- - Thursday, April 13, 2006

About four years ago Randy Denchfield was accosted by a friend as he was leaving church. The friend knew of Mr. Denchfield’s fondness for antique cars and passed along the following information.

Almost 40 years earlier a man had bought a new 1963 Buick Electra 225. Although it was pampered, it wore out, as all things mechanical do. The man then had the big, 401-cubic-inch V-8 rebuilt as well as the automatic transmission. He then had the body prepped for repainting, but before that was done the owner died.

His widow left the car where it sat. Covered as it was with wet leaves and pine needles, it didn’t take long for rust to begin eating away at the big Buick. Mr. Denchfield was told she wanted to give away the rusty relic if someone would just come and take it.

He quickly volunteered and was able to start the rebuilt engine in the Buick and drive it home to Chevy Chase. At first he thought he would be able to salvage the car but closer inspection revealed that rust had eaten away most of the quarter panel and even had attacked the engine hood. Consequently, he parked the rusted hulk with the good engine and transmission and started looking for another Buick, cosmetically good, that needed an engine like his.

In the summer of 2005 his patience paid off when he received a tip about a 1963 Buick Wildcat convertible at a muffler shop in Frederick. Mr. Denchfield was told the third or fourth owner of the Wildcat had blown the engine, brought it to the shop for an engine rebuild and, when he learned what it would cost, left it there.

“It was a neat car,” Mr. Denchfield says, “just what I wanted, a nice car with no engine or transmission.” After some negotiation he bought the Wildcat and left it at the shop. He then delivered his rusty Electra 225 to the shop and had them transplant his good engine and transmission into the Wildcat. Buick had installed the same size engine in both models so Mr. Denchfield was only restoring the Wildcat to it’s original splendor.

With the engine swap complete in less than three weeks, Mr. Denchfield’s wife, Susan, drove him to the shop to retrieve the Wildcat. He learned two things on the 50-mile trip home. The good news was the black convertible top didn’t leak. The bad news was the windshield wiper blades were useless. “We had to stop at a parts store to get new wiper blades,” he says.

Since then Mr. Denchfield has discovered that of the 35,725 Wildcats that Buick built in 1963 only 6,021 were convertibles. Each one of the 4,228-pound convertibles had a base price of $3,962.

Standard equipment on the Buick Wildcat includes:

• Trunk light.

• Tachometer.

• Electric clock.

• Center console.

• Vinyl bucket seats.

• License plate frames.

• Deluxe steering wheel.

• Padded instrument panel.

Exclusive to the Wildcat is the distinctive grille and Wildcat emblems at the hub of each wheel.

The car also features an AM/FM radio, power steering, power brakes, tilt steering wheel, speed warning buzzer on the 120-mph speedometer, seat belts and chrome-trimmed window frames and seats. The interior is as black as the top, in sharp contrast to the white exterior.

Of the 325-horsepower engine, Mr. Denchfield reports, “It’s a classy car that runs smooth and runs strong.

“It’s a sporty muscle car on a 123-inch wheelbase.”

As for the Electra 225 donor car, Mr. Denchfield left it at the muffler shop and notified members of the Buick club that it was there to be picked clean of trim pieces and any of the still-good interior parts. The skeleton was hauled off last month. “The 225 is alive and well and being enjoyed tremendously in several different cars,” Mr. Denchfield says, much like human organ donors often help multiple recipients.

Because Mrs. Denchfield often drives an antique car to fundraising events, her husband is concerned about the reliability of the old cars.

“I really thought of her with this car,” he says. “With the rebuilt engine, this is a car I don’t worry about. This is her car.”

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