David Dunbar Buick founded the oldest surviving American car brand in 1899.
With its roots seated firmly in engineering, the Buick Motor Company routinely introduced innovations over the years. For example, Buick’s first fully enclosed car was offered in 1911. In 1931, Buick debuted an overhead valve straight eight-cylinder engine with a synchromesh transmission. Buick also introduced flashing rear turn signals in 1939. In 1948, Buick introduced the first torque converter-type automatic transmission offered in U.S. passenger cars. Buick was also among the first manufacturers to offer vehicles with power brakes, power steering, and 12-volt electrical systems.
A number of the styling elements of new Buick cars have specific significance. The tri-shield Buick emblem (used to this day) is an adaptation of the coat of arms of David Dunbar Buick’s Scottish family. The Buick portholes, first seen on 1949’s new Buick models, initially denoted the displacement of the engine in the car to which they were affixed. Today they reflect the number of cylinders in the car’s engine; V8 new Buick models have four ports on each side, V6 new Buick models have three.
Another iconic styling cue of new Buick cars through the years was the “Sweepspear”. This was a curved chrome-plated trim piece running down the side of the car. After passing the front wheel, the Sweepspear arced gracefully downward toward the rocker panel—just ahead of the rear wheel. It then curved up and over it before terminating at the rear of the car. If you look closely at today’s Buick Lacrosse flagship, the Sweepspear is still evident.
A number of iconic Buick models have captured the imagination of the American motoring public over the years. Buick’s luxurious Roadmaster, LeSabre, and Electra 225 highway cruisers come most immediately to mind. However, during the muscle car era, the performance-oriented Buick GSX also offered 360 horsepower and 510 ft-lbs of torque.
The Buick Regal Grand National, the ultimate iteration of which was offered in 1987, was well ahead of its time. Featuring a turbocharged V6 (a strategy many manufacturers are just now embracing), the Grand National was rated at 276 horsepower (though everyone agrees that figure was understated) and 360 ft-lbs of torque.
During the recent reorganization of General Motors, one of Buick’s saving graces is the popularity of new Buick models in China. Fully 35 percent of Buick’s worldwide sales are in that country, making it the largest market for new Buick cars anywhere in the world. Today’s new Buick models include luxury sedans, sports sedans, and crossover SUVs—as America’s oldest surviving carmaker tries to appeal to a younger audience of upwardly mobile professionals.