Wednesday, November 9, 2011

1958 Buick Special 4-door Sedan

"It looks and feels like flight on wheels. From the first moment you see it — you know this is a car of magnificent change. For this stunning automobile — this big, bold, buoyant B-58 Buick — is literally born out of more aviation principles, starting with its extensive new use of aluminum throughout, than any car before. There's the look of flight to its lines — and the freshest fashion in Buick annals. There's the principle of flight to its going with the wondrous performance of Buick's new B-12000 engine and Flight Pitch Dynaflow.

There's the luxury feel of flight in its new Miracle Ride, plus the superb comfort of Buick's new Air-Poise Suspension. And there's a new solidity, quality and excellence to its construction that surpasses even the high Buick standards of the past. So come make your acquaintance with five great new Buick Series — LIMITED, ROADMASTER 75, SUPER, CENTURY and SPECIAL. Then take your pick of the Buick that's right for you and right for your budget. See for yourself that there's the first big car that's light on its feet — and the last word in travel before wheels leave ground."

Never before did a Buick have more chrome trim applied than in 1958. And never before did Buick's advertisement need to utilize more superlatives than in 1958, too. The former correlates with the latter: because the design of the 1958 models missed the mark, the advertisement had to be louder in order to lure the customers into buying a Buick. How could this happen?

During his reign as the first Vice President of Design at General Motors for more than three decades, Harley J. Earl contributed immensely to american car design, and to GM styling in particular. He pioneered the transition from an appearance of motor cars which was designated by engineering needs, into fashionable objects of art that were bought more than anything else for their aesthetics.

Today's cars are still designed by using the same method which was principally conceived in Harley Earl's GM design studios: from sketches through clay- and hard models into production tooling. But much more than that, most of the contemporary innovations like tailfins, pillarless hardtops, curved wraparound windshields, two-toned paint schemes or even annual model changes all originate in Harley Earls "Art & Color Section". It's easy to get the impression, that postwar times were pure styling excess, but as a matter of fact Earl's designers constantly challenged whole engineering departments to develop and apply new production methods to make all these fancy innovations possible.

For many years, GM was the undisputed style leader, and every autumn, the competitors anxiously awaited the "moment of truth", when a new lineup of General Motors cars was presented to the public. A lot of GM's success in these years was due to Harley Earl's remarkably good talent for anticipating the public taste. By 1958, however, GM styling had lost it's magic. Until 1957, Buicks used to look very elegant, even if too much ornate chrome trim had always been a Buick trademark. The 1958 Buicks were largely based on the 1957 body, but you could barely notice any resemblance, so dramatically had the massive facelift altered the look. And it wasn't for good: the new cars looked bloated and overweight, and the horizontal trim panels at the rear fenders and a rectangular front grille underlined this boxy appearance. This "Fashion-Aire Dynastar Grille" with its 160 chrome-plated pyramids was by far the most garish looking Buick grille since 1950.

The 1958 Buick was conceived in the mid-50s, amid ever-rising sales figures and a high demand for chrome and flash. But meanwhile, the customers had started to look for economic "compact" cars like Rambler or Studebaker. This general trend was heavily amplified by an economic recession that should hit the U.S. in late 1957. When the new GM chrome monsters for 1958 were presented, the customers already sat taut on their wallets, and not many were in the game for a heavy and thirsty automobile anymore. Buick sold about 37 percent less cars than in 1957. This might sound not too bad, but then in 1957 Buick had already lost half of the sales volume of the record-breaking year 1955.

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