Tag Archives: Buick

Celebrating style on the road

Today we enjoy automobiles for their styling, but that was not always the case. In the early part of the twentieth century, automobiles were mostly designed by engineers and machinists. All of that changed in 1927 when General Motors created the Art & Colour Section to use styling to differentiate their offerings in the marketplace.

In the early 1920’s, General Motors President Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., saw the need to create a tier of automobiles ranging from Cadillac down to Chevrolet. In the quest to develop a companion Cadillac in the $2,000 range, he enlisted the Fisher brothers from the Fisher Body Corporation to bring a bit of stylishness to the new offering.

1927 LaSalle
1927 LaSalle
Copyright General Motors Corporation

Fred Fisher had met Harley J. Earl, a west coast coachbuilder whose imaginative designs were well known from Los Angeles to New York. Earl designed the complete automobile as a unified whole rather than a collection of unrelated parts. The Fisher brothers summoned Earl to design the new LaSalle.

Earl prepared the LaSalle sketches and clay models in about three months. Then, Sloan brought in department heads to critique Earl’s proposal. After some fabrication tests, the new car was approved for production.

The LaSalle was introduced at the Boston Automobile Show in the Copley-Plaza Hotel on March 5, 1927. It was the first American production car completely designed from headlight to rear bumper by a stylist. On June 23, 1927, Sloan selected Earl to head the Art & Colour Section, the first corporate auto design studio to use stylists.

One of the items Earl introduced at Art & Colour was the use of clay styling models to demonstrate creative forms in three dimensions, which was not previously possible with drawings in two dimensions. Over the course of a couple of decades, these small models grew to full scale representations of proposed designs for evaluation and production planning.

1938 Buick Y-Job
1938 Buick Y-Job
Copyright General Motors Corporation

The department’s name changed to the Styling Section on April 1, 1934. The sections 1930’s ultimate expression came to fruition with the 1938 Buick Y-Job, which is generally accepted as the auto industry’s first concept car. This streamlined concept was Earl’s attempt to focus all the department’s long-range ideas into one vehicle that could be tested in day-to-day exposure on the street and highway. The car’s features included hydraulic window lifts, electric-operated concealed headlights, and a power-operated convertible roof. GM allowed Earl to use Y-Job as his personal car for several years as he impressed his country club friends and others on the road.

When World War II ended, GM stylists found that they had many imitators among their competitors. They conceived of a one-company auto road show to showcase new designs. The General Motors Motorama debuted at the Waldorf-Astoria, in New York City on January 19, 1950. The company’s concept cars were the exhibits that captured public interest. The last motorama took place in 1961. More than 10 million people attended motoramas during the 12-year run.

Developments at the Styling Section led to creation of the General Motors Technical Center, a single campus for research, engineering, and development activities that opened in 1956. This facility is still producing styling innovations today. That’s over 88 years of style on the road.

For more on automotive styling follow this link.

Long distance auto racing debuted in the Midwest in June 1909

With all of the hoopla regarding the opening auto races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August 1909, sometimes it is easy to forget that long distance auto racing debuted in the Midwest at Crown Point and Lowell, Indiana in June 1909.

Under the direction of Ira M. Cobe, the Chicago Automobile Club planned and organized a two-day speed festival, including the Indiana Trophy Race and the Cobe Cup Race. The two events, scheduled for June 18 and 19, constituted the Western Stock Chassis Championship sanctioned by the American Automobile Association Contest Board.

Howard Wheeler of Crown Point was among those who planned the 23.37-mile race course from Crown Point to Cedar Lake, on to Lowell, and then returning to Crown Point. The route featured only three towns, no railroad crossings, and was paved with tar macadam roads, which were high-tech for the day.

Cobe Cup Poster
Cobe Cup Poster

Grandstands were built at Crown Point, Cedar Lake, Creston, and two sites in Lowell. One location on North Clark St. was advertised “to be safe from the cars and the racers could be seen for two miles on the fastest part of the course.” The other stand was across the street from the Civil War Monument on Commercial Ave.

Despite being advertised as a stock chassis race, rather liberal modifications were permitted for the contests. Gas and oil capacity could be increased; lighter rear springs were permitted; any size wheel and tire could be used; auxiliary oil pumps were allowed; and steering columns were lowered.

The first event was the 10-lap Indiana Trophy Race for cars limited to 300-cubic-inch displacement, on Friday, June 18, with cars made by Buick, Chalmers-Detroit, Corbin, Fal-Car, Locomobile, Marion, Moon, and Stoddard-Dayton.

At 7 am, National Guardsmen took control of the course to prepare for the start. Box seat holders included Carl G. Fisher, founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ira Cobe, the Studebaker brothers, and W. E. Metzger from Detroit.

Joe Matson Winning Indiana Trophy Race
Joe Matson Winning Indiana Trophy Race

Joe Matson took the checkered flag in four hours, 31 minutes, and 21 seconds in his Chalmers-Detroit with an average speed of 52.2 miles per hour. The remaining finishers were George Robertson – Locomoblie, second; Adolph Monsen -Marion, third; Jim Florida – Locomobile, fourth; and Fred Wiseman Stoddard-Dayton, fifth.

Saturday’s 17-lap, 395.65-mile Cobe Cup Race was for cars limited to 525-cubic-inch displacement with entries from Apperson, Buick, Fiat, Knox, Locomobile, and Stoddard-Dayton.

Louis Chevrolet in his Buick
Louis Chevrolet in his Buick

Louis Chevrolet won in eight hours, one minute, and 39 seconds with a 65 second margin driving a Buick with an average speed of 49.26 miles per hour. What makes Chevrolet’s finish so incredible is that on the 11th lap his engine broke a valve in the cylinder head and he was forced to drive the rest of the race running on three cylinders. By the 14th lap, he captured the lead, which he held to the end. The remaining finishers were W. Bourque – Knox, second; George Robertson – Locomoblie, third; E. A. Hearne – Fiat, fourth; C. A. Englebeck – Stoddard-Dayton, fifth; and Louis Strang – Buick, sixth.

Ira Cobe left his box seat with the big trophy and motored to Crown Point’s public square. On the courthouse steps he presented the trophy to Chevrolet and worshipping fans carried the winner and trophy, on their shoulders to his car.

In 1910, the Cobe Cup Race shifted to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Lake County race course returned to the somnolent quiet of a sleepy Indiana countryside.

For more information about Louis Chevrolet follow this link.

2015 AACA National Special Meet Auburn Indiana

For the third year the Antique Automobile Club of America held its Special Meet in Auburn Indiana. This meet featured the traditional AACA collector car show with over 200 cars, swap meet, car corral, plus the Auctions America auction featuring more than 500 collector cars and memorabilia.

Pardon my partiality, but I believe Auburn, IN, is the best place for a collector car event. I have been attending auto events there since the mid-1970’s.

11904 Cadillac Runabout
1904 Cadillac Runabout

This year’s special meet displayed show cars from the early 1900’s the late 1980’s.I especially enjoyed the cars from the early 1900’s. A 1904 Cadillac runabout provided a glimpse of motoring over 110 years ago. You could step back and imagine sitting in this brass beauty with the wind in your face and bouncing over the crude roads of the day. A 1907 Ford Model N roaster and a 1910 Buick Model 20 were other cars from this era.

1928 Auburn Speedster
1928 Auburn Speedster

Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg, Haynes, Marmon, Studebaker, and Stutz represented Indiana-built cars. One particularly flashy Indiana-built car was a 1928 Auburn boat-tail speedster. This breath-taking black and red beauty attracted attention all day. A number of Studebaker Golden Hawks showed the other end of these makes.

The auction provided a great sampling of cars from reasonably priced drivers to fully turned-out exotic cars.

Everywhere you turned there was another example of cars from our early days of motoring. It is interesting how our tastes in autos change over the years. Whether you’re interested in perusing or purchasing a collector car the AACA Special Meet in Auburn, Indiana is the meet to attend.