(first posted 11/27/2015) It is hard to believe that we here at CC have never gotten around to discussing one of the most polarizing cars of the entire 1950s. But here we are: the 1958 Buick. Is there really anything that can be added to these pictures? Perhaps not, but let’s give it a try anyhow, shall we? It may be the day after Thanksgiving, but there is always room for leftover turkey.
So, where to start. We have to start with the looks. We just have to. Is there a more over-styled, over-decorated car out there anywhere? From a decade which specialized in over-styled and over-decorated, that is saying something.
Buick was the cornerstone of General Motors. Before there was Chevrolet, before there was Cadillac, there was Buick, from an era when a guy named Walter Chrysler ran it. Cadillacs cost more and Chevrolets sold more, but Buick was always the golden child of the company, no more so than when Harlow Curtice, its Divisional General Manager of the 1930s and 40s, became GM’s President in 1953.
Add to Buick’s “Most Favored Division” status the fact that the U.S. was in a serious postwar boom, and a solid upper-middle priced car like Buick became more and more affordable to more and more people. Buick moved from strength to strength in the first half of the ’50s as it brought us a never-ending parade of “new and improved” while selling us more and more cars. By 1955, Buick had bumped Plymouth from its traditional number three sales rank by selling nearly 739,000 cars to proud folks all across the country, proof that they had achieved the American Dream.
It was during the heady time of Buick’s 1955 success that the 1958 car was conceived. Remember when you were a kid playing with your friends? Everything would start out so innocently, but then one thing kind of led to another and before long, something got broken, someone got hurt and everyone got in trouble. This is the automotive version of that all-too-common occurrence. Well, this and the Edsel.
From 1956 through 1958, a combination of a slowing economy, and the cars themselves, did a number on Buick. The still-attractive 1956 model’s sales dropped to a still-healthy 572,000 cars, but divisional higher-ups were probably starting to worry when the all-new 1957 cars only sold 405,000. Even before those sales numbers were in, it is clear that Buick had taken the themes that it had developed during the previous decade about as far as they could go. The rounded shapes, the full wheel cutouts and that familiar Buick face did not come off so well on the ’57 (top), and the styling crew must have known it because the ’58 would receive an extensive restyling that would bear little resemblance to prior cars, although still using the same basic body shell.
GM’s advertising people must have really liked air force bombers, because that was their go-to metaphor when a new, massive design came along. The bold 1942 Oldsmobile had been the B-44 and this car would be the B-58. And quite the bomb this one turned out to be, with Buick dropping to fifth place in sales (behind Oldsmobile) with fewer than 242,000 cars out the door. This showing was not quite as bad as Chrysler’s 50% drop, but then Buick did not have the horrid reputation for quality that Chrysler had developed in 1957. But 1958 Buick sales were down no less than 66% from their 1955 high. Perhaps the Division’s downward trajectory was behind the thirty-six page sales brochure that is really quite spectacular.
If massive is your thing, this is your car. There are few cars that do massive like this one. Even ignoring all of the brightwork (which is not something easily done), this car has a big, hulking bulked-up shape that makes it hard to tell that it is related to the prior year’s car. But yes, let’s move on to the bling.
“Too much?” If anyone in Buick’s design studio had this question come to mind, it is not evident from looking at this car. GM styling chief Harley Earl was nearing the end of a long and illustrious career that went back to the 1920s, and GM’s 1958 line reflected both his taste and his bold personality. But times were changing. A younger generation of stylists was coming who would champion a cleaner look with more sculpting and less brightwork. Earl would retire in 1958 and his influence would linger into some aspects of GM’s 1961 cars, but this car would be the end of the line for the “GM look” that had existed since the dawn of the styled automobile.
When I first saw this car, I expected that it was a mid range Super or Century model, given all of the chrome. But no – this is the Special, Buick’s “value” model, which was as plain as you could get a Buick in 1958. This is the one thing that the ’58 Buick actually got right. Chevrolet and Pontiac were there for the budget-minded, and anyone who wanted to save a few bucks would just have to settle for something less. But this car was a Buick. You want a Buick? You will have to pay for a Buick. And if you pay for a Buick, then you will get something that will prove to the neighbors that you had some real coin to spend. Management, however, must have been traumatized by the Division’s poor sales because plain Jane strippo Buicks would start to appear by 1961 and by the late ’80s, Buicks would be considered little different from any other GM brand.
Wow, we have spent all this time on the looks and have not even touched on the car’s innards. I had no idea that Buick ever had a “B-12,000” engine. Otherwise known as a 364 cubic inch “nailhead” V8. But when you have the capability to measure the number of pounds of thrust behind each piston’s power stroke (who would have figured such a nice, round number?), who needs to know boring things like cubic inches? Especially when all of the competition (including Oldsmobile) has more of them. This Special with the 2 bbl carb was good for 250 horsepower, while the rest of the line (up to and including the Roadmaster and the Limited) got another fifty horses out of a 4 bbl premium gas version.
Ever the contrarian, I have concluded that I sort of like this car. I think that Buick carries the excessive jewelry better than did the nearly as overdecorated ’58 Oldsmobile. Really, it’s hard to look at this car and decide what trim to take off. The poor thing would just look naked without all of the brightwork (especially in this color.) Speaking of color, I can’t say that I am really wowed by this car’s combination of Reef Coral paint and its gray and ivory interior trim. But its condition is really nothing short of amazing for a car north of fifty five years old and found sitting in southwestern Michigan this past summer.
OK, it’s not a real unicorn. After all, the Special sedan made up maybe 20% of Buick’s sales that year. It might have been more fun to find one of the two door sedans or one of the handful with the three-speed stick shift instead of one of the two optional versions of Dynaflow that this one has, but sometimes you just have to be happy with what you get.
A few cars from the 1950s have become icons of the decade. The ’57 Chevy (for its ubiquity) and the ’59 Cadillac (for its finny excess) come to mind. Even in the category of ’50s failures, the Edsel hogged all of the (in)glory. But only one gets the booby prize as the car that combines 1950s kitsch and gaudiness (to a fabulously wretched degree) while at the same time being unloved and almost obscure. The 1958 Buick mated space-age flash to the conservatism of the Eisenhower years. But the “Air-born B-58” made a hard landing in 1958, and remains mired in pretty much that same spot today, neither rehabilitated nor reviled in the popular imagination.
Personally, I really think that it could use some chrome portholes on the fenders.
1958 Oldsmobile (Laurence Jones)
1958 Oldsmobile (J P Cavanaugh)
1952 Buick Super (J P Cavanaugh)
1956 Buick Century (Paul Niedermeyer)
Cool car theres a red 58 Buick cruising the streets locally I shot it for the cohort a while ago, not sure which model it is now but it has at least as much chrome on it as this one and portholes so it could be an upscale version nice find.
I’ll admit it. I love these, and have since I first saw one as a kid in the ’70s.
Yes they probably have too much chrome, but as JPC said, what would you take off? Unlike so many cars of the period it all seems to work together. It fits the shape of body, the various pieces all seem to balance each other.
The only think I can see that just looks tacked on are those two handles on the trunk lid. The solution is to move up to a Roadmaster. Those got smaller lettering and a centered medalion instead.
The Limited had even better trunk trim, that echoed the strips on the front of the hood, and arguably nicer tailights, but they replaced that great fluted side trim with ugly fake hood louver things on the rear quarter panel.
1958 was a pretty bad year for US auto styling (did they spend all their time figuring out what to do with those extra two headlights and then just phone in the rest?) but I honestly think the non-Limited Buicks were one of the most cohesive designs.
I always found it amazing that both Chevrolet and Buick radically up-glammed their cars from the ’57 to ’58 models, yet Chevrolet came up with the most attractive GM ’58 model while Buick went over the top in the ugliness stakes. And the ’57s (in my eyes) were a rather attractive car for that year, definitely a lot better looking than the Chevrolet.
I always wondered where the style break was in the ’54-’58 line. Loved the ’54, thought the ’55 was a little overdone, ’56 was ok, ’57 was second prettiest to the ’54, and then . . . . . boom! Like the writer, until I saw the lettering on the rear deck, I though this was a Roadmaster. And then you’ve got the blinged-out exterior coupled with the almost poverty spec, Chevy Biscayne-class, interior.
What a great piece and a great find, jp.
“Remember when you were a kid playing with your friends? Everything would start out so innocently, but then one thing kind of led to another and before long, something got broken, someone got hurt and everyone got in trouble. This is the automotive version of that all-too-common occurrence. Well, this and the Edsel.”……Made me laugh out out.
As I read down the page, I kept wondering: the only thing that would make this car any better is if it had a three-on-the-tree. I guess great minds think alike. 😉
The 1958 GM cars have long been a guilty pleasure for me. Perhaps the 1958 Olds 88 sedan that my Dad owned had something to with that but I suspect even if he hadn’t, I would still find the sheer glitziness of these cars utterly irresistible. Sure they represent a level of wretched excess that was only surpassed by the dreadfully bizarre 1959 Cadillac, but I guess what appeals to me about them is the utterly unapologetic quality of their styling.
Many years ago, I took a ride over to Great Barrington, Massachusetts with my late brother to look at a ’58 Buick Special two door sedan (with the B-pillar) in the exact same color and in a very similar condition that he was thinking about buying. It WAS a three speed manual car. I daresay if it wasn’t for an unfortunate rod knock he would have.
For as much as we like to rattle on about a three speed in a mid price car, keep in mind that they were absolutely undesirable back in the fifties unless you were an absolute cheapskate (so why were you buying a Buick in the first place?), or a hard core traditionalist (those fancy automatics won’t last, probably break down before 50,000 miles).
I can remember sometime in the early 60’s my dad letting me ride with him as he took out a really ratty ’57 DeSoto low end sedan on a appraisal drive. It had the three on the tree, and I was stunned, thinking that all Chrysler products came with push button drive.
Three speed manuals were common on Fords, Chevrolets and Plymouths, could be found on Dodge and Pontiac. Once you got up into the Oldsmobile/DeSoto range you were talking a mandatory option of the automatic.
Yeah I’m going to postulate that a dealer ordering a three-speed manual car in the “Desoto-Oldsmobile-Buick-Pontiac” segment likely already had a customer in mind when he did so.
“Old Man So-and-so is due for a new car, better get a manual in stock and see if I can get the skin-flint to part with the one he has.”
Either that or just the traditional purpose of stripped low-end cars: to have at least one example to justify the advertised price. Given that the nominal option price of Dynaflow (on the models where it wasn’t standard) was more than $200, you can see why that would be handy.
Ordering a manual shift on any new medium-priced car in those years also came back to bite one at trade-in time. NADA used car price guides of those late ’50-early ’60’s specifically note “Deduct for Std. Trans” for any Pontiac-Olds-Buick-Chrysler-Desoto-Dodge-Mercury-Edsel-Clipper-Nash-Hudson when pricing trade-in value. The deduction also applied to the retail price for the car in question.
Most used car dealers shied away from them, except the low-end, buy-here, pay-here, For-Special-Deals-See-Uncle-Ralphie type of operations. Only the used car customers willing to buy those manual shift medium-priced cars and run out the use out of them made out.
Given that the three-speed transmissions of the time had non-synchromesh first gears, and most of them had ratios like first, second, and fifth of a five-speed, being clearly meant to get into high gear as soon as possible and left there as long as possible, it’s no wonder they were the poverty-spec choice.
With all the torque that the nailhead Buick developed, the choice of using second gear at all was optional.
Not too long ago I found one of these in a grove. The elderly owner was ready to sell it to me and I’d made a few trips out there with jacks, blocks, tools, and work clothes to lift it from the ground, get aired-up tires on it, and prep it for “extraction”. After that was done I went out with the trailer and it was GONE. The guy’s daughter found out about the coming transaction and decided she wanted it. Yeah, he wouldn’t even come out of the house to face me- his wife told me the score.
I love this, and I’d love to have one – but in any colour except this! Even the metallic charcoal grey thats on about a million Jap imports here, utterly boring and drab on those things but might look rather nice on one of these
The ’58 Buick grille looks like a result of an overstock of motel drawer pulls. The car is hideous.
Very enjoyable article – and this is a great find – amazing what condition it is in.
As to the 58 Buicks, I just can’t warm up to them – just too “over the top”.
And the B-58 moniker is somewhat ironic, I’m assuming the “airborne” in the advertisement alludes to the B-58 Hustler bomber that was then in testing – one of the sleekest designs of the 50/60s – probably the sleekest bomber until the XB-70 of the mid-60s.
And definitely THE “hot stuff” of the fifties. The first supersonic bomber, never mind that it could only carry one nuclear device and only had a crew of two.
I think the B-58 had a crew of three, although they still all sat in tandem as in a fighter.
One nuclear device would be enough thanks.
Now that is a shape that can do without all the chrome bits.
B-58 turned out a poor name for Buick to borrow, for while it was definitely fast, there was little else to recommend it: poor range, high operating costs, fragile nose gear, in addition to limited useful load as Syke mentions. Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of SAC, much preferred the B-52. 1950’s excess indeed.
For styling excess it’s hard to beat the ’58 Buicks, although Cadillac did an excellent job with their ’59 models. Every time I see one of these ’58 Buicks, I’m reminded of Bruce McCall’s parody “The ’58 Bulgemobiles”.
And George Lichty’s “Belchfires” – loved those cartoons.
Oh, man, I loved the Belchfire. If I were ever in a position to name a new production car, that would be it, with a complete line of Belchfires (Belchfire Custom, Belchfire Deluxe, Belchfire 500, Belchfire GT, etc.).
Don’t forget the wagon version – it just HAS to be the Firewood.
OK so a few people have said that they wouldn’t know what chrome/gingerbread to remove. My suggestion would be to downplay that chrome “eyebrow” that starts at the quad headlights and runs all the way to the rear wheelwell. If it stopped after coming over the headlights and went maybe about a foot down the front quarter panel that would help things considerably.
An exercise we like to do. But it has a caveat: our imagination is molded by the fresher shapes that came after the ’58. So, all we will do is “update” the old beast a little bit.
The designer has to come up with a shape that is being loved or at least accepted 3 to 5 years from now. That is really a daunting task as you do not know what will happen in the coming years to turn the buying public one way or the other, aesthetically. If you do succeed you will milk the design theme for as long as you can. If you go too far you have a sales debacle at your hands. Ford Taurus for example. Now I know it also happened to Buick in the 50’s.
I think the heavy chrome strakes that start atop the tailfins and bisect the taillamps could go, or at least be minimized. Also the massively heavy tallight surrounds themselves could be lightened somehow. There’s just so much visual bulk back there, especially with the massive, complex bumper (which gets to stay). If the rear fenders ended in a lighter, sharper tallight assembly it could help considerabily. IMO the chrome trim that runs from the “eyebrow” to the rear fender needs to be there to help break up the bulk of the body, though it could stand to be a little thinner.
Also one could subtract the double hashes above the grille on the hood. And that SPECIAL lettering almost looks homebrew, like when people buy those Pep Boys chrome letters to spell out their own name on their cars. Delete it, and the double trunk handles, for one clean pull with the model name cast into it.
In Engineering School I had a T-Shirt with a 58 Buick on it, I think it was because the school was founded in 58 and it was the 30th anniversary. Everyone got a free T-shirt.
Being an impoverished student I was not one to turn down a free shirt with a car on it, but there it was, the rear 3/4 view of an overdecorated 58 Buick. Augh, my least favorite 58.
Wait, what? The ’58 was based on the existing bodyshell? Take me to school here: I always thought the ’58 was a new design.
Just *look* at all that back-seat legroom!!!!
Yup, we are so used to the 58 Chevy/Pontiac A body being new for 58, we don’t think much about the B and C bodies that were new in 57. Before the 1959 shockwave, GM’s habit had been to introduce a new B/C body a year before a new A body.
I also recall scratching my head over 57 and 58 Oldsmobiles and Buicks, which had become quite uncommon by the time I was paying attention. Those are among the most effective restylings of an existing car ever.
The new B Body introduced for 1957 was used by all Oldsmobiles and Buick Century and Specials and continued for 1958. Buick Supers and Roadmasters for 1957-58 shared the C-Body with Cadillac.
Fantastic piece, JPC. To me, it’s only the back third of this car that looks “off”. I like everything else. The first time I saw a ’58 Buick was inside the former Autoworld theme park in Flint. To me, its massive chrome grille and various doo-dads looked no less offensive than other ’58 cars. There’s “too much” in the back, though – looks like some kind of supersized household appliance, like an iron or something. Sales of Buicks from this era poured money into Flint at that time, a place where I grew up three decades later. Much mid-century architecture remains from the building boom of that era.
“no more offensive” my bad, can’t write lately
To me the chrome fin bits look very “added-on”, like what AMC or Studebaker would do when a body six years old had to be gussied up for another go.
And I never noticed til now how many Vees got added on the front. Like the last unlamented Hudson.
I have to say these only look excessive because you compare them with the 59-on cars. For 58 they – to me – are no better no worse than the rest of the cars the industry offered. They are the natural progression of what has come before. I would certainly not refuse one if it was given to me (and no, it would not stay 100% original).
Great writeup but yeah, that Good ‘n’ Plenty color scheme does it no favors, and lord, it needs a few favors.
’50s Buicks (and, really, Olds as well) and their insane grillwork fascinate me. I had a ’54 Super and my grandmother had a ’50 Special, and their front-end styling was at just about as nutso as this one.
As a kid, our neighbor had a 58 Buick, only memorable to me because it had a loud squeak when he turned in his driveway. We had a 59, and it seemed to be from a different universe. I can’t say that I am fond of any 58 car with the exception of the Impala, but if I had purchased a 58 Buick and then saw the 59 when it came out I would have been very unhappy with my 58!
From the pictures, I would say this is one of those cars that I could almost own if all I ever saw was the interior. The outside looks like an over-chromed elephant. Don’t know what to take off? Start with that huge “flash” that covers the rear half of the car. Then go for all the redundant strips and gee-gaws on the hood and trunk lid.
Since it was recently profiled, in comparison to an Edsel, I’ll take the “controversial” Edsel long before the Buick.
Just noticed – the rear door/fender trim ‘flash’ is the same shape in outline as the trim on the Edsel.
You’d think they would have simplified that trim somewhat on the base model Buick.
My dad’s family’s experience seems to mirror the trends this article is describing. After having owned Chryslers, my grandparents became big fans of Buick in the late forties and fifties. They owned a 1949 Roadmaster convertible, 1953 Roadmaster Sedan, 1954 Buick Super 2-door hardtop, and a 1955 Buick Century 4-door hardtop. They then moved on to Chrysler products (1958 Dodge D-500 wagon, 1960 Chrysler New Yorker wagon) and a combination of Thunderbirds (1958 and 1964), LTD’s (1966, 1968, 1970, 1975) and Lincoln Continentals (1962, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1970, 1972), never to again own another Buick with the exception of a 1981 Skylark they had as a second car.
The story I always heard was that Buick’s reliability was lacking, but the only car that had to be replaced for reliability was the 1953 Roadmaster. It seems to me that the “in cars” for folks with means who didn’t consider imports and wouldn’t own a Cadillac (they consider Cadillac flashy) were Buick from 1949 through the early and mid 50’s, Chrysler in the late 50’s and Lincoln and even Ford in the 1960’s.
“Heroically overdecorated” is how I would describe these ’58 Buicks. Although I never paid much attention to them in years past, I am starting to warm up to them. The exterior is just so tastelessly overdone! How could you not love the thing? What’s really shocking is just how plain the interior is. I really like that restrained dashboard – is that padding on the top of the dash or am I dreaming? It looks like this car has been repainted in part because to my eye the front clip doesn’t match the rest of the car, being just a slightly different shade of pink.
Never knew this was a restyled ’57, I too always thought it was an all-new bodystyle. The ’59 instantly made this car obsolete. I wonder how owners felt when their “new” 1-yr old car was suddenly out of date so quickly.
And let we forget, that “restrained” dashboard housed one of the great answers to a question no one ever asked, “How can we build a better speedometer?”
That answer being the infamous “Redliner” ribbon speedo. It was notoriously inaccurate and you rarely see one today that works at all.
Well I was looking at the overall design of the dash, had no idea about that ribbon speedo – what a dumb idea!
Volvo must have impressed this speedometer; it was used by them for years.
I wonder if it theirs was any more reliable. Knowing how Volvo did things in those days, I’d be willing to bet it was.
Beg to differ. These were way cool, especially the ones on the Olds that changed colors (green to orange to red) with speed.
Vauxhalls had the same I loved em.
My 1940 Plymouth had one of these >
Vauxhall used those for many years I loved them green orange then red as you accelerated.
Love the ’58 (and the different but equally unique ’59). On the ’58, I especially like the double hood ornaments. Despite the lathered-on chrome I see great continuity between these and later big Buicks.
We used a 1958 Buick 4 door sedan for a car bash car when I was in high school around 1966. After a day of hitting it with a sledge hammer by everyone in school including a couple dozen football players – it still was recognizable as a 1958 Buick! I was even amazed back then – a very very solid car!
Here is a picture of the 1958 Buick at the beginning of the car bash from my Year Book.
I’ll go with the prevailing opinion that pink isn’t the best choice; a similarly pastel blue/green/turquoise would go a bit better in itself but would also pair with the two-tone blue or green that were the alternatives to the black/off-white for the standard interior.
I’d think including the 58 Lincoln in the over-the-top discussion would be justified. Equally bulky, chromed and outrageous.
What a great find. And that grille. It would take a week and a can of chrome polish to fully clean it. Just in time to start all over again.
My postwar Buick history book points out that in the mid 50’s Buick’s factory capacity to build quality cars was limited to about 400,000 per year. So, when production exceeded that by 200,000 to 300,000, Buick’s quality was not there. This is one reason for the big sales decline in the late 50’s, and even early 60’s.
Great find and original condition. 1958 was not a good year for American car styling. The interior does look like it belongs in a low line Chevy, as Syke pointed out. Like two different cars. We had a beautiful blue ’57 88 Super 2 door bought used in 1968. That car was a great looking and running old tank. I remember shortly after they got it, it needed it’s 4 mufflers replaced. I had never heard of a car that had 4 mufflers until then. As was sop at the time, after about 2 years it was replaced with a 2 door ’62 Monterey in 1970. The used cars my parents got back then always looked new when they got them. I really like the look of the ’57 Buick. Family friend had one and it looked so imposing with those huge open wheel arches. One day she forgot to set the parking brake when she parked it at the top of the hill in front of our house. It bashed up 3 parked cars and stopped when it hit a telephone pole. The bumper was a little bent in the corner and the fender had a few scratches. That car had one strong body. The parked cars had some huge dents in them, in fact a new ’63 Dart was dragged down the hill by the Buick as well. She thought after that the car was was too big, and replaced it with a red ’62 Valiant which was another car I though was cool looking to my 7 year old self. Really nice job of writing up this great old Buick.
Actually it was one muffler for each of the dual exhausts and near the back a “resonator”. Many higher end cars then had such a setup. I guess they wanted a really smooth turbine-like sound.
The one change that I would make is the piece of chrome extending from the headlights to the rear wheels. This bit is left over styling from the early 50’s and does not look right. The rear fender chrome bits could have been done a bit differently and a spear extended to the front doors or even into the front fender. This would have been a cleaner looking side.
By comparison to the outrageous exterior, the dash – apparently a carryover from 57 – is so clean-looking and straightforward.
JPC – excellent post-Thanksgiving read, and I appreciated your corresponding blog piece. In the last year I’ve experienced a similar loss of a friend who lived to excess, also with regrets about not staying in touch.
You forgot the patented Buick Fashion-Aire Dynastar Grille, which contained 160 faceted die cast chrome squares, “shaped in a design to maximize the amount of reflective light”. 150 just wouldn’t do!
I actually posted about those 160 chrome squares earlier this year, when someone was amazed that the 1959 Mercury Monterrey has 76 chrome pieces in its grill. This makes the Merc look like a slacker!
What’s really amazing is that a worker in Flint was paid to place and align all 160 of those pieces – and despite all of that handwork the end result still managed to be attainable by mildly upper-middle income people of the day. Today, the cost accountants would force the piece to made in a single stamping.
Made out of plastic.
The grille is actually a two-piece die cast assembly, (left and right, which are not interchangeable), so no need to align each square. Only the faceted squares were chromed. The rear structure was painted matt black. I know this because I arranged for a replacement piece to be sent to me here in Australia and, you guessed it, they got me the wrong one! … my fault since I didn’t specify … not happy.
Is it the same number on the Roadmaster?
Is it the same number on the Roadmaster?
I think the number is the same, however –
on the 1955 Buick Special there are 25 complete vertical rows of hexagons, but on the wider Roadmaster there are 27.
Buick styling was on a winning roll in the early 1950s. The original Skylark of 1953 set the pace. I love the ’54 model with the cool grille and the four separate tail lamps in the fender extension. I especially like the ’55 and 56 models, especially in two tone color combinations. The ’57 was a bit overdone but had a beautiful convex die cast grille. The ’58 no, just ’50s excess. Under the hood was that beautiful Nailhaed V8, a real winner.
Someone in the Midwest is right! This happened when all of a sudden
people were buying them faster than you could build em It happened to Buick in
55 and ford and Chrysler in 57 people remembered the lemons I think maybe it
happened to Studebaker in 59 Suprisingly it didn’t seem to happen when Ramblers
sold like crazy
Of course I can see how excessive this car is. But ugly? Come on! This think is wonderful, I love it! Even the colour is perfect.
There’s something about a pink ’58 Buick. I won’t attempt to analyse what kind of something. 🙂
The ultimate essence-of-fifties-American-car.
I agree, Ramón. It’s a perfect color for this monument to excess.
Chiming in a bit late here, but this really does represent the absolute nadir of American automobile design. Yes, it’s amusing now, but it represents a state of intellectual bankruptcy, when GM and the others thought that this really was the way to go. Harley Earl should have been retired five years earlier.
Meanwhile, in Europe, the DS was already three years old.
Now where would Harley Earl have hung the chrome on this? 😉
On the ginormous tail fins he added!
And looked fifty years old.
1958 was dreadful year for American car design and Buick was leading the pack. On a personal note in the summer of 1959 I was a passenger in a 1958 Buick Limited four door Riviera. This particular car had some unusual options as it had been specially ordered by the son of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Chrysler did a good job cleaning up the Forward Look cars with true quad headlights for 1958. Unfortunately, the horrendous quality sent droves back to GM and Ford.
Like what, fortee9er? Bulletproof glass and gun ports in the doors?
No gun ports just ventiports. It did have special radio gear, bullet proof glass and some other things I don’t remember the specifics. I was a 9 year old car nut and it was a thrill to ride in this car. The new “owner” was a family friend who was a colonel in Castro’s army.
One of the comments mentioned 3 speed not having synchros. By the 1950’s didn’t 3 speeds have 2nd and 3rd synchronized? I know that grill wasn’t made of plastic. Lots of little white metal castings… It must weigh nearly a ton! Even knowing about the quality problems of the Mopars, I just can’t imagine picking this tank over the much sleeker looking Mopars of this period. I know… beauty is in the eye of the beer holder and all that…
No; American three-speeds got syncros on second and third in the mid-thirties, mostly. But first stayed non-syncro, which was obnoxious, unless one was an expert double-clutcher.
First gear were mostly made syncro the late 60s or so. Which is really phenomenally embarrassing, when you think of how huge the industry was at the time. I suspect they dragged their feet on that issue in order to sell more automatics.
The odd thing is that pickups with grannylow had three sync’d speeds at least since the ’40s. If you drove both a pickup and a car in those decades, you’d have to wonder why your pickup got the added convenience and economy of three fully usable gears, while your car had only two fully usable gears.
My ’65 C10, had a non syncro 1st gear. Remember rebuilding it in auto shop. The ’70 C10’s 3 speed was all syncro. Big improvement.
Particularly telling is that in the mid to late ’60s, Chevrolet actually bought all-synchro three-speed manual transmission from Ford rather than making their own. (I think Ford introduced it for MY1963.)
UK Vauxhalls had 3 speed syncromesh in 1961 my PAX Velox was so equipped.
For comparison, my ’67 MGB had unsynchronized 1st too, but I suppose conservatism rather than marketing accounts for that. BTW its ratio was low enough that once, I accidentally started the car in gear & it got underway instead of stalling the engine.
Yeah, Mike. Only first gear and reverse were non-synchro. Pretty much true for every U.S. tranny since the 1940’s.
I find it ironic that with all the chrome and bling added to the ’58, the iconic Buick portholes were removed. Bet there were many who upgraded to a Super or Roadmaster to get that fourth porthole.
Ugly, ugly, ugly. Did I say ugly. Looks more like a Wurlitzer than a car.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the 1958 Buick….
The ’58 GM cars are deservedly controversial, but about this time my Grandparents were spending their Saturday afternoons at the horse track and heading for steaks down the street afterwards. In cars much like this – except they had an EDSEL.
Honestly, there are worse fates.
One of the striking memes in auto ad art of the times is showcased here as well: little people used to make cars look bigger. By the scale of the heads of the couples in the illustrations, these bricks must have 30 inch diameter wheels. And the first glimmer of a ”60s marketing theme is showing up, too. GM’s agency must have pointed the ads at middle age consumers who would associate styling flash with youthfulness.
Particularly the teeny people in the ’55 who are ludicrously tiny. Car ads up to then and later were paintings. One thing these Buick ads didn’t do that much which was common was stretch out the cars in length and width. The Doyle Dane Bernbach VW ads in the late 50’s -60’s really changed the whole car advertising game.
This one is a direct shot at Buick.
I get it. Today’s blunt and tall car front ends have nothing to do with pedestrian safety. It’s just a retro styling element. Relatively small windows all around, likewise: retro.
Can’t car designers just come up with something new ?
I don’t know who this Harlow Curtis character was, but Harlow Curtice is the man who ran GM in the mid 50’s.
” Really, it’s hard to look at this car and decide what trim to take off.”
I’d start with the quarter panels.
Nice write up. I kinda like it too, maybe from watching all those episodes of Highway Patrol.
58 LIMITED was longer than the cadillac how could a buick
be longer than a cad ! Someone was asleep at the switch!
This car is all face, and the face belongs to a braces wearing over weight pimple faced 13 year old with a uni-brow. That said, I love it.
I think the fact that the rear fender coves are painted silver give the impression of the car having even more chrome than it actually does. The chrome insert in the coves is actually a nice shape, though. EDIT–that’s anodized trim, isn’t it? Yikes.
This pales in comparison to the Limited with its 15 separate hashes on each rear fender, not to mention a nice set of horizontal hashes over the taillamp lenses.
If I had to pick a ’58, Impala all the way. The Cadillac isn’t bad, but B-O-P are all their own brand of dreadful that year. At least the Buicks are exuberantly dreadful, whereas the Oldsmobiles are awkward (if slightly more restrained) and the Pontiacs manage to be both ugly and boring.
“exuberantly dreadful” – This would have made a good title. 🙂
Harlow Curtice, not “Curtis.” Nice writeup. Maybe someday you can do the 58 Limited?
Thanks for pointing out the error, I have fixed it.
We write up what we find, and if I find a 58 Limited, you can bet I will do something with it here.
I miss the days when I could tell the make and year of any car from a block away. I was born in 1950 and got the car bug when my uncle showed up one day in a brand new red & white 57 BelAir ragtop. Got my first ride in a convertible and it could lay rubber. I was hooked. My little brother & I got into cars like a religion and lived in a neighborhood where people bought really nice cars, a lot. I always liked the ’58s and with Buick and Oldsmobile, I liked them better than the ’59s that replaced them. In Summer of ’58 my friend’s parents picked me up a half dozen Sundays to go swimming. They had a ’58 Olds 98 2 dr coupe in red & white. I remember people looking at it and knew I was in a really nice car. For 2 or 3 yrs I walked to school passing a ’58 Buick Roadmaster 4 dr, all black. I seem to recall that it was always clean and all that chrome was hard to avoid. I thought it was beautiful then and still do now. I think the Buick has more chrome. If I were buying a ’50s car today for Summer driving the ’58 Buick ragtop would be my first choice. Second choice would be a ’58 Bonneville ragtop with TriPower. Some say the GM ’58s were excessive but I’d give that prize to 1959.
Truly about the worst GM Design ever churned out. OTOH many of the tortured surfaces, phony scoops and other “devices” decorating many of today’s SUVs and cars give any of the ’58 GM cars a true run for hideous “design”!
Clean and flowing, cohesive body panels do not appear on many modern vehicles. IMO, the C8 Corvette which dynamically is reported to be a excellent car, can also put the ’58 GM cars in the shade for overly styled and FUGHLY!! They have more character lines, scoops and surfacing crammed onto a relatively small car than is “necessary” for a monster SUV!
Maybe those door knob pulls that make up the ’58 Buick grill aren’t so bad??? :):) DFO
Calling it “polarizing” implies there are more than a handful of sane people who really like it.
The ’57 actually looks pretty good between the front bumper and taillights.
I missed the part about the B-12000 engine first time around. It brought to mind later iterations of Buick (and possibly others?) using random stats for their engines. The Wildcat engines that bore torque figures, i.e. Wildcat 445, comes to mind.
From what I understand, 1958 was the last year where the GM B body (used here) and the C body (used on the more upscale Buicks like the Roadmaster) were almost completely different, unlike in 1959 onwards when the C was essentially a B with a wheelbase stretch, a squared-off roofline, and different rear styling. But looking at them, there isn’t an obvious difference between the B and C body 1958 Buicks either. Are the front fenders, hood, or grille different between the two bodies and I’m not seeing it? Even further back they seem to share alot.
Don’t think I’ve ever before seen the Quadrajet or any other described as a “master carburetor”.
I could see maybe in a 3×2 setup there would be something called a “master carburetor”, but that’s about it.
Mmmm…no, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used in that context, either.
’58 Buick = one of my favorites. So discouraging to see it being trashed all the time. If you don’t see the genius of this design, I can’t help you. It is featured in more pop culture art and images than any other Buick–for a reason. It is the “Gothic cathedral” of automobiles.
And while I don’t like to criticize cars that others may like, I’ll risk starting an internecine Buick religious war by saying this ’58 is sleek and sharp compared to the “bullfrogs” of the early ’50s. Performs better too. A quarter million new-car buyers said, “This is the car I want above all others!”
GM proudly displays the new rear styling of the ’58 in this press release photo.
Bullfrogs? Well, 488,800+ car buyers in 1953 said that “[Buick] is the car I want above all others!” Those who drive “Gothic cathedrals” shouldn’t throw stones. 🙂
As you might have guessed, I like my ’53, as do most people who see it in person.
I’ve always dug 1958 Buicks (and Oldsmobiles), though I can understand why some people don’t. Shrinking violets they’re not, so they do make a *very* bold statement. Maximum sized maximum jet age wearing maximum brightwork. It cannot be ignored. They upped the ante, but arrived at a time when the general buying public was leaning back the other way. And then Virgil Exner and crew managed to tug the styling lead enough to get GM to abandon the reheated 1958 designs they were planning to serve up for ’59 and start from scratch… by the time the 1959 cars were brewed, Chrysler was already losing the trail and heading for the weeds. And as much as I love 1959-60 GM cars, they were mostly an evolutionary dead end that was quickly left behind for all new 61’s.
I didn’t live in this era, but can still see how quickly the styles and general automotive climate changed in just a few years. I do think the ’58 Buick *sorta* missed the mark, but target also moved… Quite a few American cars were left high and dry when the tides changed. Edsel, Lincoln/Continental, Studebaker-Packard… DeSoto wilted and bit the dust.
I’m sure the 1958 Buick will continue to be on those oft regurgitated “top 10 worst whatever whatever” lists, just as the Edsel, AMC Pacer, Gremlin, Corvair, etc always are. It’s one of those cars where you either get it, or you don’t. For whatever it’s worth, I think my favorite 1958 Buick feature is the eyebrows over the headlamps… and that grille. The latter was carried over to a car that I might even like slightly better yet: the 1959 Buick.
I have to admit that the rear view in the GM press photo is actually pretty cool.
And for the record, I prefer this car by a mile over the 1957 version.
My father had a ’53 Special 4 dr sedan. Very attractive car with a gray top and white lower body. His ’56 Bel Air wagon was a big turnabout colorwise: laurel green and crocus yellow. He went back to the gray/white combo for his ’58 Estate Wagon: white top with silver mist on the bottom. Those conservative colors helped to mute all the bright work.
I’ve seen tons of photos and plenty of ads (one more for you below), but still hope to catch one of these “in-person” sometime. From some angles, it just seems like a slightly jazzed-up ’58 Chevy, and other angles like someone’s custom car project that got out of hand: