Speaking of Buick Specials, it was the low-price Special that was propelling Buick to all-time highs in the mid-fifties. This ad claims Buick was outselling all cars except two (Chevrolet and Ford, obviously), but their claim is a wee bit iffy, since for the ’54 model year, Plymouth still squeaked by Buick, 463k to 445k. But it may well be referring to 1954 calendar year sales, and there’s no doubt Buick was #3 in that metric, as the 1955 models enjoyed another big surge, to 738k to Plymouth’s 705k, as well as a mighty 10.3% market share. Buick held on to the bronze for 1956, although by just a hair, 572,024 to Plymouth’s 571,634.
But it was downhill from there; by 1960, Buick was in ninth place. It was a combination of slipping quality as well as the severe crimp on premium brand cars after the 1958 recession.
Buick made a strong comeback in the early 1960s though. Their 1961 – 1970 models were darn good cars quality wise and they were good looking, to boot.
And from what I saw on this link. https://www.automobile-catalog.com/production/buick/full-size_buick_8gen.html#gsc.tab=0 Buick was close to one million cars in the mid-1980s. After years of Oldsmobile being 3rd thanks mainly to the Cutlass Supreme and before the Electra and LeSabre switched to FWD.
The midget lady driver must have mighty long arms and legs.
Come to think of it, the human artists in those days were a lot like AI artists today. No sense of how limbs and bodies actually work.
Actually, that was done by design by the artists. Art Fitzpatrick was drawing the Buicks for ads during this period and he purposely made the people appear small to make the cars look even bigger. Back then, bigger was always better!
That even carried over to models used in photographs. I once worked with a lady who had appeared in a Chrysler brochure in the early 1970s. She was very attractive, but not tall. She explained that Chrysler and the people who designed the brochures wanted shorter female models, as they made the cars look bigger.
Interesting, I didn’t know it also occurred in real life photography.
Take a look at Studebaker magazine ads 1946-52, and you’ll see the people in the artwork are truly tiny. Either that or the cars were actually huge!
I usually don’t identify with advertising that claims, “We’re number one, and since more people choose us, you should, too.” For example, McDonald’s is number one in hamburgers, but given a choice I prefer Wendy’s.
On the other hand, this ad is probably touting that a Buick – one step below Cadillac on the Sloan ladder – is more affordable than you might think, so much so that it’s number three in the market. And I guess there’s an implication that when something is a better value, more people buy it, although that’s not always the case.
I’ve read that one way Buick goosed sales is by having GMAC extend the length of the loan. That lowered the monthly payment, which put the Buick Special within striking distance of Plymouth for buyers. Of course, this borrowed sales from the future, as buyers were locked into the longer loan terms. Plus, it boosted Buick production in 1955 so much that the factory could not build all of those cars properly.
“… buyers were locked into the longer loan terms…”
Going on now with 7-10 year loans for full-size pickups/SUV’s that people “have to have”..
A fair number of those pickup and SUV buyers trade before the loan has been repaid. They roll the unpaid balance into the new loan, which isn’t a good idea from a financial management standpoint.
As a banker for the past 40 years, I agree that it’s a lousy idea. Except in recent years the market for used cars has been so crazy that thankfully, negative equity is much less common than it once was.
I actually know two people who bought brand new SUVs, drove them for six months and 18 months, and both were offered more than they paid for them.
But eventually there will come a day when the tide will turn, used cars will drop in value as they used to (some say that day is already here), and I’m afraid it won’t be pretty.
Yes, 1955 was a banner year for Buick, and the whole industry. Credit standards were relaxed, enabling more people to qualify for auto loans
This came back to bite sales in the 1957-’58 recession.
Buick’s boom era is why Ford felt they needed another ‘mid-price’ brand, to match GM. Thus, Edsel, just when the “Eisenhower Recession” arrived. Not only Edsel died, but also De Soto.
It’s interesting that the ’54 Buick Special (bottom-of-the-line) was priced LOWER than the comparable bottom-of-the-line Oldsmobile 88, even though Buick was considered to be “higher” than Olds in the GM brand lineup. The two cars shared the same body shell, but had different driving “personalities”.
That baby blue two tone hardtop ’54 is the epitome of Buick. I would love to have one of these now!
1954 was the last year of K. T. Keller mandate that all Chrysler Corp cars have ample head room for him to wear his hat! Of course 55 saw a whole new direction for Chrysler. The 54 Buicks bump up in rear
fender may have been aimed at emulating Cadillac. At the time, most car adds were illustrations aimed at making the cars look as large and appealing as possible. As for quality, friends of parents had a new 55 Buick Century and were embarrassed by squeaky noises 😳. We had a woman in town who kept her 58 Roadmaster (my favorite year for Buick) well into the late 70s, peeking between dashboard and steering wheel! Looking as if that big Buick was driven by a ghost 👻 🚘! Now Buick and other manufacturers are boasting of self 🤔 driving features!
I wonder if Buick would have gone to 3rd place had Chrysler Corp released the 100 million dollar look one model year early for Chrysler, Dodge, DeSoto, Plymouth and Imperial?
Had Chrysler introduced 55 corporate wide cars in 54, I believe these vehicles would have held top 5 spots. I believe Keller had departed Chrysler before development of 55 line! Had he still been in control,the distinctive 55s would have looked sadly different!
K.T. Keller stayed on as Chairman of the Chrysler Corporation Board through 1956. And it’s my understanding that, in his position, he supported the complete redesign of the 1955 line by Exner.
Correct. Keller hired Exner and signed off on the Forward Look cars personally. An able, albeit conservative auto executive, he eventually saw where the industry was headed and moved accordingly
What a strange slogan. We’re the most popular except for them…and them; we’re almost as popular as those guys. It really points up the state of advertising as a scientific discipline at that time. But it was evolving at a gallop; roughly a decade later—right in the Mad Men era—that same idea was conveyed with much greater panache for Avis car rental. They leveraged their second-most-popular status (after Hertz), with variations on Number Two and Trying Harder for half a century, to great effect, before replacing it in ’12 for a pile of overcooked spinach (It’s Your Space—A self-storage facility? An apartment complex? A closet-organiser system?).
As to the car itself: I have long disliked the frowny-faced look of many cars from that era, and the ’54 Buick might be one of the ‘worst’, in that regard. Residual shivers from Stephen King’s “From a Buick 8” aren’t helping.
I often wonder how we got to the point where a car needs to look aggressive and angry these days to be considered “well-styled.” Then I walk out to the garage and look at this magnificent beast and realize I’m a hypocrite for thinking things like that. Still, different strokes…I love “toothy” Buicks.
Some of these sales are the product of the Ford/GM price war of that year, which effectively killed the independents. A lot of those extra sales went to mid- and mid-upper priced makes, and Buick’s looked nicer than Oldsmobiles this year. The 1954 Buicks were quite nice, however a 1955 Oldsmobile with the Hydramatic and the Rocket would be nicer, methinks.
We’re number one! – Except for the actual numbers one and two!
Why couldn’t they instead say, “Number One Luxury Car In America”?
Cadillac would surely want to dispute that!
Point taken though. Buick’s tag line was probably aimed at attracting people who didn’t consider themselves luxury car buyers.
When Harlowe Curtis was running GM, Buick Division had something like a golden ticket within GM, with Curtis having been Buick’s Divisional manager before he got the top job. Buick skooched dangerously close to Chevrolet and also dangerously close to Cadillac, so was almost an entire GM all by itself. Buick had been a car with some prestige, so making Buick available as a cheaper car worked for awhile – as it always does, until the loss of prestige catches up with you.
My 7th grade social studies teacher Mr. McClellan drove one of these, navy blue with a white roof. It was a nice, clean car for being about 20 years old (in 1973-74-ish). He lived down the street from my piano teacher, and that Buick was how I discovered where he lived. I think his was the oldest car in the Jr. High teacher’s parking lot. Mr. Tallman (the science teacher) had a 59 Pontiac that was a little newer but not nearly as nice.
It wasn’t really a loss of prestige that caught up with them, it was more that their assembly quality tanked because they stepped up production a huge amount in a very short period of time. That hurt Buick very badly for a couple of years in the late fifties, but it didn’t cost them much in image — I think it ended up being more a matter of certain years being seen as bad ones to avoid. Certainly, it doesn’t seem like sixties Buicks like the Electra 225 or Riviera were diminished in perceived prestige because of the Special (whether the fifties version or the Y-body and A-body cars).
Ah, the days (before my time however) when Buick actually sold CARS and a lot of them. I do include wagons (what’s now known as an SUV) in those car sales. Then go to 1988 when I first got into sales at a Buick (Cadillac, GMC and Honda) store. In the late 80’s and 90’s, Buick still sold a healthy number of cars. Now fast forward to today when they try to tell us that everyone wants SUV/CUV’s. Buick has exactly 4 models or 3 now that they dropped the base Encore, and every one is an SUV/CUV. If you combine them all, they still don’t add up to what Buick used to sell in the late 80’s in just the Lesabre and Century alone.
Yup, keep telling us how everyone wants those boxes on wheels called SUV’s. Not me. Oh, to have the old days back when Buick seemed to matter.
Thank you 😊. As a lover of traditional American upscale vehicles, I am totally mortified by obsession with ugly SUVS and crossovers! 🤮 worst of all are these disgusting vehicles being used for government officials and stretched out ugly versions as LIMOS! What ever happened to CLASS?
Rick: I don’t have an issue with government officials using box’s for work as they tend to be utilitarian and useful. I don’t even have an issue with Buick having two or three SUV/CUV’s as long as they have a full lineup of vehicles including a 2 dr and several sedan models. But Buick being just 3 suv’s is stupid at best.
I think it was a murder/suicide thing with restraint.
The old days aren’t coming back.
No, those days are GONE! Fortunate enough to have lived the greater part of my life in them. People have asked why I talk so much about the past! My response is always the same, because they were a hell of a lot better. The only thing better today is less discrimination on the part of MOST people👍 😎
I find this whole line of advertising annoying, whether number 1, 2, 3 best seller, cars or otherwise(movies ads love using this). These kinds of ads are an instant turn off, to the point they actually encourage me to look elsewhere.
Sell me engineering, sell me styling, sell me some absurd fantasy where I could inexplicably drive a Electra 225 up a ski slope. If Buick wants to boast their sales figures have the president tell it to Forbes and WSJ where it belongs, otherwise it’s stupid and obnoxious as an ad strategy.
Yeah. Don’t try and sell me conformity,
Conformity is what the 1950’s was all about. Also it was still the pre-Mad Men period of advertising.
Funny how many people who claim to be non-conformists, or hate conformity, seem to still follow it. The term can be applied to anything or anyone and it is rarely considered a positive. Reducing an entire decade into one of conformity overlooks more than it sees. When I think of the 1950s, I think about how anyone who was a minority or female, wasn’t a part of any of that. Since there are more females than male, and if you add the 13% who aren’t white – you see that a majority of people wasn’t conforming at all.
WWII formed us. We won. We used what we learned. Success followed success. We went from the Great Depression to the Space Age. That ain’t nothing to knock. These people weren’t called the “Greatest Generation” because they were all conforming cookie-cutters.
Prospective buyers didn’t necessarily see this ad as promoting “conformity.” Target buyers had been through World War II, and were living in the midst of the Cold War. World War II was remembered as the nation pulling together to beat two deadly foes. A scaled down version of that effort was keeping the communist Soviet Union at bay.
What we see as “conformity” many potential Buick buyers saw as “being part of a successful team effort.” The youth culture and counter culture of the 1960s were a good 10-12 years into the future when this ad was published.
Also remember that most potential buyers of the 1954 Buick had lived through the 1920s and 1930s, when car makers were dropping like flies. This included some of the most storied names in industry – Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg, Mercer, Pierce-Arrow and Stutz.
Those companies died because they could not generate enough sales to keep the factory doors open. In the minds of buyers of 1954, “high sales,” meant “success,” which meant that they weren’t driving a loser – and weren’t driving a vehicle likely to become an orphan before they had paid off the loan.