Buick is a luxury brand of General Motors (GM). Buick models are sold in the United States, Canada, Mexico, China, Taiwan, and Israel, with China being its largest market. Buick holds the distinction as the oldest active American make. Some current Buick models are shared with GM's German Opel subsidiary.
Buick is currently the oldest American still-active automotive make, and among the oldest automobile brands in the world. It originated as the Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company in 1899, an independent internal combustion engine and motor-car manufacturer, and was later incorporated as the Buick Motor Company on May 19, 1903, by Scottish born David Dunbar Buick in Detroit, Michigan. Later that year, the struggling company was taken over by James H. Whiting (1842–1919), who moved it to his hometown of Flint, Michigan, and brought in William C. Durant in 1904 to manage his new acquisition. Buick sold his stock for a small sum upon departure, and died in modest circumstances twenty-five years later.
Between 1899 and 1902 two prototype vehicles were built in Detroit, Michigan by Walter Lorenzo Marr. Some documentation exists of the 1901 or 1902 prototype with tiller steering similar to the Oldsmobile Curved Dash.
In mid-1904 another prototype was constructed for an endurance run, which convinced James H. Whiting to authorize production of the first models offered to the public. The architecture of this prototype was the basis for the Model B.
The first Buick made for sale, the 1904 Model B, was built in Flint, Michigan. There were 37 Buicks made that year, none of which survived. There are, however, two replicas in existence: the 1904 endurance car, at the Buick Gallery & Research Center in Flint, and a Model B assembled by an enthusiast in California for the division's 100th anniversary. Both of these vehicles use various parts from Buicks of that early era, as well as fabricated parts. These vehicles were each constructed with the two known surviving 1904 engines.
The power-train and chassis architecture introduced on the Model B was continued through the 1909 Model F. The early success of Buick is attributed in part to the valve-in-head engine patented by Eugene Richard. The creation of General Motors is attributed in part to the success of Buick, so it can be said Marr and Richard's designs directly led to GM.
The basic design of the 1904 Buick was optimally engineered even by today's standards. The flat-twin engine is inherently balanced, with torque presented to the chassis in a longitudinal manner, actually cancelling front end lift, rather than producing undesirable lateral motion. The engine was mounted amidships, now considered the optimal location.
Durant was a natural promoter, and Buick soon became the largest car maker in America. Using the profits from this, Durant embarked on a series of corporate acquisitions, calling the new mega-corporation General Motors. At first, the manufacturers comprising General Motors competed against each other, but Durant ended that. He wanted each General Motors division to target one class of buyer, and in his new scheme Buick was near the top — only the Cadillac brand had more prestige. This is the position that Buick occupies to this day in the General Motors lineup. The ideal Buick customer is comfortably well off, possibly not quite rich enough to afford a Cadillac, nor desiring the ostentation of one, but definitely in the market for a car above the norm.
At first, Buick followed the likes of Napier in automobile racing, winning the first-ever race held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In 1911, Buick introduced its first closed-body car, four years ahead of Ford. In 1929, as part of General Motors' companion make program, Buick Motor Division launched the Marquette sister brand, designed to bridge the price gap between Buick and Oldsmobile; however, Marquette was discontinued in 1930. Buick scored another first in 1939, when it became the first company to introduce turn signals.
The Buick trishield is rooted in the ancestral coat of arms of the automaker’s founder, David Dunbar Buick. That crest was a red shield with a checkered silver and azure diagonal line from the upper left to lower right, a stag above and a punctured cross below. The division adopted this on its radiator grilles in 1937. In 1960, the logo underwent a major overhaul. Its single shield was replaced by a trio in red, white and blue—denoting the LeSabre, Invicta, and Electra then in the Buick lineup. Usurped by the Buick Hawk in the 1970s, the trishield reemerged in the 1980s, simplified, but with its same patriotic colors. Today, again representing the trio of vehicles in the Buick marque, the trishield enjoys its even more distilled—and emboldened—monochrome form.
A traditional Buick styling cue dating to 1949 is a series of three or four "portholes" or vents on the front fender behind the front wheels. The source of this design feature was a custom car of Buick stylist Ned Nickles, which in addition had a flashing light within each hole each synchronized with a specific spark plug simulating the flames from the exhaust stack of a fighter airplane. Combined with the bombsight mascot (introduced in the 1940s), the ventiports put the driver at the controls of an imaginary fighter airplane. The flashing light feature was not used by Buick in production, but the portholes remained as nonfunctional ornamentation.
These were originally called "Ventiports" since the suggestion was made that they did allow air flow out of the engine bay (later just "portholes"). Air enters from the grill into the engine bay and is pressurized by the radiator fan, and exits through the ventiports. Ventiports have appeared sporadically on several models since and are currently featured on three of the four current Buick models.
Lower cost models were equipped with three portholes, while higher cost models came with four. Often, people would denote their cars as "Four-Holers" or "Three-Holers" to assert the car's class. When the number of portholes was standardized across the entire model line, buyers of the higher cost models complained bitterly that they felt shortchanged. In 2003 they were re-introduced on the Buick Park Avenue. After the Park Avenue was discontinued, Buick salvaged the portholes to appear on the new-for-2006 Lucerne. In a break with tradition, the Lucerne's portholes refer directly to engine configuration: V6 models have three on each side, while V8s have four on each side.
Modern and edgy compared to the oval ones that adorned Buicks for years, the new ventiports have become a Buick-wide talisman again and are currently featured in one form or another on the Lucerne, the popular Enclave and, for 2010, along the inner hood ridges of the redesigned LaCrosse.
Another styling cue from the 1940s through the 1970s was the "sweepspear", a curved line running the length of the car. In the earlier cars, this was a chrome-plated or stainless steel rub strip which, after it passed the front wheel, gently curved down nearly to the rocker panel just before the rear wheel, and then curved around the rear wheel in a quarter of a circle to go straight back to the tail-light. During the two-tone color craze of the 1950s, the sweepspear separated two different color areas. After that, the curved line was usually indicated either by a vinyl rub strip or simply a character line molded into the sheetmetal as hinted in the 2008 Invicta concept car and 2010 LaCrosse/Allure production car.
The 1958 Buick was marketed beginning in September 1957, just as the space age began with the launching of Sputnik I on October 4 of that year. This Buick was nicknamed "the king of chrome" and had rear tailfins reminiscent of a rocket ship. In 1959, Buick had the aerodynamic Delta Fin. The fin made parking difficult and blocked the driver's line of vision. In 1960, the fin was snubbed down and disappeared in 1961, although vestiges of it reappeared in the 2000-2005 LeSabre line with its upswept sides.
The Buick styling cue (dating from the 1940s) that has most often reappeared, though, is for the grille to be a horizontal oval with many thin vertical chromed ribs bulging forward. This has sometimes been called the Buick "dollar grin" particularly on the early 1950s models, which had thick, highly-polished ribs that somewhat resembled teeth. The 1950 model took this tooth theme to its extreme as the teeth crossed over the bumper exposing the 1950 "grin". The 1951 model reined in the theme, bringing the teeth back behind the bumper. Current Buick Models have a new take on the classic styling with their Chromed "Waterfall Grilles".
It appears Buick may be preparing to abandon this styling cue for a new waterfall grille, as seen on the Buick Velite concept car from 2004 and the Buick Lucerne introduced for the 2006 model year. This waterfall grille bears some resemblance to grilles of Buicks from the 1980s, such as the Grand National. It was reintroduced on the 2010 Buick LaCrosse and 2010 Buick Enclave
The Buick V8 engine, nicknamed the "nailhead" because of its relatively small intake and exhaust valves which resembled nails, became popular with hot-rodders in the 1950s and 1960s, because the vertical attachment of the valve covers, in contrast to the angled attachment of other V8 engines, enabled the engine to fit into smaller spaces while maintaining easy access for maintenance.
By 1967, Buick was making quiet history with more conventional V8s that had abandoned the "nailhead" design but made much greater power. For the 1967 model year, Buick re-named its "Gran Sport" performance models (not to be confused with the Chevrolet "Super Sport" cars) as "GS" models. In 1970 this was headed up by the powerful GS455 Stage 1, so named for its 455 cu in (7.5 L) engine, with its high performance "Stage 1" package. Built on the same "A-body" platform as the Chevelle, Cutlass/442, and LeMans/GTO, the GS cars were performance based vehicles spawned from Buick's Skylark line, and shared all of the A-Body GM offering's tendency for good looks. Both hardtop and convertible "GS" models were offered.
Midway through that year, Buick debuted its "GSX" model, which was an appearance package rivaling that of the GTO "Judge". GSX colors ran the spectrum that year, if that range included just yellow and white. Subsequent GSX models offered a variety of colors to go with the GSX signature hood blackout treatment and the swept wide pin striping vaguely reminiscent of the famous Buick "sweepspear". GSX models could be ordered with 350, 455, or 455 Stage 1 engines, and were outfitted with the usual GS options such as dual hood scoop hood with functioning "ram-air" intake, and dual exhaust. Horsepower ratings for the Stage 1 455s were a relatively mild 360 hp (or 370 depending on sources), but featured 510 ft·lbf (690 N·m) of torque at 2200 rpm, good to propel the relatively weighty GS455 Stage 1 equipped cars to quarter-mile times of under 13.4 seconds. Buick halted GSX production after the 1972 model year.
The prototype GSX survived the show circuit, and was a fully functioning car that beat the odds to survive not only the usual showcar life of "construction-display-destruction", but also the life of an ordinary car, as it was sold from a dealership after being on display for some time. The car survives to this day, is restored to its original condition, licensed and ready to hit the road.
Unlike some of GM's other brands, Buicks are currently not marketed globally, although the marque had a substantial export presence until a few years ago. Some Buicks were also built in Europe or were available with specific trim for European market until 1996.