It was sold many times, but Buick stood the test of time! Find out how it lasted so long and learn about models like the Electra, Regal, and Enclave.
Buick holds the distinction of being one of the oldest automobile brands in the entire world. It’s certainly the oldest that is still active in the United States today, offering vehicles like the 2023 Encore GX, the 2023 Envision, the 2023 Enclave, and the first-ever 2024 Envista. The namesake for Buick was David Dunbar Buick. He was born in Scotland, but his family moved to Detroit, Michigan when Buick was two years old.
After quitting school at age 15 in 1869, Buick went to work for a plumbing manufacturing company. He stayed there for over a decade and eventually purchased the company with a partner in 1882 when the business ran into some financial problems. The company continued on successfully until the 1890s, when the first automobiles were showing up in America. Buick had developed such an interest in the automotive field (particularly with the internal combustion engine) that he wasn’t spending very much time on his plumbing business. Buick’s partner got tired of fighting the ICE for Buick’s attention, so the plumbing company was dissolved and sold.
At that point, the next logical step for Buick was to work full-time on engines. Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company was established in 1899. Focusing on engines for agricultural use, Buick hired a bicycle manufacturer he’d heard about named Walter Lorenzo Marr. In 1898, Marr had built a motorized tricycle that was powered by a single-cylinder overhead valve engine.
The overhead engine, or valve-in-head engine, was newer and more powerful than the alternate option, a side valve engine. Despite the technical advancement and making two vehicles in 1899 and 1900, financial problems were just around the corner for the company.
The overhead valve engine being implemented in vehicles was a result of Marr and Buick’s efforts, but Buick was initially reluctant to make automobiles. Buick was so reluctant that Marr got frustrated and left Buick to create his own automobile company. Eugene Richard came in as a replacement and then filed a patent for the valve-in-head engine in 1902. The patent was approved and awarded to Buick in 1904.
Buick did end up completing a couple of cars, but 1902, but he was already out of capital. Still, he established the Buick Manufacturing Company. The goal? Not just manufacturing and selling its own cars, but also marketing engines to other car companies. To keep his company going, Buick secured a $5,000 loan from car enthusiast Benjamin Briscoe. Buick Motor Company was now a reality. Changes were still on the horizon, though. Lots of them.
When Buick moved his business from Detroit to Flint, Michigan in 1903, Richard left the company. Since Buick was now firmly in the automotive industry, Marr came back on board. Buick produced 37 automobiles in 1903. In May of that year, Buick incorporated his business as the Buick Motor Company, thanks to the financing, once again, of Benjamin Briscoe. After financing the company, Briscoe sold control of Buick to James H. Whiting, the company moved back to Flint, where Whiting operated Flint Wagon Works. David Buick became a manager at Buick.
1904 saw an increase of Buick vehicles being made, including the Model B, but Whiting ran out of money, too. In came William C. Durant, the man also behind Chevy, to purchase the company. 750 Buick automobiles were produced in 1905 with Durant as the owner, Buick as a manager, and Marr as chief engineer. However, in 1906, Buick accepted a severance package, leaving the company altogether but keeping just one share of it. William C. Durant bought that share for $100,000. That’s not an adjusted number, either! Durant paid $100,000 in 1906 currency. From there on out, Durant was in charge, steering Buick forward.
As for David Buick? He tried to invest in land in Florida and oil in California. He even made a return to the automotive world as president of Lorraine Motors in 1921. He never achieved the financial success he had found earlier in life, however. In fact, he died with very little money to his name. The 74-year-old Buick died of colon cancer on March 5, 1929. He received a posthumous entry in the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1974.
After Durant took control of Buick, he moved most of the production to a plant in Jackson, Michigan. In 1907 Buick produced 4,641 vehicles. That number reached 8,800 in 1908. During this time, Durant helped make Buick one of the most successful automotive companies in America, outperforming the likes of Ford, Cadillac, and Oldsmobile. In 1908, Durant created General Motors and subsequently purchased Oldsmobile. In 1909, he purchased Cadillac, too. In total, Durant consolidated 13 car companies along with 10 parts manufacturers. Where did Buick fit in with the increasing General Motors family, though?
Buick did quite well, especially in the 1910s and 1920s. It was a prestige brand for GM in the republic of China at the time. Buick automobiles were driven by high-ranking Chinese politicians, and even the Emperor of China. Louis Chevrolet, a friend of William Durant, drove a Buick 60 Special for a good part of his racing endeavors. The Buick 60 Special became known as the “Buick Bug.” Buick then introduced the Model 10 in 1910. It was equipped with an OHV four-cylinder engine. The Buick Six, the brand’s first closed-body car, was distributed in 1911.
There was some sharing taking place with GM brands. For example, several brands shared the GM B platform that debuted in 1926. By this point Durant had already left GM, so Buick was in entirely new hands. Despite the financial downturn of the 1930s, Buick was still one of the preferred long-distance passenger service vehicles. Buick also made advancements for the automotive industry with new designs. In 1931, the OHV Buick Straight-8 engine was introduced in all models except for the Series 50. So was a manual transmission, or synchromesh transmission.
Harley Earl (another name we’ve written a lot about before) designed the world’s first concept car in 1938 while working for Buick. This convertible had what was considered a radical style for the 1930s. Large, pontoon fenders and a waterfall grille were used along with the tail fins that would dominate 1950s car design in America. The Buick Y-Job sat on a standard 1937 Buick chassis. It was nearly 20 feet long, but it was built with proportions that appealed to the public. The style was so popular that it would be used in a variety of models for the next couple of decades.
After introducing the designs that would become so popular in the 1940s and 1950s, Buick introduced the likes of the Super station wagon, the Estate Wagon, and the Roadmaster Skylark. When designing vehicles, a big focus was on comfort and luxury. The waterfall grille was another stylistic hit on several Buick models.
1953 marked the 50th anniversary for Buick. Two years later, Buick hit a landmark sales year with 738,814 units produced in 1955. That’s a record that would remain until 1977. Buick switched with the times starting in 1959. As car buyers wanted smaller vehicles, Buick delivered with the 1959 Electra, Invicta, and LeSabre.
1959 and 1960 marked another couple of big moments for Buick, too. The Buick Electra was a pace car in the 1959 Indianapolis 500. Then, the Electra 225 paced in the 1960 Daytona 500. It’s appropriate that the Buick Electra was involved in those races because the 1960s brought more of a focus on sport and fun. It was a good decade for convertibles, too, as the Buick Skylark and Wildcat were both introduced with two-seat convertible models.
The 1970s brought Buick back to practical, performance-based cars like the GSX, Riviera, and the Skyhawk. Remember that record in 1955 with 738,814 Buicks sold? Well, Buick beat that in 1977 with 773,313 vehicles sold. That sales figure was a pretty good lead-in to the company’s 75th anniversary in 1978. To celebrate, Buick revealed a redesigned Buick Century and revamped Buick Regal coupe, available with a turbocharged V6 engine. Ending the year on a high note, Buick sales hit 795,316 in 1978.
The 1980s was another decade of change. The Diesel engine was introduced in 1980 and Buick management encouraged turbocharging Buick models. They wanted performance production cars and wanted Buick to make a strong showing in racing again. Well, they got their wish because the Regal was the official pace car of the 1981 Indianapolis 500. Then, in 1982, the Grand National high-performance package was offered on the Regal. The Riviera brought the fun with a soft-top convertible, and a twin-turbo V6 Riviera pace the Indy 500 in 1983. Buick hit another high point with 810,435 units sold in 1983.
During this decade of change, Buick was also downsizing models. In 1985, Buick downsized the Electra. 1985 was also the final year for the rear-wheel-drive LeSabre. The Buick Riviera downsized to a traverse engine with a front-wheel-drive platform as well, which did result in improved fuel economy. 1987 ended up being the last year of the turbocharged Regal Grand Nationals.
The 1990s brought some additional changes, but sportiness and luxury were still prominent themes in Buick models. The Buick Reatta, first introduced in 1985, was made as a convertible in the 1990 model. The first Regal sedan since 1984, was also released as a four-door model in 1991. The ‘92 Skylark was redesigned, the ‘93 LeSabre was sold as a 90th anniversary edition, and 1994 saw the return of the revamped Riviera. Despite returning, coupes sales were on a downward trend in the North American market, so before the 90s were even over, the Riviera, once again, disappeared. Buick canceled the car after the 1998 model. Meanwhile, the LeSabre became the best-selling full-size car in the United States for most of the ‘90s.
In addition to the changes to Buick models, the actual Buick manufacturing plant also changed when it moved from Flint, Michigan to Detroit. 16 million Buicks had been produced at the Flint plant before it closed up shop. GM also expanded in China, producing Buick models at a plant in Shanghai for the first time ever.
Of course, consumer trends changed even more in the 2000s. Crossovers were starting to really grow in popularity. Buick, following the trends, introduced the 2002 Buick Rendezvous and displayed a Buick Centieme crossover concept car during the celebration of Buick’s 100th anniversary in 2003. The mid-sized Buick Rainier joined the lineup in 2004, too. The next year, Buick gave buyers the Terraza minivan.
GM, as a whole, was having financial issues in the mid-2000s, however, so Buick dealerships were consolidated with other GM brands like GMC and Pontiac. By 2008, there were just three Buick models left: the LaCrosse, the Lucerne, and the brand-new Enclave. GM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009. Brands like Pontiac, Saab, Hummer, and Saturn were sold off or dissolved altogether, but Buick remained under the GM umbrella. It was designated a, “core brand,” especially since Buick maintained steady sales in China, even several decades after it first became a hit there close to 100 years ago in the 1910s.
GM was looking to turn things around after the bankruptcy filing and Buick was part of their plans. The Opel Insignia, which was supposed to become the second-generation Saturn Aura, suddenly became the new Buick Regal. Other changes included expanding its crossover offerings, getting into the hybrid market, and utilizing some throwback designs and features.
The 2009 Excelle GT was the first Buick hatch back since 1987, the 2012 Cascada was the first factory Buick convertible since 1991, the 2017 Regal GS was the first Buick with a manual transmission in nearly 20 years, and the 2018 Regal Tourx was the first Buick station wagon since 1996. In addition, Buick introduced a restyled 2010 LaCrosse sedan, a Chevy Cruze-inspired 2011 Verano compact sedan, and an all-new 2013 Encore mini crossover.
A lot of these efforts led to Buick attracting more and more younger customers, becoming the fastest-growing auto brand in America at the time. GM continued getting record sales in China, too, with Buick selling 700,007 units there in 2012. GM sold Opel in March 2017, so Buick moved away from sharing any designs with the company at that point. A sub-brand was even added to accompany Buick. Avenir debuted in 2018. The badge was applied to top-of-the-line trim levels. Even after Buick got rid of the Cascada convertible and LaCrosse sedan (at least in North America) in 2019, it found success with other models.
Perhaps the biggest change (one that we can’t even measure the success of yet) came with the June 2022 announcement that Buick would transition the entire lineup to electric vehicles by 2030. Buick dealerships that don’t want to go that route will be offered a buyout.
That’s where Buick is at right now. It is preparing for the switch. From the financial details to the technology and equipment upgrades required to make it happen, Buick and GM are hoping to pave a new path for the company as it passes 120 years of operations. It will have to prove itself all over again. Buick doesn’t have a spot on our list of the Top 10 Longest Range Electric Cars or our list of the Safest Electric Cars on the Market because Buick doesn’t have any EVs out just yet.
They’ve got big plans for the Wildcat EV, though. That’s the Buick EV concept that company executives hope to have available in 2024. What range will it have? What features will be included? How will it ride? None of those questions can be answered yet, but we’re excited to find out!