David Dunbar Buick was running a successful plumbing-supply business in the 1880s when he became interested in automobiles and gasoline engines. He sold his business and sank his money into a new company: Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company. Although a gifted designer, Buick was never a great businessman. He repeatedly ran into cash shortages and was always looking for more investors.
After his first company folded, Buick started another on May 19, 1903, and named it the Buick Motor Car Company.
Shortly after the company moved to Flint, Michigan, it signed on William Durant as general manager and director. Durant provided the business skills that Buick lacked, and eventually built the company into automotive giant, General Motors.
Buick retired from the company in 1908, never finding the success he had hoped his automobile would give him. Durant, though, was a born salesman with valuable connections in the horse-carriage business, which he used to distribute his automobiles. By 1908, Buick was outselling every other automobile in America. (For more on the auto industry’s early years, check out Post‘s new special collector’s edition, Automobiles in America!)
Buick celebrated total sales of 150,000 vehicles in this 1913 ad, which also mentioned that electric starter motors were now standard equipment.
The company quickly made a name for itself with its overhead-valve engines. This design improved engine performance and made servicing easier than the angle-mounted valves in other cars.
To prove their cars’ reliability, Buick sent one of their standard models on a trip across Europe, India, Australia, and the U.S. To further emphasize its dependability, the car had just one passenger—the local Buick dealer in that country—and no mechanic!
Buick introduced a straight-eight-cylinder engine in 1931 and, the following year, introduced its smoother shifting, synchromesh transmission.
Midway through the 1930s, Buick redesigned its models to make them both lighter and more affordable.
Though you can’t see them in this 1939 ad, Buick became the first company to make turn signals part of their standard equipment.
With a month left in World War II, Buick started G.I.s dreaming of the new car they’d buy when they got back. The post-war Buicks, like this Roadmaster, were little different from the prewar models, but they were extremely popular anyway.
To celebrate its 50th anniversary, Buick introduced a sporty, new convertible— the Roadmaster Skylark.
The three “VentiPorts” on the Buick Super fender were originally intended to provide additional cooling to the engine, and suggest the exhaust ports on a fight plane. By the time it got into production, though, the holes had become just ornamental, blocked holes in the body.
The new models for 1959 featured “delta fins” which flared out instead of up. This “space age” design was meant to suggest the tail fins of a rocket, but drivers found they obstructed their rear view and made parking more difficult. Within two years they were gone.
In 1963, the company launched a competitor to Ford’s Thunderbird: the Riviera, with its tilted front grill and concealed headlights.