Nineteen thirty-one turned out to be a defining year for Buick. The marque would be famous for decades for powering its cars with straight-eight engines, and it was in the 1931 Buick 95 that this practice began.
The two sizes of sixes offered in 1930 were replaced by a trio of ohv (or "valve-in-head" as the division would refer to them) eights. The entry-level Series 50 was granted a 221-cid engine of 77 bhp, the step-up Series 60 featured a 90-bhp 273-cube powerplant, and the premium Series 80 and 90 cars, including the 1931 Buick 95, came with a 345-cid engine good for 104 bhp.
The three smooth and reliable five-main-bearing eights were among the most advanced engines of their day. In late 1929, the division's chief engineer, Ferdinand "Dutch" Bower, placed development of the Buick eight in the hands of a team headed by 27-year-old John Dolza.
The engines featured updraft carburetors, "V" belts to drive the fan, and aluminum oil pans. An automatic spark advance was a new feature at Buick, doing away with the need for a spark-setting lever on the steering column.
The year also marked Buick's adoption of synchromesh for its three-speed transmission. The improved gearbox was standard on all but the Series 50 cars.
Styling was little-changed from 1930, including a hint of 1929's controversial "pregnant" flare high up on the grille and hood. Each 1931 Buick series had its own wheelbase: 114 inches for the 50, 118 for the 60, 124 for the 80, and 132 for the Series 90.
When the decision to go to eights was made, the stock market crash of 1929 had not yet happened. By the time the cars reached the market, however, the Depression was on and Buick sales were down, slipping a place to fourth in the industry behind Plymouth in 1931.
The Series 90 featured five- and seven-passenger sedans, a limousine, two- and five-seat coupes, a roadster, a convertible coupe, and a seven-passenger phaeton at prices ranging from $1,610 to $2,035.
The $1,620 phaeton proved to be the rarest Buick of the year. The restored example seen here, owned by R. C. "Buzz" Pitzen, of Fullerton, California, is one of just 460 made, 392 for domestic sale and 68 more for export.
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