20 March 2003

A Rare Find

Those who have a passion for classic cars share a common dream. The dream that one day, in a remote and unexpected location, they will stumble upon the perfect car – the ultimate find. One that’s been tucked away in a barn, untouched by time, just waiting to be discovered by someone who will revel in its antiquity and offer it another round of glory days. The right person. The right car. The right price. The right time.

You could say things went just right for Mark Buskirk. His love affair with cars has its roots in the late 60s and early 70s, when he and his brothers used to roam the junkyards of southwestern Pennsylvania by their grandfather’s house as children. The ones that particularly sparked their fancy were those produced in the 50s and earlier. Mark dreamed of owning one.

“We liked the 50s finned cars the best, with all the chrome, push button transmissions, two-toned paint, huge trunks. We loved to pretend we were driving them. It was good, cheap entertainment since our family didn’t have a lot of money. I knew I would own one someday, but time moved on, life happened, I grew up, married, moved to Michigan, bills mounted. As time passed, most of those magical junkyards disappeared and I all but forgot about that wonderful dream," he said.

In August of 2001, Mark’s dream was rekindled. He and his wife Tammy were visiting an amusement park with their daughter Chantelle, in the same area of Pennsylvania where Mark grew up. Cruising some remote back roads, Mark caught sight of what he thought might be a ’53 Chevy at the end of a driveway. They were headed to a restaurant and didn’t stop. A little further up the road they saw a ’56 Chevy for sale. They decided to check out both after they ate.

They stopped at the ’56 Chevy first. According to Mark, its “beat-up” condition couldn’t justify the owner’s seven grand asking price, so they drove on.

They headed up to the ’53 Chevy, which turned out to be a ’56 Cadillac Sedan Deville. It was black and white and 100 percent original. It was loaded – it had air conditioning and the rare gold trim package. The odometer read only 26,000 miles. “I had never even seen one of these before, but I knew as I looked it over carefully, that this was my car!” Mark said. Thinking there was no possible way he could afford it, he almost got in his car and drove on.

Just then, an older gentleman named Paul came out of the house and explained to Mark that the car belonged to his friend who lived in a rural area without much traffic. Paul had offered to display it in his yard, and had set it out for sale just the day before. Mark began to probe for details.

“I started asking Paul all the vital stats on this unattainable mirage. He told me all he knew about it, but said I needed to talk to the owner for more details. Just for the heck of it, I asked him what the owner wanted for it. He proceeded to tell me six grand! I said, ‘You’re kidding, right?’ He was serious and I was delirious. I couldn’t believe it was true!”

Mark had to have the car. His wife liked it, but was unsure of where they’d get the money. Mark decided to put his zero percent interest “teaser” credit card to work for a cash advance, and told Paul they’d take the car. Unfortunately, the owner, Dick, was out of town for the weekend and wouldn’t return until Monday. Mark and his family had planned to head back to Michigan then, but they decided to spend another day, so that they could speak to Dick.

When they met Dick, he was able to fill them in on his “baby” – who he had rescued from a coalfield some 20 years earlier. Dick rebuilt the transmission and brakes, and took buckets of dirt out of the trunk. He had the radio rebuilt and re-chromed the bumpers, in addition to replacing the water and fuel pumps, the exhaust system, and the shocks. He had the car repainted with original paint and replaced the whitewall tires. Mark was amazed that even the clock still worked.

Dick had purchased the Cadillac from the granddaughter of the original owner, to whom the car had been willed. The granddaughter and her husband didn't use it often and, when something in the column shift broke, it just sat for years until Dick bought it. The original owner had a farm, slaughterhouses, gas wells and a strip mine. Apparently, he bought the car for his wife who hardly ever used it. Mark was able to reach the relatives of the original owner and confirmed that the car did in fact have only 26,000 miles on it.

He also learned that the wife of the first owner hit a garage with the Caddy once (that was the last she was permitted to drive it for her own well being). She and the car were fine, but the garage saw some good damage. Sometime after this incident, her husband would actually use the car as his truck in the coalfields to haul tools, because the trunk was so big and the suspension was truck-like. Dick even had the original bill of sale from 1956 – $6,151.00 way back then.

To get the car back to Michigan, Mark had to rent a Ryder truck and trailer since their Chevy Tracker wasn’t heavy-duty enough to tow the five-ton Cadillac. “On the road we got plenty of stares, smiles, honks, and thumbs-up from people, especially truck drivers. What a cool experience!” he said.

Once home, Mark had to cut two feet off his workbench to make room in his garage. He spent the next few weeks cleaning the interior and resisted the urge to pinch himself, fearing it was all a dream. “I have to look at it almost every day to make sure I really own it, he said.”

Once it was cleaned and insured, Mark hit the road. “Everyone who sees it is in awe; even kids comment on how cool it is. My eight-year-old daughter says she feels like a princess when she rides in it, and waves to people. When people ask, we have to tell them that it’s not for sale,” he said.


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