Remarkable restoration: 1958 Buick Caballero station wagon wins AACA Zenith Award

Michigan couple spends 4½ years restoring desert-damaged chromed classic

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AACA Zenith
This 1968 Buick Century Caballero station wagon had been battered by off-roading in New Mexico and sat exposed in the high desert for decades until Joe and Julie Tonietto started their restoration effort | AACA photos by West Peterson

Until Joe and Julie Tonietto acquired it in 2014, the 1958 Buick Century Caballero estate wagon had last been registered in 1972, and at some point had been used for off-road travel — and travail — suffering significant damage to all its lower body panels.

Since 1990, the chrome-clad station wagon had been sitting in the high desert of New Mexico, where the elements had taken their toll on the exterior paint and interior surfaces. 

At some point the transmission had disappeared, as had all the glass except the tailgate backlight. 

Joe Tonietto, his car and his trophy

But 4½ years later, after the Toniettos completed a restoration effort that employed some professionals, a few trusted friends and a lot of their own work, that effort was rewarded with the AACA Zenith Award as the best restoration of the year at the Antique Automobile Club of America Grand Nationals, held this past weekend in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The AACA created the Zenith Award in 2016 to recognize “magnificent restorations.” At each AACA Nationals event during the year, two cars are selected as Zenith candidates. A judging panel then selects 10 cars from those nominated, and those cars are invited to the Grand Nationals where a team of AACA senior master judges selects the “Restoration of the Year.”

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“Despite tough competition from each of the vehicles nominated, the Buick Caballero station wagon exemplified the Zenith Award as the finest restoration of the year and will wear that title well,” said Tom Cox, AACA vice president and originator of the Zenith program. 

“That determination was borne out by competing car owners as well. The competing cars and owners were first-class – a real testament to the fine spirit of the hobby.”

Zenith Award competitors

Those competitors included a 1967 Pontic GTO owned by Bill Brunker of Sherrillsford, North Carolina; a 1929 Nash 422 owned by Richard and Michelle Cannon of Boyertown, Pennsylvania; a 1956 Desoto Fireflite owned by Osborne Clark of Greenville, North Carolina; a 1971 Oldsmobile 442 owned by Clyde and Elayne Cox of Coral Springs, Florida; a 1934 Packard 1104 owned by Doug and Judy Fernandez of Wethersfield, Connecticut; a 1933 Auburn 12-165 owned by Calvin High of Willow Street, Pennsylvania; a 1929 Pierce-Arrow 133 owned by Ross and Beth Myers of Boyertown, Pennsylvania; a 1910 Oakland 30 Model 24 runabout owned by Paul and Janice Phillips of Marietta, Georgia; and a 1931 Ford Model A convertible sedan owned by Mary and Stan Sorrels of La Porte, Indiana.

To learn more about the 10 finalists, visit the 2020 Zenith Awards webpage. 

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The 2020 AACA Grand Nationals were moved to Gettysburg because the Wyndham Gettysburg property allowed room for 484 cars to be displayed on 8 fields to provide pandemic-required social distancing. Each of the cars at the event was a multiple award-winner at AACA Nationals during the previous year. 

To see the complete list of AACA Grand Nationals award winners, visit the event webpage.

Cars spaced out at Gettysburg event | AACA photo by Stacy Zimmerman

The AACA proved this past weekend that a well-run car show can be safely held even in today’s health climate,” noted AACA president Jim Elliott. “We are looking forward to providing another safe opportunity for our members to share their wonderful cars and this great hobby again on October 10th in Hershey, Pennsylvania.”

For more information on the AACA, visit its website.

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The Buick Caballero was an amazing car to see upclose. The Judges had a tough job to pick the #1 car. The 2020 Zenith award cars were all winners in my book. There was alot of dedication that went into each one by their owners for sure.

  2. Beautiful car. My parents took a yellow over gray 57 Caballero to France when they were stationed there in 1963, but after trying every enlisted wrencher in sight, they couldn’t find anyone to keep it running, and so ditched it there, in Orleans.
    By the way, what were fire ant fatalities per capita on that Wyndham lawn during the event, anyway?

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