Advocates of unconventional auto brands usually proclaim longstanding passion for them. Then there's Dick Uhlenkott. "I'm not even a Buick guy," he once confided. No, according to Dick, his thing is bubbletops, cars unique to GM's '61 and '62 full-size sport models. In fact, he admitted that he couldn't imagine owning anything other than one from those two years (he has a most-impressive, 427-powered, four-speed '62 Bel Air). Then he saw a 1960 Buick LeSabre. "I thought, 'Wow, this is simply the best and most stylish body design ever,'" he enthuses. Thus began Dick's advocacy of unconventional auto brands.
Anything as big or as bold as a '60 Buick is nothing short of polarizing, but its champions and critics agree: It's distinctive. In what may amount to a car maker's most dramatic act of overcompensation, Buick broke its run on bloated, conservative cars the year prior to making Dick's. With angry eyebrows over spider-like eyes and toothy grilles to match, even the most sedate '59 Buick sedan looked as if it could slither from a dark lagoon and devour slumbering vacationers. Its purposeful-looking fins and afterburner-like taillights suggested it could launch skyward if confronted by the sheriff during the act. Buick toned down the car in 1960 but the design was still far from conventional. Time only made it that much more outlandish.
As most people either haven't seen or don't remember them, there's hardly reason to radically change a '60 Buick. So Dick left the majority of his LeSabre's body alone. In fact, the list of modifications Mark at Roger's Body Shop in Lewiston, Idaho, made is short: he molded the headlight housings to the fenders and filled the seams between the rear window and trunk lid. Brennan McCalloway at Roger's shot it in PPG's concept base/clear system. "If you're nuts enough to paint a car this size black," Dick advises, "make sure your paint and body guys have a good sense of humor. Don't bug 'em too much and wear pants with the deepest pockets."
The RideTech air springs might be responsible for the most dramatic-looking change to the car but they're far from the most intensive modification. The '65 Riviera axle holds that title.
It's because Buicks like Dick's came with closed driveshafts but all model years subsequent to it (like the Riviera) employ more conventional open drives. That's a big deal because everything in the closed-driveline counterpart pivots from a bell welded to the forward end of the driveshaft housing. To remove any link in that chain effectively eliminates the entire rear suspension.
So to make the swap, Dick had to incorporate all of the suspension components from the Riviera. Buick's decision to abandon the troublesome cruciform frame for a K-member style in 1959 made the job simpler but we'd hesitate to describe it as anything short of intense.
Stewart Warner dials, combined with a '46 Ford Super DeLuxe wheel set the tone for the int
The reason for the open-drive swap was a more accommodating (and better-geared) three-speed TH400 transmission. Part of the reason for that was the later 401-inch Nailhead bolted to it. We say 401 for familiarity's sake but it ended up 412 ci after Fred's Precision Engines worked it over. Among the goodies it wears are a pair of Joe Mondello-ported heads, a Kring manifold, and four giant Weber IDA-series carburetors.
Dick could've used the shifter in the Cadillac tilt/telescopic steering column to select gears but the Riviera tranny came with its own tunnel-mount shifter. Just as the open driveline changed things, so did that stick: it required a console, and consoles and bench seats typically don't jive. They didn't in this case, so Dick replaced the bench with a pair of Toyota Avalon buckets. He changed out the rear seat too, with one from an '04 Lincoln Town Car. Fellow Clarkstonite George Frank fabricated the console and it, the seats, and the panels in Lipstick Red Austrian leather.
If there was ever legitimate justification for 20-inch-diameter wheels much less 22s, it was big-body, full-size cars like Dick's. Even then they're too big to simply bolt on; given the car's stance, the guys at Roger's Body Shop had to relocate the inner fenderwells to make room for them.
Dick may not have started a Buick fan, but he admitted his '60 made him one. "Of the many years and the many cars I've shown, this Buick has been the most interesting and the most fun," he concludes. "I don't think I'd change anything."