They say you can’t go home again, but when it comes to cars, sometimes you can.
Take Jack Walker’s clone of the 1951 Blue Danube Buick. It is a near perfect re-creation of the car that was originally created by Lyle Lake, a foreman in the George Barris custom shop. Lake’s car has long since gone to the crusher, but Walker wanted to make one like it. It is now owned by Lou Schafer and Sons Classic Car Restorations and Car Posters.
Cloning famous customs is not new to Walker, 72, of Belton. More than 20 years ago he commissioned a copy of the famous Barris Hirohata Mercury. Walker’s Merc is such a faithful reproduction that it has lived a celebrity life, touring auto shows and museums.
After seeing the quality of Walker’s copy of the Hirohata Merc, Greg Sharp, curator of the National Hot Rod Association Museum in Pomona, Calif., began to bug him about making a copy of the Blue Danube Buick.
Walker declined, but he said that Sharp kept piquing his interest by sending him photographs of the original. About 15 years ago, Walker picked up a newsstand magazine of classified car ads and saw a pristine 1951 Buick Special hardtop for sale in Beloit, Kan. He and his sidekick, Sonny Rogers of Independence, drove out to see the car. It was perfect, and the project began.
When Walker called Lake to tell him that he planned to re-create the Buick that he built when he worked for Barris, Lake objected at first. He said he and his wife had dated in the original and he didn’t want anyone to copy his car. Lake’s wife, however, encouraged him to let Walker proceed, and Lake eventually agreed. He then told Walker how he chopped the car’s top, and he even sent photos.
Walker took the car to Elmer, Mo., and Kenny Baker performed the necessary roof reconstruction. Dick Huckans of Tulsa completed the rest of the bodywork.
Lake’s original car had a stock interior, but he had planned to install simple, white tuck-and-roll upholstery. So Walker followed Lake’s original plan and had Bob Sipes of Pleasant Hill, Mo., do the interior just as Lake intended.
In January, Walker’s car was chosen as one of the 75 most significant customs and it was displayed at the Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, Calif. Since the original is long gone, Walker’s Blue Danube is a perfect déjà vu, and a reminder of just how beautiful Lake’s work was.