(first posted 4/11/2016) Last week, I mentioned Harlow Curtice’s Buick-bias during his tenure at General Motors. That bias was a result of his years as the head of Buick, years which arguably culminated with the 1942 Series 90 Limited. The Limited, in most respects, out-Cadillacked Cadillac, which may have led to its postwar demise.
I’m not sure if that’s totally true, but one could present an anecdotal argument; after all, not only was the Limited gone by 1946 when automotive production resumed, but Compound Carburetion was also no longer on the books. Compound Carburetion was the trade name for Buick’s twin-carburetor intake manifold, atop which sat two Carter or Stromberg two-barrels. With Compound Carburetion, the big 320 Buick peaked in 1941-’42 at 165 horsepower, easily cresting Cadillac’s 150.
Compound Carburetion was a precursor to the more modern four-barrel carburetor (which Buick also pioneered, in 1952). The engine cruised on the front carburetor most of the time, but the second carburetor would kick in under full throttle and/or speeds over 75 miles per hour. Like many four-barrels, such as the Rochester Quadrajet and Carter AFB, there was a damper to prevent the second carburetor from operating too suddenly, causing hesitations and flat spots. In this case, the damper was underneath the second carburetor, unlike on the aforementioned four-barrels. The concept, however, was similar.
As evidenced by the picture above, Compound Carburetion also included a split exhaust manifold with two outlets. This is a popular upgrade for later Buicks, but involves some modification because later Buick Eights had a motor mount directly where the head pipes would go.
With Compound Carburetion on the 320, Buick was the quickest and fastest 1942 model in America, trumping Packard and Cadillac. Much later, General Motors wouldn’t allow any other brand to encroach upon the Chevrolet’s halo model, the Corvette, and similarly, crowding the big Caddy was a no-go in the 1940s. After the war, the 320 was reduced to 144 horsepower (thanks to single carburetion), but would peak with the ultimate 320 in 1952, which cranked out 170 horsepower but also had to power a Dynaflow, which definitely sapped some of the Roadmonster’s accelerative force. By that time, of course, the straight-eight had become passe’, its reputation clouded by so many overhead valve V8s, and it was soon replaced with the “nothing quite like it” Nailhead.
And there was never really a direct replacement for the Limited; in fact, it’s one of the few Buicks on the Classic Car Club of America’s list of recognized “Full Classics,” a Cadillac fighter if ever there was one.
For two years in the early 1940s, however, rich GM fans could buy a beautiful, hot rod Buick limousine with its glorious grand piano hood and waterfall grille. It’s just another car that makes me, as a Buick owner, all gooey inside, and I’d love to take one for a spin.