Five Favorites from Eleven Decades of Buick

2011 Buick Regal CXL Turbo 6
Happy Birthday, Buick! Photo by Randy Stern

What kind of birthday present do you give a 110 year old that is looking very good for its age?

Today marks the anniversary of the founding of the Buick Motor Company. In 1903, Buick began building cars for a curious nation. Except for a couple of wars, they have not stopped. From Flint, Michigan, came what became the "Doctor's Car." For half of the 20th Century, doctors would make house calls in bright shiny Buicks. These cars were a symbol of honest success towards becoming the key brand in the middle market amongst North American automobiles.

In recent years, Buick committed themselves towards changing the brand’s image. Once the standard brand for the Greatest Generation, even at an advanced age, Buick needed to re-position towards a new status and a new demographic. The result is the current lineup, with two revised models coming for the 2014 model year.

V&R always enjoyed the products from Buick. They hold two Vehicle of the Year Awards – 2009 for the LaCrosse and 2011 for the Regal. Our correspondence with the brand has been superb and support where the brand is going. Good thing that General Motors decided to keep Buick around to celebrate this special occasion.

Our birthday present to Buick is to look back its history through the lens of a Five Favorites. Having been familiar with its products even before driving my first one in 1979 (Dad's 1977 Electra Limited – in a futile attempt to get it out of a very tight space at a San Francisco Financial District parking lot. Thanks, Dad…), it certainly was not hard to pick these five. Heck, you may find there are some on the list I have never driven – but admired for a very long time.

Happy Birthday, Buick! I believe you might even like this list…

1949 BUICK ROADMASTER: World War II was over and Americans were looking to buy new cars again. By the fall of 1948, GM debuted its first post-war designs showing how much they wanted to advance design and engineering across all brands. For Buick, the design spawned its first pillarless hardtop model – the two-door Riviera. Buick also introduced the VentiPort – a styling feature that was somewhat functional, but denoted how many cylinders were under its long hood (three for a six-cylinder, four for an eight). The two-speed Dynaflow automatic was prevalent across the line. Above all, the Roadmaster was the Buick to get – with enough luxury to almost be considered a Cadillac. Budget buyers may find a bargain with a Special, but for the real Buick experience – you spent the money on a Roadmaster.

1963 BUICK RIVIERA: It may not have been the first, but it certainly defined an entire segment. The idea of the Personal Luxury Coupe, as initially thought of in the 1958 Ford Thunderbird, was a mature approach to the four-seat, two-door that provided attainable luxury at a discount off of the top marques of the time. The Riviera actually had an impact on the entire luxury market, as it effectively gave GM a product that was the object of desire. Celebrities, executives and the well heeled saw the Riviera as the un-Cadillac – understated, European in style and powerful. It was the best America had to offer at the time.

1970 BUICK SKYLARK: Two years earlier, GM debuted the mid-sized A-Body that would spawn some of the best muscle cars of the era. Buick's Special and Skylark were seen as the lesser of the four A-Bodies only playing in the shadow of the Pontiac Tempest, Chevrolet Chevelle and Oldsmobile F-85/Cutlass. All of that changed in 1970 with some tweaks to the A-Body design making the Buick sleeker and ready for a serious image change. For starters, the Special was dropped in favor of the Skylark name across the model range. Secondly, the Gran Sport was given more performance and a host of changes to make it equal to the Pontiac GTO, Chevrolet Chevelle SS, and Oldsmobile 442. The top of the list was not the fire-breathing GS 455 Stage 1 model. It was the GSX. While GS customers could get any V8 they wanted, the GSX was strictly a 455 – only available in two colors and the option of the Stage 1 upgrade. The result was a sales and image turnaround for Buick’s mid-sized car. It is still fondly remembered.

1978-1987 BUICK REGAL: GM's response to the OPEC oil situation in the 1970s was to reduce the size of their vehicles. By doing so, all vehicles would gain better fuel efficiency while maintaining optimal space and familiar driving dynamics. The mid-sized Buicks were downsized for 1978 by distinguishing the Century and Regal lines onto to different design philosophies. Regals were two-door coupes with a formal roofline and a long hood. What made these Regals special was a significant development of their long-running 3.8litre V6. Buick's fortunes changed when a Garrett AiResearch turbocharger was tacked onto their V6. What happened afterwards was a series of Regals that are becoming modern classics. The T-Type centered on the turbo V6, but created a sporty look inside and out to match its performance. Because the Regal was a force to be reckoned with on NASCAR’s Winston Cup circuit, the Grand National was introduced that created a complete limited production package focusing on brute performance. Buick was not done. In the final year of the G-Body run, the 1987 GNX was unleashed – the most powerful Buick since the 1970 Skylark GSX. A better turbocharger, plus intercooling, dialed up the turbo's performance to over 275 horsepower – big power back then. Why were these Regals significant? They were sleepers. They were the kind of performance car that everyone can drive and not have to do the limbo getting into. That was the beauty of the Turbo Regal.

2011-Current BUICK REGAL: The 2011 Victory & Reseda Vehicle of the Year – need I say more? Well, yes. It is the global product, that is if you count the Opel and Vauxhall versions sold elsewhere and the fact the Chinese buy more of them than we do. However, it is the most misunderstood Buick – a European product that us popular with the Chinese and overlooked by most consumers. The fact is this – the Regal is pretty darn good. In particular, any Regal with a turbocharged engine is very, very good. More specifically, the Regal GS is a badass! You see where this is going? Now, I understand why there will only be one turbocharged engine for 2014. Though enthusiasts will continue to love the GS with specific driving dynamics and enthusiast-centered interior no matter what the net horsepower output is.

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