How Buick Works

1950, 1951, 1952, 1953 Buicks

The pricey, fashionable 1953 Buick Skylark attracted wealthier buyers.

All 1950 Buick models, Special now included, wore a new look dominated by big, "toothy" vertical-bar grilles and fuller body contours. This, too, would persist through '53. Specials also received a half-inch longer wheelbase. Though still attractively priced, the 1950s were a bit utilitarian. Offerings comprised standard and DeLuxe fastback and "Touring" notchback four-doors, fastback sedanet coupe, and a revived business coupe. With fastbacks quickly falling from buyer favor, the Special sedanet was Buick's only "jetback" for '51, when the Special received a Riviera hardtop, as had the Super for 1950.

The Riviera name also graced well-proportioned 1950-51 Super and Roadmaster four-door sedans with special long wheelbases (125.5 and 130.3 inches, respectively). Both lines also included woody Estate wagons through '53, with struc­tural body parts of mahogany and white ash. These were big and expensive. The '53 Roadmaster Estate cost a hefty $4031 and weighed 4315 pounds.

Super was Buick's volume seller in the early '50s, offering standard and Riviera sedans, a convertible, Riviera hardtop and the Estate, plus a 1950 sedanet and a handful of notchback '52 two-door sedans. Roadmaster styles essentially duplicated these.

All 1950-52 Buicks and the '53 Special continued to rely on aging but proven valve-in-head straight eights. Displacement, compression, and power varied with model and year. The 1950 Special engine delivered 115 bhp (120 bhp with Dynaflow) from its usual 248 cid. Supers and 1951-53 Specials offered up to 130 bhp from a bored-out 263.3-cid version. Roadmasters still used the 320, which was bumped up for '52 from 152 to 170 bhp.

Dynaflow (some called it "Dyna-slush") had been an increasingly popular Super/Special option since 1950 (it remained standard on Roadmaster). It multiplied torque via a drive turbine induced to rotate through an oil bath by a facing crankshaft-driven turbine. Dynaflow was smooth, but gave poor performance. The successor Twin-Turbine Dynaflow of 1953 was more positive and gave better oomph.

By decade's end an even better Triple-Turbine transmission was offered across the board at $296 extra. But no Dynaflow could deliver acceleration like the Cadillac/Oldsmobile Hydra-Matic, and was thus handicapped in the burgeoning '50s "horsepower race."

Golden Anniversary 1953 brought first-time availability of power steering and a 12-volt electrical system, but the highlight was a fine new overhead-valve V-8 for Super and Roadmaster. An oversquare design of 322 cid, this "Fireball" engine packed up to 188 bhp on industry-topping 8.5:1 compression. Roadmasters were demoted to a 121.5-inch wheelbase save the Riviera sedan, which shared the Super's 125.5-inch span.

Also highlighting Buick's 50th year was a flashy new limited-edition Roadmaster convertible. Called Skylark, it was perfect for Hollywood types and Texas oil barons. Only 1690 were sold that year, largely because of the extraordinary $5000 price.

Skylark was another of those long-famous Harley Earl styling projects, but was planned for the broadest possible appeal. Instead of being a two-seat sports car -- which accounted for only 0.27 percent of the '53 market -- it was a luxurious and sporty "personal" four-seater similar to Ford's post-1957 Thunderbirds. Like 1953's corresponding Olds Fiesta and Cadillac Eldorado, Skylark was basically a customized standard convertible, with four-inch lower windshield and top, plus fully radiused rear wheel cutouts. Though bereft of the trademark portholes, it sported Kelsey-Hayes chrome wire wheels, then becoming fashionable throughout Detroit.

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