The 1957 Buick sales were troubling to the division. All Buicks, particularly the breadwinning Special, were well down on their 1956 totals.
Nearly 60,000 customers took home a 1957 Buick
Special four-door sedan.
Most observers blamed styling. Customers particularly objected to the trisected backlights on Rivieras and sedans, claiming they cut down on visibility and looked weird.
In The Buick, A Complete History, authors Terry Dunham and Larry Gustin label the 1957 line "a nightmare," quoting one unnamed executive as saying, "The styling was awful ... particularly those split rear windows. Plymouth looked at them and said, 'Suddenly, It's 1949.' A dealer came in from California to see the new cars, then went back to the coast and told the other dealers to buy all the used cars they could get, because that would be all they'd sell.
"But [GM President Harlow] Curtice loved that 1957. He showed me those new cars and said, 'My God, they're beautiful!'" Another man more in the know, Buick chief designer Ned Nickles, later admitted, "We did have some off years," and said of his competition, "They were doing some things right."
Buick did offer one-piece backlights on Supers and Series 75 Roadmasters, as well as on the four-door Model 73A and two-door 76A in the Series 70 Roadmaster line. There were "three-window" alternatives to the Series 70s, the 73 and 76R, respectively. (Ironically, they enjoyed a slight edge in popularity over the full-glass versions.)
The series' best power-to-weight ratio belonged to
the 1957 Buick Riviera hardtop.
The backlight divider bars on these three-window Roadmasters carried forward to the windshield header and aft down the deck as add-on chrome moldings that finished above a pair of bright trunklid lift handles. On Specials and Centurys, these roof-to-rear ribs were actually stamped into the sheetmetal, but were devoid of any bright embellishment.
Buick built about 405,000 of its 1957s, well down on predictions, so the general manager was more cautious in his forecast for 1958. As well he should have been. As Dunham and Gustin record, Ragsdale's timing "was all bad [but] possibly no manager could have turned Buick around in this period. The new models for 1957 and 1958 had already been approved, a mild recession was setting in, and the public was turning away from mammoth cars."
The recession was nowhere in sight when the 1957s were announced, but a year later its effects were beginning to be felt in the marketplace. AMC's economical Rambler, which debuted in 1950 as a stubby little Nash, had been redesigned along more conventional lines and caught the public's fancy. By the end of 1958, people were buying Ramblers by the hundreds of thousands.
This specially trimmed 1957 Buick was a portent
of things to come.
The even odder Volkswagen, a relic of the Third Reich dismissed as unsaleable in the early 1950s by such notable importers as Max Hoffman, was suddenly outselling established Detroit makes.
Almost overnight, the free-spending public became frugal-minded, more interested in mpg than bhp, and increasingly averse to the annual model change. This spelled big trouble for Buick.
Styling changes for the 1958 Buick were intended to appease customers and increase sales. For more, continue on to the next page.
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