Bob Johnson's 1958 Buick Estate Wagon
Bob Johnson's 1958 Buick Estate Wagon: Lined with New Boom Mat Under Carpet
From the May, 2011 issue of Rod & Custom
By Rob Fortier
For most, a quadruple coronary bypass would cause a serious detour in life. That was just one of Bob Johnson's personal ordeals he's endured in the last few years alone. Following his heart surgery in 2005, Bob experienced the ride of his life just four years later-one that almost cost him his life. After setting an initial record (naturally aspirated gas) at Bonneville with his Cadillac "XXXLR" land speed car, he and car builder Alan Johnson (no relation) went back the following month to set yet another record in the fuel class. Unfortunately, the second attempt resulted in a horrendous crash due to a major chute failure-nine end-over-end flips at 260 mph. The car, suffice it to say, was destroyed; Bob, however, fared a little better, suffering mild injuries in comparison, but did get his bell rung pretty severely.
All of the above did have an impact on Bob's life, but they hardly even sidelined his projects. Once he nursed himself back to health-likely in some unorthodox ways knowing Bob-he got right back on track, as it were. Well, at least he got Alan and the crew at Johnson's Hot Rod Shop (Gadsden, Alabama) back going on the car they'd started previously, a '58 Buick Century Caballero Estate Wagon.
Bob's got quite the bevy of cars-over 50 if you were wondering-and each has its story. And each gets driven, according to their owner. The '58 Buick wagon was adopted into Bob's family of vehicles after Alan located it while checking out a Packard for another customer (it also came with a '58 Buick Limited, which Bob sold to Wayne Davis, an avid car nut in Texas, who would eventually restored it). Bob's always had a soft spot for Buicks, namely Rivieras, but also '58s in general. Along with having a '65 that he drove back when he first started dating his wife, he also had '58 Century convertible-a car he'd probably still have to this day if it weren't for his wife inadvertently tearing all the side trim off after sideswiping a concrete wall while exiting a parking garage. Long story short, Bob lugged the stately Century Caballero (not after having to push a ton of cars out of the way in order to even get to the '58, though!) to Alan's shop and a plan was hatched to put the wagon on the road ... in a unique manner.
The Estate Wagon had been sitting dormant since the '70s. Although the factory airsprings had long since rotted out, the car was in fairly good condition on the outside, missing but one door emblem (the paint is original). And because of this, Bob decided not to mess with it, but rather focus on updating the drivetrain and suspension as well restoring and subtly modifying the interior. But, in the end, the hardest part would ultimately be the wheels, as Bob had a particular idea in mind-to emulate a '50s hubcap such as the '57-58 Brougham, one with a significantly raised center.
At first this wasn't easy to translate to custom wheel builder Larry Dove (Evod Industries), especially since Bob had one more requirement-that the outer lip resemble the serrated or ribbed edge of a U.S. Royal Master tire. A billet wheel cut to look like an old hubcap is one thing, but also to incorporate traits of bias-ply whitewall? And to top it all off, Bob wanted them in 18- and 19-inch diameters. Well, as you can see, he got what he wanted. But it wasn't easy. Along with Dove's masterful mill work and Diamond Back Classics' artistic whitewall cutting of a quartet of Michelin Pilots, Alan Johnson painted the outermost wheel lip satin black, giving the oversize modern rollers their deceivingly vintage look-the inner tire edge would lend itself to giving the appearance of a taller sidewall, not the low-profile it would otherwise have. It also required a precise offset, one that wouldn't require any rear wheelwell modifications while at the same time not having the wheel sit too far in either.
Obviously, it took more than just a few cut coils to give the wagon its new, lowly stance. Actually, it took a lot more-like a '69 Camaro front clip (with RideTech spindles, shocks, and 'bags) and a 'bagged RideTech truck arm-style two-link on a Currie 9-inch rearend. Underhood you'll still find a Nailhead mill (built by Matt Bishop), albeit now one of a '65 401ci vintage and backed by a Bowler 4L60E automatic overdrive. With the exception of an original Caddy air cleaner and custom-made headers (by Johnson's Hot Rod Shop), the engine looks stock, and of course the transmission is practically hidden from sight.
And speaking of looking stock, that takes us to the interior. The wagon never left Johnson's shop for any of the stitchwork-it was all handled in-house using OE upholstery fabric material and carpet. Probably the only non-stock items used inside the Buick would be the Vintage Air A/C, which utilizes the factory controls and vents, and a full Sony audio system that has been integrated into existing components (such as the head unit housed in a vintage RCA Victor 45 record player) so as to conceal as much as possible yet barely compromise sound performance, thanks to the lining of Boom Mat UnderCarpet acoustic insulation.
In the end, Bob got exactly what he bargained for. And while it may be hard for people to understand why someone would put so much time and effort into what you can't see, that's exactly what he wanted. Besides that, being asked where he got the cool hubcaps is more of a compliment that anything else!