HomeThe MarketDriven: A vintage adventure in a 1934 Buick

Driven: A vintage adventure in a 1934 Buick


The classic 1934 Buick convertible sedan is big, blue and beautiful | Bob Golfen

‘Big as a Buick” was an expression that came to mind as I looked over the handsome blue 1934 Buick 96 convertible sedan parked near the marina at San Fernandina Beach, Florida. Fresh from restoration and owned by famed jeweler Nicola Bulgari, the grand classic car looked every bit like a precious gem glinting in the sunlight.

The following day, the magnificent dowager would take her place among the rest of the automotive finery at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. But on this day, I was expected to get behind the broad steering wheel and pilot her down the coastline.

So the pressure was on. This would be my first time driving a pre-war classic, and the Buick that Bulgari had graciously lent the Hagerty Insurance folk to use in a media drive was no trinket. Bending or breaking was not an option.

Bob Golfen after his vintage-Buick experience | Hagerty

The Hagerty people contacted me a few weeks earlier to invite me on the event, in which a small number of automotive journalists would get to drive classic cars at Amelia Island rather than just look at them.

There were five to choose from, including the beautiful Buick that was the only pre-war entry, a lovely 1957 BMW 507, a 1970 Jaguar XK-E Series II coupe, and a 1967 Camaro RS convertible restored by Hagerty employees.

There was also a 1978 Pontiac Trans Am like The Bandit driven by Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit, and this was the first of two cars that I drove. Well, this Trans Am was a year newer than Burt’s, but close enough to make me want to grow a mustache as soon as I fired ‘er up.

All hunkered down with the T tops removed and Hagerty’s in-house editor Larry Webster in the passenger seat, the ersatz Bandit rumbled out of the parking lot at the Ritz-Carlton Resort and headed north.

Driving this black-and-gold beast with the screaming chicken on its hood was one of those guilty pleasures. The Trans Am is among the few iconic American cars of the challenged ’70s that make the grade among collectors, and they’re gaining in popularity. In January, Burt Reynolds was up on stage at Barrett-Jackson to help auction off one of his actual Bandit movie cars, a guest appearance that helped raise the profile of Trans Ams everywhere.

The Pontiac Trans Am attracted plenty of admirers | Bob Golfen

As we lumbered along, there were loads of thumbs up and “nice car” comments. The Pontiac, a preserved original, drove pretty well despite just 200 horsepower coming from its massive 6.6-liter V8, strangled by rudimentary emissions controls. I felt strangely at home in familiar surroundings.

We met up at Brett’s Waterway Café in San Fernandina for lunch, then strode out to the parking lot to pick out what each of us would drive back to the resort. I had my eye on the 507 roadster – when would I get another chance to drive one of those? But it was having some undiagnosed engine trouble, so I was warned away.

The Camaro looked pretty sweet, but I had already driven a GM pony car. The E-type beckoned, but once again I experienced the painful truth of being too tall to climb into a Jaguar coupe.

Besides, the Hagerty folk were all about me taking the plunge and driving the Buick. This would be a new experience, so I opened the rear-hinged door and nervously slid into the lush interior. My passenger was Tabetha Hammer, from Hagerty’s communications team, and she was determined to keep me on the straight and narrow by continuously reminding me that the majestic Buick had a) a wide turning radius, b) about 5,000 pounds of heft, c) old-school brakes, d) ponderous handling, e) enormous value.

So after going through the starting ritual of turning the key, flipping the ignition switch and pushing the gas pedal to the floor, thus engaging the starter, I gingerly backed the huge sedan out of its parking spot with essentially no rearward vision but a cadre of spotters who treated me as if I were taxiing a jumbo jet. Lots of call outs and gestures ensued.

The Classic Cars Club of America calls the ’34 Buick a “full classic.” | Bob Golfen

Once on the road, I quickly found the Buick to be rather pleasant to drive. Enormous torque is generated by its overhead-valve inline-8 engine, the clutch and long-throw shifter were effortless to use, and turning the steering wheel was not so hard once you got under way. And the brakes worked just fine, if you planned ahead.

In an earlier life, I had a summer job as an Angelo ice cream man for the small Philadelphia company that used antique trucks as an attraction to compete with the Good Humor guys. My truck was a blocky 1948 GMC van with a window cut in its side for dispensing the goodies.

It was not easy to drive, especially when squeezing it through the narrow neighborhood streets of Philly. The steering was loose, shifts required double clutching, and talk about funky brakes. But I drove it all summer, so believe me, I was prepared for anything the 82-year-old Buick had to dish out in terms of a vintage driving experience.

Actually, the Buick drove like a dream, aside from the constant attention required by the steering to keep the car from wandering off the road. And there were no side mirrors, in order to keep the car original, just a squinty view through the small rear window.

The nicest part of the drive was when we were rolling quickly down the highway, the engine humming quietly, the sea-perfumed air whipping through the windows and the Buick feeling as if no time had passed since it had left the factory for its first time on the road.

A memorable experience, and which made me think of how Hagerty reaches out to young people to engage them in the pleasures of enjoying old cars. I’m hardly a young driver, but this was a new adventure for me and taught me something about appreciating the true classics from a time long gone but kept alive by dedicated collectors.

Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.


  1. Thank you! I long for a ’35-7 Packard, but have never had an opportunity to drive a pre-war, so I hungrily lap up any description of driving them. You’ve made me jealous, and you’ve made me laugh. Very well written article!

  2. Absolutely beautiful! Stunning! Love this Buick and am now in ‘lust’ to own one.
    I recall, as a kid growing up in Northeast Minneapolis in the 40s & 50s (known as ‘da hill’ or nordeast), a man lived nearby who had two Packards, a 1934 or maybe ’35 V-12 phaeton 4 door in tan with brown fenders, dual side mounts, and a 1938 Packard V-12 limousine, dark blue, dual sidemounts, both chauffeur driven. That was the first time I experienced ‘LUST’!
    Love old cars, have owned several myself and never got over the thrill of restoring, repairing, driving and owning them. Sorry I sold them.

  3. Loved the article about the Buick. Next time in a classic could we have some more pictures? Engine, interior, back and side views. Beautiful car! Bob, I am jealous!

  4. I have a 1935 Buick Model 46 Business Coupe I’ve owned for 35 years. I’ve driven the car approximately 40,000 miles in that time. It drives very well, a little cramped for space when we take a trip of any distance. Straight 8 engine performs flawlessly (so far). We get a lot of enjoyment out of this little car and plan to keep it around for a long time!

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