How Buick Works

1942, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948 Buicks

Buick’s 1949 models, like this eye-catching 1949 Buick Roadmaster, were its first all-new models since World War II.

World War II came at precisely the wrong time for Buick, which completely restyled for 1942 a la Harley Earl's 1939 "Y-Job" show car. The result was Flint's sleekest cars ever, with a wide, low, vertical-bar grille theme that would continue postwar. Fastback "torpedo" styling was more popular than ever.

Century, which would go into postwar limbo until 1954, was down to only two models, both fastbacks. Their Special counterparts continued to dominate sales of that two-series line (realigned into 40A and 40B on 118- and 121-inch wheelbases, respectively). Two-door sedanets were new for Super and Roadmaster. Most '42 Buicks wore Earl's new "Airfoil" front fenders swept back through almost the entire length of the car to meet the rear-fender leading edges. Limiteds and Specials lacked this, but had front fenders extended well into the doors.

As elsewhere in Detroit, Buicks built after January 1, 1942, used painted metal instead of chromed parts per government order. For the same reason, Specials and Supers exchanged aluminum pistons for cast-iron slugs. This, plus lowered compression, dropped horsepower to 110 (118 with Compound Carb­uretion). Production ground to a halt in early February after some 92,000 units, and wouldn't begin again until October 1945.

But thanks to its '42 redesign, Buick resumed civilian production in fine fettle. While nearly all makes were forced to issue warmed-over prewar models, Flint's styling was technically but a year old in 1945, and thus still fairly fresh. Packard, by contrast, returned with the two-year-old styling of its very handsome 1941-42 Clipper, then felt obliged to undertake a severe facelift for 1948.

Buick stretched its '42 tooling through the 1949 Special, then came back with a brand-new Special for 1950. (One year can make a big difference in the car business.) Exotic customs did not return; they simply weren't needed. A mere 2482 Buicks were built in the closing months of 1945, but output surged to more than 153,000 for model-year '46.

While the first postwar Buicks were basically '42s, there were fewer of them: Special, Super, and Roadmaster sedans and sedanets; Super and Roadmaster convertibles; Super Estate wagon; no Centurys or Limiteds; only one Special series.

Styling was cleaned up via single instead of double side moldings, simpler grille, and the first of Buick's distinctive "gun-sight" hood ornaments. Wheelbases were 121 inches for Special (as for 1942's Series 40B), 124 for Super, 129 for Roadmaster. Compound Carburetion didn't return either, so Special/Super remained at 110 bhp. This array of models, wheelbases, and engines would endure through 1948 with only minor changes.

Appearance alterations were also minor through '48, as GM was planning its first all-postwar models for 1949. The '47s gained a "wing-top" grille conferring a lower look; a new, more-elaborate crest appeared above it. The only changes for '48 were full-length belt moldings on Specials and chrome fender nameplates on Super/Roadmaster.

But Flint made big news for '48 with Dynaflow, its excellent new fully automatic transmission, arriving as a $244 option for Roadmaster only. Demand for this torque-converter unit proved so strong that Buick had to double planned installations. By 1951, Dynaflow was ordered by 85 percent of Buick buyers.

The all-new '49 models swelled Buick volume to 324,276 units -- again right behind Chevy-Ford-Plymouth. These were sleek and graceful cars next to the 1946-48s, and reviewers agreed they were worth the great attention they got. Harley Earl's team successfully translated aircraft themes to an automobile, and only a hint of the old separate rear fenders remained on Super and Roadmaster. Also new was the first of Buick's trademark "portholes" or "VentiPorts," an idea from designer Ned Nickles.

Buick's most eye-catching '49 was the Roadmaster Riviera, introduced at midyear along with Cadillac's Coupe de Ville and Oldsmobile's Holiday. As Detroit's first modern mass-produced "hardtop convertibles," they began a trend that would eventually render real convertibles obsolete. The '49 Riviera was a handsome, luxurious brute with a beautiful pillarless roofline. It was sold with either conventional straight side moldings or "sweep-spear" trim, soon to join VentiPorts as a make trademark.

With the main emphasis on styling, the '49 Buicks changed little mechanically, though Dynaflow-equipped Supers got ­higher, 6.9:1 compression that improved horsepower to 120. Roadmaster had been similarly raised to 150 in 1948, and continued that way with Dynaflow standard. Body styles stayed the same, save the new hardtop. The woody wagon was reworked to fit '49 styling, but sales remained modest. Roadmaster was put on a 126-inch wheelbase and Super reassigned to the 121-inch Special chassis. Buick would maintain this basic lineup through 1953.

For more on the amazing Buick, old and new, see:

  • Buick New Car Reviews and Prices
  • Buick Used Car Reviews and Prices
  • 2008 Buick Lacrosse
  • 2008 Buick Lucerne