If Danny and Anita Wheeler’s 1955 Buick Century hardtop was a TV show it might be called “Extreme Buick Makeover.”
When they acquired the car six years ago it was not much more than a rusty hulk held together with paint. The transformation is worthy of Houdini.
Wheeler, of Independence, has been a hot rodder since he was a youngster. When I wrote about his 1939 Ford in 2008 he said that his dad and uncles used to race at the dragstrip that was down by Front Street. He and his younger brother used to go along. He also recalls going to car shows at Municipal Auditorium in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The Buick sat next to a barn in Peculiar for 42 years. It was owned by the nephew of the original owner, and he gave it away because his wife was tired of looking at it. Wheeler’s friend Sonny Rogers thought he was crazy for rescuing the car, but the price was right. When he got the car home he found 30 snakeskins in it.
Wheeler said his first thought was to just sell the car for scrap but upon further reflection he decided it was worth restoring because there are not many Century hardtops left.
Wheeler and Rogers tackled the mechanical work first. They cut the front off of the frame and installed a Fatman front suspension kit. Wheeler wanted the Buick to sit three inches lower than stock and getting the new frame pieces to fit correctly was a major job that required a lot of trial-and-error fitting.
A second major job was replacing rusted floors because aftermarket patch panels were not available. Wheeler had to make his own.
Wheeler slipped a 5.3-liter Chevy V-8 into the frame, hooked it to a GM automatic transmission and a 1966 Chevelle rear axle. He installed disc brakes, power steering and air conditioning. He replaced the dash with one from a ’57 Pontiac because his very first car was a Pontiac.
Wheeler said he doesn’t do body or paint work so he shipped the car off to Creative Classics in Independence. Tom Overfelt spent 19 months repairing all of the rust on the body and giving it a black over silver two-tone paint job. The car was completed last August.
Wheeler is the president of Show-Me Rods of Independence, and Anita is the newsletter editor for the club and the Associated Car Clubs of Kansas City. Their son Tim has a heavily modified and hotrodded 1936 Chevy pickup with a Corvette engine, custom frame and a handmade bed.