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Buick History


Buick traces its beginnings to David Dunbar Buick, born in Arbroath, Scotland, in 1854, and brought to Detroit at age 2. David became a plumbing inventor/executive in the 1880s, then became fascinated with gasoline engines in the mid-1890s. He was soon building engines for farm use and boats and by 1899 or 1900 had opened Buick Auto-Vim and Power Co. Among the tiny company's stated specialties: automobile engines. The name was changed to Buick Manufacturing Co. and then to Buick Motor Co., with incorporation papers filed May 19, 1903, creating the firm's official birthday.

In this period, Buick and his associates built two cars (one as early as 1899) and designed an overhead valve (later called "valve-in-head") engine. This efficient and powerful engine was patented by Buick engineer Eugene Richard. Buick's chief engineer, the brilliant Walter L. Marr, was later identified with its future development and indeed, with more than 30 patents, the entire development of Buick automobiles.

Despite the new engine, the Buick firm barely limped along until September 1903, when David Buick and his financial backer, Benjamin Briscoe Jr., sold the company to a group of wagon makers in Flint, 60 miles north of Detroit. Eighteen years later, Briscoe observed that Buick's success in Flint was "so fraught with romance that it made Arabian Nights tales look commonplace."

On Sept. 11, 1903, James H. Whiting, manager of the Flint Wagon Works, announced that the wagon works directors had bought the Buick company and would move it - bag, baggage and David Buick - from Detroit. By December, a new one-story brick factory on W. Kearsley Street in Flint was up and running - engines were being built. On Jan. 22, 1904, Buick Motor Co., Detroit, was dissolved and on Jan. 30, 1904, Buick Motor Co., Flint, was incorporated.

In May and June of 1904, the company built the first Flint Buick. Marr and Thomas Buick, David's son, took it on a test run to Detroit and back July 9-12. The test was so successful Whiting ordered production to start. Buick began producing the Model B that summer and built 37 cars by the end of 1904. When the company ran into financial problems that fall, Whiting turned to one of Flint's other carriage builders for help.

The man was William C. "Billy" Durant, considered Flint's carriage "king." Grandson of a Michigan governor of the Civil War era, Durant had gotten into the vehicle business almost on a whim. One evening in 1886, the energetic young businessman hitched a ride in a horse-drawn road cart with a patented suspension on the streets of Flint. Several days later he went to Coldwater, Mich., where the cart was manufactured, and bought the rights to build it. That year he started the Flint Road Cart Co. By 1900, the firm, renamed the Durant-Dort Carriage Co., was the largest producer of horse-drawn vehicles in the country - largely thanks to Durant's promotional genius.

Durant didn't particularly like automobiles - he was no different than most carriage men in that opinion. But he knew a "self-seller" when he saw one. The Buick, he observed, drew plenty of attention because it could climb hills and run through mud like no other car he had ever seen. If automobiles could be this good, he thought, then maybe it was time to switch.

Once Durant made that decision, Buick's success was assured. No one could raise money, sell products and plan big organizations like Billy Durant. He went to the 1905 New York Auto Show and took orders for 1,000 Buicks before the company had built 40.

He moved Buick assembly briefly to Jackson, Mich., in 1905 (building more than 700 Model Cs there that year) while he raised money to erect a huge complex of plants on Flint's north side. He persuaded Charles Stewart Mott (later a GM director for 60 years) to move his axle business from Utica, N.Y., to Flint to build axles for Buick. He promoted Buicks across the country, using Durant-Dort carriage outlets and salespeople as the nucleus of a giant distribution system.

He created a racing team - with stars such as Louis Chevrolet and Wild Bob Burman - that won 500 trophies from 1908 to 1910.

The success of Buick engines was evident on the race tracks - including 1909 successes at Indianapolis Motor Speedway two years before the first Indy 500 - and in endurance tests across the country and around the world. A 1912 Buick Model 28 was the first car to travel across South America, driven from Buenos Aires, Argentina, over the Andes to Santiago, Chile, in 1914. Buicks won hillclimbs across the country - including one in 1904 with one of the first 40 Buicks ever built.

In 1908, Buick claimed to lead the country in automobile production, with 8,820 produced - and with the hot new Model 10 as the biggest seller (4,002). Durant had made the transition from the biggest producer of buggies to the biggest producer of automobiles. And, on Buick's success, Durant created a holding company that year. He called it General Motors.

By the 1920s, Buick was becoming the car of choice for kings, sultans and political leaders and winning competitions from South America to Australia to the Soviet Union. Adventurer Lowell Thomas used a Buick in the first motor expedition into Afghanistan in 1923. British royalty favored Buicks - they could claim they were buying "Empire" cars as Buicks were built in Canada. And Buicks were said to be favored by the leaders of Shanghai, China. In 1925, Buick and GM Export sent a Buick around the world without a single driver - passing the vehicle from one sales/service operation to another to demonstrate the worldwide reach of GM's operations.

Buick's fortunes soured during the Great Depression that began in 1929, but Harlow Curtice, brought in from AC Spark Plug, led Buick to renewed successes in the periods just before and after World War II. One milestone: The Buick Y-Job, GM's first concept car, developed by GM design chief Harley Earl in 1938. Buicks were wildly popular in the postwar era with their strong vertical-bar grilles, hardtop-convertible styling, portholes (called VentiPorts), Dynaflow automatic transmissions and powerful eight-cylinder engines.

The division declined again in the late '50s, but returned to strength with improved styling and quality, engine innovations such as the first American mass-produced V-6 (in the '62 Special, Motor Trend "Car of the Year") and styling leaders such as the Rivieras of the 1960s.

Buick impressed performance buffs with powerful Gran Sports (1965-75) and Regal Grand Nationals and GNXs (late 1980s) while also providing stock-block engines in the '80s and '90s that twice powered a third or more of the Indianapolis 500 starting field. In 1984, Buick sales worldwide hit a peak of more than one million units.

In the 1990s, Buick became the leader in supercharged engines. The division continued to emphasize sedans until it began to enter new markets with the 2002 Rendezvous crossover vehicle. In the new millennium, Buick is emphasizing "Premium American Style" and continues to explore new markets with concept convertibles and crossovers, and with the production Rainier SUV soon to reach the market. The division is also continuing to build its long-held quality reputation by ranking among the leaders in independent quality studies.
1903 Buick Motor Company, founded by David Dunbar Buick, is incorporated on May 19, 1903. Ground is broken for the first Buick engine plant on September 11, 1903, with funding from Flint Wagon Works, and operations are moved from Detroit to Flint.
1904 William Crapo ("Billy") Durant of Durant-Dort Carriage Company, Flint, Michigan, takes control of Buick Motor Company on November 1, 1904.
1906 Buick builds its first production four-cylinder car, a 1907 Model D.
1908 Under Billy Durant's leadership, General Motors Company is organized in 1908 (Sept 16), incorporating the Buick Motor Company. Buick claimed to lead the country in automobile production, with 8,820 produced - and with the hot new Model 10 as the biggest seller (4,002).
1923 Adventurer Lowell Thomas used a Buick in the first motor expedition into Afghanistan in 1923.
1924 Four-wheel brakes are introduced on 1924-model year Buicks.
1925 Buick and GM Export sent a Buick around the world without a single driver - passing the vehicle from one sales/service operation to another to demonstrate the worldwide reach of GM's operations.
1929 Buick introduces a smaller 6-cylinder sedan which is named the Marquette. It is discontinued by 1931.
1932 B-O-P Sales Company is established, consolidating the wholesale sales forces of Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac. It is disbanded the following year.
1933 No-Draft Ventilation, developed by Fisher Body, is introduced on all GM cars.
1936 The Buick Roadmaster, a milestone in styling (designed by Harley Earl), is introduced.
1937 Linden Division, Linden, NJ, is established to assemble Buicks, Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs closer to the points of sale in the eastern U.S.
1938 GM's first concept car, the Buick Y-Job, was developed by GM design chief Harley Earl.
1939 The industry's first rear turn signals to use flasher are introduced by Buick.
1945 The Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac Assembly Division is organized. It later becomes General Motors Assembly Division (GMAD) in 1965.
1948 Buick introduces the first torque converter-type automatic transmission, Dynaflow, offered in U.S. passenger cars.
1951 Buick's LeSabre and XP-300, two custom-built super-streamlined concept cars, are introduced to test GM's new advances in styling and mechanical features.
1952 Power steering is offered by Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Buick.
1953 The Buick high compression V-8 engine is introduced. 12-volt electrical systems, developed by Delco Remy Division, are installed on Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles and Buicks. Power brakes are offered by Buick and Oldsmobile.
1955 The industry's first four-door "pillarless" hardtop sedans are offered by Buick and Oldsmobile on 1955 models.
1961 Buick introduces the first American V-6 passenger car engine in the new smaller Buick Special sedan.
1962 Motor Trend magazine names the 1962 Buick Special as the "Car of the Year".
1963 Buick introduces the prestige, E-body based, Riviera.
1966 GM introduces the industry's first energy absorbing steering column.
1967 GM introduces front seat shoulder belts on 1967 models. (Rear seat shoulder belts are available as a dealer installed option.)
1972 A new combined lap and shoulder belt system with both a light and a buzzer to remind the front occupants that they should "buckle-up" becomes standard on all GM cars.
1975 All 1975 model cars sold in the U.S. and Canada are equipped with catalytic converters to comply with provisions of the Federal Clean Air Act.
1976 In response to the fuel crisis, Buick downsizes it full-size and luxury vehicles.
1979 Introduction of the newly designed front-wheel-drive compact car, the Buick Skylark.
1983 Buick Motor Division announces plans to consolidate its car assembly operations in Flint with Fisher Body Divisionís metal fabricating and body assembly facilities. The $200 million project is dubbed "Buick City".
1988 GM introduces its "GM10" family of newly redesigned midsize cars -- the Buick Regal, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and Pontiac Grand Prix.
1999 General Motors' new joint venture assembly plant in Shanghai, China, begins production of Buick Regals for the Chinese market.
2001 Shanghai GM, a joint venture between General Motors and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, launches the Buick Sail, the first modern family car built in China.
2002 Buick celebrates its 100th Anniversary.


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