When Mr. Wiley ordered his Convertible Phaeton from Illinois’ Bauer Buick in the fall of 1940, he selected a newly released, short-run “Spring Color” hue, his chosen warm, terracotta-like Sienna Rust body paint a striking contrast to the rich green leather inside. The open-top four-door Super was built in Flint in February 1941 and delivered through the suburban Chicago dealership in late March or early April. Over the next 80 years, it would have four additional long-term owners, two of whom preserved it for the latest, who then returned it to its prewar glory.
“I found this car in 2004, in Wisconsin,” Michael Stemen remembers. “The ad said, ‘Very original; one of 467; runs, drives; last of the four-door Buick convertible sedans.’” The avowed marque enthusiast, then living in New York’s Catskill Mountain region, called upon an Illinois-based friend in the Buick community to inspect the Model 51-C on his behalf; upon learning of its high level of originality, Michael negotiated the purchase and set the Phaeton on the road to restoration.
General Motors had discontinued Cadillac’s junior La Salle division for 1941, leaving Buick room to expand its territory both within the GM hierarchy and in the marketplace. The Super line hit a sweet spot for affluent middle-class buyers, representing a distinct step up from the wide range of Series 40 Special models. The lowest-production Series 50 body style was this Convertible Phaeton, whose $1,555 list price —just $6 less than that year’s average yearly salary—represented around $30,415 in today’s money.
Mr. Wiley’s six-passenger convertible was one of two open four-doors the automaker offered that year, the second being the $1,775 Series 70 Roadmaster that rode on a 126-inch wheelbase, 5 inches longer than that underpinning his Super. These Convertible Phaetons represented the final appearance of a type that dated back to Buick’s touring cars of the early 1910s. While the body style moved upmarket through ensuing decades, the Phaetons built for 1941 still used manually operated folding Haartz cloth roofs, rather than the vacuum-actuated tops enclosing both Series’ flagship two-door Convertible Coupes. Our feature car’s first owner selected a complementary tan top, the color of which was echoed in the optional cream-pinstriped, Prairie Tan painted road wheels.