Sunday, May 19, 2013

1959 Buick LeSabre 4-door Hardtop

"You can own a lot of future when you buy a Buick now! This Buick makes your money look ahead in a way other cars can't do. In a Buick, for instance, you own the clearest and cleanest example of a new styling trend that will be here for years  . . .  style that caused editors to name a Buick 'best looking overall' of all 1959 cars. Let your Buick Dealer help you discover how much future is here, and how easy it is to own today."

What a flash car! This Buick LeSabre from Havana really epitomizes the tremendous progress that American car design had made within just a decade.

Incidentally, the look of the 1959 Buick was the result of an internal uproar at the GM Design Center: chief designers of different GM divisions, among them Buick studio chief Ned Nickles and Harley Earl's eventual successor, Bill Mitchell, managed to look at pre-production 1957 Plymouths, months before their presentation to the public. The designers were stunned, if not shocked, by the nimble look of these "Forward Look" cars, that was so contrary to the clay models for the 1959 Buick which were already in the works, but looked at this stage like an evolution of the 1958 lineup. The conviction that something had to be done spread rapidly within the GM Design Center. When Harley Earl, who preferred much fuller volumes and loads of shiny decoration, was away in Europe, the clay models were heavily modified to appear much more linear and slender, too. Upon his return, Harley Earl avoided an open confrontation and nodded his consent to the proposals. Anyway, he was already nearing GM's mandatory retirement age of 65.

Thus, the radically revised Buicks for 1959 stirred quite a sensation upon their presentation in September 1958. Indeed, they looked amazing: tilted double headlights sat below chromed "eyebrows" and were connected with the taillights by a single chrome strip that emphasized on the car's length, while the new "floating" hardtop with its extremely thin C-posts and wraparound rear glass made the car look low and light. The rearview was dominated by large, slanted tailfins that resembled rather wings than fins.

Customers, perhaps, weren't just shocked by the unexpected look of the cars. In an unprecedented move, Buick had ousted all of its signature elements, too: portholes, sweep-spear chrome trim, "bomb-sight" hood ornaments and even the long established model names were thrown overboard. Instead of Special, Super, Century or Roadmaster, new Buicks now were christened LeSabre, Invicta and Electra.

Fortunately, the fabulous Buick look was backed up by a matching Buick ride. A lighter chassis meant much more agility, and propelled by a "Wildcat" engine on the LeSabre, and the even more powerful "Wildcat 445" engine on the Invicta and Electra these Buicks were truly made to roam America's highways. Road testers were impressed by the strong brakes, too: fading and underpowered brakes had been an eternal problem on the heavy American cars, but this time, Buick seemed to get it right.

For Buick dealers, though, the year 1959 wasn't any better than the horrid previous year. Keep in mind that these were "compact car times". The economic recession of 1958 was just about to fade away, and customers still sat taut on their wallets, ignoring Detroit's full-size chrome monsters and embracing thriftier and inexpensive cars. If not, we would certainly see much more 1959 Buicks in Cuba, today.

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