Gateway Classic Cars is offering this 1958 Buick Special on eBay. Carlsbad Black really shows the chrome off well, and that’s a good thing because this is the least chrome-y 1958 Buick you could buy!
What I really like about this listing is the fact that they have a lot of sharp, close-up shots of the car. We can see all of the fine details that are a testament to the metalworker’s art.
But first a little context . . .
Buick started the ’50s with cars that, along with Cadillac, were the ultimate postwar Dreamboats. It’s as if all the Futuramic fantasies of the 1939 World’s Fair had been distilled into these voluptuous chariots. It wasn’t so much a “car” but a kind of futuristic streamlined locomotive or ocean liner that glided smoothly, powerfully, effortlessly across the landscape.
New refinements were made each year, and eventually land travel became too pedestrian for these Buicks, and they were now shown soaring through blue skies with fighter jets, or even shooting off into outer space and traveling among the stars.
1957 saw the introduction of an all-new design; longer, lower, and sleeker than anything which had come before. This had been the prevailing trend. The market demanded that each year’s new model had to be more spectacular than the last. We can see where this is leading. So enter . . .
. . . the “B-58” Buick. The culmination of what Buick designers had been reaching for since the end of World War II. A car of overpowering size and stature, with little sparkles everywhere, because this car is so NEW! There are dual Vista-Vision headlights, and a Dynastar grille with 160 faceted chrome squares (like “diamonds on black velvet”, according to Buick.) The fenders, as described by Alberto Martinez in his book American Automobiles are veritable “poems in chrome–a symphony of reflection.” There are Vee’d circles and gunsights, bumper bombs, sweep-spears, a steeply-raked Panoramic windshield, something that looks like a stingray in flight–all finished off with Twin-Tower tail lights topped by chrome-bespangled tail fins. Wow!
Not that these B-58 Buicks were all style and no substance. Mechanically, there were “more important gains that Buick has ever made in a single year.” These included a more powerful high compression B-12000 V-8 engine, spherical [ball] joint suspension, improved Variable-Pitch and all-new Flight-Pitch Dynaflow transmissions, finned aluminum brake drums, improved Miracle Ride, and optional Air-Poise suspension which floats you on 4 columns of air. (The less said about that last one, the better.)
But let’s get to our subject car itself. This is actually a “stripper Buick”, but with all the chrome trim, you’d never know it! This Special was the lowest-priced Buick 4-door you could buy. Note that it has no bright trim around the window frames. That was an optional extra on the Special. So if you wanted a ’58 Buick with as little chrome as possible, this is it!
Buick salesmen were encouraged to “Sell the Big ‘B’ over the Little 3!” It turns out that this 1958 Special sedan was priced just slightly above the top models of Chevy/Ford/Plymouth. Buick in 1958 covered 75% of the new car market, from this far-from-plain Special, to Century, Super, and the long and lush Roadmaster and Limited series. In fact, the Special was priced less than Oldsmobile’s lowest-priced Dynamic 88, and just a smidge over the cheapest Pontiac Chieftain, which is really quite unexpected.
So now let’s take a close look at all the fascinating “aircraft-inspired” details of this newest Buick yet. When seen this close, they take on the form of finely-crafted, modern art masterpieces that almost become architectural. We’ll start with longer views, and then really hone in:
In 1958, MAD magazine predicted that “Soon we will have chrome cars–and then they’ll introduce paint trim!” That turned out not to be. But what do you do for ’59 to surpass the dazzling “Air Born” ’58s that are so new, new, NEW? Well, this:
What a miracle Detroit hath wrought! Who would have expected this? Suddenly, all former Buicks were now passe. The sleek look of forward thrust has reached its ultimate! But truly, by following the old paradigm there was nowhere to go from here. The 1960 models were like ’59s but toned down instead of being even more radical; in ’61 we lost the panoramic windshield and the fins; as the 1960s progressed the models became plainer, more boxy, minimalist.
By 1966, we were left with this. The Special is now a compact/intermediate, about as long as a ’54 Buick (but on a shorter wheelbase). Instead of selling just above C/F/P, this Special sold at Chevy prices, meaning any prestige of the Buick name is mostly lost. And the Buick exclusives like Dynaflow, Torque Tube, and the foot starter are no more. In the ads it doesn’t fly through outer space with a red afterburner glow shooting back from the taillights. Close-up photos of this car won’t reveal very much. The full-size models are bigger, but have a similar boxy look that causes no one to gasp with astonishment.
Of course, there were still cars designed to be exciting and bold, but they had names like Riviera, Toronado, Mustang, Camaro, Thunderbird–all sporty personal luxury coupes. The regular lines of the Big Three seemed much less inspired. The bean counters and the federal government were taking over. Penny-pinchers and bureaucrats–not the kind of people we’d expect to create cars that stir the imagination and reach new heights of artistic creativity.
So that’s my take on the 1958 Buicks, and the rather short-lived “Golden Age of Gorp”. The ’58s (and the ’59s) are, I believe, some of the most spectacularly-designed mainstream cars ever built. All Buicks of the 1950s were unique, one-year-only designs–produced for one year, and then no more. True “Limited” editions that were very “Special”.
I am probably one of the youngest people who remembers these cars from youth and was strangely drawn to them. Into the 1980s there were still a few ’58 Buicks in my area (as well as some ’57, ’59, and ’60 Chevrolets; even a ’59 Chrysler and a ’60 Imperial!) that were still being driven as daily drivers by older people–evidence of the cars’ solid durability. Like other late ’50s cars, they really stood out! But younger adults who have had no personal memories or emotional connections to cars of this era–will they appreciate them and have a desire to own and preserve surviving examples? And have you considered–how many people living today have no idea these cars once existed (and probably don’t even care?)
I find myself born into a unique time in history–old enough to remember some of the glories of the 20th century, but young enough to benefit from 21st century technology, advancements, and discoveries. Where do we go from here?