Dear Ed

Edward H. Mertz, doyen of the Tri-Shield.

Edward H. Mertz. Deansgarage.com

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.

Encouraging dealers to Continue reading “Dear Ed”

A Facelift Better Than the Car It Was Meant To Save

How Bill Porter turned the sow’s ear of the 1986 Buick Riviera into something so much better.

1989 Buick Riviera. Favcars

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.[1] 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).

In terms we’d understand on this side of the Atlantic, it addressed the market that Volvo does with the C30 or Audi with the A3. Or if you Continue reading “A Facelift Better Than the Car It Was Meant To Save”

One for the Road

The full-sized Buick’s valedictorian act.

Buick Roadmaster. Favcars

We can all recall the time honoured film storyline by rote: ageing sportsman/ criminal/ gunslinger[1], 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”

Recipe For Obscure Omelette

How will you have those eggs, mister?

1980 Buick Century Turbo. Image Curbside Classic

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. 

No-one, not even the deep archives that DTW has become can Continue reading “Recipe For Obscure Omelette”

Maris Otter and Goldings

It probably seemed a good idea after a few ales…

1988 Buick Reatta. Image: Hagerty Insurance Agency

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”

Under the Knife – That Riviera Touch

Yesterday’s tomorrows – from the studios of Bill Mitchell.

Image: wildaboutcars

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.

The 1960s would go on to Continue reading “Under the Knife – That Riviera Touch”

The Doctor Is OUT

Buick’s black stallion.

Buick Grand National. Image: Car and Driver

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”

The Tri-Shield’s Silken Road

The Buick Origin Story.

Image: GM/ Wieck Media Services

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. 

Briscoe had doubts concerning Buick’s acumen; on hearing of a new automobile project in Flint, over a hundred miles from Detroit, he persuaded Buick to Continue reading “The Tri-Shield’s Silken Road”

The Doctor Is IN

Doc, I think it’s my heart. 

1996 Buick Park Avenue. Image: music directory

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”

En Garde! Part One

Taking influence to unprecedented heights.

Image: GM/ Jalopyjournal

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”

Breaking Bad

The Pontiac Aztek… explain.

(c) autoevolution

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”

Getting Personal

Analysing three different takes on the personal luxury car of 1963.

All images: The author.

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”

Brisk Business in the Bakery

On the quiet streets of Skive I found this alien space ship, gently landed from the end of the 1960s.

Pointy

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”

By the calm Kłodnica, a Waterfall Runs Dry

Image source: Vauxhall Press Room

We take a moment to reflect on the short career of the Opel Cascada, a glamorous under-achiever, conceived in the most parlous of times for its maker.

Its names were once legion, but the Cascada is no more. Production ended at Gliwice not long into 2018, but Vauxhall and Opel Ireland have only gone public on the matter in the last week. All over Europe, Opel’s national sales operations are Continue reading “By the calm Kłodnica, a Waterfall Runs Dry”

Abatements, Rebatements and Staynade Colours

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. 

1984 Buick Century: source

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.

As minds work in peculiar ways, I can’t say why the one with which I identify myself opted to exhume the recollection of my former charge. It did so. Having summoned the memory, my mind then decided to wonder idly if a person could be so lucky as to Continue reading “Abatements, Rebatements and Staynade Colours”

As They To The Lychgate Draw Near So Waxes Quick The Quiet Fear

Chopping the back off a saloon can lead to unfortunate results.

1979 Buick Century Aeroback

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).

The 1977 Talbot Sunbeam and 1975 AMC Pacer underwent the same sort of radical surgery in the name of making one car out of another. But if you want to Continue reading “As They To The Lychgate Draw Near So Waxes Quick The Quiet Fear”

Three Steps After Sunday

Much like discontinued brands, some rather old models of existing car lines can be hard to place: what is a Buick Wildcat in new money?

This car seems to be a second series, from 1965 to 1970. That still isn’t enough. Hermeneutics comes into the picture here because we want to Continue reading “Three Steps After Sunday”

2018 Buick Regal Saloon

Made in Germany, this is the 2018 Buick Regal saloon. 

2018 Buick Regal saloon: source

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”

Notes and Curiosities: GM in Britain in the early 80s.

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.

1981 Chevrolet Monte Carlo: source
1981 Chevrolet Monte Carlo: source

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.”

Theme: Brochures – 1995 Buick Riviera

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.

1995 Buick Riviera brochure front cover
1995 Buick Riviera brochure front cover

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”

The French Connection

Calais is more than just a Town in France.

1966 Cadillac Calais: source
1966 Cadillac Calais: source

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”

A Picture for Sunday: An American in Sweden

A recent tour in the country between Gothenburg and Trollhättan, reminded me how much Sweden there is the NE of the US but also how easily American cars sit in the Swedish landscape.

1962 Buick Electra 225 hardtop coupe
1962 Buick Electra 225 hardtop coupe

The photo shows a Buick Electra 225 two door, four-window hardtop coupe (the 1961-1964 body). It also shows a 2005-2014 Saab 9-3 estate.  The image captures two enthusiasms of the Swedes: their own cars and the cars of the US. Continue reading “A Picture for Sunday: An American in Sweden”

A Photo for Sunday: 1972 or 1973 Buick Centurion Convertible

British cars have more dignity when parked in a mittel European setting. American cars don’t fit into the landcape of the British Isles at all. How do these cars look in Scandinavia?

1972 or 1973 Buick Centurion 445 V8
1972 or 1973 Buick Centurion 445 V8

Here’s a 1972 or 1973 Buick Centurion, famous as Buick’s shortest-lived model. Behind it, some Denmark. Continue reading “A Photo for Sunday: 1972 or 1973 Buick Centurion Convertible”

Something Rotten in Denmark: 1964-1967 Buick Skylark

This is one for someone with patience, some spanners, some paint and a lot of money for petrol.

1964 Buick Skylark
1964 Buick Skylark

“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”

When the Dust Clears

It’s only with a good bit of hindsight can you see what has really happened. 

1995 Buick LeSabre: cardomain.com
1995 Buick LeSabre: cardomain.com

When I started writing about Opel and Buick my view of the relationship rested on the idea that if Opel could provide some useful platforms to Buick then that would be a good thing. I recently noted that not only are Buicks not wholly designed in America but in future may not be made there. Continue reading “When the Dust Clears”

Whither Buick and Opel?

At the Detroit Auto show Buick showed off the rather handsome Avista concept car which is based on Chevrolet’s Camaro. 

2016 Buick Avista blue front
Buick Avista: automobilemag.com

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?”

Usability? No Thanks, I’m A Motoring Correspondent

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.

2017 Buick Lacrosse interior: gmauthority.com
2017 Buick Lacrosse interior: gmauthority.com

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 kind of thing makes me want to Continue reading “Usability? No Thanks, I’m A Motoring Correspondent”

The Coloured Tri-Shield Is Back

This is the 2017 Buick Lacrosse. There’s more to it than a return of colour to its badge.

2017 Buick Lacross: thetruthaboutcars.com
2017 Buick Lacrosse: thetruthaboutcars.com

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”

Buick’s Path Towards Being An Import Brand

Who, just a decade ago, would imagine Buick would be sliding down the slope to being a Geo for our times?

Made in China, the Envision by Buick: Motor Trend.com
Made in China, the Envision by Buick: Motor Trend.com

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”

World of Interiors: 1984 Buick Century

Further to recent discussions I thought I would post a small image of the interior of the 1984 Buick Century. This is pretty much the car that cemented my impressions of Buick.

1984 Buick Century interior: kerbsideclassic.com
1984 Buick Century interior: kerbsideclassic.com

There’s a rather good article here if you want to read more.

Buick Risks Its Credibility

Reuters have reported that in future most Buicks sold in the US may be imported.

1997 Buick Park Avenue Ultra. They don´t make them like this anymore: carponents.com
1997 Buick Park Avenue Ultra. They don´t make them like this anymore: carponents.com

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”

Is This the Next Opel Senator? (Part 2)

Automotive NewsAutoblogInautonewsArchy-news.com  all report that the upcoming Cadillac CT6 could provide the underpinnings for a future large Buick.

2016 Cadillac CT6 - another distinctive Cadillac name. Image: automotivenews.om
2016 Cadillac CT6 – another distinctive Cadillac name. Image: automotivenews.om

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)”

A photo Series for Sunday: 1982 Buick Skylark Sport

This car falls into the same category as the Mercury Monarch I wrote about a few weeks ago. 

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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”

Ah, the Romance of a Picnic

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.

Whatever you do, don´t drive quickly with that stuff in the back.
Whatever you do, don´t drive quickly with that stuff in the back.

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”

Cross-Currents: From Tsingtao to Rüsselsheim to Michigan

How do we get from China to Warren, Michigan via Rüsselsheim? By Astra, of course.

2012 Buick Verano: engineered in Germany and the US and sold in China
2012 Buick Verano: engineered in Germany and the US and sold in China (in some form)

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”