100 years for Buick
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If you've been around 100 years, you're entitled to crow.
And that's what the Buick gang will do this year as it celebrates the 100th anniversary of the brand that became a synonym, for upward mobility in the 1950s and 1960s.
You could argue that, if not for Buick, there might not be a General Motors. The firm was the cornerstone of the new GM--the first division acquired--when the auto giant was created in 1908.
Automotive pioneers Walter P. Chrysler, Charles W. Nash and Benjamin Briscoe all called Buick home, and Louis Chevrolet once drove race cars for Buick.
Buick has contributed many examples of automotive legend and lore. There was Dynaflow, the automatic transmission that gave a distinctive sound to Buicks of the 40s and 50s.The 2007 Buick.
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There were portholes--three or four depending on the model--that adorned fenders for years.
There was the sweep spear--a distinctive vee shaped styling cue that to this day adorns the sides of some Buicks.
And what car nut could forget the toothy chrome grilles, "valve-iin-head" engines and such advertising slogans as "When better automobiles are built, Buick will build them" or "Better Buy Buick?" Or more recently, "Wouldn't you really rather have a Buick?"
And trivia lovers--do you know which popular 50s bit of television Americana was sponsored by Buick? "The Honeymooners."
As time when on, Buicks were seen as "doctors" cars--the cars you bought when you'd made it but you didn't want the neighborhs to know it.
Buick Motor Co. was incorporated in 1903, in Flint, a little Michigan town known as "Vehicle City." As the years went by, Buicks became known for durability and performance. Writer-traveler Lowell thomas picked one for the first car trip into Afghanistan.
Buicks also won awards for endurance and reliabiolity runs from Leningrad to Moscow.
Every car maker has its dicey years, and for Buick, one of them was 1928 with the introduction of a bulbous looking design that was dubbed derisively, the "Bathtub Buick" because of its profile. Itmay have been billed as "A New Standard of Comparison!" along with mohair interiors, new pastel colors and "crown fenders" in the company's sales catalog, but customers thought otherwise.
The year 1929 was a banner one for Buick because it was celebratingi its 25th anniversary. Rather grandly advertising it as "the greatest automobile value in the world's history," the new model, the Master Six had a larger valve in head engine, new side cowl ventilators to keep the interior cool, new colors, double bladed windshield wipers, a new instrument panel and styling improvements.
By 1937 the catalog blared "It's Buick Again!" with four newly styled series, the Special, the Roadmaster, the Limited--a model line which got Buick into hot water with Cadillac -- and the Century -- so named because it could hit 100 miles per hour.
A particularly beautiful model was the Limited six passenger phaeton, a four door convertible replete with chrome, side mounted tires, huge grille and moon shaped hubcaps emblazoned with the company's name.
The next year, 1938 saw the introduction of the Buick that many hobbyists consider the most beautiful of that time.
Although there really weren't that many styling changes on it, thse that were made were just right, and the result was a stately looking, elegant car which rivaled many luxury brands of the day in attractiveness.
The "Dynaflash" engine, of which a sales catalog said, "There's a Cyclone in Each Cylinder," was a bit faster than prior years, at 141 and 107 horsepower.
Buicks in 1939 were again restyled, and featured a new "Sunshine Turret Top," a kind of sunroof at extra cost. Such luxuries as auxiliary seats--fold down seats for extra passenger capacity, a baggage compartment built into the back of the front seat and a glass partition, were available in the big Limited model.
A name long synonymous with Buick--the Super--appeared for the first time in 1940, and it was distinguished by greatly more streamlined styling than the other Buicks in the lineup.
There were now nine models in the greatly expanded Limited line, with stylized side tiremounts, and wheelbases that reached a whopping 133 inches in some cases. The Century was now billed as the fastest stock car in America.
In 1942, Buick unveiled the toothy grille for which it became legendary, along with completely new styling that included fender skirts in most models and an antenna perched jauntily above the windshield like a speedboat.
A new long wheelbase version of the low price Special, called appropriately, the Extra Special, also made its debut this year. By now, the famous "Dynaflash" name for the engine had given way to the "Fireball 8."
And its famous portholes debuted at the end of the decade, just as the postwar generation was selling down.
Indeed, the Buicks during this baby boom era were becoming so big and luxurious that Cadillac protested to GM officials.
The early 1950s also brought two tones, the first V-8 engine.
"Buick's the Fashion for 1950" proclaimed the sales catalog, promoting what must have been the toothiest grille ever for Buick's lineup. There were fastback sedan models called "Jetback Sedanets" that were part of the lineup.
The year 1953 was Buick's 50th anniversary, and it marked it with a line-up which looked and drove little differently from the previous year's models.
But there was one noteworthy exception: the new, ultra luxurious and rare, Skylark Convertible. The Skylark was a low slung sports convertible with relatively little chrome, save for Buick's famous sweepspear.
Curiously, it was the only model without portholes too. It had wire wheels, a 188 horsepower V-8, and a leather interior. A nice touch was to have the customer's name emblazoned on the hub of the steering wheel.
Finally, in 1954, a totally redesigned Buick appeared, one with the same kind of racy looking full wheel openings as had and low, sleek profile seen on the previous year's Skylark.
Bullet taillights, moon style wheel covers, gunsight hood ornament and portholes, all spelled "Buick" and resulted in tremendous sales increases for the firm. The Century high performance model was back in the lineup too after an absence of several years.
Sales catalogs for the year touted the Twin Turbine Dynaflow, a million dollar ride, swing away doors and tilt-away front seats.
This was the first of the popular mid-fifties Buicks, and the same basic body style was retained for the next two years, augmented with two tone colors and spinner style hubcaps for some 1955 and 1956 models.
The horsepower race was on too, with the Fireball engine now rated at 200 horsepower.
It was the last year for the Skylark in 1954, with a more controversial design that included scalloped wheel wells, a truncated rear end and fins.
The year 1957 brought a controversial split rear window design followed the next year by the fabulously gaudy "B-58" Buicks, such a the Limited, which outdid Cadillac in the flash department.
There was the usual automotive pitchman names to be found like contour frame chassis, "nested" ride, Low Sweep Silhouette styling and
There was also the introduction of the Roadmaster 75, a one year only ultra-luxurious model with a custom interior and special insigignia
In 1959, long-familiar series names such as Special, Century, Super and Roadmaster disappeared and were replaced by LeSabre, invicta and Electra--and one of the wildest-looking designs, the bat-winged 1959 Buick.
The 1960s ushered in high performance Buicks and such personal luxury coups as the Wildcat and Skylark.
But the biggest Buick news that decade was the 1963 Riviera, a styling milestone that some say was originally intended to be a Cadillac.
Buick, like other General Motors products in 1961, introduced a compact sedan called the Special, thus resurrecting a much loved Buick nameplate of the past.
It had all of the typical Buick hallmarks including portholes and sweepspears, and also included aluminum V8 engines by 1962. That led to Motor Trend honoring the car in 1962 as the Car of the Year.
1961 was a curious year for Buick and other GM products because they were all down-sized--something just about unheard of in the automotive industry.
But it must be said that they had far more success at it than did Chrysler, which tried the same thing in 1962 with all of its lines except Chrysler and Imperial, with disastrous results.
In 1962, Buick entered the personal sport coupe market that had been launched in fine style by the Pontiac Grand Prix. Buick's entry was the Wildcat, a two door hardtop with vinyl roof, bucket seats, V8 engine and all of the chrome and trappings that would go along with being a special model.
By 1965, Wildcats were among the most beautiful of Buicks with semi-fastback lines, chrome wheels, a futuristic looking interior, and scoops along their flanks. They continued in production until 1971 when they were replaced by the Centurion.
The 1970s were not kind to U.S car makers, including Buick, which seemed to lose its focus and identity.
But there were a few high marks including the 1971 Riviera with its controversial boat-tailed rear, now a collectors' item, as well as the introduction of turbocharged engines, the Regal and GS 400 muscle cars.
The 1980s brought downsized models and such specialty cars as the two seat Reatta coupe and convertible.
The 1990s saw the rebirth of the Riviera as a luxurious, sleek coupe, and the move of Buick headquarters to Detroit's Renaissance Center.
First Published February 13, 2007 12:00 am