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My 1949 Buick Sedanette


Taree restorer Justin Hills believes his restoration of the classic American car more closely resembles how an artist would have drawn the concept rather than the finished production model. "The production car never ends up looking like the artist's concept drawing," he says.

"Concept cars of this period were always longer, lower and wider. So my idea for the car was to build the concept car that they would have wanted to build but never did."

The 39-year-old English migrant bought the car for $US3000 over the internet in 2004 and estimates he has spent the equivalent of a full-time year working on the car.

"It would owe me over $100,000, but this isn't for sale unless someone has a whole lot of money," he says. "The biggest expense is the chrome plating, trim and material costs. I spent more than $4000 on the softest leather you have ever felt. It's so soft you just want to bite it."

When Hills went looking for a classic car to restore for himself, he wasn't searching for a Buick. "I was actually looking for a James Dean '49 Mercury at the time, but I saw this and knew I just gotta have it," he says. "It was the right period and the right look; it just ticked all the boxes that I was looking for.

"I love the fastback shape of it. The way the roof goes all the way down to the ground." Hills has emphasised that effect with air suspension that drops 15cm when it's parked so the panels almost touch the tarmac.

It's a long way from the condition he bought it in. "I reckon it had been left out in a paddock for 30 years and not touched," he says. "It was full of dust. It must have been a California or Arizona car because it was really dry but not rusted."

The engine was seized solid and was replaced by a 1953 Buick engine which was also a straight eight with the same block but a bigger 263 cubic inch (4309cc) capacity.

"The gearbox was fine, but everything was pulled apart and rebuilt anyway," he says. "It's got a three-speed column shift and it drives just beautifully," he says.

"It does everything it's meant to do because everything is brand new. I built it to drive it, but I don't drive it all that much."

"Since I finished it I love it too much to drive. It's like collecting a piece of artwork. It lives in a cartoon bubble in my workshop and I have to work to keep it clean because it's black." Instead, his daily drive is a 1966 Mk X Jaguar which he calls the "most underrated Jag in the world. I love them. They are a bit like the Buick - a big boat of a car," he says.

"I'm not into modern cars. I just enjoy the feeling of driving an old car. I have to go to Sydney a lot and I always take the Jag. It does the job and it looks good, too."

The car builder and restorer started as a smash repairer and has worked on cars for clients from Darwin to Dubai.

Although he considers his Buick the best he has ever done, his most expensive job was a 1964 Aston Martin DB4 Cabriolet he restored for a Sydney advertising executive. "He later sold it for 275,000 (about $555,000) to a Swiss museum."

But it's not about the money. His dream is to restore a car for famous Pebble Beach Concourse. "That's my career aim. It would be nice to be a Bugatti," he says.