- - Thursday, April 26, 2012

What roads there were 80 years ago were better than anything that had been built since the Romans, but they still weren’t anything to shout about.

Likewise, tires of that era were nothing exceptional either. Any trip completed without a flat tire was unexpected. ‘That was a selling point,’ Jim Cross says of his 1924 Buick. ‘It has dual spare tires.’

His three-passenger Buick Sport Roadster, one of 1,938 such models built, sold new for a base price of $1,675. Mr. Cross first saw the sage-colored Buick with black fenders in 1990 at a car show in Strasburg, Va.

Eight years later, in February 1998, the patient Mr. Cross bought the 3,470-pound Buick from the widow of the previous owner.

Mr. Cross is a firm believer that cars were made to be driven so, despite the wintry weather, he left home near Leesburg, Va., to retrieve his Buick, which had no heater. ‘It takes every bit of 15 minutes to get the side curtains to fit right,’ he says, so he decided to go home without them in place. ‘I had a stocking cap and gloves.’

The enormous amount of heat thrown off by the 255-cubic-inch, in-line, six-cylinder engine helped him endure the frigid trip home with no side curtains. ‘It gets pretty warm in there,’ he says.

In warmer weather, the rear of the fabric top in which the rear window is located can be pulled into the cabin and secured to the top for additional ventilation.

After an hour or so of wrestling the four-spoke mahogany steering wheel controlling 4.50x32-inch tires on 12-spoke white oak wheels, Mr. Cross was happy to turn into his driveway. The leaf springs at all four corners of the car in conjunction with the 128-inch wheelbase contributed to a pleasant ride. The primitive, but effective, shock absorbers worked as they were designed to do.

Once the car was at his home, he gave it a thorough physical examination that happily revealed a Buick that had always received excellent care and required scant attention.

Buick ads in 1924 boasted of an extra-strong frame and axles as well as four-wheel mechanical brakes.

Surprises abound throughout the vehicle. Both running boards now, as back then, are covered in battleship-gray linoleum. As was a common practice until World War II, the six-volt battery is under the floor boards - which really are boards.

The list of optional extras on cars of the era was very brief. This particular Buick has three accessories - front and rear Weed brand bumpers, wind wings and a motometer.

Literature from 1924 claims 70 brake horsepower from the big six-cylinder engine and the speedometer in the leather-covered dashboard is ready to record speeds up to 80 mph. ‘It’ll run 55 to 60,’ Mr. Cross says. Each side of the engine hood is ventilated with 27 louvers to vent heat from the engine.

There is no ignition in the Buick. In order to secure the car, there is a lock at the base of the floor shift lever where the driver can lock his car in reverse, a definite deterrent to car thieves. There is a lockable compartment behind the seat as well.

About the three-speed transmission, he says, ‘First gear is the mud gear. You drive in second and third gears.’

The two-piece windshield under the fixed sun visor is split horizontally with the bottom part stationary. The upper piece, in front of the driver, is equipped with a single, manually operated wiper. Also on the dashboard, as you would expect on a Buick, is a cigar lighter on an electric cord tether.

At the rear of the 16-foot-long Buick, above the single taillight, is the brake light which, when illuminated, reads, S-T-O-P. Of course, if you’re close enough to read the message, you’re also too close to stop.

Mr. Cross‘ Buick is trimmed in nickel instead of chrome and the lines are accented with orange pin striping.

Since acquiring the car, he has learned that the Ohio, District, Virginia Buick registry shows only three cars similar to his.

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