Is this one of New Zealand’s greatest-ever custom cars? It’s certainly one of the most heavily modified, creative, and beautifully executed. Through a combination of innovation and traditional custom initiatives, Paul Knight has transformed a beat-up 1950 Buick coupeÌ into Knightmoves, a rolling masterpiece. And regardless of whether you’re a fan of low-riders, lead sleds, or traditional customs, you have to appreciate this car.
Nothing on this vehicle has gone untouched. Every area, whether noticeable or not, has been reworked, remodelled, or re-engineered, and the results are pretty mind-blowing.
Paul purchased the car in 1999 from a VW enthusiast, who’d imported it for no other reason than they’d simply stumbled across it on an American tour when sourcing VW parts. Being a California car, it didn’t have too much rust. There was some in the boot, and some in one door, and the floors were pretty shot, but as a 50-year-old car, it had less cancer than many 15-year-old Jap imports. However, it’d had a hard life, and had been fairly knocked around. Several dents and bits of missing chrome were evidence of this.
Paul had just sold a mint ’60 Impala Sport Coupe, which he’d fully restored back to original, and was looking around for a similar car to do a custom job on. He’d heard about the Buick, and although it wasn’t exactly what he was after he went to check it out, was overcome with inspiration, and the deal was done. Once home, he immediately got the car road legal as an original vehicle, so he didn’t have to fit items such as seat belts, a high stop taillight, and other safety features required of new, or newly registered, rebuilt vehicles. He then put the rego on hold, and the rebuild began.
Look of the car.
“I had to bring the roof forward because, being a curved front screen, I had to retain the right shape, and then when I got a new screen I knew if I took 115mm out of the screen it would fit into the shape. The whole thing had to come forward, so there’s been a lot of work at the back for the boot lid and everything to fit. The good thing about bringing it forward is that it gave me my right angles to angle the centre pillars.”
The original side trim on the Buick was just a straight chunk of chrome which ran along the top of the wheel arches. But the Hirohata Merc created a different route of inspiration for Paul. “The new side trim is off an original ’53 Buick — like that on the Hirohata Merc — and it doesn’t fit this car, so I had to cut and weld it, and it’s like rocking horse shit to get. I got it from a place called Hot Rods of Norco, in the States. We were there buying some bits and pieces, and Hot Rod (the owner had his name changed by deed poll to Hot Rod!) had one side, hanging on the wall.” He wanted US$1200 for both sides, but Paul knocked him down a bit, using the poor exchange rate to barter with! “With all the alterations it owes me about $2500, just for that trim. But that’s what makes the car.” He’s right, too. The curvy downward flow of the trim works in conjunction with the lowered roofline, and creates the separation line for the light and dark green paint. It looks so good, it could be the original trim. The spear-shaped bottom piece of chrome strip, running just above the lake pipes, is actually the front of the Buick’s original trim. The rear guards were originally huge bolt-on items which ran from just behind the doors, to
the back of the car, with a rubber strip sealing the join. But Paul welded them on and smoothed over the join lines, so again, they look as if they could have always been that way. The taillight lenses are off a ’56 Packard. “I originally wanted to put a whole Packard taillight unit in, but to buy a set of complete units was US$1200.” So that was out of the question. As it was, the lenses were US$380. Paul created the extended custom taillight housings by first making wire frames, then shaping the metal over them. This makes the car look longer, and is another nice touch. You know they have been modified, but you don’t know how.
The rear bumper is original, but has been lowered, and the exhaust pipes exit through the holes where the reverse lights used to be. The rear wheel arches were modified, with new spats made. Paul replaced the exterior door handles with small self-built door release buttons, although he wanted to run without handles altogether, but was told the car wouldn’t be road legal if there was no obvious way to open the doors. The headlights have been ‘Frenched’, while the bonnet has been smoothed out, and re-shaped.
This is another clever touch. Where the bonnet originally flowed down to meet the grille it used to be straight, but Paul curved it inwards, to give a smoother look, which better suits the curvaceous lines of the car. The front of the guards have been re-shaped to suit. The Buick originally came fitted with a straight eight engine, which was so long it ran right through the firewall and into the car’s cabin. However, a beat-up ’66 Oldsmobile, which Paul paid $500 for, provided the replacement donk — a 6964cc (425ci) big block V8. With the V8 being so much shorter than the original straight eight, a big hole was left where the straight eight used to protrude through the firewall, so Paul made a new flat firewall to tidy up the engine bay. The Oldsmobile also provided the transmission for the Buick project, along with its full telescopic, height-adjustable steering column. The steering column alone would have cost Paul $500, so the donor Olds proved a good buy. The Buick is the size of a boat, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it drives like one too, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. All the chassis engineering was done by Brian Howatt, of Howatt Engineering. The front end is from a Jaguar XJS and features anti-dive suspension, and disc brakes with four pot callipers. The rear end is Ford nine-inch, featuring a four bar set-up and Commodore disc brakes. It runs on Air-Ride Technology air bags, and was actually one of the first cars to be locally fitted with air bags. And with power steering it drives like a modern car, despite its obvious girth. “I’ve had it off the speedo, that’s over 110mph (177kph), on the Desert Road, driving with one hand on the wheel,” Paul says. “It sits on the road absolutely fantastically.”
Steve Conroy re-upholstered the interior, using a period custom tuck ’n’ roll trim. The headlining is all new, but has been purposely done to look like it’s 50 years old. Peter Knapp rewired the whole car. The old-style police car lights attached to the A-pillars are dummy items, as are the lake pipes. According to Paul, almost all custom cars during the ’50s running lake pipes didn’t actually have them hooked up. The triple exit pipes match the triple bonnet vents, which are original items. The whitewall radial tyres are from Coker, while the hubcaps are Moon.
While Paul did all the bodywork mods himself, he also applied the multiple layers of green paint to Knightmoves.
Right from the start, Paul had a plan for how the Buick would look. He says, “Because of all the magazines I read, and because I was always into the customs, as soon as I saw the car it all just clicked, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do to it. And I built the car exactly as I had first seen it in my head.” Inspiration would come from the American lead sleds of the ’50s and ’60s, and his colour choice was almost instant. He’d paint the Buick the same two-tone green of the famous Hirohata Mercury, which was one of America’s earliest show-stopping customs. Many of the styling ideas were then spawned by the colour scheme.
Getting the correct colour was a mission. “There was a mag I had which covered the restoration of the Hirohata Merc, and it said how they used a piece of original shaving off the car and took it to the PPG labs, to get the colour.” PPG New Zealand actually sponsored Paul’s car; Dean Richies from PPG got in touch with PPG in the States to try and get the exact paint code, and although the guys there wouldn’t give it out, they gave a few clues and suggestions. By all accounts, they’ve got it pretty close.
Paul is a panel-beater and owns Classic Panel in Lower Hutt, which is just as well, as paying someone else to do all the panel-work would have cost a fortune. First thing to do was chop the roof. So 115mm (4.5 inches) were taken out of the A-pillars, and 103mm from the C-pillars. The roof was then moved forward, to retain the correct shape of the A-pillars, so the windscreen would fit correctly. A new one-piece windscreen was sourced to replace the original split screen, which was stuffed. Incredibly, the roof didn’t need to be shortened or lengthened, but the boot lid had to be chopped into four pieces, with a new frame made to try and retain the right shape, taking into account the lowered roofline. The B-pillars have been raked forward, which is a nice touch, and adds to the whole low-slung
And it is flawless. The car’s name is a happy coincidence stemming from Paul’s last name and the Bob Segar song, Knightmoves, which is one of his favourites. Naming your custom is another hot-rodding tradition from the ’50s and ’60s. Nick Baty, of Concept Signs, did the Knightmoves writing on the boot, along with the airbrushed pin-up babe, who also appears on the air cleaner, and is inspired by the pin-up paintings WWII fighter pilots had on the side of their planes.
All up, the complete rebuild took about two years. First appearance for the just completed car was at the 2001 Hot Rod Nats in Christchurch, and Knightmoves cleaned up, winning almost every trophy on offer including People’s Choice, Rodders’ Choice, and Best Street Machine.
After a year, Paul had Daryl Mckenzie apply the flame work. This really adds another dimension to the car, and works extremely well with the two-tone green. With the flames the car looks tougher, especially when the air bags are dumped right down. The flames are actually quite subtle, particularly over the light green, but the Hirohata Merc, which features the same two-tone green, but not the flames, looks bare in comparison. With the new flame work applied, Paul picked up a bunch more show- winning trophies.
Knightmoves is an amazing car, made even more so by the incredible amount of work that has gone into it, and the multitude of clever touches which, at first, you don’t even notice until they’re pointed out. But, like most rodders, Paul gets more enjoyment from getting his hands dirty and getting creative than parking up at shows, and so the car will always be a work in progress. Short term future plans are for several smaller mods, while the long term will see a complete strip down and a full change of direction rebuild, when the Buick will metamorphose, no doubt, into something even more outrageous.
But how can you improve on this? According to Paul, you start with a colour, and it all spawns from there. We’ll have to wait and see what he comes up with…
Owner: Paul Knight
Occupation: Panel-beater / spray painter, company director Classic Panel, Lower Hutt
Previously Owned: HT Monaro, ’62 Cadillac, ’60 Impala
Special Thanks: Kids Gemma and Bryce, Danny McKenna for the mechanical work, Steve Conroy for the upholstery, Brian Howatt for the engineering, Peter Knapp for the electrical, Daryl McKenzie for the flames, Nick Baty for the sign writing and airbrushing, Dean Richies of PPG for sourcing the paint, Craig Council for storing the car, and Andy Ward for certification.
KNIGHTMOVES 1950 BUICK
Engine: 6964cc (425 cubic inch) Oldsmobile big block V8, full rebuild kit installed.
Driveline: Turbo 400 trans. Ford nine-inch rear
Suspension: Jaguar XJS front, with chassis modified to suit. Four bar rear. Air-Ride Technologies air bags all round
Brakes: Jaguar XJS discs and four-pot callipers front, Commodore disc brakes rear
Wheels/Tyres: 15-inch Jaguar rims, Coker radial whitewall tyres
Body Mods: Roof chop, 115mm front, 103mm rear (4.5 inches and four inches). Rear guards welded to the body and smoothed over. Boot lid lowered and reshaped. Packard taillight lenses, with modified taillight housings. Headlights Frenched; ’53 Buick side trim attached. Dummy lake pipes. Dummy police lights. One-piece chopped wind-screen. Bonnet and front guards reshaped