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as posted by The Detroit Free Press

May 21, 2006

I watched the sky anxiously as I drove to General Motors' Milford Proving Grounds early Monday morning. The forecast called for rain, and rain would ruin everything.

The reporter in me knew I had to concentrate on driving the Chevrolet Camaro concept car, but the parts that appreciate history and beauty ached to touch the Buick Y-Job.

Neither car would turn a wheel on the test track if it rained, and for good reason.

The Camaro is a show car, built to wow crowds inside Cobo Hall. The electrical system isn't waterproof.You'd no more drive the Camaro in the rain than toss a hairdryer in the bathtub.

The Y-Job has been rained on countless times since it debuted as GM's -- and almost certainly the entire auto industry's -- first concept car in 1938.

Legendary GM design boss Harley Earl used the voluptuous black convertible as his personal car for years, racking up about 12,000 miles behind its skinny steering wheel.

Today, though, you'd as soon leave Van Gogh's "Starry Night" out in the rain as the Y-Job.

The chrome-bejeweled concept spends most of its time at GM's Heritage Center in Sterling Heights these days. It's trucked to special events, but almost never driven.

"It's the crown jewel of our collection," said Dale Jacobson, concept car coordinator for GM's design center.

GM craftsmen spent two years building the one-of-a-kind Y-Job. The car cemented Earl's status as the auto industry's most influential figure, setting the tone for decades of automotive design with its low profile and flowing airplane-inspired lines.

It was the first Buick with a tapering boat-tail rear end, the first GM car with enclosed headlights, without running boards and the first on which the fenders' curves extended into the door panels.

It also helped establish Buick as a luxury brand, with futuristic features like power windows, a fully automatic power soft-top, and the first DynaFlow automatic transmission.

That's just the spec sheet, though. The true allure of sitting on the Y-Job's broad black leather bench seat was the chance to be in the company of timeless beauty, like being offered a trip back in time to have dinner with Ingrid Bergman or Greta Garbo.

The rain held off Monday. I drove the Camaro and rode in the Buick.

Driving the Camaro was a thrill, but I was a little relieved when GM said one of its people would drive the Y-Job.

The prospect of taking the wheel was a little intimidating, as if somebody asked me to help move the Venus de Milo. I will if you insist, but I'd just as soon have a professional do it. I don't want to be responsible if another piece falls off.

The decades have been a friend to the Y-Job. Get back to me in 70 years, and I'll let you know about the Camaro.

Contact MARK PHELAN at 313-222-6731 or [email protected]
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