- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 25, 2010

July is always hot. In 1993 July seemed especially hot to Tom McQueen as he drove his antique Buick, without air conditioning, to a national Buick gathering in Atlanta. “The return trip was just as miserable as the trip down,” he recalls. By the time he returned to his McLean home he swore that his next old car was going to have air conditioning.

In the future, sweltering was not going to be in his vocabulary.

He half-heartedly began shopping for an air conditioned antique car to use for touring events. An acquaintance told him of an old Buick just minutes from his house. Mr. McQueen agreed to take a look, not expecting much.

Margaret Dagseth, the recent widow of the original owner, showed him the Tampico red 1961 Buick LeSabre. The then 22-year-old convertible had been driven only 24,000 miles. “I fell in love with it,” Mr. McQueen recalls. He convinced Mrs. Dagseth that he would give her Buick a “good and loving home.”

He took the car home and with it all the records that had been kept since Eric Dagseth purchased the car late in 1961 at Jack Stevens Buick dealership in Buffalo, N.Y. When new the car had a base price of $3,382. A few months later Mr. Dagseth, a civil engineer, left for a five year job in Africa. In February 1962 the car was driven to New York city for shipment to Norway where Mr. Dagseth’s brother agreed to provide storage. Mrs. Dagseth remembers that her husband couldn’t find the port in New York and had to pay a taxicab driver to lead him to the correct dock.

Soon thereafter the Dagseths learned that Norway had a very steep tariff on the car if it spent even one day more than six months in that country. So every six months for five years the Dagseths flew from Africa to Norway and moved the car via ferry to Denmark where it was housed for the other half of the year.

The 4,186-pound Buick in 1967 was shipped back to the United States where its owners settled in New Jersey until 1971 when the family moved to McLean.

When the Dagseth’s daughter, Rene, left for Pomona College in 1975 her parents thought what better car for a young student than their trusty red Buick convertible. The car was shipped to the west coast.

Upon her graduation in 1979 the car was shipped back to McLean where Mr. McQueen found it shortly after the death of Mr. Dagseth.

Carefully inspecting the Buick, Mr. McQueen discovered about an inch of undercoating under the car. “That car is not rusty,” he proclaims. That precaution was common on cars sold in Buffalo but fortunately, this car escaped from the inclement weather a few weeks after it was sold.

Unlike some of the higher priced Buick convertibles in 1961, Mr. McQueen observes, “There is no lower body trim to harbor rust.”

Other than new brakes, a set of 7.60x15-inch B.F. Goodrich bias ply tires and a waterpump, the car needed nothing. Mr. McQueen believed Mrs. Dagseth when she told him, “My husband always kept his cars immaculate.”

The 364-cubic-inch Wildcat V-8 engine develops 250 horsepower. Features on the sleek Buick include:

YHeater.

YSide mirrors.

YPower brakes.

YSafety X-frame.

YE-Z Power steering.

YSonomatic AM radio.

YE-Z P{ower steering.

YTurbine drive transmission.

After driving the car a few miles to verify its reliability, Mr. McQueen drove his red LeSabre to two Buick national events - in 1994 he drove to Chicago and the following year he made a successful trip to St. Louis. on the highway driving about 65 mph Mr. McQueen reports that his Buick delivers 16 or 17 miles per gaallon of regular gasoline.

Riding on a 123-inch wheelbase, the 17-foot, 9-inch-long LeSabre is at home on long Interstate highway trips. The 4,186-pound Buick seemingly levels any imperfections on the road.

The upholstery is what Buick in 1961 called “Cordaveen” which is a red Seville grain vinyl with black stripes.

Mr. McQueen is fond of the “Mirromagic” feature that tilts the speedometer in the dashboard to correspond to the proper angle for easy viewing by the driver sitting behind the two-spoke steering wheel.

A total of 11,951 cars like Mr. McQueen’s were manufactured by Buick in the 1961 model year and in the years that he has owned the six-and-a-half-foot-wide car he has run the odometer up to 35,000 miles. He has come to accept his fate, that of owning an antique car without air conditioning.

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