I took some break-time this week to play on my ’53 Buick Super. The weather has been increasingly great so I’ve been itching to drive the ‘ol girl around. So here are some facts you might not know about this wonderful machine of American ingenuity.
1. Ventiports. You may have noticed three chrome circles or diamond shaped ornaments on the front fenders, just behind the fender well on modern cars these days. Buick still uses them, but if you see them on any other car, it’s an aftermarket stickum set that you can buy in the accessories section of the auto parts store. Some call them portholes, but the official name is “Ventiports” (from “ventilation” and “port”) and the origin goes back to Buick. Buick’s styling chief, Ned Nickles, had customized his own 1948 Roadmaster with these babies. He installed amber lights in them and hooked them up to the distributor so that they flashed in sync with the firing of the pistons to mimic the exhaust stack of a fighter plane. They made it into production the following year (minus the lighting) and have been a hit ever since and a long standing tradition for post-war Buick enthusiasts. The 1953 Super sports these and was the very first thing that drew me to wanting a Buick.
2. V-8 Engine. 1953 was the first year for a few things for Buick. The V-8 engine was one of them and the most anticipated. Introducing the Fireball V-8. A 322 cubic inch block with a whopping 164 horsepower and ability to go from 0-60 mph in just 14.5 seconds. A.K.A. “Nailhead”, it got it’s nickname from hotrodders who noticed the long valve stems with small heads that made the valves look like nails. Smooth, efficient and, as time would prove, long-lasting. Buick had this fine engine in production through 1956 until they introduced the 364 cubic inch version in 1957. All in all the the V-8s were in Buick production from 1953-1981.
3. 50th Anniversary. Currently the oldest active North American automaker, Buick started out originally as Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company in 1899 by a Scottish immigrant, David Dunbar Buick, Buick Motor Company started in 1903 in Detroit, MI. This makes 1953 the Golden Anniversary for Buick. I, being a sentimental sap for tradition, love this fact. And I didn’t know the history until after I had already decided on restoring a 1953 Buick. So it just added to the serendipity. Years of engineering innovation and absolutely astounding styling had kept Buick on the fore-front all these years. David Buick is first credited for developing the overhead valve engine, a game changer in the wild west of combustible engine inventors at the turn of the century. This design is what put the company on the map and lead to it’s success. Buick’s success was also tantamount to GM’s success. Billy Durant, who had taken over Buick and, using it’s power, started a little known holding company in 1908 that you may have heard of: General Motors.
4. Twin Turbine Dynaflow Transmission. Buick redesigned it’s popular Dynaflow automatic transmission with two turbines and a planetary gear set. I’ll be honest, this part is a bunch of physics that I don’t fully understand but I know how it feels when driving. It is systematically more efficient and an absolute pleasure to drive with silky transition from “Low” to “Drive”. There is no hard shifting and almost smooth to a fault.
5. The Underdog. The Super, one of Buick’s most popular models, had slowly started being over-shadowed by it’s big brother, the Roadmaster. Equally, it was never able to get away from being associated with the tag-a-long little brother, the Special; by 1953 the Super was indeed on it’s way out. The economy model, the Special, had it’s own niche market with price-conscious buyers and consistent sales. The top-line Roadmaster had it’s own fans of luxury and status, while the Super was the middle sibling who didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. With re-introduction of the Century in 1954, dragging sales and the Super being reduced to just 2 body styles by 1958, Buick pulled the plug on this once beloved model. You could say 1953 was the last hoorah for this underdog.
mixed media on wood