David Buick was born in Arbroath, Scotland in 1854, and was brought to Detroit, MI at the age of two. By the 1880’s, David was a successful inventor in the plumbing field, inventing the lawn sprinkler and a new process of covering metal bath fixtures, tubs, and sinks with porcelain. Buick sold this plumbing business in 1899 for $100,000, giving him the seed money to start Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company. Buick was fascinated with the idea that he could replace a team of horses with just one engine, and from the beginning, Buick realized how important the combustion engine would be to the world. 1903-1920
Noteworthy classic Buick cars: Buick 10 (1908-1910) 23,000 units sold
Buick Motor Company started out slow, not even making a car in 1903. By September 1903, the company was already is financial trouble that David Buick and his then financial backer, Benjamin Briscoe, Jr., sold the company. Flint Wagon Works, a wagon maker in Flint, MI bought the company, and by January 1904 a new one story factory in Flint was producing engines.
The first test model was built in June 1904, and was test driven to Detroit in July by Thomas Buick, David’s son, drove the very successful run, and it was determined that the model was ready for production. 37 Model B’s were built by the end of 1904, but Buick Motor Company still ran into financial difficulties, and was bailed out by William Durant.
William Durant was a successful businessman, and in 1886 had his first ride in a horse drawn cart with a patented suspension system. Durant was so impressed with the ride that he went to Coldwater, MI a few days later and bought the rights to build the cart. The Flint Road Cart, Co was started by Durant in 1886, and by 1990 the company was the largest producing horse drawn carriage manufacturer in America.
Durant didn’t particularly like automobiles, but he saw the potential and noticed how everyone loved the few Buick automobiles available. Durant went to the 1905 New York Auto Show, and before they had even built 40 total vehicles, he had sold over 1,000 at the show alone. Durant’s successful selling techniques with Flint Road Cart Company was now being carried over to the Buick Motor Company, and by 1908 Buick produced 8,820 cars, the most of any auto manufacturer that year.
Buick’s early success can be attributed to the creation of the valve-in-head engine. David Buick, along with engineers Walter Marr and Eugene Richard, invented the valve-in-head engine, which became the strongest and most reliable engine as soon as it hit the market. Eventually, the rest of the auto industry used this form of engine.
Sales skyrocketed due to the wild success of the Buick 10, which sold 4,002 in 1908. This helped Durant create a holding company named General Motors. Yes, this is the same General Motors that is around today. Within 18 months, Durant had acquired a large stake in 30 different auto manufacturers and parts suppliers, including Cadillac , Olds, Oakland (Pontiac), and AC Spark Plug. With so many purchases by 1910, General Motors was under financial hardships, and Durant lost control of GM to another financial group. Durant and Louis Chevrolet, a very successful race car driver, created the Chevrolet company in 1911, and by 1915 was able to take control of GM once again.
1911 brought some drastic changes to Buick, mainly the change from cheaper cars to more expensive lines. The smaller Buick Model 10 was dropped in 1911 to build larger and more expensive cars, with doors and smoother lines. Buick introduced a six cylinder engine to compliment their current four cylinder engine in 1914, along with the self starter and a full electrical system.
1920-1930Buick sales soared throughout the roaring 20’s, and reached 260,000 cars in 1926. Because Buick was now considered a higher end luxury brand, it became the brand choice for aristocrats and political leaders around the world. New motor expeditions around the world were being driven by Buick’s, breaking all kinds of distance and hill climbing records. A Buick automobile was sent around the world in 1925 by Buick and GM Export, to demonstrate their far reaching exporting operations. It was driven by different dealer representatives in each country. The Great Depression hit in 1929, and Because Buick was considered a higher end brand, they suffered the most early on.
1930-1940Noteworthy classic Buick cars:
Buick Special (1936-1958, 1961-1969)
Buick Roadmaster (1936-1958)
Buick Limited (1936-1942, 1958)
Buick Century (1936-1942, 1954-1958)
By 1930, Buick was suffering. They fell to sixth in sales between the car manufacturers. Harlow Curtice was brought in from AC Spark Plug to run Buick, and brought some success back. Buick had the best looking trim and ornamentation of the time, yet sales dropped to 41,522 in 1932, dropping them to 7th of all car manufacturers. $1,500 price tags were just too much during the Great Depression. GM tried selling Buicks at other GM dealerships such as Olds and Pontiac, but after 25% of Buick dealerships folded in less than two years, GM halted this practice.
Noteworthy classic Buick cars:
Buick Super (1940-1958)
Buick converted it’s manufacturing to aircraft engines and Hellcat tank destroyers in February, 1942. Buick cars would not be built until 1946 again, when the 1946 models were actually 1942 models, with new serial numbers. The 1946 models were still the “newest” looking cars available that year, since Buick originally created new designs for the 1942 model year, yet never had a chance to sell them. Other car manufacturers did not change their design much in 1942, and when auto manufacturing picked up again after the war in 1946, the models were exactly the same before the war. Buick also released it’s first fully automatic transmission in 1948, named Dynaflow.
1950-1960Noteworthy classic Buick cars:
Buick Skylark (1953-1954, 1961-1972)
Buick Electra (1959-1990)
Buick had a strong run after the war, due to unique styling and great engineering. The Dynaflow transmission was the first of a long line of new engineering components, including a power steering in 1952 and a high compression V8 engine, power brakes, and a 12 volt electrical system in 1953.
However, sales fell over the 2nd half of the decade from nearly 750,000 models sold in 1955 to less than 250,000 in 1959. This was due to unpopular design changes and a small recession, making the larger Buick’s less popular.
1960-1970Noteworthy classic Buick cars:
Buick Wildcat (1963-1970)
Buick Sport Wagon (1964-1971)
Buick Riviera (1963-1993)
Buick Gran Sport (1965-1972)
The sixties brought a renewed success for Buick. Motor Trend named the 1962 Buick Special the “Car of the Year”, and the considered classic Buick Riviera was released in 1963, and had decades of successful sales with that model line.
1970-1980Noteworthy classic Buick cars:
Buick GSX (1970-1972)
Buick Regal (1973-2004)
Noteworthy classic Buick cars:
Buick Grand National (1982; 1984-1987)
Buick GNX (1987)