1950s Buick: The Fountain of Chrome
Buick must have found the fountain of chrome back in 1958. Its designers slathered chrome onto the flanks of the Special, Super, Century, and Roadmaster 1958 models as though there was an endless supply of the shiny metal.
The tour de force came in the form of the 1958 Buick Limited, the chromiest car ever made — before or since. As the top-of-the-line Buick, the Limited stretched nearly 19 chrome-laden feet bumper to bumper. Only 839 Limited convertible models were manufactured, each one weighing 4,603 pounds and carrying a $5,125 base price. As heavy as the cars were, sales brochures spoke of the car “giving the illusion of flight.”
Jim Malone was a pre-teen when the 1958 Buick was new. Bedazzled by the brightwork, he tried to interest his father in a new Buick, but was told all that chrome wouldn’t be practical. Several decades later Malone decided he wanted a convertible from the 1950s. He concluded the only car that would be satisfactory was the ultimate overdressed 1958 Buick convertible — the Limited.
He began the search in earnest. If only 839 such cars were manufactured four decades ago, how many could be left? A pristine show car was located, but the high price mirrored the perfect condition of the car. Besides, Malone explains, he wanted to drive and enjoy the car, not trailer it from show to show.
He found a nicely restored blue 1958 Buick Limited convertible owned by a dentist. The car had been recently restored, though some parts were not exactly to original specifications, but almost. Malone thought the Buick was even more gorgeous in person than it appeared in the photos.
The title changed hands and, with the top down, Malone steered the huge car home. The 300 horsepower produced by the big 364-cubic-inch V-8 engine seemed to level the hills and the 127.5-inch wheelbase cradled him all the way home with no trouble, even with 126,000 miles recorded on the odometer.
Every Buick stylist in 1958 must have sworn allegiance to the god of excess. Beneath the padded top of the dashboard, chrome trim stretches wall-to-wall. Even the three-spoke steering wheel is highlighted with a full horn ring. The singular hassle about the car, Malone says, is that the gearshift pattern differs from that of modern cars.
Through the huge wraparound windshield surrounded by stainless steel trim, the driver sees a chrome V-shaped groove creasing the length of the engine hood. “I love this car,” Malone says, “It’s the attention I get. It has a horn that can wake the dead, not like the horns on so many new little cars that sound like the horn on a Schwinn.”
The Dynastar grille features 160 sparkling squares of chrome above the massive, reflective chrome bumper and bullets. At the other end of the long Buick is an equally huge rear bumper, with backup lights incorporated in the ends.
A thick chrome strip along the length of each rear fender simulates a vertical fin, while three sets of chrome hash marks, of five each, march the length of each rear fender surrounded by a strip of brightwork. At the forward edge of the rear fender is a three-chevron piece of chrome with the word “Limited” in chrome script.
Malone points out even more excess, such as the four horizontal chrome ribs on each taillight, a Limited exclusive. When he purchased the Buick, the previous owner gave Malone 16 extra chrome hash marks, just in case. “It oozes chrome,” a delighted Malone explains. “I only drive it to gas stations. If she’s good, after 20 gallons of high-octane fuel poured through the door in the rear bumper, I give her a pint of lead additive.”
Malone reports highway fuel mileage of about 12 mpg and single-digit mileage around town. On the other hand, the rolling piece of outrageous artwork isn’t driven much.
Malone believes that everyone occasionally needs to escape from everyday reality. “Those who drive convertibles dripping in chrome do so with a clear conscience and an open mind.”