The Early Buicks
John Lloyd, Flickr Creative Commons

Buick started building cars at the turn of the last century. The whole world was changing back then. For the first time in mankind’s history, speed over the ground was increasing Since the dawn of time man could only move over the Earth as fast as hist feet, or the feet of animals could carry him, but at the end of the 1800’s steam engines had overtaken wind or animal power, and the trains where the speed demons of the era. However, as the 1800’s came to a close and the 20th century was born, speed was the word of the day. Distance over time.

The mad dash to go hither and thither in less and less time drove manufacturers to invest the money into developing lighter and more efficient ways of powering vehicles, and in May 1903 a man from Angus, Scotland named David Buick opened his doors in Detroit in 1899 and founded what is currently North America’s oldest automobile manufacturer, and by 1905 Buick was offering quality cars priced for the average middle class American.

The Model B was Buick’s first widely available model and period advertising states that is “The Car Of Quality” which features a two cylinder opposed engine of 21hp, as well as a two speed transmission featuring both forward AND reverse gears! Furthermore this automobile is listed as operating comfortably from 4 to 25 mph with the high-speed clutch in, and was advertised as being “simple in control”.

Prior to the introduction of the Model B in 1905, only 40 Buicks in total had ever been built, but 1906 saw a production of 1600 cars, and over 4500 built in 1907, proving that Buick was supplying a quality and in-demand product that was attainable by a wide array of customers despite changing owners and moving the entire factory from Detroit to Flint, MI. A remarkable feat even by today’s standards.

The First GMC Trucks
Andrea Wright, Flickr Creative Commons

GMC first came into existence back in 1908, but it didn’t start producing trucks until the next year, 1909, when they become one of the first manufacturers to build commercial heavy trucks to compete with the current-day horse-drawn freight and railroads. Production numbers weren’t very high though, with total production of trucks only numbering 372 in 1912 for example. Of course the road infrastructure of the United States at that time was nothing like what we have these days, and internal-combustion powered vehicles were still proving themselves as motor cars were still viewed as a luxury item…the “Everyman’s” Model T hadn’t quite caused the nation to be car crazy just yet. As an example of the condition of the road system in the United States, it took 30 days for a GMC Truck to travel from Seattle to new York City in 1916, whereas a GMC Truck only took 5 days to cross the country from San Francisco to New York ten years later in 1926! Improvements in engines, fuel availability, as well as expansions in services and availability of parts play a part in the reduction of time taken to cross the country, true, but a more efficient road network is the main factor.

Speaking of 1916, the US Army was chasing the Mexican bandit Pancho Villa and for the first time in it’s history it was using trucks. GMC Trucks. 1915 Model 15 3/4 ton GMC Trucks to be more precise.  The Army went over 400 miles into Mexico in the hunt for Villa, and the trucks operated in incredibly rough conditions throughout the state of Chihuahua. The area of Chihuahua the GMC’s were operating in is covered in rolling dunes, mountains, desert plains, with little-to-no actual roads, just wagon tracks and horse paths. Many of those early vehicles succumbed to the terrain and were abandoned, but they taught the US Army, and Americans in general, the value of a solid 4 wheeled load-carrying vehicle thus helping create the legend of the American Truck

Aw Man I Got A Ticket!
Fe Ilya, Flikr Creative Commons

You’ve all probably been there, but hopefully not lately. You’re toodling along down the road, minding your own business, and all of a sudden…WHOOP WHOOP! You glance up in the rearview mirror and sure enough there are red and blue lights dancing around back there, so you start making your way over to the shoulder. The officer walks up, asks for your ID and insurance and explains to you that you were clocked at X miles per hour over the speed limit. Once he gets back from his car he writes you your ticket and tells you to slow down and have a nice day.

So, what do you do now? Most folks crumple that ticket up, stuff it into the glove box and forget about it until several weeks go by and then they wake up in a blind panic wondering if they’ve missed the deadline. So what do you do now? Now, this whole little narrative is predicated on the assumption that you were justly pulled over and were actually speeding and have no problem admitting it. If you feel you were wrongly pulled over, by all means appear in court to contest. Sometimes this is a good idea in larger metropolitan areas because there is a decent chance the officer won’t show at court and the judge will dismiss. Happens in Houston fairly frequently for example.

But the common option is seek ticket dismissal through taking a Dirver’s Safety Course so the ticket doesn’t appear on your permanent record and your insurance premiums remain unaffected. To take the course, you can do it online these days which requires a set amount of time in front of your computer with test questions scattered throughout. A different option is the comedy defensive driving courses offered in most larger metro areas. The comedians get up there and in a humorous fashion, hit all the test questions in a way that keeps you entertained as well as help retain the info. Best of all scenarios though, is to keep your car between the stripes and at posted speed.

NIght Of Destruction!
AllieKF, Flikr Creative Commons

Holy Moly! This might be worth a quick road trip to California the weekend of June 6th! If y’all aren’t familiar with a Night Of Destruction type event, it’s kind of like a demolition derby amusement park meets Redneck Olympics. I don’t quite know how to describe the automotive mayhem that goes on at these events, so let me add some context and we go from there OK?

So, can we agree that there is a portion of the US population that ONLY watches NASCAR, the Indy 500, NHRA events, and Motocross for the crashes? Can we agree on that? Maybe we ourselves might be in that category from time to time? Maybe? Well the Night Of Destruction was invented by, for, and about those folks. It’s all about the crashes people, all about the crashes. I mean, for example,  these folks put on events where you can race whatever you brung….on  figure 8 track….hauling a trailer!! They even have rollover contests! They’ll put on demolition derbies for RV’s, school buses, whatever you can think of that has four wheels and a motor. Motocross not exciting enough for you? How about Demo-cross? Demo-cross with a trailer?

Now of course in this nanny-state age of helicopter parents and families who have lawyers on retainer, there have to be some safety precautions. You’re not allowed to run the track in the opposite direction as the rest of the traffic for one thing. For another they do wet the track down to limit speed…and therefore impact trauma. The rules state that you can (and should) reinforce the driver’s door, but please don’t use concrete. No glass is allowed in the car, and no drugs or alcohol are allowed in the pits. Safety belts are required (thank God), and no passengers are allowed in race vehicles. So, if you have a crazy streak, want to earn cash & prizes in the $3-500 range as well as come home with a limp and a grin, then Destruction racing might be for you! See y’all at the Perris Motor Speedway in Perris, CA June 6th!


GMC Syclone vs Ferrari 348ts
Grant C, Flikr Creative Commons

If you were above the age of 10 at the end of the eighties and beginning of the nineties you’ll probably remember the mini-truck/sport truck trend. The roads and high school parking lots were littered with lil’ tiny dropped pickups with ground effects and speakers blaring out Dallas’s own Vanilla Ice, or Pantera depending on your neighborhood. Well for ONE year only, GM decided to drop their own sport truck on the market and in 1991 introduced the Syclone.

Now the Syclone wasn’t your average little truck, it was a turbo-charged V6 powered BEAST that could go 0-60 in 5.3 seconds! This truck was available in the traditional Henry Ford paint scheme of “any color you want, as long as that color is black” and featured all wheel drive and that V6 pumped 280hp and 360 foot pounds of torque through a Corvette transmission. This truck was so hot, Car and Driver Magazine sponsored a drag race between the Syclone and a Ferrari 348ts! You read that correctly. They wanted to race an under $30k American pickup truck vs Italy’s finest $120,000+ heart-thumping-red painted, four wheeled sex machine.

And the pickup truck WON.

For real. The poor Ferrari driver got pretty familiar with the Syclone’s tailgate because he never even saw the Syclone from any other angle than from behind. According to the Sept 1991 Car and Driver magazine article on the race, the Ferrari demanded a rematch. Pickup said, “Nope”.

Then the pickup went on to beat the Ferrari at braking by coming to a full stop from 70mph in 183′ which was 4′ shorter than the Ferrari!

It should be pointed out in the spirit of full disclosure that the Ferrari does eat the Syclone’s lunch AFTER the 1/4 mile with a top speed of 166 mph vs the Syclone’s upper limit of 126 mph, and above 80 mph the Syclone’s pickup truck shape starts costing it speed. It’s the old story, a fast truck ain’t much but a streamlined brick…but this brick beat a Ferrari where it counts to us Americans: in “the traffic light Grand Prix” – to quote C&D Magazine.

Horton Classic Car Museum
Lee Cannon, Fliker Creative Commons

Just north of here and a smidge west, is the little town of Nocona, TX. Now, Nocona is deservedly most famous for it’s boots. The boot factory there has been cranking them out since 1925 when it was by the daughter of a man who’s last name was Justin…which you may recall is a fairly famous name in the boot world as well. Now, just imagine a quick roadtrip out of town up to Nocona with the kids. You can pick up some boots, eat some pretty good BBQ, after all the rain we’ve had lately, you know it’ll be a pretty drive, and most importantly there’s something to show the kiddos, because what Nocona also has, despite it’s cowboy-centric history, is a world class automotive museum.

The Horton Classic Car Museum is right there in the middle of town on the corner of Walnut St and Clay St. The owners, Pete and Barbara Horton got their start in the rough end of the oil business, but unlike a bunch of folks, were able to hang on through the ups and down times and pursue their passion of collecting and restoring classic cars.

The museum features a wide array of classic automobiles. They have almost every Corvette model produced between 1953 and 1978. A 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk is one of the most uniques cars in the collection, which apparently only 40 were ever built. They also have vintage Lincoln, Oldsmobile, Ford, Packards, Chevy and Pontiac vehicles on display, mostly of the 1950’s era.

In another building is the Horton Motor Co. Museum which seems to be more muscle car related. On display there is a 1970 Plymouth Hemi-Cuda convertible, a 1965 Chevelle Malibu SS,  as well as a 1968 Shelby Cobra Mustang. This museum has 16 cars on display and is available by appointment or along with regular museum tours. They’re open M-F 9-4, and Sat 9-5.


Guardrail Damage Ahead
Terry Ross, Flikr Creative Commons

Anybody else notice the profusion of orange, diamond shaped signs that read “Guardrail Damage Ahead” springing up all over the state? Anybody else notice the profusion of distracted drivers springing up all over the state? Do you think there might be a correlation? According to TXDOT, there were 100,825 distracted driving caused crashes in the state of Texas in 2014. That’s a fraction over 276 crashes due to distracted driving every DAY. Heck, Texas only has 254 counties, and some of them have almost nobody in them, but if you spread these 276 DAILY crashes equally over Texas, then it gets even more ridiculous. 3214 of those crashes resulted in serious injury, 468 resulted in death.

I suppose the new billion-dollar industry for our state is guardrail repair. Those poor guys setting those first half dozen posts, are probably shrugging their shoulders knowing they’ll be back in a week or so to pull up the sheared off posts they just installed and install 5 or 6 new ones. I bet they feel like the Texas Highway Maids, or like parents of toddlers. As Bob Parr, Mr Incredible, said in the movie The Incredibles, “I just cleaned up this mess, can we keep it clean? Like, for 10 minutes!?”

Last month was National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and the ramped up ad campaigns continue to remind us to arrive alive,  to talk and text later, as well as publish handy statistics like I used at the beginning of this blog. I don’t think the problem is awareness though. How can we miss the fact that the leading edges of a large proportion of guardrails are damaged? How can we miss the fact that guardrails themselves are springing up near every creek or drainage crossing? How can we miss all those poignant lists of final texts before the crash that are scattered about social media? I think the problem is one of feeling like it can never happen to us, because we’re the kings/queens of multitasking. Fact is though, busted guardrails don’t lie. Do that road crew a favor. Help them have a slow day. Keep your phone in your pocket and your eyes on the road.

Fastest Buick Ever?
Rex Gray, Flikr Creative Commons

(WARNING! This intro is tongue-in-cheek)There was a time in America when manufacturers built what folks called “muscle cars”. Decades-long arguments have raged ever since, over this one or that one, which was faster, which was cooler, which was the easiest to modify. You know, gearhead stuff. The kind of subject that makes the wife/girlfriend’s eye glaze over more or less instantaneously.

Well it all sort of came to a head back in 1984. You see there was this magazine called “Popular & Performance Car Review” which published a list of “Fifty Fastest Musclecars”. Now where that particular list created a massive uproar among the gearhead community was in listing the 1970 Buick Skylark Gran Sport Stage 1 as the third fastest musclecar behind the 1966 Shelby Cobra 427, and the 1966 Corvette 427.

The Hemi/MOPAR crowd was fit to be tied. They all started hollaring about how everybody knows that Buick stands for “Big Ugly Import Car Killer” and that the only folks that drove a Buick anyway were all sucking back the Geritol and looking for a place to cash their Social Security checks. The Buick community of course started singing the Etta James hit “At Last” and high-fiving each other because there it was in print that the Buick’s weren’t just grandma’s grocery getter.

To settle all the hubbub, the editor of Popular & Performance Car Review arranged to have a 1/4 mile race between a ’70 Buick GS Stage 1 and ’70 Plymouth GTX a at the Gainesville Raceway. The Buick ran at 12.30 and the Plymouth at 13.03. Much like in politics, all the race did was increase the hubbub and harumphing. One side accused the other of running high performance parts and special motors, the other side was shaking it’s head and saying “Nope”. And like the western TV shows of old, the Buick gunslinger was the fastest draw in the west and was repeatedly challenged to a duel to find out who was faster. That day in 1985 however, the 1970 Buick Skylark Gran Sport Stage 1 was the fastest musclecar on the track.

The GMC That Won The War
Lee Chatfield, Flikr Creative Commons

If you have ever seen ANY movie about World War Two from the propaganda “buy more bonds” flicks of the actual war years all the way to Brad Pitt’s movie “Fury”, you have seen at least one GMC CCKW truck. The original famous “Deuce-And-A-Half” (2 1/2 ton) workhorse truck of the US Army.

As the first truly mobile modern war, the Second World War armies were absolutely dependent on movement and supply. With the frontlines never very static for too long, the troops and gear had to be moved from place to place with a modicum of speed. Believe it or not, the German Army was still largely horsedrawn, and the Italians loaded gear on the backs of donkeys, but the US Army’s donkeys were largely built by GMC.

By war’s end GMC had produced over half a million of the Deuce-And-A-Half in a number of variants, from specialized radio vehicles to fire engines, flatbeds, anti-aircraft vehicles, and even as mobile dental vans. The weird designation “CCKW” can be decoded as: C = designed in 1941, C = conventional cab, K = all wheel drive, and W = dual rear axle. They were powered by the GMC 270, which was a 91hp straight six which drove all six wheels up to a whopping 45mph which when you’re fighting in Europe is a better sounding 72km/h!

The legendary GMC truck served in both WWII and Korea, and played a huge role in the victory of the Allies in Europe. After the invasion of Normandy, these trucks formed what was called the “Red Ball Express” and kept the troops supplied with whatever materials were dumped on the beaches. Without a vehicle as hardy, as easily modifiable as the GMC CCKW, we would have had a very hard time in dislodging the Nazis from Europe.

These days you still see a fair number of these venerable old trucks in pastures or parked behind rural fire depts, some are still in use as water tenders and logging trucks, while others (pictured above) are being lovingly restored to their former glory.

Buick Regal, NASCAR Champion
Kazuma JP, Flikr Creative Commons

I remember watching stock car races on TV with my granddad and uncle at my grandparent’s house back in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  The races were popular, but not the spectacle that they are now. It seems like ESPN started broadcasting them on the new “cable TV” in 1980 or ’81, but we were still watching them on NBC SportsWorld, because the only racing you could get on CBS WIde World Of Sports back then was Grand Prix.

In the 1981 Winston Cup season for example, you saw Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison trading victories back and forth with an occasional Richard Petty or Cale Yarborough upset. The funny thing about that ’81 season though…it was dominated by the Buick Regal! What set the Regal apart from the Pontiac Grand Prix, the Chrysler Imperial, the Ford Thunderbird, the Chevy Monte Carlo, and the Olds Cutlass which are the other makes and models raced that year, was pure aerodynamics.

GM had dictated that all it’s cars in the series would be powered by the Chevy 358 small block, so the only way for the Buick Regal to set itself apart from the herd, apart from the nut behind the wheel, was in airflow. The Regal featured a fairly raked windshield, the double sloped grill, and smooth side panels all the way down the car. The combination of smooth airflow over the body, the 358 under the hood, stunningly good handling on the track, and a talented butt in the seat, brought home 12 wins and 21 finishes in the top five, and even more Regals in the top 10, across the 30 race season.

Darrell Waltrip won the Winston Cup championship in a Buick, Bobby Allison came in second in a Buick, Harry Grant came in third in a Buick, Terry Labonte came in fourth in a Buick, Ricky Rudd came sixth in a Buick, and even The King, Mr Richard Petty placed 8th in his only season driving Buicks.

So when you see that beat up Buick Regal driving down the street, remember this: it may be 34 years since the Regal’s heyday but there my friend, goes a former thoroughbred.


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