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Eleven decades of Buick

Buick celebrates 110 years by selecting the best of the brand from each decade

Published: June 27, 2013, 1:45 AM
Updated: April 29, 2018, 12:43 PM

Buick - 1949 Roadmaster Riviera

The Buick Motor Company was incorporated in Detroit on May 19, 1903, by David Dunbar Buick – a transplanted Scot.

As such, it predated the establishment of the Ford Motor Company by almost a month, making Buick the oldest active North American automobile nameplate still on the market.

As part of the celebration of Buick's 110th anniversary, the company has chosen one model from each of the brand's 11 decades of existence as the most significant Buick of that period.

Here is a list of those selections, along with our comments. Let the debate begin.

> 1903-1912:

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The first Buick ever is quite significant, so Buick’s first decade honour goes to the 1904 Model B.The first one of the line was sold to doctor Herbert H. Hills of Flint, Mich., decades before the brand developed its reputation as a "doctor’s car."

A justifiable choice, for sure, but here in Canada the honour should surely go to the 1908 McLaughlin-Buick Model F – the first car built by the company that evolved into General Motors of Canada, one of which has been exquisitely restored by the company.

> 1913-1922:

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The 1916 D-45 Touring was the top-selling model in 1916, a year when Buick switched its lineup from four- to six-cylinder engines. Sales tripled that year and reached six digits for the first time. Buick became the top-selling brand in the industry a few years later, with five-passenger touring models remaining most popular.

No argument with that choice, a version of which was built in Canada as a Mclaughlin. Two years later, in 1918, GM bought out the McLaughlin Motor Car Co. and it became General Motors of Canada.

> 1923-1932:

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The 1931 Series 50 was the best-selling model in the year of another upsizing of powertrains – from six- to eight-cylinder engines. The more powerful engines, paired with a major design overhaul the year before, helped boost Buick’s image during the Great Depression.

A worthy choice based on the introduction of the straight-eight engine, which remained a buick hallmark for more than two decades. But in Canada, a case could also be made for a special 1928 McLaughlin-Buick model built exclusively for a Canadian Royal Tour.

> 1933-1942:

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Harlow Curtice became Buick’s president in 1933, and three years later, a model range that included the 1936 Century showed his revolutionary vision for the brand. Its streamlined designs were a dramatic change and Buick’s engines grew more powerful, making the Century the first Buick to reach 100 mph (160 km/h) – hence the name.

On this side of the border, a pair of special Mclaughlin-Buick sedans were stretched 457 mm, reinforced, and made into convertibles for a Royal Visit by King George VI and his Queen. Although it wasn't a production model, it is also worth mentioning the Buick Y-Job, also built during this period, which was arguably the industry's first "concept car," serving notice as to the brands styling direction in the post-war period.

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Buick’s most iconic design features, including signature waterfall grilles and portholes, date to the1949 Roadmaster. One of the most collectible Buicks of all time, the Roadmaster even became a Hollywood star in the 1988 film Rain Man.

There can be no argument with this choice, which vies with the 1963 Riviera as the most iconic Buick ever. Following WWII, the Mclaughlin name was dropped from Buicks built in Canada and they have been just Buicks ever since.

> 1953-1962:

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Buick celebrated its 50th birthday with the 1953 Skylark, an opulent, limited-production convertible with advanced design and technology. Each had Italian wire wheels and the owner’s name engraved on the steering wheel. The same year also marked the first year of Buick V-8 engines and a new twin-turbine Dynaflow automatic transmission.

Another valid choice but the end of an era as Buick seemed to lose its way in terms of styling for the next decade

> 1963-1972:

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Buick’s most famous production design is the 1963 Riviera, a powerful sport coupe said to be inspired by a Rolls-Royce that Buick design boss Bill Mitchell saw through a fog in London. It energized a brand emerging from a period of design criticism.

No argument at all as the first-generation Riviera may be the most significant Buick ever. It was almost inarguably th most beautiful.

1973-1982:

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Amid an oil crisis, the 1975 Regal offered a standard V-6 engine at a time when other mid-size sedans offered only gas-thirstier V-8s. Buick still leads the way in the downsizing trend, offering four-cylinder engines on four of its five 2013 models.

The best choice of a bad lot, perhaps, in a decade that was something of a black hole for the North American auto industry in terms of product.

> 1983-1992:

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Buick’s lightweight, high-tech V-6 engines, mixed with the brand’s success in NASCAR, resulted in the brand’s most iconic performance car, the 1987 GNX. Its 276-hp turbocharged and intercooled V-6 delivered 0-60 mph (0-96 km/h) acceleration in just 4.6 seconds, according to Car and Driver magazine.

Another almost lost decade in the brand's history, in which this factory hot-rod may be the prime example of how far Buick had strayed from its core values and market. Another such example from the same period would be the two-seat Reatta pseudo sports car, notable primarily for its market failure and introduction of touch-screen technology to vehicles – far ahead of its readiness for prime time.

> 1993-2002:

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A 1999 Century was Buick’s first model built in China for the local market. Although Buick has a long reputation as a prestigious brand in China (one in six cars on Shanghai roads in 1930 were Buicks, according to the city’s government,) production there has driven the brand’s success over the past decade. China is now Buick’s largest market, with 700,007 vehicles sold in 2012.

Back in North America, the brand continued to wander, with its identity all but lost and badge-engineered minivans and awkwardly styled utility vehicles further distressing its once-proud reputation. The Chinese success is widely believed to be the only thing that saved the brand from an ignominious death, like that of its sister Oldsmobile brand.

> 2003-2012:

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The 2008 Enclave luxury crossover ushered in Buick’s current design language and brand focus. Along with the LaCrosse luxury sedan, which went on sale as a 2010 model, the Enclave introduced buyers to a new era of Buicks with leading design, quietness, quality and safety.

A sound choice as, surprisingly perhaps, it was this big utility vehicle that set the stage for Buick's renaissance, modest as it may be. Subsequent models have followed the same attractive styling theme and, combined with a huge boost in quality, paved the way for future success.

Is there another 110 years in Buick's future? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

> 1943-1952: