Courtney Hizer and his ‘Bonneville Buick’ now on permanent display at Savoy Automobile Museum in Cartersville. Photo courtesy of Villa Hizer.
Among the “woodies” and “American classics” and “orphans” now showcased at the Savoy Automobile Museum in Cartersville is a four-wheeling piece of local history as well.
It is the sleek 1987 Buick La Sabre owned by Villa Hizer and her late husband, Courtney. Together and later with Villa and the Hizer Racing Spirit Team, they built quite a reputation at the Bonneville Salt Flats, one that continues a decade after Courtney’s passing. In recent months, Villa has been behind the wheel and pedals of their latest car, clocking in at 189 mph (a teammate got it up to 200 mph before a catastrophic accident that destroyed the car and left him injured but recovering; they’re rebuilding).
But another car that ran the flats, the “Bonneville Buick” and part of the Hizer history, is now in the Grand Hall in the massive museum that opened Wednesday at the crossroads of Ga. 20 and Tennessee Street.
And as storied as many of those vehicles are, the Hizers’ 1987 Buick adds a much more local touch — and a very special remembrance to Courtney’s love of speed. The restored car arrived last Friday, barely in time for this week’s opening.
It was something Villa had worked on for more than a year. She had been looking for a museum or display area for the car Courtney last drove in 2010 even as he was becoming ill. Villa thought about a museum at their beloved Bonneville Salt Flats. After all, Courtney reached the storied 200 mph Club there on his first try, inspired since age 15 by Hot Rod magazine. He had set seven land-speed records there and his memorial service was held during Bonneville Speed Week in August 2011. But that museum idea is still in organizing stages.
Once she heard about plans for Savoy, she campaigned to have the Buick included. It wasn’t a quick deal, though. Villa describes the presentation she organized, using some of the techniques she learned from Courtney during their years together at North Georgia Distributing Co., and made a formal pitch along the lines of “a local boy does good.”
Perhaps “does good” is too modest a way of describing Courtney’s accomplishments. When it came to racing — in addition to his multiple business and community accomplishments — his obituary from April 2011 featured this perfect summary:
“His passion in life was car racing and through this interest he lived and accomplished much. He was a well-respected competitor setting straight-line speed records for a variety of classes of cars. He attained seven land speed records on the Bonneville Salt Flats . Through his efforts with all of this, he was a member of many automotive groups including the Bonneville 200 MPH Club, the Southern California Timing Association, the Bonneville Nationals Inc., the San Diego Roadster Club and the East Coast Timing Association. He was a builder and collector of custom cars as well as a mentor to dozens who sought his advice and teachings on cars and motorcycles.”
As usual, Villa was persuasive and plans were made for the display. But it would take until last week to complete final touches on the car.
On Saturday, the day after it arrived, she was in Cartersville to see the exhibit and the accompanying plaque that gives visitors a quick history.
In a Wednesday phone conversation, Villa says she’s quite pleased with how it came together. She calls the museum first-class and says guests from Northwest Georgia will quickly spot one of the vehicles that helped put the couple from Rome into the Bonneville record books. It rightfully is in a museum dedicated to cars and speed and the people who powered both.
The results of that dream of speed that consumed Courtney Hizer for most of his life are now on display, perhaps to inspire a next generation much the way that magazine did more than 50 years ago.