1950s Buick Styling
Moreover, with the 1950 models, management was trying to develop three distinctive makes of cars with a minimum of unique body stampings, but still with very individual styling. Thus was born the most complex and ingenious body interchangeability program in all GM history to date. Furthermore, it could easily be argued that the 1950 GM upper-level cars were as much the products of body engineering as of new design.
Consider how Buick used the new body. Two different straight-eight engines dictated two front-end lengths, the Roadmaster being 4.75 inches longer than the Super and Special. Some have argued that all 1950 Buicks wore C-bodies, even the Special. The fact is, however, that all 1950 Buicks had B-bodies, except for the longer-wheelbase Super and Roadmaster Riviera four-door sedans -- the ones with the rear-quarter windows.
These two models got the Cadillac C-body, wherein the roof was stretched and the whole rear end was moved back four inches for more rear-passenger space as well as a noticeably longer look. To enhance the length, the distinctive bodyside sweepspear that first appeared in mid-1949 followed the contour of the rear roofline. Arguably, these svelte Buick sedans looked better than the Cadillac, which must have pleased Curtice greatly.
Although the Roadmasters were a bit shorter than GM's finest, they had the illusion of looking longer because of the chrome side treatment and the fact that the Buick's wheels were nearer to the extremities of the car. Even the name, adopted in 1936, pumped up the car's image, because the Roadmaster was, as Buick put it, "haughtily superior to road conditions."
With two different front ends and two different sedan lengths, Buick ended up with four very different-looking models out of essentially two bodies -- one of the keys to Buick sales success in the early Fifties. It should also be noted that of the three GM makes using the new 1950 bodies, Buick flaunted the most extreme rear-fender dip to further set it apart from the more conservative Cadillac and the "Futuramic" Olds. Fenders for all three makes were detachable. Incidentally, the Oldsmobile 98 used the B-body, not the C-body.
The basic concepts of GM's 1950 program were continued up to 1954, when the GM B- and C-bodies were completely redone again. By this time, more money was available to further differentiate the three makes. Fenders were fully integrated with the bodies, short decks became longer, and hoods and trunks were flatter and more individually stylized.
Since Ned Nickles, Harley Earl, Bill Mitchell, Charlie Chayne, Harlow Curtice, and most anybody else who played a key role in the 1950 Buick program are no longer with us, any speculation on how the car actually came about comes to us either secondhand or by trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. The 1945-1952 era was a somewhat void period in Buick styling.
Some sources say that Ned Nickles became head of Buick styling in 1945. Henry Lauve claims he was head of Buick styling at that time. He contends that when he moved up the ladder to head GM corporate styling in 1947, he appointed Nickles as his successor. Lauve claims he had a strong hand in designing the 1950 Buick, and takes all the credit for the famous "bucktooth grille." However, he can no longer recall any details of the project. We believe that the 1950 Buick was a joint effort of Buick's best design, production, and engineering minds at the time, including -- but not limited to -- Lauve.
Henry Lauve created the famous
Buick bucktooth grille.
The toothy bumper/grille was originally considered for the LeSabre show car when it was still a Buick and not a GM design. Both the sweepspear and the "VentiPorts" were Ned Nickles's trademarks on the 1949 Buick, although their origins may go much farther back. All of the exterior trim was a very well-executed 1950 version of styling themes that had been associated with Buick since the early Forties. The instrument panel returned to the 1942-1948 theme, after Buick had gone to a much more aircraft-inspired design for 1949.
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