Feature Article, Other Motorsports, Washington — September 26, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Chuck Russell (issue 99)




By Steve Heeb

Before Chuck Russell attended the final day of the 2000 Goodguys show in Puyallup, his wife Karla asked if they would ever get a street rod of their own.

“I told her that something would find us,” Chuck recalls.

As an auto parts store owner, Chuck was no stranger to classic cars.

“We found a local guy who had only driven this Buick 800 miles in 19 years,” Chuck says of the ’53 Buick Special they would purchase that year. “We’ve driven it 30,000 miles in the 11 years we’ve had it.”

The car had come up from California and its next stop would be to Chuck’s machine shop where he would redo the brakes, cooling and suspension, as well as rebuilding the stock driveline.

“It needed a 50-foot box of heater hose,” Chuck laughs. “The lines go everywhere under the seats.”

After seven months of work, Chuck and Karla had the Buick ready for its maiden voyage to Hot August Nights in 2001.

The trek to Reno was but the first in long journeys they would make in their classic Buick.“We drove it to Flint, Michigan, for Buick’s 100th anniversary,” Chuck says. “That trip was almost 6,000 miles.”

Chuck and Karla made the trip as part of a caravan formed by members of the North Cascades Buick Club.

“We left with 35 cars and by the time we arrived there were 70 cars with us,” Chuck says. “We even had a police escort when we got into town.”

Karla estimates there were about 800 Buicks from all over the country, as well as representatives from as far away as Australia and Sweden. At the event, the vintage Buicks were broken into categories based on era.

“The oldest car in our group was Rob Johnson’s 1909,” Chuck says of having the club’s cars arranged in age order for the trip. “We also had a 1908 Buick we picked up on the way.”

Chuck and Karla left Flint and went on a tour to see examples of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and the Devil’s Tower formation made famous in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Last year, Chuck and Karla made a family trip to Ames, Iowa, for the Buick Nationals.

Once that gathering was over they extended the trip to conduct some family history research to find Karla’s grandfather’s grave.

Karla recalls initially getting some strange looks from the local residents when they started asking around.

“Once they found out what we were doing, everyone helped out,” she smiles. “We had to drive through an old horse gate at the cemetery and the Buick just barely fit through.”

Chuck points out that the ’53 Buick Special is a ’53 body mounted on the ’52 running gear.

“It was still a 6-volt system while the other models had already changed to the 12-volt system in the V-8 cars,” he says.

Chuck’s Buick is powered by the rebuilt 263-cid and Dynaflow transmission the car came stock with, though he has made plenty of upgrades, including a high-capacity radiator, new electric fuel and wiper systems, and new TrueSpoke wheels.

“It cruises all day at 80 mph,” Chuck says of the smooth-running Buick.

And that kind of comfort keeps Karla more than content.

“He had to give it to me for my birthday so he could keep it,” Karla laughs. “It’s registered in my name.”

Chuck and Karla have stuck by the Buick that has served them well for the past 11 years.

“I’ve always said you can only drive one car at a time,” the veteran car parts shop owner says. “Driving is what it is all about. And we have driven a lot.”

Indeed, they have.

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