Friday, January 9, 2015

The Very Definition of a Hooptie!

Just a block from my shop here in Gowanus Brooklyn I encountered this veteran of the city streets:
Oof. This big brown slab is a 1979 Buick Electra 225 Landau Coupe in the wordy but descriptive color Very Dark Camel Tan. To me this looks like a car that someone has owned in the city since new. It's been relatively well taken care of (not much rust-through to be found on the body) but it's sprinkled with knocks, scrapes, and other damage. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a true Hooptie. Of course the hood ornament is long gone!
I almost walked right by this car but the sheer brownness of it made me take another look. Then the myriad details started jumping out at me; tape holding the bumper trim on, a classic alarm system as evidenced by the keyhole on the front fender, rusty bumpers but rust free body, and original hubcaps. I bet this beast has been garaged locally since new.
More tape and a broken porthole trim piece are making the case for this being a lifelong city ride. Behind these portholes lives either a very low horsepower Buick 350 V8 or the rare and bizarre Oldsmobile 403 Diesel. The diesel engine was only optional for '78 and '79 and nobody except people who sold diesel fuel had anything good to say about it.
Things get a little rough in the back. The rear bumper has obviously helped out with plenty of parallel parking. However the saddest detail on this entire car is that missing rear quarter panel extension.
I was going to write about how impossible it would be to track this part down but decided to google it first. Much to my surprise you can order one for $50 in perfect condition! That's a lot more than black tape costs though so never mind.
Here's another one of those traits all old city cars seem to share; the reinforced trunk lock repair. Anything that was parked on the streets during the dark days of the crack epidemic has been tampered with at some point. 
Those extra wide taillights with the tiny Buick crest in the middle were new for '79.
This is where the truth about vinyl tops emerges; It is almost impossible to keep a car from rusting underneath them. All water needs is the smallest of openings to seep underneath to quietly wreak havoc out of sight. Usually there will be bubbling under the top, but with these late '70s padded versions you might not know until the damage is this bad. If you removed this top now the windows would probably fall out. I love the original Landau glass script though!
This thing looks fully loaded with its 8-track stereo, air conditioning vents, and large dashboard clock, but it's actually the lowest trim level for Electra. The top of the heap was the Park Avenue, followed by the Limited, and finally this, the 225, at the bottom. It's almost impossible to tell the difference from the outside but this vinyl bench seat was only installed in the 225.
Up front this thing still means business even if it does seem a little world-weary with its smoky eyes and drab chrome. The 1979 Buick was a one-year-only car most easily identified by this somewhat flat front end. Both the year before and the year after had angled front ends and taller grills featuring prominent vertical slats. It's rare for a company to change a design and immediately retreat to its former incarnation like this. The only other instance I can think of is the Chevy Impala which always had 6 total taillights with the exception of '66 and '67 when they were single rectangular pods. Regardless, here's to hoping this brown beast gets another 35 years under its belt before calling it quits.

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