Design History: Buick’s Fully-Open Rear Wheel Wells (1953 – 1957) – The Year-By-Year Opening


In 1955, Buick’s open rear wheel well infection expanded, to include the new four-door hardtops.

But the sedans all stayed pat, with one curious exception: the Special two-door sedan. What to make of that? Good question.

As to how well it worked on the big Roadmaster, I’ll let you be the judge. But it certainly made these all very distinctive and readily identifiable. And it certainly didn’t hurt sales, as Buick soared during the first half of the ’50s, from 304k in 1952 to 738k in 1955, increasing market share from 5.0% to 9.5% in those same years. And although sales slipped to 572 in ’56, due to it being a weak market, Buick’s share still increased to 9.9%. That was enough to push Buick from its traditional 4th place overall into third for those two years (’55, ’56), ahead of Plymouth. Do the rear wheel cutouts get part of the credit?

1955 brought the Wildcat III concept, essentially a preview of coming attractions. Not as wild as number 2, but still showing plenty of skin inside those big fender cutouts.


1956 was the breakthrough year, when every Buick sported “The European look of wide-open rear wheel wells”, even the station wagons.

And the big Roadmaster sedan.

Joseph Dennis caught this fine ’56 Roadmaster Riviera coupe on the go.

The rear wheel cutout looks even bigger on the B-Body Special and Century, to the point where it doesn’t work so well for me.

It looks just a bit too much like a certain 1955 Chevy. Or thousands of them.

Of course Chevy was doing something almost as big on their 1955 Nomad. Almost.

Buick’s concept car for 1956 was the Centurion, still showing off its wheels, but no more inner fenders. Now it was showing off (or scorching) its passengers under the glass bubble.


1957 was the finale to the open rear wheel era at Buick. The new C-Body Roadmaster wore them proudly.

Although apparently not everyone was a fan. These must be the biggest aftermarket rear fender skirts ever.

The hardtop Century Caballero Estate Wagon was the flashiest member of the junior Buicks.

The least flashiest was the Special two door sedan, still looking a bit too much like a hot rod.


Harley Earl pulled out all the stops for the ’58 Buick, but the rear wheel cutouts reverted back to industry norms. The end of an era. This Limited convertible was an attempt to once again compete with Cadillac Eldorado, which had bigger than typical rear wheel cutouts, but came off over-wrought.

The “plain” Roadmaster had plenty of gingerbread too, but no more exposed wheels.

And of course that applied to the Special also. Undoubtedly that was done to prepare buyers for the all-new 1959 cars.

These were previewed by the two Buick Skylark IIIs, designed by Ned Nickles and executed by Pininfarina. The first of them was designed in the summer of 1957 already, and it clearly previews the 1959 Buicks, except for the rear end styling details.

The second version had a plainer front end, but its rear end predicted the production version almost perfectly.

And thus ended “The European look of wide-open rear wheel wells”. European sports cars were passé, and it was now jets and rockets that informed the GM stylists.

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