1941 Buick Series 50 Super Convertible
A Great Car With A Great Story
This rare 1941 Buick Super 8 Convertible is a one-owner Montecito, CA car that is almost completely original and drives like it has 30,000 miles.
The car has a wonderful history that is depicted in Vincent Michael Manocchi's article about its owner, Peggy McManus Houghtaling, entitled, "Peggy and the Benevelont Miss Amy (duPont)." After Peggy's death in 2005, Montecito resident, collector, dealer (and my father) Charles Crail tried to buy her Buick from her estate. However, her heirs decided to donate it to the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles where it remained tucked away in the basement and never displayed to the public. In the summer of 2013, the museum sold off a number of cars at auction. It was here that Crail was finally able to purchase Peggy's beloved Buick and bring it home to Montecito where it still remains today. Peggy was a longtime member of the Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club at the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel and Resort. As soon as Charles got the Buick home, we brought it down to her old stomping grounds to photograph it where it had been seen for decades.
Here is Manocchi's article about Peggy and her Buick... Ninety-two miles north of Los Angeles, California and just south of Santa Barbara on U.S. 101 lies the picturesque town of Montecito. There lives Peggy Houghtaling, who - by the time this goes to press - will have celebrated her 85th birthday. Peggy is one of many octogenarians who reside in the region, but she is the only one, I've been told, that drives a 1941 Buick Super Convertible that she's owned since new. Peggy took delivery of her Sienna Rust convertible on October 1, 1940, a gift from the late Amy Elizabeth duPont, kin to the well-known duPont family of Wilmington, Delaware who befriended Peggy and her parents in the late 1930's. The elderly Ms. duPont - who liked to be called 'Miss Amy' - had never married, owned a large estate, and hosted frequent tea parties. "My father was a composer and pianist, and my mother sang," Peggy explained. "And it was at one of Miss Amy's wonderful parties that we met." Soon after, Peggy became the "granddaughter" Amy E. duPont never had. "Miss Amy oversaw my entire life...did everything for me...gave me anything I needed, she was like a grandmother to me," Peggy fondly recalled. In 1938, as an attractive young women of 20, Peggy McManus (her maiden name) set her sights on Hollywood and singing with the Big Bands. "Amy found me the the best vocal coach in Hollywood," Peggy said, "and before long we were making weekly trips south." In 1939, Miss Amy bought Peggy her first new car, a 1939 Chevrolet Master Deluxe Town Sedan. The weekly commute from Santa Barbara to Hollywood was replaced by Amy getting Peggy an apartment at the Hollywood Studio Club, a colony for young women pursuing the arts - at the time, much like the Barbazon in New York City. With a busy schedule of voice lessons, acting lessons, and perfecting her skills as an equestrian and polo player, Peggy was fast becoming what the old studio system referred to as a "Starlet." In 1940, she was signed to a contract at RKO pictures with the hope of someday acting in westerns. "Splendid," she thought, as she loved horses and was an expert rider. During her stay at RKO, Peggy also began modeling. At 5'7" with long blond hair, blue eyes, and a perfect figure she was a natural. Peggy appeared in a number of print ads ranging from automobiles to cigarettes and beer. "My father would really get upset when he saw me in a beer or cigarettes ad," she said, "but I never really drank or smoked." It was the automobile ads Peggy enjoyed most. "I worked a lot with the agencies that handled Chrysler-Plymouth and Studebaker, but I don't remember posing for Buick ads...there were so many you know, I might have."Every weekend Peggy would travel back up the coast on U.S. 101 in her light gray Chevy sedan - what she always referred to as an "old lady's car." One weekend while visiting Miss Amy's estate, she was thumbing through the current issue of the Saturday Evening Post when she came across a Buick advertisement, and it was love at first sight. "There it was, that beautiful Sienna Rust Convertible," Peggy recalled. "Oh Amy, isn't it beautiful!" Amy responded by instructing Peggy to to sell the '39 Chevy and she would order the new '41 Buick Convertible. A few days later the two were shopping in downtown Santa Barbara and stopped by Vincent Wood Buick on State Street. "And there it was on the truck waiting to be unloaded...just like the one in the ad!" Peggy reminisced. "We didn't have to order it...Amy bought it for me on the spot, before the tires even hit the ground!" All told, Miss Amy paid just over $1,650 cash for the new Buick, around $21,800 in today's money. The day was Tuesday, October 1, 1940. "The first thing Miss Amy and I did was lower the top and drive up and down State Street laughing. I'll never forget that beautiful fall day, the two of us in my new Buick, Miss Amy's snow white hair blowing in the wind as we drove up and down State Street...laughing and laughing...oh my...she was such an angel!" Back at the Studio Club in Hollywood, Peggy was having the time of her life. Her days were spent at the RKO lot working with such film luminaries as Jane Russell and Rita Hayworth, while her evenings were spent enjoying the nightlife on Sunset Boulevard frequenting Hollywood's grandest nightclub of all, Ciro's, and dining at the Trocadero Restaurant. "Errol Flynn loved to ride in my Buick," Peggy recalled. "At the time he lived at the Garden of Allah on Sunset...Hollywood's best bungalows and pool, you know. I would also go with Victor Mature from time to time, but he was crazy about Rita Hayworth. We would go over to Rita's house together just so Vic could see her without making the husband jealous," she chuckled. "Oh my...those were the days!" Just after Pearl Harbor, Peggy married, with a lavish wedding held at Miss Amy's estate with 500 people in attendance. Peggy had traded her Hollywood lifestyle for for a cattle ranch in Mendocino County, California. Throughout the rest of the '40's, '50's, '60's, and '70's, Peggy drove her Buick daily. By the late '70's, she semi-retired the car and joined the Buick club for fun. Peggy's Buick is always a favorite at local car shows, frequently receiving awards for best unrestored automobile. When asked why she doesn't drive her Buick as much anymore she replied, "I got tired of people approaching me and asking if I wanted to sell my car. Every time I would go shopping people wanted to know what it's worth, how much would I take for it...but I would never sell it...that car means so much to me." The benevolent Miss Amy passed away in 1962 at the age of 87. Her memory lives on with the Unidel Foundation, an organization dedicated to university enrichment. Unidel also funded the Amy E. duPont Music Building at the University of Delaware, named in honor of the benefactress. Today, Peggy and her dog Baby, an 18-year-old Australian Dingo-Jack Russell mix, live alone on a quiet street in Montecito. She takes her Buick out occasionally, driving just a few blocks to the Biltmore Hotel and Resort where she reminisces with friends. However, for the most part, she keeps her old Buick locked safely in the garage, preferring to drive her yellow '74 Chevette. With the odometer reading 131,000 miles, the old convertible is in remarkably good shape. There have been various body repairs over the years and some patchwork on the leather upholstery. "Mechanically, you know, the car is completely original, but getting tired, just like me," Peggy said with a smile. Following an afternoon of good conversation and picture taking, I was ready to leave. The sun was going down and I noticed Peggy's garage faced west. She told me how she always wanted to star in a Western, and at the end of the movie ride off into the sunset. As our eyes made contact, I realized those were the same blue eyes that charmed Errol Flynn sixty years earlier. We said our goodbyes and I promised I would see her again. We smiled at each other, shook hands, and I walked away. As I looked back, there she was, behind the wheel of her Buick, wearing her well-worn Stetson. As she pulled into her west-facing garage, the sun was about to set. All I could think about on my two-hour drive home was what it might have been like: The Golden Age of Hollywood, dining with celebrities at the famous Trocadero Restaurant, Ciro's on Sunset Boulevard, and a lovely blue-eyed blond in her early 20's...chasing Southern Pacific's Coast Daylight up U.S. Highway 101 to Santa Barbara in a 1941 Buick Convertible.
Peggy's Buick has traveled a mere 500 miles since she passed a decade ago, and it can still occasionally be spotted today driving down Coast Village Road, along Channel Drive, or up State Street just as it did 75 years ago.