History of Buicks: The 1930s through the 1940s
Looking back over the years of hot rodding, one auto maker stands out during the early years of manufacturing - Buick. Why Buick? Buick cars during the 1940s were well-known for being some of the fastest cars on the highway; yet, they are often overlooked by hot rod fans.
Many hot rod lovers are now discovering the true uniqueness of the Buick cars from the 1940s. In 1949, Buick was among the first to offer a car with a pillarless hardtop, one being the Buick Riviera. The pillarless hardtop was a design that omitted the B-pillar of the car. The B-pillar is a roof support located behind the doors. The window frames on the pillarless hardtop were configured to move up and down with the window. During the 1960s, the two-door pillarless hardtop became a very popular body style in many lines. This design is still adored by classic car fans today.
Buick drops in production, but still creative
In 1930, the Depression caused Buick to drop to sixth place in automobile production. A new team at Pontiac also affected Buick's ability to hold its position. Fortunately, Buick did manage to release some innovative design features despite the drop in production. To name a few: cowl and radiator contours, a smoother hood, bullet-shaped headlights, three-bar bumpers and "H" shift pattern.
Hot rodder's dream
Buick's 1930s era meant great features which would prove useful for hot rodders later. For example, the frame width of the cars allow for modern-day rack and pinion steering from another car to be used. The lengthy body designs allow for fire wall setback without losing leg room. The rear leaf springs were also long, allowing for plenty of space for whatever a mechanic might need to add - a large fuel tank or a tendem rear. Many famed coach builders have extended the Buick bodies and frames to make their own peculiar truck, limousine, hearse or taxi. This practice lasted from the teens until the 1960s. A straight six-cylinder engine of a Chevrolet 230-inch model will fit into an early Buick engine compartment. Buicks also have great ornamentation, including sharp wire wheels, Buick grille work, wingdings on open cars, side mounts and more.
Time for changes
GM used many of its basic body designs during the 1930s and 1940s, with only ornamentation to distinguish the various models. Buick was the most decorated car of all. New engines were being released as well; three were released in 1931. These were in straight-eight form, and the six-cylinders were discontinued. The new engines had 220, 272 and 344 cubic inches with 77, 90 and 104 horsepower. Exterior modifications included the elimination of one of the bumpers; there were now dual-bar bumpers, and an addition of chrome and nickel. Wood was still used for some parts of the Buick bodies.
In 1932, Buick produced around 41,500 vehicles and fell to seventh place in automotive manufacturing. The Buicks then were selling for around $1,500. GM used a sales campaign where it was announced that Buick, Olds and Pontiac would all be sold through only one dealership and displayed in the same showroom. This caused 25 percent of the dealerships to close. The campaign was cancelled in one and a half years.
Buicks then became rounded on the edges with flowing lines and slanted windshields. They also had wider hoods and radiators. Headlights were longer. Turn signals were included on the fender. Dual stoplights were first introduced on Buicks in 1932. Single-bar bumpers and outside horns were other great features. Another new item to mention was the opening panel louvers, located in the side of the hood. The year 1932 was the final year for a headlight bar.
Buick experiments with new designs
In 1933, many car manufacturers began releasing models with all sorts of new features. Buick's design that year remained until 1935. One was a grille that was shaped like a "V" behind the front fenders. Headlights and horns grew in size, and wind wings were added. The models of 1934 had grilles on which both sides were angled. These had a single piece of sheet metal down the center (vertically) of the grille, although the grille itself was not vertical, but wrapped around the side of the hood. Chrome strips on the hood replaced the panel louvers. Coils for front suspension replaced the straight axle. Buick's 1935 models were almost identical to those of 1934, however, the grille bars were bent inward instead of straight.
The 1936 Buicks closely resembled the Chevrolets of that year. The minor differences were the small submarine-shaped lights at the top of the front fenders on the Buick models. The amazing similarities make it easy for hot rodders of today to use the body, doors, fenders, etc. interchangeably.
The 1937/38 Buicks brought more changes. These models had clamshell fenders that were larger at the back of the wheels. The fenders sloped downward and rounded off. There were also headlights between the hood and fenders, chrome vents down the side of the hood, and bumpers with a horizontal rib in the center. The convertible tops retrieved back into a tray, which made the car look more neat in appearance when the top was off. Stabilizer bars were added to the front and rear suspension system in 1937.
In 1938, coils were used instead of leafs in the rear. Also this year's model had less grille bars, and the bars were spaced more. Otherwise, the 1938 models resembled those of the year before.
Fast and powerful Buicks of the late 1930s
Some very fast Buicks were released in the late 1930s such as the 248 cubic-inch that could reach 141 horsepower at 3,600 rpm. This engine was available in these models: Roadmaster, Limited and Century. The Buick Special had a 107 bhp version of this engine. In 1938, there were more than 168,000 Buicks produced; they were priced between $1,200 and $2,400. The 1939 Buicks got a whole new look that resembled a 1940 Olds. Flowing fenders were added as well as optional chrome strips. Another optional feature was a sunroof.
Buick stands out in the 1940s
Buick's style looked similar to GM in the 1940s, however, the ornamentation really stood out. Buick grilles in 1940 had heavier horizontal bars. Headlights retrieved back into the fenders partly instead of protruding forward; 1941 headlights were all the way back into the fenders. Instead of front-opening hoods, Buick hoods opened from the right or left side upward. These Buicks had bigger windows and more room inside than many models of that day.
New style for 1942
Buick took everyone by surprise in 1942 when they released a brand new style. This style had grilles that looked like they were smiling; these were used until 1954. The cars had the airfoil fenders that ran the entire length of the body. There were thick chrome strips along the fenders' bottom. The 248 cubic-inch engine dropped in horsepower to 110, but the 320 cubic-inch remained with 165 horsepower. Production at Buick went down after the war.
1946 Buicks get a "1942" look and feel
In 1946, Buicks used an old 1942 look, but were still "new" on the market. The bombsight hood decorations were a huge hit with consumers. Also, under the headlights were round and simple parking lights. Similar cars were released in 1947 except these didn't have the middle grille bar running up into the molding crown. The 1948 models were also similar to the years before, but the transmission was new - a Dynaflow transmission. That year Buick also built 12 Holdans, which carried a six-cylinder engine.
In 1949, Buick released yet another new body design called the "hardtop." Buick became known for the holes in the car's hood side. Wider grilles, parking lights located at the top of the fenders, and belt lines are just a few of the new features for this year. The running boards and balloon fenders were eliminated as well.
With the many changes in design and cosmetics, Buick cars were well-loved during these two decades. Hot rod fans today still admire these great cars.