Built To Drive: Mild Kustom 1956 Buick Special Hardtop

One look at his super clean and unique 1956 Buick Special shows Kevin Monaghan has some excellent skills. We first came across Kevin at the 2019 Detroit Autorama and knew we wanted to find out more about his ride. We proceeded to corner him and bombard him with questions.

The Beginning

When Kevin got the car about ten years ago, it was kind of a basket case. But, you wouldn’t know it by looking at it now. The individual he bought the car from had it in pieces. Kevin got things placed back together and then it was time to hit the road. He drove it as it was for three years, just to have fun and enjoy the car. After a while, he realized he wanted to put some work into the old car. The intent was to make it nice for long drives to various car shows he attends.

When Kevin first got the car it wasn't in very good shape, but that all changed once he started working on it.

“It’s never been trailered to any shows. I’ve had it down in Pittsburgh, Louisville, Chicago, and Iowa for shows. I haven’t kept track of the miles I put on it but it’s probably a lot. I tell people all the time that it’s a driver. It’s got some bruises, but each one of them tells a story about a time we did something fun,” Kevin admitted with a snicker.

For many of the people we’ve met, the drive to the show can be just as fun as attending the show itself. Kevin is a member of the Toledo-based car club the Piston Jammers. The club is all about fun, traveling to shows, and making the most out of their time together. “That’s what it’s all about for us. The long drive to a show is really better than the actual show for us. There’s like eight of us that usually go, and that’s what we like to do,” Kevin explained. The crew will take the long drive and then sleep in their cars if it’s an overnight trip.

Used But Not Abused

The car goes to a lot of shows and gets several hundred miles put on it every year. This meant reliability was a key factor in the build. Kevin chose to retain the original 322ci Nailhead motor. It was important for him to keep the Buick Special legacy but also to add a new level of reliability for his long trips. He didn’t necessarily need huge power but it had to be unfailing. With that in mind, he kept the engine carbureted and rebuilt it for dependability.

The original two-speed transmission was swapped out for a more modern overdrive unit, allowing for lower RPM while cruising down the highway. A stout and bulletproof 700R4 transmission from GM got the nod. It has been a steadfast performer and has more than enough strength to handle the big-V8 power.

A G-body rear axle from a Monte Carlo puts all of that power to the wheels and is geared with a 3.73:1 ratio. The suspension was something Kevin really took some time with. He wanted a suspension that would be comfortable on long trips and still perform well enough to keep the car fun.  He sourced control arms from a truck to locate the rear axle. From there, he installed a full airbag suspension. This allows Kevin and his girlfriend to travel anywhere they want with the ride-height and comfort they prefer.

“I Built A Car I Wanted To Drive”

With all of the work underneath, it would be easy to miss some of the key details inside and outside the car. The Desoto grill is one choice that stands out. “I built a car I wanted to drive. There are some people who don’t like certain choices I made, and that’s okay. I built it to be what I wanted and I’m really happy with it. Plus, I did all of the work myself. Everything from plumbing the suspension to the paint was done by me. I would rather do it myself and just figure it out. Then I know how it works, and if I want to change something I can,” Kevin said.

The hood of the Buick Special has been shaved and a peak added. This gave the car the look Kevin wanted and is pretty unique. The trunk lid was also shaved to keep the streamlined appearance. Even the door handles got some love. As mentioned previously, Kevin did the paint himself. It was the first time he ever sprayed a car, so it was definitely a learning experience.

“I tried to do some research before I got started,” Kevin admitted. “I watched some stuff on the internet, and then I went and talked to people who actually do it for a living. They gave me some great tips, and then, I just kind of went for it.” We think it turned out pretty amazing. The color and shine are deep. The metal flake is just enough to really turn heads. Mark Zander at Lumpy’s garage did the pinstriping.

Doing It Yourself

“When I first built the car, it was getting trophies everywhere we went. Lots of the guys in the club would call me a trophy queen,” Kevin said with a smile. “That’s not why I built it though. I built it so I would have something of my own, that I was proud of, and enjoyed driving. I do have to admit though, it does make you feel good when people want to check it out. It makes me feel proud that I was able to build something other people think is cool and interesting. In the end though, the best feeling I get from the car is that I did all the work myself,” he said.

Sometimes you have to tweak things here and there to make a vehicle perfect for you. There is something to be said for doing all of the work and knowing every inch on a project car you built yourself. Kevin knows the feeling well but doesn’t consider it done just quite yet.

Always A Work In Progress

Kevin doesn’t have a cost for what he has spent on the car to this point. He doesn’t even care what that number is. “The biggest struggle on the car was the bodywork,” he explained. “I say that, and I know I’m going to paint it at least one more time. It really doesn’t matter what it costs though, because the main thing is I enjoy working on it. I don’t have a specific reason as to why I like it so much. Since I got my first car at 16, I’ve always enjoyed working on cars. Working on cars has always kept me out of trouble for the most part.” May we all make as good of decisions.

About the author

Christie Materni

As a photographer, and self-proclaimed "magic maker" for over 12 years, Christie loves to create anything from amazing images to great chocolate chip cookies. Traveling the country with her camera, husband, and sometimes a dog, in search of fast cars and tough trucks is her favorite way to spend the day.
Read My Articles

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