May 5, 2011

The Wells Fargo Buick


I moved to Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1972 to begin a new job at the Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula.  About a year later, I acquired my first house in College Park in Gautier, Mississippi.  On weekends I often scrounged through junkyards looking for interesting old cars and parts.  One weekend I was at a junkyard between Pascagoula and Mobile just north of highway 90.  I asked the proprietor if he had any interesting junkers for sale.  He asked me if I was familiar with the TV show, "Tales of Wells Fargo" starring Dale Robertson.  I told him I had been a big fan of the show.  The show had been on from 1957 through 1962.  I recall that it was on Monday evening.  The junkyard man motioned for me to follow him.


We proceeded to the back of the property where there were a couple of decrepit steel shanties.  Under a roof extension on one of these buildings was a large car covered by a canvas tarp.  He pulled the tarp aside and revealed a 1958 Buick Limited convertible unlike anything I had seen before.  It was in extremely run-down condition with much of the floorboard rusted away.  The top was a tattered lacework.  At some point the rain had saturated the ornately tooled saddle leather upholstery and the resulting shrinkage had torn most of the seams.  The stuffing was oozing out of the cushions.


The hood had a strange ornament resembling a longhorn steer.  The doors had holsters on the insides and ornate rear view mirror/spotlights on the outsides.  The rear fenders were covered with a wood veneer and had the words "Wells Fargo" emblazoned in bold chrome block letters.  Then the gentleman told me the story.


It seems that Buick was the main sponsor of the Wells Fargo show in 1958.  Buick Motor Division decided to produce a one-off Buick to present to Dale Robertson and then use as a publicity car to be shown at major dealerships around the country.  When the publicity tour was completed, according to this gentleman, the car was given to Robertson.  He drove the car for a couple of years, after which he gave it to his sister who lived in southern Mississippi, not far from Pascagoula.  She briefly drove the car, but it was a financial burden so she parked it on her property in about 1963, whereupon the roof deteriorated, the interior got ruined, and the body rusted badly.  It had ended up in this junkyard and the owner wanted $1,000 for the car.


In 1973 I was earning about $14,000/year.  $1,000 seemed like a lot to pay for a car that was going to be a nightmare to restore and could well become a money pit.  I declined the opportunity to buy it.  The next time I heard of the car was in the late '70's or early 1980's.  I saw an ad in
Old Cars Weekly magazine.  The "fabulous Dale Robertson Buick" was going to be offered in the Atlantic City Auction by one of the major classic car auction companies.  I don't recall if I ever learned what the car sold for in that auction.  I doubt if the buyer had any idea how far the car had deteriorated before it was restored.

A search of the internet turned up an interesting page that is part of David Webb's Website.  He is the proud owner of a 1958 Buick Limited.   It states in part:

"This car was custom built by the Buick factory for Dale Robertson, star of the Buick sponsored TV western Tales of Wells Fargo.  The picture above is a postcard of Dale and the car issued by Buick.  Interior custom features included: bucket seats of Danish calfskin with hand tooled western motif leather inserts; door panels of the same materials; a console between the seats - the "gun rack" - that held two chrome plated Winchesters with carved stocks; a hand tooled leather pistol holster attached to each door that held a matched set of pearl handled .38 caliber Colt revolvers (Is this car street legal??); natural calfskin carpeting; and flip up door handles.  Exterior custom features included: solid walnut panels replaced the three banks of louvers on both sides; the words "Wells Fargo" were placed on the panels in chrome letters; a longhorn steer's head was superimposed over the standard hood emblem; and flipper hubcaps were added to the wheels. Buick displayed this car at major car shows across the country before presenting it to Mr. Robertson.  I do not know the current whereabouts of the car.  The last information I have is that it sold at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg festival on Labor Day, 1996 for $61,000.00. This was reported on the Collectable (sic) Auto Discussion Forum by someone who attended the auction.  Prior to that it was in the collection of a Buick dealer and car collector in the Milwaukee area. 7/30/05 - I just found out the car sold again in 1998 for $30,975.00 at the Barrett-Jackson auction.  It is on their website, Lot #919 for 1998."

 The individual who published that article also had a picture of the broken hood ornament that had once graced the car:

I also ran across a picture of the car taken at the 1958 Chicago Auto Show.  Here it is shown on display:

The description follows: "Capitalizing on the popularity of the "Tales of Wells Fargo" television show, sponsor Buick exhibited the custom built 'Wells Fargo' convertible in Chicago. Based on the Roadmaster ragtop, the car was created for Dale Robertson, star of the TV series. Major exterior alteration was replacing the chrome trim on the rear fenders with walnut panels. Unique interior consisted of two-tone cowhide upholstery and floor covering. The doors were equipped with pistols in holsters, and in the back was a gun rack with rifles. Crowds were handed postcards featuring Robinson and his western themed Buick."

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Bob,

I enjoyed your article about the Buick. I recently purchased the photographic estate of fashion and advertising model Joan Kemp which included over 800 photos and about 20 16mm movies of various TV commercials etc... that she was in back in the 50's and 60's...and low and behold there is movie of her at a 1958 auto show modelling the features of THIS car. She's playing with the guns etc...How cool is that. When I get the movie back from the digital conversion house I will post on the web. If you are interested in seeing the film contact me at jacqlennon@comcast.net and I will send you the link.

Best,

Jacques

john said...

Was this the only car made for this advertising purpose? I used to go to the Kansas City Auto show as a kid and my memory may be altered. It seemed that a new car was displayed each year. I also thought I remembered more items on the car maybe a different year. I thought I remembered rifles mounted on the front fenders.

Anonymous said...

Hello,
I would very much love to have the to any movies with this car. I actually sat in this car while it was parked in my uncles restoration shop back somewhere in the early 70's. His name was Lavett Branning of Moss Point Mississippi. He has since passed away. His younger brother is trying to find any information he can get on this car. Thanks, Ray Parrish
rayzorsharp@prodigy.net

Anonymous said...

I am in search of memorabilia related to this car. My dad owns the two Colt pistols that were in the door holsters, and I have been searching for literature such as the 1958 Chicago Auto Show catalogue or any other ads/printed material featuring the car. cwatersabe@hotmail.com

Steve said...

In the spring of 1961 I was a fourth grader, who was out playing in the neighborhood near my dad's office at 1115 Broadway Place in Downtown Oklahoma City. Returning to his office, after about an hour riding my bike, I was astonished, to see this Buick parked at the curb, top down in front of my dad's office. Wow! Going inside, there was Dale, sitting on the corner of one of the desks, visiting with my dad, Harley. They were visiting, about a possible purchase of our ranch, near Pawnee, Ok. which was briefly for sale at the time. I was told to go about my business and later saw Dale leave and drive away. Years later, in 1985, I had the occasion to sell an old Greyhound Scenicruiser bus to Dale, he wanted to make a motorhome out of it, and had some schemer to help him make the decision to buy it and proceeded to cut it up. Eventually it went to scrap. However, I got to talk to Dale about the car...he didn't recall it at first, but on a visit to his farm near Yukon, Ok. I brought a photo, and he did mention having owned it but didn't seem to recall where it went!! He would invite you into his spacious home that had an old style saloon in the entry hall. There were always numerous hang arounders, and I would decline the offer of a drink before noon on my visits there. Eventually his spending got the best of him, and that farm was sold, however, Dale does still live on the place in a smaller house at the rear of the property.
Great memories, though amazing the car was restored, after being allowed to deteriorate so.
Regards,
Steve Davis
Oklahoma City

Anonymous said...

My dad bought this car from Dale Robertson in 1959 or so. Dale was required to keep it for a year under his contract with Buick Motor Company. My dad and Dale were very good friends and I also spent a lot of time with him. They were in the horse business together, buying, breeding, selling and quarter horse racing. We would fly to Oklahoma, pick up Dale and head to Ruidoso or some other place to watch the horses run. I drove the car while in high school in Laurel, Ms. and to college at Miss. State. When we got it, we put two Chrome plated Winchester 30-30's in the rack between the front bucket seats, and two nickel plated Colt 45's, one in each door holster. They all could be locked in place.
I put the screw through the gold plated steer head. It was about to fall off, so I just got out the drill, drilled a hole and put a flat head metal screw in it to hold it on.
I was still in college, but decided to sell the car in the summer of 1969 (or '68). Some guy came over to my apartment in Jackson, Ms. where I had a summer job in between college semesters, and wanted to buy it from my ad in the local paper. He wanted to take a test drive, so i let him, and have never seen the car since. He drove it away and stole it. Police could never find it.
I have numerous pictures of the car, me and Dale when I was a kid, taken in Laurel. i guess "cwatersabe's" (email address) dad has my two pistols, and is it possible that Lavett Branning of Moss Point had something to do with the theft, or buying from the thief?
I've been looking for this car ever since.
Arvel
agmwildhorse@gmail.com

Ron Davis said...

The car will be in the Amelia Island Concours d' Elegance show (Amelia Island, Fl.) next March. I am not quite sure who the ownwer is but, I am sure he would like to have the original pistols.