1958 Buick Limited Classic Car


Rarest and priciest of the 1958 Buick Limited models was the convertible. See more classic car pictures.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The 1958 Buick Limited was supposed to be Buick's key to reentering the luxury car market. Buick, however, couldn't have picked a worse time. For although no one could have foreseen it when the new Limited series was in the planning stages, 1958 turned out to be a recession year, with the economy experiencing its worst downturn since the 1930s.

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To compound the problem, thousands of American motorists appeared suddenly to tire of the big road-locomotives that had been in vogue for so long, and of which Buick had built so many. The day of the compact car had come.

Buick sales plummeted 37 percent from 1957, but that's not the half of it -- because 1957's volume, in turn, had reached barely over half that of the pace-setting 1955 season.

Buick had flown high during the mid-Fifties when it captured third place in industry sales.
Buick had flown high during the mid-Fifties when it captured third place in industry sales.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd

A lot of things had gone wrong since 1954, when Buick leapfrogged over Plymouth to cop third place in the sales race for the first time since 1926. Savoring the sweet taste of success, Buick pushed ahead in 1955 to turn out 781,296 automobiles, a hefty 47 percent increase over the year before and a new record for the division.

Unfortunately, it was set at the cost of a serious erosion in quality control, not to mention some uncorrected design flaws.

See what changes were made to achieve widespread acceptance of the 1958 Buick Limited in the following pages.

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1958 Buick Limited Restyling Efforts

The 1958 Limited taillights are distinguished by four bright chrome bars.
The 1958 Limited taillights are distinguished by four bright chrome bars.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Radical changes would have to be made if the 1958 models were to achieve widespread acceptance. But therein lay Buick's dilemma, for it was much too late to bring about a major modification of the basic body contours. 1958 Buick Limited restyling efforts had to revolve around superficial differences in trim.

All of which may have been, in 1958, quite in keeping with the spirit of the times. After years of wartime austerity, stretching through the Korean conflict as well as the Second World War, Americans seemed determined to let it all hang out. It became the era some sociologists have called the "Age of Excess." "If you've got it, flaunt it" seemed to be the slogan.

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Perhaps the 1958 Buick overdid it, but this was, after all, the era of high-flying tail fins and three-tone color schemes.

Engine specifications remained unchanged for 1958. With a 9.5:1 compression ratio and two-barrel carburetor, the Special developed 250 horsepower. All other series, using a 10.1:1 squeeze and four-barrel carb, trotted out 300 horses -- exactly the same as Ford's new four-place Thunderbird.

The 1958 Limited measured 227.1 in. long overall, verus only 225.3 for the 1958 Cadillac Sixty-Two.
The 1958 Limited measured 227.1 in. long overall, verus only 225.3 for the 1958 Cadillac Sixty-Two.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

A revised automatic transmission debuted for 1958: Flight-Pitch Dynaflow. Known in later years as the "triple turbine" transmission, it came standard on the largest Buicks, but was optional throughout the balance of the line. An enormously complicated mechanism, it proved to be very expensive to produce. Buick is said to have spent $86 million just on tooling for it.

With a maximum stall ratio of 4.5:1, the Flight Pitch relied entirely on hydraulic multiplication throughout the car's speed range, resulting in almost incredible smoothness. On the downside, however, it lacked the quick response of Hydra-Matic, and slippage was such that it proved to be wasteful of fuel.

In the next page, continue learning about the Limited's transmission and find out about its optional Air Poise suspension.

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1958 Buick Limited Suspension

The 1958 Limited had a longer body but shorter wheelbase than the 1958 Cadillac.
The 1958 Limited had a longer body but shorter wheelbase than the 1958 Cadillac.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

If the Flight Pitch transmission proved to be less than an unqualified success, Buick's other engineering tour de force for 1958 rated as a total disaster. This was the optional Air Poise suspension, actually a Cadillac development, which all General Motors divisions offered that year.

The system consisted of individual air bellows, replacing the conventional coil springs at all four corners. Air was fed to the bellows from a supply tank that maintained sufficient pressure by means of a small, engine-driven compressor.

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In theory, Air Poise was supposed to provide a softer and quieter ride than the coil springs, though the claim is questionable. It did, however, keep the car at a constant level stance regardless of load and operating conditions. At least, that's what it did when it worked properly.

Owners soon discovered, however, that Air Poise often developed leaks that sometimes left the car sitting on its axles. Motor Trend complained about excessive wheel-hop, bottoming out on sharp dips, and too much heeling-over in turns -- though the latter applied to conventionally sprung Buicks as well.

The 1958 Limited had a louver-banked styling of rear-quarter panels to accentuate its longness.
The 1958 Limited had a louver-banked styling of rear-quarter panels to accentuate its longness.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

At $188, Air Poise never became a particularly popular option, which is just as well, since many buyers found it necessary to convert their cars to coil springs later.

People who road test new cars on behalf of the press tend to be circumspect in their observations, since their access to each year's new models is dependent upon the good will of the manufacturer.

But Don Francisco, writing in Motor Trend, pulled no punches in offering his assessment of the 1958 Buicks: "In 1957, Buick lost their third place sales position to Plymouth," he recalled, adding prophetically that "if the performance of the 1958 Buicks I tested can be used as a yardstick, they are apt to lose another position or two this year."

See more test-driving results by visiting the next page.

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1958 Buick Limited Test-Driving Results

A 1958 Limited convertible was modified to be the Wells Fargo for actor Dale Robertson
A 1958 Limited convertible was modified to be the Wells Fargo for actor Dale Robertson
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Test-driving a 1958 Buick Super equipped with the Flight-Pitch transmission, Motor Trend reviewer Don Francisco experienced "extreme slippage somewhere between the engine and the rear wheels. Engine speed went up with the throttle movement, but the car didn't accelerate as it should have.

"To get the car moving fast enough to keep up with normal traffic it was necessary to push the throttle to the floor, where the converter ratio changed to a still lower pitch."

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As for gas mileage, the Super averaged 11.3 mpg highway, 8.5 city. Altogether, Francisco found the car to be "a disappointing experience." In summarizing, he wrote, "These cars are for mink and dinner jackets, not slacks and Levis; they are for driving to dinner and the theatre, not for beating across town during rush hours."

And that, we suspect, is exactly the way Buick intended things to be. The image the company sought to project was one of comfort and luxury, not of hotshot performance.

The 1958 Limited two-door hardtop, with 1,026 built, was hardly more popular than the convertible.
The 1958 Limited two-door hardtop, with 1,026 built, was hardly more popular than the convertible.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

As part of this effort -- while retaining the Special, Century, Super, and Roadmaster series -- Buick undertook to revive its big prestigious Limited for 1958.

The earlier Limited, which had disappeared from the Buick catalog with the coming of World War II, had never been a money-maker for the division, but there is little doubt that it served amazingly well as an image-builder.

It was Harlow Curtice, then chief of Buick Division, who attempted to establish the big Buick as a competitor to Cadillac, an effort that his superiors ultimately torpedoed. But now, in 1958, Curtice was himself president of GM and everybody knew that he continued to take a special interest in Buick.

Read about the reintroduction of the Limited on the next page.

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1958 Buick Limited Reintroduced

The Limited engine was also fitted to the Roadmaster, Century, and Super.
The Limited engine was also fitted to the Roadmaster, Century, and Super.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

As reintroduced for 1958, the Limited was basically an upgraded Roadmaster, but with an extended rear deck decorated by chromed chevrons on the fenders. "Twin-Tower" taillamps, exclusive to the Limited, brought up the rear.

The wheelbase measured the same 125.5 inches as the Roadmaster, but the rear overhang stretched out an extra eight inches, bringing the overall length to 227.1 in. Not even the extended-deck version of the Cadillac Sixty-Two could top it for length

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Nor could the big new Buick be called inexpensive. In its 1958 incarnation, the Limited cost more -- anywhere from $110 to $240 -- than the base models of Lincoln, Imperial, and Cadillac. In fact, its price was actually $33 higher than Caddy's extended-deck model.

Buick people will insist to this day that the Limited was worth the money because its fit and finish were of the highest order. The biscuit-pattern interiors came in a choice of Mojave cloth or broadcloth, with leather trim in either instance.

Convertibles sported fine leather in a wide variety of colors. Buick aficionados even claim that the Limited was a better balanced automobile than the Cadillac. And the finned aluminum brakes, which had been extended for 1958 to all but the Special series, lived up to Buick's advertising claims.

Curious about what happened to the Limited? Go to the next page and find out.

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1958 Buick Limited Ends An Era

A selection of 1958 Buick ads used the tag line, "It looks and feels like flight on wheels."
A selection of 1958 Buick ads used the tag line, "It looks and feels like flight on wheels."
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The 1958 Buick Limited ended an era. Three body styles comprised the line: Riviera sedan, Riviera coupe, and convertible. Of the three models, the four-door version easily outsold the others. Which isn’t saying much.

Even the Imperial, itself encountering heavy weather in 1958, outsold the Limited by a margin of nearly two to one. In a status-conscious society like America in the Fifties, it may simply have been unrealistic to try to sell a car with a medium-priced nameplate -- whatever its merits -- at prices higher than those of the established luxury marquees.

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That aside, all Buicks sold poorly in 1958, resulting in a fifth place finish in the model year production race, one notch lower than the year before.

Given all the factors -- the state of the economy, the Limited’s very high price, Buick’s somewhat tarnished reputation, and the styling excesses of the 1958 models -- it hardly comes as a surprise that this big, opulent series lasted for only one season.

The dashboard of the Limited was covered in chrome.
The dashboard of the Limited was covered in chrome.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Granted, the Electra 225 debuted for 1959 and it was a big car -- five inches longer bumper-to-bumper than the garden variety Electra. But it simply wasn’t in the same league as the Limited, nor in the same price class. Model for model, the “Deuce and a Quarter” cost nearly $800 less than the cheapest Cadillac.

The Limited marked the end of an era at Buick. Harley Earl, GM’s styling director for more than 30 years, retired that year. So did corporate president Harlow Curtice, followed shortly thereafter by Buick chief Ed Ragsdale. A new team, with a new outlook, would be responsible for guiding General Motors’ oldest division successfully into the Sixties.

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