Q: I’ve read in your columns that you and your grandfather owned Buicks. When did Buick begin their car manufacturing operations? I, too, have been a Buick lover and owner all my life. George, age 79, retired in Illinois.
A: Buick actually began producing a horseless carriage in 1903 utilizing a chain driven twin-power engine. The inventor was David Buick, a Scottish industrialist who was best known at the time for inventing the process of applying porcelain to steel tubs.
His Buick Motor Company then grew by leaps and bounds to the point where it was purchased by William Durant in 1908 to be of the new General Motors major offerings. The Buick line was favored by professionals, lawyers, businessmen and doctors and followed Chevy, Oakland (Pontiac) and Oldsmobile in the GM pecking order. Cadillac was the next up after Buick.
All Buicks used inline six cylinder engines until 1931, when the first “straight eight” Buick appeared and would be the favored power plant of all Buicks for 22 years. In 1953, Buick introduced a 12 volt electrical system and power steering, but the big news was the release of its first ever V8 engine for the Roadmaster and Super lines. These “nailhead” V-8 engines would grow through the years, even up to 401 inches in 1961, the same year Buick and Olds introduced new 215-inch aluminum V8 for its compact cars.
New V8 designs arrived in 1964, and styling got even better as the years went by. All the while, Buick still catered to the successful older crowd, but the kids of these upper middle class individuals also had a Buick of their own to drive as the Gran Sport offered great looks and muscle car performance. It culminated in 1970, as the GSX was a feared competitor and featured a 455-inch powerhouse under the hood.
Although Buick endured struggles to “catch up” with foreign manufacturers, especially in the 1990 and 2000 decades, engineers sharpened their pencils to keep up mechanically. Today, Buick is firmly etched as a true GM survivor, and most popular as a car of choice in China. Its new models are extremely impressive, and are commercial successes here in the states. (I recently test drove a 2012 Buick Regal GS Turbo---wow!)
My personal Buicks were a 1951 Buick Special (purchased in 1972), and a beautiful all white 1983 Park Avenue I bought in 1986 for my growing family. Both are long gone now, and the day I sold the ’51 still ranks as one of my big “no-no” days.
Thanks for your letter.