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Old Buicks In Tallahassee - Buick Driving Enthusiasts Spring Tour

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By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

This story is a bit different from my usual.

We’re on the road this week, beginning with a 1,080-mile drive from Michigan to Florida (17 hours flat - straight through), in an old Buick to participate in the Buick Driving Enthusiasts Spring Tour in Tallahassee. Folks who love to drive their old (and a few new) Buicks and hang out with others who appreciate the storied, classically American marque take turns putting together a week of activities for their friends. My friend and neighbor, Jim, is one of those Buick fans and he invited me to join him for the week.

Our ride is Jim’s 1985 Buick Riviera convertible - a massive car with a design that matches its era perfectly. Post-fuel-crisis attempts to return to wretched excess, punctuated by the American manufacturer’s need to stay alive by cutting costs, resulted in a style and design that makes me think of a disco scene. While GM hadn’t a clue about how to make a car tight and durable like the Asians and Germans were doing, they did know how to make a big, comfortable, stylish road car. We’re enjoying this one.

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This genteel white ’85 Riv with only 35,000 miles on the clock represents the last year of the sixth generation of Buick’s personal luxury car and shares its front-wheel drive architecture with the Cadillac Eldorado and Olds Toronado of the day. The 307-cubic-inch (5-liter) V-8 makes just 150 horsepower with its four-barrel carburetor. Mated to a four-speed automatic transmission (fourth gear is an overdrive) it’s barely enough to push this two-ton beauty down the road.

It was a comfortable ride, though, as the wide leather seats accommodated my broad tush well. In front of me is the broad, expansive, vertical, faux-wood dash adorned with chrome and protruding knobs that would shock a safety advocate today. Controls would shock designers of today, exemplified by the jerky cruise control, but in it’s day it was luxurious.

The old Riv floated down the road on soft shocks with the muffler emitting a low, resonate rumble only a V8 can produce. The optional sport steering wheel with thicker rim controlled our wallow mostly as we barely kept with traffic at 70 on I-65. The driving dynamics and experience felt as nostalgic as the car looks. What a treat!

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The headquarters hotel parking lot was filled with old, middle-aged and newer Buicks as we arrived at 11PM. A bleary-eyed couple from Texas in a red ’73 Centurion convertible were unloading, having had a series of tire issues delaying them more than 5 hours on the last leg of their drive.

The next morning - Saturday - we gathered at breakfast and then at the day-one drivers meeting where the Buick lovers reacquainted, compared road stories and, as we find at all car events, talked about the mechanical nuances of their many cars.

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Lynn Crutchfield, organizer of the tour flitted throughout the group answering questions and keeping things organized. What a job that was. Think about the logistics involved in keeping 60 cars and 120-plus people organized for daily drives, meals, admissions to venues and everything else it takes to put on a week-long touring event.

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The week is all about the Buicks, fellowship and exploration - that magic combination of great cars, the interesting people that surround them and the fascinating places we go in them. Lynn and her able team of organizers planned visits to museums, cultural destinations, and even a student-run circus at nearby Florida State University. A central element of these biannual tours is to explore and soak up the history, culture and ambiance of the particular region where it is held. Here, we’ll find out about the central panhandle of Florida, including the aboriginal peoples, the first European explorers and settlers, great entrepreneurs, wars, politicians and other facets of what makes this area unique.

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The Florida State Museum, our day-two destination, just a couple blocks from the Capitol Building, provided us an overview of all that. With extensive displays of the chronological history of the state, including an emphasis on Florida’s role in the World Wars, the museum celebrates those elements listed above. Beautifully done dioramas and well annotated displays of artifacts give the detail oriented visitor and the casual browser a good sense of the history.

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For the natural history and ecology of the area we visited the Wakulla Springs State Park for a slow, quiet boat ride on the river with an entertaining and knowledgeable guide. The electric-powered boat was reasonably quiet, but when our guide shut the motor down it became dead silent with just bird noises and rippling water to break the stillness - a glorious sensation, indeed. I’m imagining that floating down the river alone in a kayak would be even more serene but it’s not allowed, at least within the park boundaries.

Early in the event we visited Thomasville, the first community to welcome yanks after the Civil War where a local historian animatedly described the wealth that grew there because of the inclusive culture of the town and, of course, the coming of the railroad.

The talk followed a buffet lunch of southern favorites at the Farmer’s Market. Then the leisurely line of Buicks wound its way back to a “plantation” where we toured a mansion with extensive art gallery gathering more local history. As we walked out the back door of the plantation house the smell of sweet honeysuckle wafted around the corner to greet us. Two arbors of the soft white flowers surrounded a shallow fountain just behind the house.

Our day three tour took us along what they call “The Forgotten Coast,” a stretch of Golf of Mexico coastline from due south of Tallahassee westward to the lovely little tourist town of Apalachicola where we visited a historic home that is part of the Florida State Park system. The drive along the coast revealed many abandoned structures and what appeared to be a struggling economy along this scenic stretch. I’ll bet there are some real estate bargains to be had.

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On the return leg of our day trip we stopped along the road to photograph a collection of old rusty trucks and cars sitting incongruously in short grass under a couple of huge oak trees.

Our first encounter with the police came shortly as a county cop stopped to see what we were up to. A few miles down the road I spied a suspicious car in the rearview mirror. Instinct told me it was another cop in spite of having no light bar on top or spot lights sticking out by the mirror. He followed us for about five miles then abruptly lit up the flashing blue lights projecting forward from his dash and engaged the siren until he saw I was pulling over. Sauntering up to my window he began with some transparent pleasantries then asked questions about our 1985 Michigan license plate that displayed a renewal tab in the lower corner that also indicated 1985. Not current? He said he had run the plate through the cop data base while following us, accessing Michigan information, and found no such plate. We explained that Michigan offers a vintage car licensing process that allows a plate that is accurate for the year of the car and does not need renewing. So we’re good with Michigan law and showed him the registration to prove it. But, our Florida State trooper wasn’t so sure. He had his dispatcher telephone the Michigan Secretary of State trying to get an explanation he could more easily understand. In fact, Michigan does not enter information on these plates into their data motor vehicle data base, so as far as the trooper was concerned we didn’t exist.

Finally, after consulting his bosses again, checking our build plate in the door sill and wringing his hands some more, he let us go, shaking his head, admitting we didn’t look like car thieves and saying he’d never encountered anything like this before.

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We suggested he keep his eyes open because there were a half dozen more Michigan cars with historic plates traveling with us, and some of them might look more like car thieves.

The rain held off until the last couple days of the tour, and until the last big outdoor event, a Wednesday morning stroll though the displays of flora and fauna at the expansive, mostly outdoor, Tallahassee Museum. Red wolves, black bears, panthers and even river otters are on display along winding nature trails through the forest. From the museum we drive northeast to Cairo (pronounced like the syrup, not the Egyptian capitol), Georgia by way of “canopy roads” where a local collector opened his buildings full of collections - cars and nearly every other collectable category one might think of - and provided lunch of BBQ chicken and smoked pork chops. He owns the Mr. Chick’s restaurant next door, and I must say, I’ve not had better BBQ chicken anywhere.

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Even folks who thought they knew the area were amazed at the number of canopy roads overhung with spreading old oaks draped with Spanish moss Lynn and her team found for us to enjoy. Often dense underbrush and expansive wetlands were interspersed with secluded homesteads, plantations and neighborhoods. Radiating just about every direction from the capitol city these winding, scenic roads seem made for touring in an old car - preferably a convertible.

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Our final jaunt took us to a huge new museum along I-10 east of Tallahassee where a variety of old cars, mostly American makes, shared space with model trains, old business machines, knives, boats,
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Remington sculptures and more collectibles from endless categories. It’s called the Tallahassee Automobile Museum and certainly worth a stop if you’re in the area.

The drive back to Michigan was uneventful, notwithstanding a bit of hard rain approaching Indianapolis. The old Riviera ran flawlessly. This was the first event of this kind I’ve experienced, though marque clubs and other organizations do these touring events all over the country. It’s a great way to spend time with like-minded people driving wonderful old cars and soaking up the culture of an area.


© Steve Purdy,, All Rights Reserved