“Challenge Accepted” was the vow taken on by General Motors stylists. They made that commitment when they saw the newly wedge shaped and befinned second wave of Forward Look Chryslers starting to trickle out of Highland Park factories in September of 1956. The #1 manufacturer of motor vehicles in the world was not about to willingly surrender the design leadership crown to a competitor.
In a stroke of circumstance and marketplace upheaval, Buick, of all brands, became the purest expression of what General Motors stylists desired to do. Ready to leave the bulging behemoth persona behind, Buick shed as many ties to their recent past with their 1959 models. Rivaling the 1959 Cadillac for zeitgeist car of the year, the Buick’s influence on the full GM line truly makes it the leader in all the fresh efforts from GM that year.
Often American brands used to tout cars as “all new” with little evidence to support the reality. The 1959 Buick did a far more convincing job. First off, series names used since the 1930’s disappeared. Gone were Special, Century, Super, Roadmaster and Limited. The 1959 line-up was simplified and given Greco-Roman overtones with new monikers LeSabre (base) Invicta (Banker’s Hot Rod) Electra (Bigger is Better) and Electra 225 (Biggest is Best).
Out went the traditional venti-ports and Buick sweep spear. In their place were rather unadorned and sculpted flanks that rose towards “Delta Wing” peaks over uncharacteristic for Buick round afterburner tail lamps. Up front was an angry brow of canted headlamps, and the only holdover from 1958 in the form of the Dynastar Grille.
It was all very melodramatic, and not without some internal conflict at General Motors. Buick stylists, facing slumping sales and a quickly fossilizing styling direction lobbied the hardest for the dramatic changes for 1959. For cost saving measures, it meant that all GM full-sized cars for 1959 would use the same basic bodyshell, from the lowliest of Chevy Biscaynes to the ritzy handmade Eldorado Brougham.
With Buick setting the design template, all of the brands ended up using the basic Buick Front Door template, with the dramatic slope molded in. This also meant the “all new” for 1958 A-Body Chevrolets and Pontiacs would be completely fresh for 1959 all over again. Underneath found evolution of the Nailhead V8, in 364 and newly upsized 401 cubic inch sizes, and Twin and Triple Turbine Transmissions in an ever continuning refinement of the Dynaflow concept. Underneath it all was a new, super robust “K” frame that provided a solid platform for the new Buick to ride upon.
With returning higher build quality to reflect the entry price, splendid performance and a needed fresh start, Buick rebounded somewhat in sales compared to the moribund 1958 line. More than 285,000 Buicks found buyers in 1959, a total around 45,000 more than the previous model year. Of course, the cheapest and most practical of these, the LeSabre sedan, took the crown. More than 51,000 examples like our photo cars found their ways into driveways in cities and Suburbs in 1959. These revolutionary rides from Flint gave Buick a great course correction to the hemmorage that happened in 1958. It pointed in the healthier, happier direction that Buick would build upon and maintain throughout the 1960’s with less porcine offerings. Had the 1959 Buick not cleaned house, who knows what would have become of the car most people would really rather have.