1954 Buick Wildcat II Recreation

IMG_1612
There are only two 1954 Buick Wildcat IIs. The original in the Sloan Museum, and this remarkable recreation. Story and construction scans complements of Ken Mitson and Ron Will.


1954 Buick Wildcat II Recreation

by Pete Phillips, BCA #7388, Bugle Editor

Parked right outside the convention center door during most of the meet was this replica of Buick’s 1954 Wildcat II concept car. You would have been forgiven if you thought it was the real thing, which is housed in the Sloan Museum’s Buick Gallery in Flint, Michigan. But this is a replica of the original, and represents an eight-year labor of love-some might say obsession-by owner Ken Mitson.

IMG_1659

Ken has owned Buicks since 1966, when he bought a new Riviera, so he is hooked on them. After finishing a complete restoration of a 1953 Skylark, he was wondering what would be his next project. He had fallen in love with the Sloan’s Wildcat II, due to its beautiful flowing lines, and thought that it could be a really neat, cool project if he could get close enough to it to take hundreds of measurements and photos. Right here, it should be noted that Ken owns a couple of manufacturing companies-one that builds pipe-making tools and one that builds high-performance race car parts. So he has some expertise that the average person lacks.

1954-Buick-Wildcat-II

The Original Wildcat II

Ken befriended Jeff Taylor, the Curator of the Buick Gallery, and talked him into being allowed to take photos and digitized drawings of the 1954 Wildcat II when it returned from the Pebble Beach car show one year. When Taylor called and said the Wildcat II was arriving back at the museum, Ken and his paint and body man flew up to Flint, set up a digitizing camera, established a grid system with the ability to add dimensions to the photos, and “shot a zillion pictures” as Ken tells it. The photos were loaded into a computer, blown up to actual size, and big digital cut-outs were made to guide the fabrication of the fiberglass panels which make up the car.


Interview with Ken Mitson at SEMA in 2013


What followed was months and years of whittling, cutting, gluing, and building molds for the fiberglass panels. Ken’s objective was to reproduce the original car’s appearance, but to make it more drivable and handle more like a sports car. The original Wildcat II has a 322 Buick V-8, Dynaflow transmission, torque tube, and lever-type shock absorbers-in other words, 1954 Buick chassis and drive train technology. “It’s more of a push-toy than a real car,” says Ken.

Buick_Wildcat_Ii_Concept_Car_1954

The Original Wildcat II

The Wildcat II’s design is based on an early Chevrolet Corvette, including the cowl, windshield, and body design. So, Ken’s first search was for an early Corvette body and frame. He found a 1956 Corvette frame and a complete 1954 Corvette body in a guy’s backyard, and bought them. Then, he got a 425 Buick nailhead V-8 and set about updating it. The 425’s block, cylinder heads, crankshaft, and oil pan are from the Buick engine, but everything else is new, using the latest engine technology. For example, it has the latest fuel injection system, computer-driven controls, electronic timing, oxygen sensor, hardened valve seats and guides, a solid lifter cam-all of the things that a modern, high performance engine has. According to Ken, the horsepower output is about 450 h.p.

Ken-Top-view-Wildcat

Photo by Ron Will

The car’s suspension is also updated. Ken bought a late 1980s, burned Corvette, took the suspension parts off of it, and married it to the older chassis so that it now has four-wheel independent suspension. The transmission is an aluminum, T-10, Borg-Warner four-speed. The car was finished just in time for the South Bend Buick meet, and Ken managed to put all of 10 miles on it before the show. He says it is like driving a new passenger car today. We thank Ken Mitson for bringing this work of art to the meet.


Construction Photos


Photos by George Prentice


Photos of the finished car by Gary Smith

12 Comments on “1954 Buick Wildcat II Recreation

  1.  by  Syd Mead

    HEY GUYS

    The Buick Wildcat coverage is superb. When the original was featured in the automotive press, I was impresses by the ‘neo’ touch of the cutaway front fender contour, the positioning of the traditional BUICK portholes on the horizontal surfaces and the overall proportions of the car.

    I was scrollilng down and caught the BITTER article. I had an acquaintance who had an Opel dealership in Heiligenhaus. I was visiting him after one of my many trips to Eindhoven, Holland to design stuff for Philips Electronics, and he had the Bitter car in his dealership. He asked if I’d like to take a ride in it and of course I agreed. We went to lunch, and even though both of us smoked at the time, he was very insistent that I shouldn’t even think about it. The car was beautiful. And, well, that’s my memory of being up, in and ‘close’ to this custom Opel.

    SYD MEAD

  2.  by  DICK RUZZIN

    I worked for Ned Nickels for 4 1/2 years in the mid-seventies and I am pretty sure that he was responsible for the Wildcat under Harley Earl. I saw some pencil drawings that he had done of the car. He had been Chief Designer for Buick in the fifties up until the 1959 model when Bernie Smith took over.

    Ned was a very nice person, he came from a small town in Wisconsin where he worked the night shift in a paper mill after high school. He made car sketches during slow periods. When someone told him GM was seeking artists he sent them in and was invited to Detroit. He was hired and worked at design until his retirement. He had no formal education after high school and was very loyal to Harley Earl.

    Great job, what an undertaking. From the pictures it looks very well executed.

    Dick Ruzzin

  3.  by  Ken Pickering

    Seeing the story of the “1954 Buick Wildcat II Recreation” is like seeing an old friend. I have fond memories of the development of this model. When Ned Nickles, Buick Chief Designer, had completed the original full sized rendering, I was designated to build the wooden clay armature for the development of the full size clay model. The armature was a bit unusual as the cut away front fender presented something new.

    When the armature was completed by our Wood shop and delivered to the Buick Studio, Nick called me upstairs to his studio. He was very pleased with my final product and said his door to the Buick Studio would be open ay time I wanted to visit. Please remember that all divisional studios were strictly secret and “off limits” to anybody except the very few that had direct business with the studio.

    About a year later, I was promoted to the staff of Bob Lauer, Director of Engineering and visited the Buick Studio many times during my daily trips through the studios. Ned Nickles was one outstanding person and we had a lasting professional friendship. The Buick Wildcat II remains as one of all time favorite vehicles.

    Ken Pickering

  4.  by  Leon Dixon

    I must say, it has been a long, long, long time since I saw a car that made my pulse speed up like it used to do… way back when at the auto shows. The WIldcat II recreation is everything the old excitement USED to be about! One word: WOW!!!!!

    A car guy with some vision, creative skills… and taste! A beautiful execution when new… and another beautiful execution now. Really impressive work here. Magnificent.

    I always loved the way the Wildcat II tail lights illuminate. We’re talking some real design attention to detail with a flair!

    But one thing that has puzzled me for a lot of years. When I remember seeing the original Wildcat II in the 1950s, it seems to me that it had a clear windshield. However, more recent pics of the original seem to show a tinted windshield (which actually looks better to me) but I wonder when, if, or where this change took place? Or am I imagining this?

    And now to further confuse things, I see the recreation appears to have a clear windshield again. Can anyone clear up (no pun intended) this history of the Wildcat II windshields for me?

    Thanks for the superb coverage and photos!

  5.  by  Michael Greer

    I heard about this car as a kid, but never saw hide nor hair.. Finally get to see it in great pics and great construction pics. Maybe they should have produced a few thousand of them.. put on a roof for wet weather.. My grandfather loved Buicks. Would take me to the dealership in Royal Oak, and chat with the boss. I’d get to sit in a new Riviera and play with all the buttons. Always wanted one. I drove cross country in a friends beat up Riviera, great comfort! Thanks for the ‘vette alternative.

  6.  by  Ron Will

    I was lucky enough to watch Ken Mitson and Marvin Compton put this masterpiece together. I was amazed that they were able to create this without using any of the sophisticated clay models and engineering platform tools that GM uses. Using only small green foam blocks from a craft store they were able to meticulously glue and shape them into one of Harley Earl’s great Motorama show cars. This is truly a work of art that required infinite perseverance and talent to get the job done. Congratulations Ken and Marvin.

  7.  by  Marty Martino

    I was fortunate to meet Ken in 2010 while I was in Arizona selling my then recently completed Club de Mer recreation. At that time Ken showed me under construction photos of his Wildcat.
    I must say after seeing the finished car ,Ken knocked it out of the park!!
    Joe Bortz has told me several times that the Wildcat II is one of his absolute favorites .

  8.  by  Bill Morlitz

    The first new family car I remember was our 1953 Buick Riviera Special, dark over medium blue (Imperial over Reef?). From then on, I was a Buick fan. Over the decades, I’ve gained an appreciation of just about all things Buick. So when I see someone like Ken who has spent so much of his time, energy and money on (re)creating a tribute to such a unique automobile, he deserves all the accolades given to him. It’s an absolutely outstanding effort resulting in a more than memorable car.

  9.  by  Rick Sand

    Wow, Mr. Mitson – an absolutely jaw dropping car. Very well done, sir! I’m familiar with the original, as it has been displayed in the Sloan Museum in Flint for years. Your car takes the original a step further to the ultimate expression of what it SHOULD be – a drivable, high powered Buick sports car! Somewhere, Ned Nickles and Harley Earl are smiling.

  10.  by  Karl Ludvigsen

    Fabulous to have comments by Syd Mean, Dick Ruzzin and Ken Pickering, all friends of mine. And to have their memories of Ned Nickles, who was indeed a superb designer with both the original Corvair and Buick Riviera to his name.

    But…I do hope that this Wildcat II has a plaque on it somewhere that identifies its builder…

  11.  by  Joe Powell

    Wow what craftsmanship. Dream cars do come to life—lots of time and talent applied with patience—eight years!
    Check out the Hartville Ohio car builder, Jim Palosi. With nothing but a rendering and sheet aluminum to work with he is building the one off 1948 Panozster.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>