Vaulted by the extravagant designs of Duesenberg, Bugatti, Auburn, Cord, and many others that came and went, when public demand for automobiles increased in the 1940s and post-WWII, many of these designs laid the groundwork for the new cars that would make their way into the garages and driveways of North America.
General Motors and its subsidiaries had staked its claim as America’s largest automaker. It’s popular Series 50 carriage-style car had sold upwards of 127,400 models before production ceased in 1935, and when it returned in 1940, Buick introduced it under the “Super” badge, with an all-new, cutting-edge torpedo C-body design, which took cues from the Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell-designed Cadillac Series 60.
The second-gen design, paired with its range of options and engine and body combinations, made the Super an American favourite, and in 1946 it made up for three of every four Buicks sold, selling nearly 160,000 units.
It was those same attractions some 70 years later that Toronto’s Don Gasiunas found himself searching for his own Super and a build that he’d been envisioning from the outset.
“It had to be a 1946, ’47, or ’48 Buick,” Gasiunas says. “The lines are all pretty close on those cars, but they’re just beautiful. The entire car. I wanted to do something different, and I had a plan going into it, so it was really just about finding the right donor.”
When Gasiunas arrived at this project, he’d searched for “Marilyn” for nearly two years. When he found her in New Jersey, the ’47 convertible was in what he calls “20-footer” condition, otherwise known as ‘good from far, far from good.’
“The important thing was that it had to have all the parts, otherwise you may not be able to find or make any replacements.”
“Because I’d been working on this for the two years prior, I knew exactly what I wanted, right down to the colour. If I didn’t like something once it was installed, I replaced it with something I did. But fortunately I had years of building cars, and good relationships and a clear idea of what I wanted it to be.”
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After tearing the car down, the body work was sent to Harse Autocraft for repairs, prep and paint, while the interior was tasked to the talents of Peter Giampa of Tack Upholstery.
Needing to ensure his new pride and joy would ride as comfortably as it looked, Gasiunas ordered a custom Art Morrison chassis that would stiffen the convertible body and integrate modern suspension geometry/components and Don’s multiple customizations, most notably under the hood.
Describing his desire to build a sleeper with a slight grin, Gasiunas swapped out the Super’s 168 hp straight-8 for a 580 hp LSA supercharged V8 crate race engine, and mated that to a 4L85E automatic race transmission capable of withstanding 1,200 hp and 1,000 ft-lb of torque. The result is silky-smooth shifts and gobs of power, whether he’s accelerating from zero, or cruising down the freeway.
Knowing his immense increase in power, Don decided to be just as serious with his stoppers, equipping all four corners with Wilwood six-piston calipers and 14-inch rotors.
Attention to details
And while that’s all impressive, it’s what’s visible that really catches your attention – and honestly so. Somehow, within 14 months, Don was able to find and recreate his vision of Marilyn in a way he says he “couldn’t be happier with.”
When you walk up to the car, there’s a certain playfulness and intrigue that comes with the bright chrome, white wall tires, and playful red accents and flowing lines. But it’s hulking shape and deep Valspar blue pearl paint reminds you quite quickly that this isn’t your ordinary Super 8.
Look closer and you’ll see fine details like the red hand-painted pin striping by Andrew at Harse, or the third brake light built into the chrome molding above the rear boot. Gasiunas also made an original design contribution to the car, conceptualizing the wheels to match the front grille.
Inside, the amenities rival the latest in luxury, as Giampa dressed nine hides of supple European leather over the seats and steering wheel for an incredibly soft, plush feel. Push button start, navigation stereo, a backup camera, power seats and power windows, and Apple Car play are obvious additions, but perhaps most welcoming to driver and passenger are the custom additions of power steering and air conditioning.
On the design front, Gasiunas took some inspiration from the Ferraris, Porsches and Lamborghinis of old, and placed a red speedometer in the centre of the driver’s instrument cluster.
“That’s just how I think,” Don says. “It might not always make sense at first, but when you see it all together, it really does.”
And it’s these small intricacies and details that keep you looking and wanting to know more. From the headlamps that you’d swear could be original but are LEDs, to the custom handmade engine cover, or the 76 convertible-top frame pieces that needed to be re-chromed – it’s these reasons and more that judges and enthusiasts alike are enthralled by Miss Marilyn.
Most recently at the Autorama show in Detroit in March (America’s most prestigious hot road show), Don’s Super 8 won best in class and finished in the top 25 of 1,100 entrants, which included 60 multi-million dollar builds competing for the ultimate Don Ridler award for Best in Show.
Don followed that up quickly with another round of awards at this year’s Motorama show in Mississauga a week later, claiming the best individual display, best custom paint, best custom interior, best in class, and second in show.
They’re the first of what will surely be many awards for this showstopper.
And while Marilyn might be a queen on the stage, away from the lights she still gets to enjoy life, unlike many of her competitors.
“I’ve driven her around town and always enjoy a nice weekend drive,” Gasiunas says. “I like the coffee cruises, the local cruise nights, and I have some trips planned down in the U.S. later this year… but I’d also really like to do a concours [d’elegance] as well. There’s a few things in the works, so it will be around.”
After all, if you could create your perfect dream car, wouldn’t you want to show it off, too?