There actually was a man named David Buick who started building gas engines in 1899. In 1903, he officially formed the Buick Car Co. in Flint, Michigan.
This was sort of the dot.com era of the automobile business, as there were many people trying to build the perfect horseless carriage. In fact, there have been more than 2,600 different U.S. automobile manufacturers. Most, of course, failed, and most made very few vehicles. Buick turned out to be a launching pad for some very recognizable names in the automobile business including Charles Nash, Walter Chrysler, Louis Chevrolet and Bill Durant. Durant founded General Motors and acquired Buick in 1908, then added Oldsmobile, Cadillac and Oakland, the forerunner of Pontiac. Chevrolet came later in 1918.
For the first three years after WWII, GM was cranking out facelifted 1942 models and selling them like hotcakes. It was clearly a seller’s market. General Motors waited until the 1949 model year to bring out major restyled models, and they did a good job.
Buick in 1949 came in three sizes, with the Roadmaster the biggest and most luxurious model. That year brought some notable styling features, especially with the Roadmaster models. Probably the most memorable are the “VentiPorts” or “Portholes” as they were more commonly called. The Roadmaster had four portholes on each side of the car while the smaller models had only three. Supposedly an early sales brochure stated they were to ventilate the engine compartment, but later in the model year the holes were plugged. But it was a very popular styling feature, and soon aftermarket portholes were seen on every other make of car. The portholes, or suggestion of such, became a trademark for years with Buick and can still be seen on some 2017 models.
What turned out to be another Buick trademark was the “Sweepspear” molding. It went from above the front wheel, curved down to just ahead of the rear wheel, then up and over the rear wheel to the tail-light. Another major talked-about feature was the curved two-piece windshield. Up until this time, almost all windshields were two-piece flat glass.
But the major feature that has been the most lasting is — the creation of the two-door hardtop convertible. It wasn’t really a convertible, it just looked like one with the side windows the same as a convertible with no “B” post. The story goes that a GM executive’s wife would always order a convertible for her personal car yet never put the top down. Finally, the husband asked why and was told she liked the looks of the convertible but didn’t put the top down because she want to get her hair mussed up. And thus, the two-door hardtop was born.
Richmond resident Henry Hopkins has owned this issue’s 1949 Buick Roadmaster Convertible since November 2016, paying $80,000 for it. He found the Palm Springs car through a car newsletter.
“It’s in excellent condition,” the proud new owner stated. “I haven’t had to do a thing to it,” he said, then chuckled, “except I have to add a little transmission fluid now and then.” While the odometer shows 67,000 miles, Hopkins doubts that is accurate.
“Originally the car was green with a green interior. It was redone in a factory-correct Sequoia Cream, which was a very popular color, with a red leather interior.” It is identical to the Buick convertible seen in the movie, “Rainman,” with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise.
Dynaflow transmission was standard for the Roadmaster, though the three-speed manual was available. This is one big heavy car, weighing 4,370 pounds, and there is no power steering. It sits on a 126-inch wheelbase — that’s about a foot longer than that of today’s biggest Buick sedan, and the total length is about 18 inches longer. This Roadmaster has a 320-cubic-inch straight-eight engine rated at 150 horsepower. Good gas mileage was not a feature, with the estimated average at 11.3 mpg.
This convertible has a power top and power windows, but they are hydraulic, not electric. The challenge with hydraulic windows is they sometimes leak, and finding the leak is difficult. So far, Hopkins has had no leaks. The car has the old 6-volt electrical system and still has the original AM radio with the station push buttons spelling “BUICK.” Hopkins is no novice regarding collector cars.
“From my earliest memories, I have always loved cars. It was a fascination, and I especially love convertibles.”
The mechanically inclined retired high school principal has six collector cars but has owned more than 30 in his lifetime. He tries to drive each one once a week. He loves them all and has no current plans to sell this Buick or any of the other five cars. But I wonder how firm his plan is if he should find a beautiful 1936 Packard convertible, for example?
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com.