The restored 1953 Buick Wildcat I shows off its curvaceous form by playing off sun and shadow.

1953 Buick Wildcat I

The 1953 Buick Wildcat I broke the general dream car rule, says Joseph E. Bortz, its owner. He points out that the Wildcat I was probably the most roadable -- and best built -- dream car to come out of the 1950s.

The Wildcat I received new leather for the interior, including the dashboard and door panels.

Everything worked, just as if it had rolled down the assembly line alongside a 1953 Roadmaster. And all parts were selected to stand up to everyday wear, says Bortz, just like a production car.

In fact, a number of production pieces were used in constructing the car. The interior door handles, for example, are from the 1953 Cadillac Eldorado; they slide horizontally to open the doors.

Thus, it's not surprising that driving the Wildcat I is "just like driving a Buick."

Joe has long been a fan of 1950s and 1960s iron. He has a real love for them, and, as such, has a unique understanding of them.

Although he started collecting classics (he still owns a beautiful Duesenberg), he decided long ago that the cars he wanted to collect are the unusual limited-production, special-bodied cars he remembers so well.

By limited production, he means those with a run of under 500 units. And what could be more special-bodied than a dream car? Joe has a bunch, the Wildcat I being a prime example.

Like the rest of the car, the trunk was redone.

The Wildcat I was located in Michigan. Although it hadn't been abused and had only been driven about 50 miles, it had gone through a long period of benign neglect -- paint was faded and chrome trim and leather had deteriorated badly.

It was therefore accorded a complete body-off restoration -- paint, chrome, interior, electricals. An exception was the engine, which was beautifully finished in chrome and enamel. It was excellent, so there was no need to remove it.

Ingenuity was required to reconstruct one of the Roto Static hubs.

One of the Roto Static hubs was missing, but in the best American tradition a new one was fabricated by using part of a small Weber grille. Perhaps surprisingly, the U.S. Royal tires the Wildcat rides on are the originals.

The Wildcat I began to come together and take form again as the new paint was applied. Still, myriad details, including the interior, needed looking after before the job would be done. The final result speaks for itself.

Joe's Wildcat is now considered a 100-point car and proved it by winning a first-place award at the Antique Automobile Club of America meet in Lake Forest, Illinois, in July 1988, its first outing.

But to Joe, the Wildcat is more than a car, more even than a dream car, Ultimately, he says, it has to be considered an art form, a "gigantic bronze" of a sort. And just as the oil paintings by the masters have come to be appreciated, so, too, will the dream cars for their use of form. This Wildcat I is a priceless treasure, for there is no other.

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