Historic Truck Brands
It’s not well known that Buick made purpose-designed trucks and buses until the early 1920s, after which its commercial vehicle offerings were derivatives of the passenger car range.
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, 22hp, ’boxer’ engines with opposed cylinders.
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.
The first Buick truck was the 1907 M2-A, derived from the Model F passenger car. It had the engine under the seat, a two-speed planetary transmission and chain rear wheel drive.
The stated payload capacity was 1500 pounds, which interestingly, is still the rated payload for North American pick-ups in the ‘1500’ size category, of which the Ford F-150 and RAM 1500 are examples.
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.)
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. The engine was positioned in front of the driver and the transmission was a three-speed, sliding mesh type.
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.
1916 Buick D4 bus – Battye Library WA
Buick D4 truck chassis came to Australia and this 1916 Buick D4, four-cylinder was one of 1347 built specifically for export. It was fitted with a rudimentary, 10-passenger, open bus body and the photo was taken somewhere in Western Australia.
The payload would have well exceeded Buick’s stated 1500-pound rating, when the weight of the passengers and luggage was added up.
Buick D4 and E4 models were the bases for light trucks and ambulances for the US Army in WWI and some were sold in the UK after the War as war-surplus vehicles. The ambulance field became a Buick niche market in Australia in the between-war years, with many city and rural authorities using Buick vehicles.
However, the dedicated light commercial D4 truck was discontinued around 1918, because GM made the decision to have only its Chevrolet and GMC brands making trucks.
That said, in 1922, Buick produced the Series 22-44 lower-cost passenger car and a commercial derivative, known as the SD4, was produced in limited numbers until 1923, after which the final decision was made to limit light trucks to Chevy and GMC brands.
This 1922 four-cylinder Buick truck was purchased by one of Melbourne’s leading pastry cook companies and was followed up by another, bought from Lanes Motors.
Buick 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.
1924 Buick Master Six – Liverpool (Sydney) – John Gerdtz
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.
The powerful engines, independent front suspension and long wheelbases used by Buick endeared them to ambulance and light bus builders, so although the brand was officially out of the light truck business, there were many special-body Buicks in service in the USA and Australia.
1936 Buick – Armidale (NSW) District – John Gerdtz
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 Buick’s ‘toothy’ grille that continued after the War.
1946-47 Buick 8/40 -Wagga Wagga (NSW) – John Gerdtz
We’re indebted to John Gerdtz and Marcus McInnes for their contributions to this Truck Brands entry.