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Home > Featured Auto Makes > Buick  (Part  1 2)

Buick   Part 2: 1916-1925

By John Bentley

(Audio narration requires Flash player)

Revised by Jeremy Wilson


The 1918 Buick E-46 Coupe’s engine produced 60hp on a 118-inch wheelbase. The price was $1695.


Public confidence inspired by the Buick Division was a major asset to GM success.

The year 1915 heralded Buick’s decision to enter the six-cylinder field and produce a powerful car that would sell in the medium price range while providing luxury performance. The result was the Model D-6-55, denoting a six-cylinder engine with a power output of 55 horsepower, though rated at 33.75 hp. The prefixing D was a serial letter to distinguish this model as the successor to the C-25, four-cylinder Buick, discontinued soon afterward.

The new engine was of generous displacement--331.2 cubic inches--and featured push-rod overhead valves together with an aluminum crankcase for more efficient oil cooling, both these features having been already well tried.

The wheelbase took a big jump from 106 inches on the C-25 to 130 inches for the new car, providing plenty of room for seven passengers in the spacious touring body, while the rear suspension also was modified for better riding. In place of the former three-quarter-elliptic, carriage-style springs, it now made use of cantilevers. In fact, during the decade that followed, this was the longest wheelbase car turned out by Buick; the next longest being the 1924 Model 48 of 128 inches, and the shortest the Model D-46 of 1916 with 115 inches.

The generally high standard of finish of the new 55, together with a good performance and a price tag of under $1,500, resulted in 9,886 cars being sold that year; but in spite of this the 55 was not retained.

Next year saw several interesting things happening to Buick, one of them being the consolidation of the Buick Motor Company with the Weston-Mott Company which had moved its plant from Utica, New York, to Flint, Michigan. This old established firm had opened its doors in 1886 to manufacture bicycles; and later supplied wire wheels for the Curved Dash Olds Runabout and axles to Cadillac. It then was under a 10-year contract (started 1908) to provide axles for Buick, and, in fact, had been bought out by General Motors in 1913.

Buick now also was absorbed as a Division of the fast recovering GM Corporation which (through Durant and his Chevrolet) had successfully weathered a severe financial storm and was regaining freedom from the bankers. Already, General Motors had declared its first dividend on common stock in 1915.


The 1921 Buick Model 46 Coupe had seating for four and was more attractive than previous closed cars of the line. The price was $2585.


In 1916, Mr. Harry H. Bassett, an old-time automobile industry figure famous for his active interest in the welfare of the working man, was transferred from the Weston Mott Company to become assistant general manager of Buick. That year, largely due to his efforts, the company reached a new production peak of 124,834 cars. Steadily, the Division’s output curve kept soaring to new heights, until in 1923, when the millionth Buick rolled off the assembly line, production of all models topped 550 cars a day.

Buick’s record 1923 output of 201,572 cars was a step-up of more than 450 per cent over the 1915 figure of 43,946, and the only exception to the company’s steady progress was 1918, when material shortages resulting from World War I caused a production cut-back to 77,691 units.

Under Mr. Bassett’s guidance, Buick did so well that he became general manager and also a vice president of GM in 1919, while 1924 saw him appointed a member of the General Motors’ Executive Committee.


Known as the “combination passenger and express body,” this 1923 Buick is a forefunner of the station wagon. The four-cylinder engine produced 45 horsepower. The price was $935.


To Buick went the credit for perfecting the first high-quantity-production four-wheel brakes during 1923-24, though the original external contracting brakes, operating outside the drums, were prone to lose efficiency in wet weather due to their total lack of protection.

During the foregoing period, closed cars became more and more popular, year by year, gradually edging the roadsters and touring jobs out of the picture, until only a minority of true sports cars remained, built by independent companies. Quick to realize this change of trend in popular taste, Buick tapered off on open cars from 1916 onward, concentrating mainly on sedans and coupes supplied (from 1919 onward) by the Fisher Body Company, of which General Motors already owned a three-fifths interest. An agreement was reached whereby the Fisher brothers were to supply bodies for the entire GM line of cars, and Buick’s coachcraft, always good, was even further improved when Fisher introduced in 1923 the use of lacquer in place of varnish. This cut painting time from four weeks to six hours and opened up a new field in bright, durable colors.

The main exceptions to Buick’s closed car policy were the K-44 Roadster of 1920 and the Model 45 Touring Car of 1922, neither of which could compete in sales volume with the hard tops.

Contributing to the war effort along with Packard, Cadillac and Lincoln, the Buick Division began turning out quantities of Liberty airplane engines and caterpillar tractors in 1917, continuing in this activity until the end of the war. At the signing of the Armistice, more than 2,500 of these engines were completed, with orders in hand for another 10,000.

At this time, while the problem of marketing automobiles loomed ever larger with various makes, owing to intense competition, Buick was riding high with the public. Such was the company’s reputation that a demonstration to the prospective buyer was all that was needed. He would then put down a deposit, enter his name on the dealer’s waiting list and be happy to take his turn. Naturally, many Buick enthusiasts were willing to pay premiums for quick delivery (a condition identically repeated after World War II), but in the main, 1918 Buick dealers discouraged such ideas. For one thing, there simply were not enough cars to go around and a necessary interval was required to gear up new production.

Oddly enough, although factory branch stores were tried out by most manufacturers in territories where independent dealer representation was not strong enough to do justice to the car, this method was abandoned as unsatisfactory. It was found that independent dealers exercised more ingenuity and initiative in marketing the automobiles they handled. Buick, however, proved the one exception. So many prospects were eager to purchase this make that the New York factory branch outlived all others. The car simply sold itself and the salesman’s job became a demonstration and order-taking routine.

The 1924 Buick Model was a completely redesigned automobile equipped with a radiator which, in some respects, bore a startling similarity to that of the Packard. This at first occasioned Packard considerable annoyance, but the resulting friction was eventually cleared up after talk of lawsuits.

By 1925, Buick’s consistent (under $2,000) price policy, coupled with honest value, sound workmanship and the enthusiasm of its personnel, had created a very large body of buyers who stuck with the same make of car, year after year. Instead of seeking new price levels in the hope of garnering more customers, Buick compensated the buyer as production costs declined, by adding to the value of its product. In the 10-year period from 1916 to 1925, Buick added nearly 3,000,000 square feet of floor space to its manufacturing facilities, including some 45 new factory buildings and additions.

Starting virtually as the foundation stone of General Motors, the Buick Division was now one of its main pillars and a tremendous asset in terms of public confidence.

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