Wednesday, November 19, 2014

1958 Buick Wells Fargo
Text by David W. Temple
Photos courtesy of Joe Bortz
Post card issued by GM

During the 1950s, the Buick Division of General Motors was represented on the auto show circuit with several western-themed show cars (starting at least as early as 1952 with the Ranger convertible, a Canadian show car). One of them was the 1958 Wells Fargo built from a Limited convertible; it was later given to actor Dale Robertson, the star of the Buick-sponsored television show, Tales of Wells Fargo (broadcast on NBC affiliates from 1957-1962). This car was on the show circuit before being presented to Mr. Robertson (who, by the way, passed away in February 2013). Among the custom features added by GM to the car were special bucket seats and door panels upholstered in Danish calfskin with western-motif leather inserts, Jersey hide carpeting for the floors and lower door panels, a console between the seats which served as a gun rack containing two exposed chrome-plated Winchester rifles, a leather holster fitted to each door panel holding a set of pearl-handled .38 caliber Colt revolvers, a longhorn steer’s head overlaying the stock V-8 hood emblem, wheel covers modified with a three-bar spinner “flipper,” and inside the rocket-shaped quarter panel moldings (which was normally fitted with three sets of four, clustered angled chrome bars and model name script) was simulated wood-grain inserts overlaid with “Wells Fargo” in chrome-plated block letters.
Joe Bortz standing with the Wells Fargo circa 1995
In 1995, well-known dream car collector Joe Bortz purchased the Wells Fargo from the large collection of the late Wally Rank, owner of Rank & Son Buick in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Rank had owned it since 1984.
At the time, according to Bortz, he considered the Wells Fargo as “a concept car,” but later realized the term really did not fit. Instead he saw it as a factory custom. Bortz had the car repainted – it really needed nothing else done to it – and added somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 miles to the odometer over the next couple of years. As time went by, he felt the car did not fit in well with his collection of true concept cars such as the 1953 Buick Wildcat and 1954 Bonneville Special.
The Wells Fargo still retains its rifles and revolvers.
Joe decided to sell the Wells Fargo at the August 1996 Kruse Auction in Auburn, Indiana and drove the Wells Fargo there from his home near Chicago. Upon arriving at this assigned space, he found a gentleman standing there in the way. When the man turned around, Bortz did not know quite what to think. “Are my eyes deceiving me? He looks like Dale Robertson,” he thought, and indeed, he was! Robertson had learned his old car was going to be on the auction block and evidently wanted to see it again. The two sat in the car and chatted; not surprisingly, Robertson told Bortz stories of driving the special Buick. The bidding for the Wells Fargo stalled at one point, so the auctioneer knowing Robertson was in the audience asked him to come to the stage and talk about the unique car. Soon afterwards the bids picked up in pace. The high bidder sold it two years later at the Kruse-Scottsdale auction, but took a substantial loss on the sale. The Wells Fargo is in a private collection in California; it is scheduled to be shown at the 2015 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.