Historic Car Brands
Although the ‘Buick’ brand is the oldest car brand in the USA, David Dunbar Buick, who started making automobiles at his Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company in 1899, had little to do with the brand after 1906.
Like the businesses of many early automotive pioneers, David Buick’s operation was under-funded from day one. Also, he was more interested in producing stationary engines that used Walter Marr’s overhead-valve design – a feature that was later patented in Buick’s name by replacement engineer, Eugene Richard.
When Buick became convinced of the future of the automobile he and Marr got back together and started producing Buick cars in 1903, powered by OHV, 159 cu in, two-cylinder, ‘boxer’ engines with opposed cylinders.
1910 ‘Bug’ racing car and Buick-built WW II Hellcat tank destroyer – Buick Archives
Financial backing was initially from a friend, Benjamin Briscoe and then, when that will ran dry, from James Whiting (no known relation to the co-founder of this Historic Vehicles website). That backing also failed and William C Durant had moved in by 1905. ‘Billy’ Durant became one of the US automotive industry’s most important figures, founding General Motors off the back of the successful Buick brand in 1908.
In 1904, Buick sold only 37 vehicles, but that increased to 750 in 1905, 1400 in 1906, 4641 in 1907 and 8800 in 1908, making Buick the leading car brand in the USA. By then, David Buick had left the company, with a stock bundle that made him wealthy, but he died with very few assets some 25 years later. (Durant also became a multi-millionaire, but died penniless in 1947.)
Sloan Museum -1908 Buick Model D
The Buick Model D succeeded the two-cylinder OHV models. It had a then-conventional, in-line, 4.2-litre, side-valve ’T-head’ engine that put out 30hp.
1912 Buick Model 36 Roadster – Sv1ambo
Buick returned to an OHV layout with the four-cylinder Model 10 in 1910, followed by the OHV, 331 cu in Buick Six a year later. That engine was replaced by a smaller, more efficient 224 cu in six-cylinder engine in 1916.
1915 Buick Six
Engine sizes crept up over the years: 242 cu in from 1918; 255 cu in from 1924; 274 cu in from 1926; 309 cu in from 1929 and 331 cu in from 1930. Standard Six cars had smaller-capacity engines than Master Six models.
GM’s new styling department had a shaky start with the Fisher-bodied 1929 Buick that had a distinctive ‘bulge’ below the waistline. The shape was the bodybuilder’s idea. The car scored the nickname ‘pregnant Buick’ and sales faltered, allowing GM chief stylist Harley Earl to have his way with supervision of all future body designs.
Buick In-line-8 – Series 40 – Mr Choppers
In 1931 Buick introduced the Straight-8, initially with reduced cubic-inch capacity of 227 cu in and only 77hp, but that increased yearly to 345 cu in and 168hp by 1936. Straight-8-powered Buicks continued until 1953, when the in-line engine family gave way to the V8.
Buick 80C Convertible – Lglswe
Despite the impact of the new eights and independent front suspension from 1934, Buick sales didn’t recover until 1936.
The Buick ‘Super’ line was released in 1940 and followed by the then-radical 1942 range, with front mudguards whose line continued to meet the rear mudguards. This was departure from previous designs here front and rear mudguards were separate.
Also making an appearance in the 1940s was Buicks’ ‘toothy’ grille that continued after the War.
1949 Buick Sedanette – Herr Anders Svensson
During the War, Buick produced the Hellcat tank destroyer and radial engines for US B-24 bombers and C-47 and C-54 air freighters.
The Roadmaster appeared first in the late 1930s, but post-War became the Buick flagship until 1958. The 1948 model featured a Dynaflow, torque-converter transmission – an automotive first for Buick.
This transmission wasn’t a self-shifter, but had two ratios. In normal driving it started and drove in top gear, using the 3:1 stall ratio of the torque converter to lift off. However, low gear could be manually selected, for improved acceleration.
The ‘Nailhead’ V8 was introduced in 1953, celebrating Buick’s 50th anniversary. It became known as the ‘Nailhead’ because of the unusually long valve stems with relatively small-diameter valve heads. They resembled ‘nails’.
Buick engineers deliberately opted for smallish intakes and exhausts, with both valves on the intake manifold side of each pent-roof combustion chamber. To offset the smaller-sized valves – 44 mm intake and 32mm exhaust – and restrictive port diameters, the Nailhead V8 family used a camshaft with greater lift and duration.
The small-diameter intake runners allowed these engines to develop high torque, with many exceeding 1 lb ft/cu in and that was exceptional for the time. They also developed useful power at relatively low engine revolutions. These characteristics didn’t endear the Nailhead lineup to hot-rodders, because they didn’t work well at high revs, but that was never Buick’s pursuit.
1953 Skylark V8
Six displacements of the Buick V8 family were used in two generations between 1953 and 1966, varying from 264 cu in (4.3 litres) to 425 cu in (7.0 litres); three displacements of standard cast-iron small blocks between 1964 and 1981, and 300 cu in (4.9 litres) and 350 cu in (5.7 litres); one of the 215 cu in (3.5 litres) aluminum blocks (1961-1963); and three big blocks between 1967 and 1976 and 400 cu in (6.6 litres) and 455 cu in (7.5 litres).
Some of these Buick V8s – the 350, 400, and 455 – had the same displacements as those from other GM divisions, but were otherwise entirely different engines.
Leyland version of the BOP V8
Incidentally, the lightweight aluminium-block 3.5-litre engine was also used by Oldsmobile and Pontiac. This ‘BOP’ engine was sold to the Rover Group and became one of the most widely fitted engines in the UK, finding its way into Rovers, Land Rovers, Range Rovers, MGs, TVRs, Morgans and Leyland P76 cars and trucks.
The Buick V8s were phased out in the 1970s, being replaced by GM-family engines.
1958 Riviera – Alf-van-Beem
In 1959 Buick released three new models: Electra, Invicta and LeSabre, and in 1963 the Riviera was introduced as its own model.
1963 Buick Wildcat – Ifcar
The 1970s saw a number of new models added to the Buick lineup including the Estate Wagon as its own model in 1970, Centurion in 1971, Apollo in 1973 and Skyhawk in 1975.
Buick GSX 1970 – Nakhon
1978 marked Buick’s 75th anniversary and welcomed a redesigned Century as well as a redesigned Regal coupe which was now available with a turbocharged V6 engine. For 1979, the Riviera was redesigned.
1972 Buick Riviera – Jukka-Peura
in 1980, a diesel engine became available on select Buick models and in 1982, a soft-top Riviera saw the return of the convertible that had disappeared in 1976.
In 1985, the Somerset was introduced as its own model. Also, the Electra coupe and sedan were redesigned and converted to front-wheel drive – initially powered by a carburettored 3.0-litre Buick V6 engine, a fuel injected 3.8-litre Buick V6 engine, or a 4.3-litre Oldsmobile diesel V6 engine.
1988 Buick Reatta – Mr Choppers
In 1986, the LeSabre was introduced on a new front wheel drive.
In 1987, the last of the turbo/intercooled Regal Grand Nationals, often called the quickest American cars, were offered, as well as 547 even quicker special-edition ’87 GNXs.
The Riviera was also restyled for 1989, adding 11 inches to its overall length and in 1990, the first Reatta convertible was produced. 1990 was also the last year for the Electra as Park Avenue, previously a trim level on the Electra, became its own model for the 1991 model year.
A new four-door Regal came to market for 1991; the first Regal sedan since 1984. Buick also introduced a supercharged 3.8-litre V6 in the Park Avenue Ultra and the Roadmaster returned, after a 33-year absence.
Buick Roadmaster – IFcar
For 1992, the popular LeSabre was redesigned along the same lines as the previous year’s Park Avenue. 1992 also saw introduction of a new, redesigned Skylark.
In 1995 the Riviera returned, with radical styling that departed from the previous generation’s more traditional image. In 1996, both the Roadmaster sedan and wagon were discontinued.
1999 Buick Riviera
With sales of all coupes declining in the North American market, GM decided to discontinue the Riviera, so production ceased in November, 1998.