Sunday, May 19, 2013

Eleven Buicks for Eleven Decades

With the 110th Anniversary of the incorporation of Buick Motor Division speeding toward us like an Intercooled Grand National, the time seemed right to look back on their long and illustrious history and see some milestones- I've chosen eleven significant Buicks out of eleven decades.

First is the car that made the company- the sturdy, moderately priced Model 10 runabout of 1908-1910. Introduced at a base price of $900 and offered as roadster or touring, the Model 10 was an instant hit and lifted Buick up to a solid #2 in the industry for sales. It cannot be argued that the sporty Model 10 put Buick on the map as a volume producer of automobiles.

The Master Six was introduced in 1925. That year, Buick eliminated four cylinder models and concentrated on two different six cylinder offerings. The Master Six, seen above with comedian Harold Lloyd and wife Mildred Davis, established Buick as a leader in upper middle class transportation, a place where it remains to this day.  

The Depression hit Buick and other premium manufacturers hard, but the boys from Flint bounced back. They introduced the Series 40 in 1934, renamed it Special for 1935 and gave it (and the whole line) modern new styling for 1936. The '36 Century (shown above) was capable of 100 mph. They backed up their new look with a new Ad Agency, Kudner Advertising, that knew how to sell. The Glory Days of Buick began in 1936.

The modern production Hardtop was born in 1949 with the introduction of the Roadmaster Riviera Hardtop Coupe. Although only 4.343 were sold for 1949, the style was an instant hit (as was all new styling on the Super and Roadmaster models) and Buick went on to produce a one million hardtops by 1955.

Buick had a banner year in 1954. They introduced their high compression engine for 1953 in the Super and Roadmaster lines, and brought it across the board in 1954. Handsome new styling, panoramic windshields, the V-8 engine and the reintroduction of the sporty Century added up to a home run, and Buick passed Plymouth to take third place in sales. Then they followed it up with a record setting year in 1955 as well. 

The 1959 Buick was totally new from stem to stern, and represented the most radical styling they had ever attempted. Giant delta wing fins, floating rooflines with massive areas of glass, and diagonal headlamps gave the '59 Buick a look unlike any other car on the road. Three new series were introduced for 1959- Le Sabre. Electra and Invicta. It was a courageous car that was almost too daring for the motoring public, and was not a market success, but is considered a styling tour de force and highly prized today.

The compact 1961 Special saved the company from extinction, nothing less. Buick had suffered badly in the postwar recession and Buick leaders were charged with the task of either pulling it out of the slump or shutting it down. The smart little Special did exactly what it was asked to do, selling just shy of 200,000 copies in its first year. 

 Once Buick's survival was assured, it was time to do something dramatic. A modern classic on the day it was introduced, the iconic Riviera of 1963 was not only Buick's entry into the Personal Luxury segment, but also an image defining statement for all Buick models. It was a home run all around and is considered a modern masterpiece.

Performance cars were the rage in the late 60s and early 70s, and the mighty 1970 Buick GSX is among the very fastest production cars of all time. Available with two different 455 engines, the optional Stage 1 produced 360 hp and a whopping 510 lb/ft of torque. It's known in performance car circles as the "Hemi Killer."

The 1975 Sky Hawk is the smallest Buick of a generation, and one heck of a contrast to the mighty GSX. It's significant as a reminder of the rapid change in the early 70's- from "What'll she do?" to "What'll she get?" and represents the reintroduction of the Buick V-6 engine back into the line up, a move that would pay significant benefits in the years to come.

Performance made a comeback in the 80s, and Buick was right there. The legendary performance car of the decade was the V6 powered Buick Grand National, and the special limited edition GNX which was billed as  "The Grand National to End All Grand Nationals. Only 547 of these monsters were produced, and featured independent rear suspension, a special high output version of Buick's 3.8 liter V6 engine with a ceramic turbocharger, and a list price of $29,290. They've just crossed the $100,000 threshold on the Classic Car Auction Circuit and continue to inspire people today. 

In fact, strong rumors are circulating about the return of the Grand National and the GNX as rear wheel drive performance sedans for 2015. If that proves true, perhaps Buick's best days are still ahead of them. 

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