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Through most of its history, Buick has stood for solid, dependable American values. Aimed at moderately affluent families, Buick generally ranked second only to Cadillac in aspirational level among the GM brands.
Started by David Buick in 1903, the company that bore his name was acquired by William Durant two years later. Production of a Model B began in 1904. Buick became part of Durant's new General Motors group in 1908, along with Oldsmobile-which had existed since 1897.
By 1924, the last four-cylinder Buicks were built (not to return until 1980). All Buicks were sixes until 1931, when they were replaced by a new straight-eight engine, destined to remain into 1953. In 1936, Buick models adopted names as well as numbers, from 40 (Special) through 60 (Century) to 80 (the top-rung Roadmaster).
Dynaflow, Buick's torque-converter automatic transmission, debuted in 1948-smoother, if slower, than the four-speed Hydra-Matic used by Cadillac and Oldsmobile at the time. A year later, Buick was among the first to launch a pillarless hardtop "convertible" coupe body style. First used to identify those hardtop coupes, the Riviera name would return periodically on sporty models, as late as the stylish 1995-99 version. Another new touch for 1949 was Ventiports (portholes) in the front fenders, which served as a Buick hallmark for years to come.
Buick's first V-8 arrived for 1953, but the lower-priced Special kept its straight-eight for one more year. In 1953-54, Buick turned out limited-production Skylark convertibles, one of several special GM models of that period that were meant to show off the designers' talents. By 1955, Buick ranked third in production, ousting the lower-priced Plymouth.
Gaudiest Buick of them all to most eyes, was the 1958 model, led by a chrome-laden checkered grille. Far more modest was the new Special compact of 1961, followed by a sportier Skylark. Powered by aluminum V-8 engines, these were the smallest Buicks in half a century. In 1963, Buick unveiled the boldly curvaceous Riviera hardtop "personal luxury" coupe, considered one of the finest designs of the postwar era and packing a potent V-8 to boot.
During the 1960s, Buick even joined the "muscle car" arena with a batch of peppy models that almost defied the company's staid image. Performance-oriented models actually began much earlier with the Century, which melded a Roadmaster engine with Buick's lighter-weight Special body.
Convertibles left the Buick lineup after 1975, though a Riviera convertible re-emerged in 1982-85. Following the mildly-growing trend toward subcompact cars, Buick issued a Skyhawk series, far smaller than its usual models. In 1980, it was joined by a compact Skylark X-car, close kin to Chevrolet's new Citation. Two years later came the front-drive Century, related to the Chevrolet's Cavalier and the short-lived Cadillac Cimarron.
Buick even turned out a batch of two-passenger Reatta coupes and convertibles in 1988-91. During the 1980s, Park Avenue was the most luxurious Buick, but in 1989, the Park Avenue Ultra took that title. In 1992, the old Roadmaster model name reappeared, on an immense sedan and station wagon.
After 2005, LeSabres and Park Avenues gave way to the new LaCrosse and Lucerne sedans. Regal, another long-lived model name, disappeared after 2004.
Trucks were never a major part of the Buick picture, but a Rainier SUV debuted in 2004, lasting four seasons. The Terraza minivan of 2005 hung on for an even shorter time. Rendezvous, marketed from 2002-07, was a relative of Pontiac's ill-fated Aztek, but with less-controversial styling. Buick launched an Enclave crossover wagon in 2008, kin to the Chevrolet Traverse/GMC Acadia.
Back in the passenger-car group, a revived Regal debuted for 2011, and a Buick Verano luxury sedan joins for the 2012 model year. Buicks continue to appeal largely to an older demographic, but in this post-bailout GM era, each brand struggles to attract younger customers as well.