then, Mr. Steve proudly proclaims, “I can haul more air than anyone else.”
  
  Now that he is familiar with the enormous dimensions of the Buick he confesses, “At first the car scared the heck out of me.”
  
  With the flight-deck-size engine hood stretching out in front, Mr. Steve worried, “There’s so much car behind me.”
  
  He is amused by the generational differences in reactions to his wagon.
  
  Many younger spectators exclaim, “It’s a ‘Brady Bunch’ car.”
  
  Older spectators remember any wood-sided wagon as a rolling social embarrassment.
  
  The oldest spectators view the car with fond memories.
  
  “My family always had Volkswagens but somebody else’s dad up the block always had one of these wood-sided wagons who would take us to the Dairy Queen.”
  
  He intends to keep that tradition alive with the next generation but with a singular caveat “Nobody eats inside.”

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