Sunday, August 19, 2012

1952 Buick Roadmaster Riviera

"Definitely the fine car for those who want the verve of a Convertible plus the snug comfort of a steel-topped Sedan. Luxury abounds in this six-passenger beauty – from superb fabrics and gleaming chrome crossbows to hydraulic control of windows and front-seat adjustment."

What a side view! Rather bullet than road car, this Buick Roadmaster Riviera hardtop, Model 76R, one of 11.387 built in 1952, really lives up to its name and shows the commanding, yet graceful appearance that Buicks of the early 50s were known and admired for. Already the base model in Buick's lineup for 1952, the Buick Special, was anything but a small car. Yet, the two-door Roadmaster Riviera hardtop easily topped it by a full six inches of additional length, and a five-inch longer wheelbase. The rather short cabin atop the long Roadmaster body makes for truly interesting proportions.

Right at the dawn of the 50s, GM design czar Harley Earl began to promote signature styling elements to make every GM brand instantly recognizable. This became necessary, because all GM divisions shared an increasing amount of parts and technology, to save the expensive tooling costs and benefit from the economies of scale. While engines and outer body panels were distinctive to every division, all GM brands had their cars based on four "bodies" (read: platforms) from 1936 through 1958, and inevitably silhouettes and rooflines looked similar. Thanks to the use of these signature styling elements, however, the cars still appeared pretty different. Cadillac, for example, sported a formal egg-crate grille at front and ultra-modern tailfins astern. Pontiac already had it's "Silver Streak" trim lines since the 30s, and Buick introduced their signature "Venti-Ports" with the 1949 models. Together with vertical front grille bars, the "sweepspear" side trim and the "bombsight" hood ornament, these styling elements should reappear, in variations, on every Buick until 1958.

But it wasn't the styling alone that made Buick's sales jump from one record to the next in the early 50s. Build quality was another reason for success. Back then, Buicks were built like a tank, with thick sheet metal and precisely assembled parts. These Buicks were completely over-engineered and seemingly built for eternity. Thus, it's not surprising that so many vintage Buicks are still alive and kicking in Cuba. Of course, the sheer size of the Buick Roadmaster had its downsides: moving so much metal and dead weight around required quite a bit of power. Albeit the Roadmaster had a mighty 320 cubic-inch V-8 engine, a lot of the power disappeared immediately in the standard "Dynaflow" automatic transmission before it could reach the rear axle, resulting in decent but not exceptional agility. Anyway, such a big Buick was rather bought to cruise and not to be thrown around.

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