A chance sighting followed by persistence led Tamir Ali to purchase this 1961 Buick Invicta. Now it’s his daily driver and he’ll never sell it…
Words: Mike Renaut | Photography: John Colley
Tamir Ali, proud owner of this glorious 1961 Buick Invicta, is quite honest when I ask why he bought the car. “I like bright colours and I’m loud and eccentric,” laughs Tamir. “I like to make a statement and when I first saw it I just fell in love with it.” Tamir initially spotted the Buick on Facebook. “I’d just sold a 1978 Cadillac Coupe deVille, was looking at photos of a pick-up truck that was for sale in Canada via a friend of a friend and could see a bit of the Buick in the background of one of those pics. I knew it must be rare. The owner, who ran a hotel in the Rocky Mountains, said the car wasn’t for sale. Six months later I contacted him again and this time convinced him. I imported the Buick in 2017.”
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The Buick was kept in a heated garage. “He said the car had been in his family a long time, I understand his father had passed it down to him but that’s all the history I know. Later I found a picture of it in a 2014 auction so I wonder if the family entered it and it didn’t sell. I’d never seen a 1961 Invicta coupe before and when it arrived in the UK the car was in better condition than I’d expected. It was wearing 22-inch Foose wheels but the original steel wheels and wheelcovers were in the boot. I bought four new whitewalls and had the wheelcovers polished since it was very bouncy on those 22s.
“I’m certainly not a purist about my cars but it just looked too much like something Snoop Dogg would drive,” laughs Tamir, “though I don’t mind those minor resto-mods such as the flat tail-light lenses or the custom gear-shifter. The Buick had been resprayed in the past and if I’m honest will need it again in future, and the interior has obviously been re-covered too, but that’s all right because it means I can drive the car. If it were a 10,000 miles from new, full-service-history example I’d be afraid to ever take it out. So I don’t want it to be a show car; that’s too stressful. I want to use the Buick.”
When Tamir says ‘use’ he really means that. “I take the kids to school in it at least twice a week, pop down the shops and do the supermarket runs, I take it to work, to Ikea and to visit friends in London,” says Tamir. “I’m not doing a huge mileage and obviously it’s a bit thirsty on fuel, but it goes out virtually every day. I don’t ever worry about driving it in the rain. I got the underside rust treated and the chrome clear-coated so now it’s protected. In the future it will need work doing and then I’ll do it, but I don’t want to be constantly worrying about getting a scratch or panicking about my kids spilling stuff on the seats – it’s a car and was designed to be used. It’s actually quite practical and the steering is the nicest, lightest system I’ve ever experienced on a classic or a modern.”
Keeps on running
The Buick has also proved extremely reliable: “It’s never broken down,” continues Tamir. “When I first got it, I replaced the fuel pump and a couple of the belts, I also put new fuel lines in. The brakes were reconditioned by Mike at Built by Mike in Leicester (07392 736884/https://bbmgarage.co.uk) –it’s got vented drums which I presume have been upgraded since they work really well. The only other problem was when the wiper motor packed up, my electrician friend Lee Cox helped me rebuild it, saving me a lot of time and money finding a replacement motor. My brother Amir also helps me maintain the car. I had a fastback Mustang and of course you can get anything for those; with the Buick I have to search a little harder, but mechanical parts are available from the usual UK suppliers. I do dread ever having to replace any of the glass though.”
Buick put the Invicta badge on its full-size models in 1959 to replace the Century range and confidentially explained Invicta was a Latin term for ‘unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable, unvanquished’. The cars were sold as a mid-priced, performance-oriented model despite the line-up including a pair of four-doors – sedan and hardtop – plus a six-passenger wagon alongside the sportier coupe and convertible.
An eight-passenger wagon joined the line-up for 1960, yet the range was slashed down to four-door hardtop, and two-door or convertible the following year. Invicta models sat above the LeSabre range, but below the Electra and Electra 225.
For 1961 full-size Buicks had entirely new bodywork that did away with the delta wing fins of the 1959 and 1960 cars and was referred to as ‘the clean look of action’. The curved front corners of the wings were echoed on the front bumper edges, while round back horizontal styling creases were carried the width of the car to end in sharp curves. The ‘61 looked smaller than the 1960 models yet in reality the wheelbase was a mere third of an inch shorter while weight was on average only down by around 200lb.
The frame was largely carried over with a K-shaped brace that superseded the 1950s-era X-member, allowing the cars to sit lower. The torque tube driveline was also replaced – this was the first Buick not to have it since 1907 – with a new ‘hide-away’ driveshaft that lowered the transmission tunnel, giving centre-seated passengers more room. The 401cu in V8 was shared with the sister model Electras and boasted 10.25:1 compression with 325bhp. Coupled to it was Buick’s Turbine Drive automatic gearbox. Inside, the novel Magic Mirror instrument panel introduced the previous year allowed the panel to tilt to suit the driver’s eyeline.
Curved A-pillars replaced the old dog-leg ‘knee-bangers’ across General Motors’ entire full-size car range. The rakish new roofline on the coupe, nicknamed the bubbletop, was shared with Chevrolet’s Impala Sport Coupe, Oldsmobile and Pontiac coupes, but below the beltline the styling was all Buick. With all four windows rolled down, the highly attractive pillarless top with its thin roof posts allowed virtually 360-degree visibility.
Reviewing your options
Tamir’s Invicta has the optional power steering costing $108, plus $48 of ‘positive-traction’ limited slip differential, the $34 ‘safety group’ reversing lights and a $97 power front bench seat. But the car’s original owner didn’t feel the need for the Twilight Sentinel (which kept the headlights on for a pre-determined time after the ignition key was removed to allow the owner to unlock his or her house). Deemed equally unnecessary was the heater/defrost or automatic self-dipping headlights. Tamir isn’t aware of an automatic trunk light being fitted either, but admits he hasn’t looked for one, suggesting perhaps the bulb has blown?
Radios were a choice of Sonomatic or the $127 Wonder Bar fitted here that automatically seeks the strongest local signal; of course being installed in a Buick means the saved station buttons spell out BUICK. We know the Invicta has previously been repainted but it appears to still be Tampico Red and Arctic White or close equivalents. It’s one of just 6382 Invicta Hardtop six-passenger coupes sold for 1961 at a factory price of $3447.
Look through American car history books or even Buick-specific buying guides and Invictas are rarely included. The posher Electras and new-for-1961 compact Buick Special models garnered most of the headlines. Not only did the Invictas blend in by sharing their styling with the rest of the Buick range, but the Invicta nameplate only lasted through to the 1962 line-up before being replaced by the new Wildcat. Although there was a one-year-only Invicta wagon for 1963 that was essentially a Wildcat with a plusher interior. Total 1961 Invictas built was 28,733 out of a model year production of 277,422 Buicks. The 1961 Invictas were undeniably attractive cars, but so was virtually everything else that year and the competition was increasingly strong.
“My first car was a Triumph Spitfire that I restored when I was 16,” remembers Tamir. “I’ve owned all sorts since, including Japanese cars and Ferraris. Currently along with my European cars I’ve also got a 1967 Lincoln Continental that’s getting some restoration work done and a 1958 Pontiac Strato Chief that I might respray. I’m not sure I’ve got the space for them all so the Lincoln may well be sold in favour of keeping the Buick.
“I love the Buick’s styling, look how long those rear wings are; it’s one solid line of metal, the curves are fantastic, it’s a big, round rocket ship. It also sounds nice; I had a rev-off with a Lamborghini Gallardo which a friend recorded and the Buick honestly sounded better. I really enjoy the attention the car gets; people seem to appreciate it and it always looks great with sunlight bouncing off it. I’ll usually sell a car after a year or so because I get bored, but I can honestly imagine myself still owning this Buick in 40 or 50 years.”