Traditional 1957 Buick Special Spoke to Bygone Era When New
Photography by David Marvier for Petrolicious
Nostalgia is a funny thing. It’s easy to be seduced by warm-toned, composed photographs and long for the simple innocence that they sell. But while this stately Buick speaks to an era of optimism and growth, its heavy, deliberate stance betrays a sadder truth. In 1957, when this Special four-door sedan (Buick’s entry level model that year) was built, Buick sold fewer than sixty percent as many cars as it had two years earlier, its greatest sales year to date.
Whatever the decline’s reason (shifting tastes, the recession of the late 1950s, etc), it takes automakers time to respond as cars are planned at least a couple of years before they debut. Hence, the ‘57 models began development in 1954 when things were still looking bright for Buick. Now, the Special’s details appear elegant. But at the time they were seen as old-fashioned, heavy and awkward. It’s also no coincidence that Mr. Harley Earl, head of GM design, was about to step down. As the marketplace darkened, GM shifted gears and realized that they had to modernize all their cars.
Only a couple years later Mr. Edward Ragsdale, Buick general manager and General Motors VP, said “These cars are so new we had to change the names” of the 1959 models (which began development as Buick’s sales slumped and the recession began). Additionally, realizing that Buicks were perceived as stodgy and traditional, drenched in chrome like a pre-war dowager’s Packard, Ragsdale plainly stated, “We designed these cars without any chrome at all, developing the lines with the single thought of creating a beautiful automobile. Then, when we had finished, we added bright work where it was needed to accentuate the lines.”
Obviously, these photos are of a 1957 Buick Special, not a ’59. And even though Buick was struggling to find a distinct style compared to its GM brethren, one cannot discount the masterful detailing that was achieved, traditional though it might have been. Don’t let wistfulness fool you, this car tells the story of changing times and fashions, a transition to modernity. Sound familiar?