The 1950s were a golden age in entertainment, urban growth, employment prospects, and vehicle manufacturing. Buick, the cornerstone of General Motors, seemed to accomplish everything right beginning in 1949, when Flint introduced the groundbreaking “Riviera” or hardtop design on a wide scale. Buick set new divisional production records in consecutive years (1949-1950) and led, at various times, both hardtop and convertible output, all of which helped maintain Buick’s fourth-place position in the domestic auto industry throughout the first half of the 1950s.
Buick introduced its 1954 lineup with much excitement. A new age of modern design was ushered in with a new greenhouse with a “Panoramic” windshield, entirely redesigned broader bodies with slimmer trim outside and increased shoulder room inside, and a flight-deck-like instrument panel. Add to that the reintroduction of the Century, which followed the division’s idea of putting a huge engine into a lighter car at an affordable price, and the Flint automaker was propelled back into the emerging performance spotlight.
The entry-level Special, upper-middle-priced Super, and top-of-the-line Roadmaster, Buick was immediately on the fast track to unrivaled price category coverage. Collectively, it enabled Buick to achieve what was once unimaginable: disrupting the long-established manufacturing status quo and leapfrogging Plymouth to assume third place in the industry.
In 1957, Buick introduced a 364-cubic-inch engine, which was a significant mechanical upgrade.
When the revised models were introduced a year later, Buick’s production competence and ranking authority were further entrenched. The model hierarchy stayed the same, but a new four-door hardtop was introduced to the diverse array of body types. Despite producing more power than ever before, the number of 322-cubic-inch engines was reduced to two, but engineers were hard at work on the variable-pitch Dynaflow gearbox. Featuring stator blades that altered pitch in response to quick accelerator pressure, the redesigned automatic transmission, also known as the Twin Turbine Dynaflow, resulted in considerably faster acceleration and increased passing range. This meant that the Century suddenly had an official top speed of 110 mph, whereas other Buick models could reach and maintain 105 mph.
As a result, Buick’s stats were beyond spectacular, beginning with a new division record of 781,286 calendar-year automobiles, which represented an astounding 9.84 percent of domestic output (model-year production was 738,814 units). On April 5, Flint produced its 8-millionth Buick and its 3.5-millionth since the end of World War II, while on August 3, its millionth convertible rolled off the assembly line. According to a comment from an unknown official in The Buick: A Complete History by renowned historians Terry Dunham and Lawrence Gustin, “At that time, either you or I might have held the [general manager] position. Buick was ascending, and [Ivan L.] Wiles did not exert excessive effort. Once, he stated, “This is the simplest job I’ve ever had.””
It is so easy to comprehend why Buick management had a bullish outlook on the second half of the decade, with Wiles predicting a production run of 900,000 cars per calendar year. This optimistic view was likely dampened before 1955 manufacturing halted, since axle and engine reliability was hampered by quality-control concerns in the wake of record sales. The increasing width of Flint’s automobiles also contributed to the notion, supported by statistics, that Buicks had become gas guzzlers. And despite strong first-quarter sales of 1956 models, the predicted spring sales spike did not occur, due in part to the onset of a recession.
Nevertheless, Buick continued on the same route that had brought it so much success in the past. The division had no option in the matter. Before Ed Ragsdale’s elevation to general manager of Buick in 1956, Wiles had already authorized models for 1957 and 1958. This includes Buddy Fraioli’s 1957 Special two-door sedan, also known as a Model 48 in division parlance and currently under his care in Salem, New York.
On the surface, the 1957 lineup, and especially the Special series, gave a lot to be proud of for Buick enthusiasts. The entry-level range, the least expensive of which was the Model 48 with a starting price of $2,596, retained the basic 122-inch-wheelbase chassis created for 1954, albeit with minor enhancements. Buick’s “nested” design for the “drop center” torque tube assembly had a significant influence in reducing the vehicle’s silhouette. This feature was not exclusive to the Special, nor was the new ball-joint front suspension system, which was designed to improve handling while keeping the chassis level during severe braking and quick stops.
But maybe even more impressive was Buick’s brand-new 364-cubic-inch “nailhead” V-8 engine. The engine’s basic design was identical to the outgoing 322, but the cylinder bores were enlarged from 4.00 to 4.125 inches and the stroke was lengthened from 3.20 to 3.40 inches. In addition, the deck height of the block was enlarged somewhat, and although the cylinder heads were carried over from the 322, the valve sizes were increased. Naturally, the 300-hp version was designated for the Century, Super, and Roadmaster series, while the 250-hp engine fitted in the Special series represented a 30-horsepower gain over the previous year.