Overview of Norman Timbs Buick Streamliner Special
Since it went against the excessive chrome and rear fins trend that dominated American automotive design at the time, the Buick Special Streamliner was one of the most avant-garde creations of its era. Norman Timbs, a mechanical engineer, was the designer of this car, which had lengthy curves, minimalist designs, flowing lines, and no doors.
Apart from his work on this big project, Norman Timbs is most known among senior fans for inventing the ground effect or for his assistance with Lou Moore’s Blue Crown Spark Plug Team, which won the Indianapolis 500 three times in a row. Timbs designed several of the company’s early products, notably the well-known quick-change rear axle, while working for Tucker as well as the illustrious wheel manufacturer Halibrand as a junior engineer.
Production of Buick Streamliner
Timbs was inspired by the supercharged V16-powered Auto Union (now Audi) streamliners that dominated European Grand Prix before World War II.
Mid-1940s is when he supposedly had the concept. His careful sketching led to 14-scale clay sculptures.After settling on a final design, Timbs began creating a chassis for the two-seat roadster by welding together aircraft-grade chromoly steel tubing. Getting it right in the 1940s was black magic. Talented engineer succeeded.
Next, he built the 117-inch-wheelbase (297 cm) structure with a Ford beam axle in front and a bespoke independent swing axle around a rigid-mount Packard center section.For the 17.5-foot (5.3 m) body, Timbs constructed a wooden buck and contacted Emil Diedt, one of the top bespoke builders in the U.S. at the time. The couple pounded 100 aluminum sheets into two parts.
Engineer sought aerodynamic body with few gaps. No hood, trunk lid, or doorways. The only gap separated the front and rear halves, which lifted with a button to access the engine and spare tire.
In 1954, Motor Life showcased the Timbs Special (also called the Buick Streamliner Special) repainted white with registration plates on the bumpers. Air Force Officer Jim Davis of Manhattan Beach, California, bought it in 1952 and registered it for road usage, according to the article.
The car’s history becomes obscure after that. Kids used it as a slide for decades in front of a LA restaurant. Then it was stashed outside behind a barn in the California desert and found in 2002.Gary Cerveny bought it at a Barrett-Jackson auction for $17,000. Cerveny found Timbs’s son, who retained his dad’s original scrapbook with Special newspaper clippings and photos. This allowed the collector to begin a seven-year, concours-quality repair.
Destruction of the car due to Malibu Wild Fire
After his home and his collection of 76 unique and rare custom cars, race cars, and other vehicles were destroyed by the Woolsey fire that tore through parts of Malibu in November 2018, Gary Cerveny was given the chance to sort through the ashes. He decided to save only four items: two Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts, a belly tanker with sentimental value rather than monetary value, and a 1948 Norman Timbs Buick streamliner. The latter, the centerpiece of Cerveny’s collection, will shortly rise once more, a little more than ten years after Cerveny first restored it.
The streamliner could yet be rescued even though nearly the whole aluminum body of Cerveny’s 21,000-square-foot residence and the entire collection were classified as a total write-off following the fire. Ironically, Cerveny’s decision to repair the streamliner was driven by the same set of factors that he attributes to the buick streamliner’s original destruction.
The Los Angeles Fire Department opted to only respond to situations that were life-threatening because of the size of the fires that destroyed 1,600 homes in his neighborhood, he continued, adding that this is why the fire department never arrived. Because he and his wife, Diane, were out of town at the time, his home wasn’t a top priority. For days, the house was on fire.
The house and the collection might have been spared by any response to the fire. On the other hand, Cerveny is certain that any water applied to the fire after it started to burn the house would have caused the chassis to freeze and possibly twist, leaving it worthless. When the entire chassis Magnaflux has been tested, Cerveny intends to use the surviving streamliner as the basis for his second repair of the vehicle because it cooled gradually instead.
The 1948 Buick Streamliner’s demise was a shock to auto fans and collectors worldwide because this uncommon and highly valued car was now lost for all time. But via a long repair process, the perseverance and passion of classic car enthusiasts have brought this stunning vehicle back to life.
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Cerveny’s History with the Timbs streamliner
In 2002, Cerveny first encountered the Timbs streamliner when he went to a Barrett-Jackson auction at the Petersen Automotive Museum with the goal of buying a Ferrari for Diane. He occurred to raise his hand in the air as he waited for that Ferrari when the old streamliner that had previously been abandoned rolled onto the block. He admitted, “I didn’t know anything about the car then. I sometimes assist the auctioneers by starting the bidding on a car, so I was talking to a buddy when they suddenly dropped the hammer, at which point my friend informed me that it appeared as though I had purchased the vehicle.
He invested slightly more than $17,000 in it with the idea that he would give it a fast refurbishment and use it for events like automobiles and coffee. He soon learned, however, that he was in possession of a vehicle that “should be one of the most significant automobiles in the hobby… It was a total one-off by a very significant individual who didn’t get the exposure he deserved in his lifetime.”
The work that Timbs did on the Blue Crown Spark Plug Specials, which won the Indianapolis 500 for three years in a row, may make him the most well-known engineer. Or for his several other Indy car designs, such as the Cummins Diesel Special built by J.C. Agajanian and the Howard Keck family.
Nevertheless, as Ken Gross noted in the judges’ book for the streamliner, Timbs had a varied career. He worked as a junior engineer for Preston Tucker, designed a significant portion of the Halibrand catalog, including the company’s renowned quick-change rear axle, contributed to the Davis three-wheeler, and pioneered the use of negative pressure underneath race cars—a technique we now know as ground effects.
Sometime in the middle to late 1940s, he began working on the streamliner for his own benefit rather than with the intention of constructing the concept. He began by welding the 1947 Buick straight-eight in the middle of the 117-inch-wheelbase chassis, which was constructed from four-inch chromoly tubing. The rear suspension was made up of an independent swing axle that Timbs developed around a rigid-mount Packard middle section, while the front suspension was a straightforward Ford beam axle.
Restoration of Buick Streamliner with Cerveny
But by the time it reached Cerveny, it didn’t appear to be much. Although it still sat on its original chassis and had spent many years being shown or kept outside in California, numerous difficult-to-find pieces had vanished from it. The streamliner underwent a seven-year restoration that culminated in its debut at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 2010, subsequent appearance at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2012, and inclusion in numerous Gross-curated art museum exhibits. Fortunately, Cerveny quickly located Timbs’s son, who had a scrapbook of articles and photos on the car.
According to Cerveny’s assessment, the buick streamliner is in far worse condition this time. Additionally, Custom Auto, a repair shop in Loveland, Colorado, has since closed its doors. And he will need to look for several of those challenging missing components once more, like the hubcaps and the 8,000 rpm Stewart-Warner tachometer made exclusively for race cars.
On the other hand, Rex Rogers, a Custom Auto employee who worked on the car’s initial restoration, has been enlisted by Cerveny to help with the buick streamliner’s current second restoration. Cerveny made a lot of laser maps of the car’s body during the first restoration, even though Timbs destroyed the original wood bucks for the body after the car was finished. Aside from the body, Cerveny indicated that almost everything else should be able to be used again for the restoration, including the independent rear suspension that was designed by Timbs. And Cerveny claimed that Hagerty’s prompt response to his claim—the insurance was able to send a cheque within 10 days—was the only positive aspect of the fire’s aftermath. Furthermore, “if I did the car once, I will do it again,” as Cerveny put it,
Cerveny is still planning the project, and he and Rogers don’t anticipate beginning work on the streamliner’s revival until until January 1, 2021. He estimates that once they get going, the restoration will only take 18 to 24 months this time, with the streamliner making another post-restoration appearance at Amelia Island.
Here are some after restoration images
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