In 1938, Buick unveiled the Y-Job, a one off Harley Earl custom, which foreshadowed Buick’s post war styling. The Y-Job was built on a stretched Buick chassis, but only provided two seats in an enormous convertible body. It also featured unique luxury touches such as hideaway headlights, power windows and a powered convertible top. Considered the first concept car in the modern idiom, the Y-Job pushed the envelope in every way.
Just over two decades later, Buick released a new Y-Job, their version of the GM Y-Body. The Y-body was GM’s first swing at the compact market, with variations offered by four GM divisions: Chevy Corvair, Pontiac Tempest, Oldsmobile F-85, and Buick Special. Unlike the Y-Job, this Y-body represented an entry level model, priced to pull in a Chevy or Ford buyer looking for a more prestigious nameplate, or for Buick buyers looking for something smaller than the big cars.
If the Y-Job represented the original Dream Car, this particular Y-body represented the original plain Jane sedan, at least on the outside. All of the y-Bodies were quite innovative; Chevy’s Corvair came with an air-cooled pancake six with a rear engine layout; Pontiac chopped a V-8 into a four cylinder, and connected it to a rear transaxle driven by a flexible driveshaft, and swing-axle independent rear suspension. Oldsmobile mostly just came along for the ride, using the Buick aluminum V8 with a few minor changes, but it did offer a “Jetfire” turbocharged version of it.
Buick developed no less than two innovative new engines for the Special. The 1961 aluminum 215 cubic inch (3.5 L) V8 was unprecedented in a mass-production car. And for 1962, Buick created a cast-iron V6 engine, using the V8’s basic architecture. The V8 turned out to be a bit too innovative, inasmuch as issues with its cooling system made it somewhat problematic, and it was soon sold off to Rover in Great Britain after only three years of use. But the V6 went on to have one of the longest lives ever, evolving over the decades into the 3.8 and 3800 series of GM engines.
Americans had not been exposed to a compact V6 engine before, and these early ones ran a bit rough due to their uneven firing. The Buick V6 was also sold off, in 1967, to Kaiser Jeep, which built it for use in their Jeeps. In 1973, when GM was again desperate for smaller engines, the V6 line was bought back, and the rest is history. But it all started with the 1962 Special.
This little Buick is a very special Special, a time capsule taking us back to 1962. I was fortunate to catch this side shot, since most parking spaces here are full throughout the day. As you can see, this Special DeLuxe is very original, right down to the full wheel covers on each corner. Although some might consider this a plain looking car, for the time it’s quite fancy, featuring chrome side trim, bright window trim, and reverse lights tucked under the rear bumper, unlike the base Special. Since this is the DeLuxe model, it’s packing the standard 155 hp aluminum 215 Cubic inch V-8, and not the Fireball “odd-fire” V-6, which came only on the base Special.
Even though this DeLuxe has the V8, the V6 engine, the first in a modern American car, represents a significant achievement: Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year for 1962. Okay, that may be open to debate, but remarkably, this was the third year in a row that the Y-body won COTY- the Corvair received it in it’s first year (1960), and since other Y-bodies came out a year later, all that new technology in the Pontiac Tempest gave it the ’61 award. In 1962, the Buick Special was no longer a “new” model, but the new V-6 engine gave it a second swing at the prize, and it gathered up a third trophy for the GM trifecta.
I don’t know anything about the owner of this car, but I picture them sliding onto that lumpy blanket covering the seat, firing up that sweet little aluminum Buick V8, and as their elbow slides down the door panel searching for the missing arm rest, consoling themselves with this simple thought- “She might not be all that sexy today, but back in ’62 she was the car of the year!”
A much deeper look at the Special: Curbside Classic: 1962 Buick Special – A Truly Special Buick
A historical look at the Corvair: Automotive History: How The 1960 Corvair Started A Global Design Revolution
How Pontiac Tempest came to be: Curbside Classic: 1963 Pontiac Tempest LeMans – Pontiac Tries To Build A BMW Before BMW Built Theirs, And Almost Succeeds
Last, but not least: Repair Shop Classic: 1962 Oldsmobile F-85 Cutlass Club Coupe – I’ll Try Anything