For the new millennium, GM tasked its Holden operation in Australia with creating a new global platform, which would be named Zeta. Costing around AUD $1Bn, Zeta was engineered for longitudinal engine placement and RWD as standard, with the option for AWD. It was designed to be highly flexible and could accommodate over half a dozen body styles with variable wheelbase lengths, ride heights, roof lines and windscreen rakes. The suspension comprised MacPherson struts with dual-ball lower A-arms at the front and a four-link independent set-up at the rear. With full-blown production models still another two years away, GM took the decision to Continue reading “Billeted By The Waterfall”
Denied, or swerved? We examine a lost Buick concept.
The conglomeration of niches and target customers explored by car makers in the conceptual realm have for the most part enjoyed a better than average tendency towards termination on dead-end street. Concepts may showcase design flourishes or preview the latest in technology, but rarely see production reality – more often appearing as a feature flick here, or a garrulous gamut there. But as the millennium approached, and their once-proud Riviera model withered on the vine, Buick sought to Continue reading “The Flying Burrito, Brother”
Recalling General Motors’ Middle Eastern misadventures.
The title of this tale is a Middle Eastern proverb, somewhat similar to our adage ‘Buyer beware’, but it expands on this in the sense that it also cautions sellers to keep an eye on proceedings at all times. On two separate occasions involving different Middle East countries, General Motors found to its cost what can happen if this advice is not heeded, dragging it into controversy and a hostile environment when the political winds changed direction.
A trade dispute between Japan and Iraq was the improbable cause of trouble for GM Canada. In 1980, Toyota was the number-one selling car in Iraq, and had been for some years. That same year, the Japanese manufacturer initiated talks with Ford about a possible joint venture. The fact that Ford operated an important assembly plant in Israel, however, did not go down well with the Iraqis, who in consequence started looking for a different supplier for the country’s official cars and taxi cabs. Continue reading “Open One Eye when you Sell, and Both Eyes when you Buy”
Apart from huge metropolises such as New York or Los Angeles, most of the United States’ land area is quite sparsely inhabited, with large areas of undeveloped land. A consequence of this abundance of space was the many salvage yards(1) where cars were simply parked at their presumed final resting place instead of being stacked on top of each other, disassembled, flattened or crushed.
While not necessarily the most environmentally-friendly storage method, salvage yards do provide an invaluable source of spare-parts for those restoring a piece of classic Detroit iron. For those with an interest in classic cars in general and who, like your author, appreciate the peculiar air of nostalgia and romance one feels while walking amongst discarded vehicles in varying stages of decay, these yards are also irresistible. In truth, I should probably use the past tense these days as the vast majority of these salvage yards have now disappeared due to ever more stringent environmental laws and policies that started to take effect, especially since the turn of the millennium. Continue reading “Ashes to Ashes (Part One)”
The car that choreographed a Cadillac lawsuit (and won).
McCormick Place, Chicago, February 1982 – a not entirely salubrious (or meteorologically appropriate) launch venue for a factory convertible. American and British tastes regarding the drophead differ considerably. Ever optimistic for the kiss of solar rays, Blighty could not be satiated. America however, forty years ago felt altogether differently.
Over the years the hair may have lightened, thinned somewhat but his passion remained strong. Edward H. Mertz (1937-2020) took over Buick’s tiller in 1987, steering GM’s original brand for just over a decade. Helping usher in front wheel drive, wanting to make the right impression whilst reserving the typical, reservist, conservative Buick buyer, Mertz immersed himself into the role with a smile as confident as his policies, including better relations between the company and their dealers.
Mertz could be found in his office, alighting a tri-shield, the 19th hole or the affectionately named War Room where ideas and designs were thrashed out for his pre-recorded dealer-eyes-only Curbside Chats. Averaging every five weeks, he hosted sixty six episodes of around thirty minutes length (in total approximately a working week, 35 or so hours) all recorded to VCR tape and posted out to the three thousand stateside dealers. That, in itself is commitment.
How Bill Porter turned the sow’s ear of the 1986 Buick Riviera into something so much better.
This article was first published as part of the DTW Facelifts Theme on July 02 2014.
In 1986, Buick sold a medium-sized two door coupé called the Somerset in the US market, built on the Oldsmobile-engineered N-body. In the way of GM’s demented renaming strategy, the Somerset tag was once a trim level of the Regal saloon but it escaped to become a separate line. The Somerset only lived for three years – the public didn’t take to the name, apparently. The Somerset had a transverse, front-mounted 2.5 litre 4-cylinder or 3.0 V-6 engine driving the front wheels. The wheelbase was 103 inches (Americans don’t do metric).
We can all recall the time honoured film storyline by rote: ageing sportsman/ criminal/ gunslinger, against better judgement, returns to the stump for one last payday. Inevitably, tragedy and (if the plotline allows) redemption ensues; at the very least, important life-lessons are learned. Today’s study cleaves to that most hackneyed of American movie narratives, because the 1991-96 Buick Roadmaster, while part of a long and illustrious line would ultimately Continue reading “One for the Road”
To the European autophile, American cars often lose their flavour should (or if) they land on soil at least three thousand miles from home. As a 1980s wet behind the ears teenager, all American cars were big, loud, had screeching tyres and could fly (dependent upon TV show) yet possessed an otherworldly draw for this spotty oik.
Beer matters. Not the lagers (or pilsners for that matter) that conquered the world once refrigeration was commercially available but that quintessentially British phenomenon, real ale. Now gaining popularity in other parts of the thirst market, the myriad flavours a British pint of beer can offer remains a highly subjective experience. One’s tastebuds can be tingled by initial fruity overtones leading to complex biscuit hints leaving (perhaps) a sharp but far from unpleasant aftertaste. Its composition comprises of but four vital ingredients: malted barley, hops, water and yeast.
One influential variant of barley is the Marris Otter, found in many a pint; English grown for many years, imparting a sweet and flavoursome basis for the beer. Combining with (normally) Kent grown Golding Hops, which imbue earthy, spicy and honey influences may, with a decent brewer at the stills, create a thirst quenching, tasty, moreish drink. So what on Earth has an English pint got to do with a forgotten American two seater? Leave the driving for another day, open a bag of salted nuts and Continue reading “Maris Otter and Goldings”
Yesterday’s tomorrows – from the studios of Bill Mitchell.
Sometimes it is necessary to go wildly overboard before one finds the precise quantum of sufficiency. Somewhat akin to party-going children having run amok; gorging on fizzy pop and cream buns, the American motor industry exited the 1950s with a decidedly queasy sense of untempered excess. A new decade would precipitate a fresh creative approach, and a wholesale shift from the baroque flights of jet-age fancy to a more sober, less mannered visual sensibility.
Buick’s Regal: sweeping lines, restrained aggression, comfortable but hardly sporting – that being Pontiac’s purview. G-body-on frame, engineering that cut no mustard, but was never meant to. That the second generation Regal became a factory backed NASCAR winner, driven in the early 1980s by luminary Darrel Waltrip triggered a tangential change that, if not for a skunkworks plan, may well have fallen at the first hurdle.
When first shown, the car that was to become known as the Grand National, fell foul to top brass reaction. Ed Mertz and Dick Payne were livid at the thought of potentially sullying the Buick ethos. However, chief engineer Dave Sharpe, Mike Doble (Advanced Concepts), marketing boss Darwin Clark and impetus from then divisional manager, Lloyd Reuss, saw an opportunity to Continue reading “The Doctor Is OUT”
David Dunbar Buick was but two years old when the family emigrated from Arbroath, Scotland for a new life in Detroit, 1856. Upon leaving school he worked for and then later owned a plumbing goods company (The Alexander Manufacturing Company). With an inventive mind, David produced a lawn sprinkler alongside a vitreous enamel coating for cast iron baths. By the 1890’s, the internal combustion engine held more interest than ablutions – the company was sold.
Afforded both time and financial independence, Buick indulged. Incorporating the Buick Auto-Vim & Power Company in 1899, his market was agricultural engines. Very soon the automobile enveloped his life and swiftly draining his finances with just a single car made in 1902 under the new name, Buick Manufacturing Company. Ploughing what little cash he retained into developing an OHV engine, a loan of $5,000 was had from close friend Ben Briscoe in order to make the Buick Motor Company.
From day one to sometime in the late 20th century, the archetypal Buick customer was formed of doctors, architects – the professional classes. Not for me the first 1990 evocation of this particular model, nor indeed the (admittedly beautiful) 1989 Essence concept. The syringe laced with youthful elixir came with in late 1996 in second-generation form, before handing over to the Lucerne (but not before transforming into something less coherent) in 2005. The Buick Park Avenue (BPA) – a sublime sedan.
DTW’s own Richard Herriott sang some general praise here whereas today’s critique ploughs distinctly narrower avenues. Bill Porter, the Park Avenue’s designer offers, “a measure of stateliness is conveyed by Park Avenue’s generous proportions.” Its a soft car in stance, looks and Dynaride set up, almost harmless for a metal object weighing in at 1700Kgs. Continue reading “The Doctor Is IN”
Like the Buick Y-job that went before it, the 1951 LeSabre concept car was a GM testbed for both technology and stylistic ideas. The low-slung roadster, bodied in aluminium and magnesium, was the first to have the panoramic windshield that would be a defining feature on virtually all American cars from the mid- to late fifties. Its overall look is best described as jet age on wheels.
LeSabre also used the first application of GM’s 215 cubic inch (3.5 litre) aluminium V8 which would later find its way into a variety of cars, both in the USA and Europe – although in the LeSabre’s case the engine was supercharged and capable of running on both regular fuel and methanol. Harley Earl was known to Continue reading “En Garde! Part One”
If there is one car in the past two decades that has, above all others, defied rational explanation, it is surely the Pontiac Aztek. Launched in 2000, this vehicle, which can be described retrospectively as a mid-sized crossover, was met with gasps of amazement and incredulity by potential buyers, rival automakers and pretty much everybody else not directly involved in its development.
There was nothing much wrong with the concept of a crossover and, in some ways, the Aztek was ahead of its time, but why General Motors decided to Continue reading “Breaking Bad”
Analysing three different takes on the personal luxury car of 1963.
The personal luxury car is a uniquely American phenomenon; its closest cousin in concept would have been the European GT, but this transatlantic specimen was a larger, softer (but on a straight piece of road not necessarily slower) breed. There is a fairly general consensus that Ford was the first to Continue reading “Getting Personal”
On the quiet streets of Skive I found this alien space ship, gently landed from the end of the 1960s.
Pedestrian safety and low-speed crash regulations did away with this kind of design. Subsequently, General Motors’ own mismanagement and a radical shift in the car market gradually killed the brand attached to the car. If we want to Continue reading “Brisk Business in the Bakery”
Generally I prefer to avoid memoirs of car ownership except en passant. I will try to do so here when having a small look at the afterlife of the 1984 Buick Century.
The reason I am in any way concerned with a car like this is that for a year and a half I owned such a vehicle, almost exactly like the one in the main photo. It differed only in that it had plate sized-rust patches on both front doors.
Chopping the back off a saloon can lead to unfortunate results.
The 1978 A-body cars at GM lost a lot of fat in the downsizing wave of the mid-70s. Half a tonne of car vanished per model. For the Aeroback cars such as this 1979 Century coupe even more metal got sliced off (the same went for the very similar Olds Cutlass Salon).
Made in Germany, this is the 2018 Buick Regal saloon.
We know this car already. It will be a curiosity in years to come, the Buick made by PSA but designed by GM. Of most immediate interest is that it will be sold as hatchback (is this Buick’s first since the Skyhawk?) and as an estate, the first Buick long-roof since the Roadmaster of 1995. Given that large, agile station wagons have something of a cult appeal (brown, with manual transmission is best) this is a good move. The question is whether the buyers of Volvo, Mercedes and Subaru estates Continue reading “2018 Buick Regal Saloon”
In 1981 GM went to all the trouble required to get type approval for a range of their US-market cars, on the expectation that customers might want to buy them.
GM picked a small range of cars to lure customers: two Cadillacs, one Buick and three Chevrolets. At the top of the list sat the 6 litre V8 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. The Sedan de Ville d’Elegance cost a little less for a little less length. From Buick´s list of cars, GM chose the Century Limited with a 3.8 litre V6, for just under £10,000. Upsetting the hierarchy, the Chevrolet Caprice came (as saloon and estate) with a 5.0 V8 and cost more than the Buick, a few hundred pounds. Finally, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo with the same engine as the Buick but had two fewer doors and cost a shade more. All quite baffling. Continue reading “Notes and Curiosities: GM in Britain in the early 80s.”
There might even be one of these cars in the United Kingdom. A GM concessionaire in Manchester provided this brochure by post one day in 1998.
After this iteration, Buick gave up on the personal two-door coupe in 1999, ending a line that had existed since 1963. It began with Bill Mitchell’s hallowed car that supposedly blended the power of a Ferrari with the presence of a Bentley.
After the first version only the 1971 “Boat-tail” which lasted a mere three years, had any further claim to fame. My entrée to the car is the re-styled seventh series which Bill Porter transformed from a car resembling a Buick Somerset Regal but costing much more, into something deserving of the name. Continue reading “Theme: Brochures – 1995 Buick Riviera”
Very recently I mentioned the Calais cloth in a Buick Electra 225 . That reminded me that a long time ago I thought I would explore the world of GM name references to France. Today I will deal with one town in France. It turns out that GM has quite a thing for Calais, applying the appellation to trim, car lines and whole models. We chart the rise and fall of the Calais name today. Continue reading “The French Connection”
This is one for someone with patience, some spanners, some paint and a lot of money for petrol.
“Tatty” describes this remnant of Detroit’s golden years, a Buick Skylark which descended from the base-model Special as a line of its own in 1964. That´s a recurring theme in GM’s model evolution, how separate lines would emerge from trim variants and sometimes fade back again. It makes these cars somewhat hard to pin down if you are not into the cladistics of the USican automotive zoo. That bifurcation of product lines is something that doesn’t happen so much now. Maybe the Ford Vignale might be a recent example of the type (though Top Gear’s 2016 Car Buyers [sic] Guide does not even deign to Continue reading “Something Rotten in Denmark: 1964-1967 Buick Skylark”
At the Detroit Auto show Buick showed off the rather handsome Avista concept car which is based on Chevrolet’s Camaro.
And at Geneva ’16, Opel is planning to show off a GT inspired by the GT of the 1960s, a car many admired for its pretty styling.
I’ve lumped Buick and Opel together because these days they are interchangeable (for better and for worse). When the Avista was revealed I immediately saw that the Tristar badge could be replaced by an Opel propeller flash if something like the Avista was sold in Europe. This would be a good thing because the Avista would be a Buick first and an Opel second. For too long the traffic has been from Rüsselsheim to Detroit and at this stage Buick is a nameplate lacking its own identity, nice and all as some of those Buickised Opels are. Continue reading “Whither Buick and Opel?”
Car & Driver, who are usually quite sensible, betrayed a distinct, glaring flash of silliness when they complained about the size of the gear lever in the new Buick Lacrosse.
This is what C&D wrote about the interior: “Outside is a handsome exterior; inside, the cabin is vastly improved over the old model’s. With a simple, flowing design and much nicer materials, the Buick’s innards are spoiled only by the oversize, BMW-style electronic shift lever. It is the only interior component seemingly still geared toward geriatric users (look at the size of an outgoing LaCrosse‘s dashboard buttons and you’ll know what we’re on about here). Otherwise, the Buick is lighter, sweeter, and we’re looking forward to driving it.”
This is the 2017 Buick Lacrosse. There’s more to it than a return of colour to its badge.
The Detroit Free Press and Kelley Blue Book have reported the unveiling of the 2017 Buick Lacrosse. As well as echoing aspects of the Buick Avenir concept last year, the 2017 car also allegedly harks back to the 1954 Buick Wildcat concept car. Personally I can’t see any obvious links. Missing from the new car are 130 kilos. The chassis, seats and sound-proofing all felt the engineer’s scalper in the quest to Continue reading “The Coloured Tri-Shield Is Back”
Who, just a decade ago, would imagine Buick would be sliding down the slope to being a Geo for our times?
According to Motor Trend and other sources, GM is close to finalising a plan to import the Chinese-made Buick Envision to the US. This would bring to three the number of crossovers the marque is offering in the US. From the side there’s nothing very distinctive about the vehicle and nothing very offensive either. The identity of the car resides with the waterfall grille and the badges.
If you were following our diligently curated Top 50 cars series you might recall the Geo Prizm as one of the candidates. It was an American-made clone of the Toyota Corolla. The rest of the Geo range consisted of re-badged offerings from parts of GM’s far east empire. The brand aimed at making some money from those customers who were probably never going to Continue reading “Buick’s Path Towards Being An Import Brand”
Reuters have reported that in future most Buicks sold in the US may be imported.
Buick sell nearly a million cars a year in China but only about 230,000 vehicles in the US. The basis of Buick’s credibility in China is that the car represents upper-middle class quality and American values. In the US, Buick appeals or has appealed for similar reasons. Sources close to GM are quoted as saying that in future only the LaCrosse replacement and the Enclave SUV will Continue reading “Buick Risks Its Credibility”
This is excellent news for Buick who sell very well in China (outselling Cadillac thirteen to one) and also gives Buick USA a more appropriate flagship than the Enclave (an SUV) or Lacrosse (a saloon). What is more interesting for Europeans is that this news also makes it seem likely that something similar or nearly identical could Continue reading “Is This the Next Opel Senator? (Part 2)”
This car falls into the same category as the Mercury Monarch I wrote about a few weeks ago.
It’s a dented working car. It’s a pretty ordinary car too, possibly even more ordinary than the Monarch. It’s a small, front wheel-drive monocoque vehicle from the lower end of the price range. The engine is mounted transversely and the front suspension uses McPherson struts. In concept terms, it’s the same a VW Golf. Or, in image terms, think of it as a Rover 45 saloon with sporting accents. Continue reading “A photo Series for Sunday: 1982 Buick Skylark Sport”
The ongoing replacement of the entire American Buick line-up with Opel vehicles has taken a step onward. At the Chicago motor show, the Cascada has been unveiled wearing the Buick Tri-Shield.
Much as I like Opel’s current range, and much as I want Buick to succeed, I am beginning to get a little disturbed by how little effort GM is making to translate Opel into Buick. Further, it is important there is at least one car that is uniquely Buick in the way the Regal, Lacrosse and Verano aren’t.
The Park Avenue is gone and perhaps the Avenir concept is a sign of there being a distinctly North American car in the Buick range. That’s a help but it is not enough. It would be nice to Continue reading “Ah, the Romance of a Picnic”
How do we get from China to Warren, Michigan via Rüsselsheim? By Astra, of course.
Why does Opel matter to GM? How about sales of 500,000 cars a year in China and continued survival of Buick in the US.
In the late 70s the science journalist James Burke had an engaging series of programmes called Connections. It traced the links, innovations and the important contingencies that led from the distant past to the technology that we take for granted around us, such as plastic, for example. Behind the invention of this material lay the story of how the 17th Century Dutch preferred not to Continue reading “Cross-Currents: From Tsingtao to Rüsselsheim to Michigan”