Column 801: “Bare Grilles”
I sit at my Laptop waiting for inspiration. Surely that can’t be too hard in this strange season of lockdown! Plenty of time to think and reminisce. But sadly it is done alone, most of our Buicks rarely seeing the light of day.
And although my Skylark has regular registration, at present a building reno takes precedence, and the car is sandwiched by all sorts of materials.
Today I have the 3rd Edition of the standard catalog of Buick 1903-2004 edited by John Gunnell sitting on my desk. And on the front cover is a 1950 Roadmaster with its unforgettable buck-tooth grille. This book is a mine of information, and has helped me countless times to better grasp the amazing history of Buick down through the decades. Within it’s pages are details of every year and model of Buick for over 100 years.
But it is that buck-tooth grille that continues to enthrall. It lasted only one year, and was a dramatic departure from the waterfall grille of the previous years, yet despite its brief foray, it has stood the test of time. So dramatic is the grille it almost wants to eat you up! At the time , Flint marketers described it as “two spirited tons of supreme satisfaction”
On further research I discovered that the real reason the grille only lasted a year was the expense and complexity of the grille. Love it or hate it, but you definitely couldn’t forget it. Over the next few years Buick would retreat to a simpler grille.
The idea of the buck-tooth grille was that each of the teeth could be replaced separately, but interestingly no two teeth are the same. So instead of being cheaper to repair, it was the reverse. However, having witnessed the draw-card Colin & Dawn Castle’s 1950 Super Convertible is to admirers, the toothy grin really works. Add the drop-gorgeous body and you have a winner.
Fast-track to 1958 and Buick’s massive “Fashion-Aire Dynastar Grille “. It opened up “like a lascivious grin” with 160 chromed squares each of them with four triangular surfaces to reflect light, bordered by chrome bullet parking lights on either end, and a Cadillac-style lower bumper supporting two large conical grille guards. Spectacular, but definitely not practical, especially in the cleaning department.
The chromed squares were carried over to 1959 and for me this is the one that somehow delivered a more cohesive design. A car that could well be caricatured by Disney in their blockbusting CARS movie, that had a face with such personality, even with raised eyebrows.
And then we have the 1965 clamshell clad grille of the 1st generation Rivieras giving them an almost shark-like presence. Twinned with one of the most elegant bodies to come out of the USA the car was indeed a winner. Once again so interesting the design lasted only a year! Definitely makes it more collectible today.
By the seventies it would be the rear end that would be the defining feature of Rivieras with the release of the Boat-tail land yacht, a design cue first forged with the Stingray Corvette.
Unfortunately, as the decades passed Buicks became far less memorable, even bland, as if the brand had lost its mojo.
But for me it is the Art-Deco era of Buick in the 1930’s that capture my imagination most. And that is because a distinctive grille was matched with the timeless elegance of an iconic mascot that elicited grace and grandeur. And whether one be in a commanding position in the drivers seat or hovering over the bonnet the flying lady command attention! Elegant goddesses at the forefront, reaching for the sky, stretched out in anticipation, soaring with the wind, beckoning us to anticipate the sheer delight of driving at speed through the countryside. Yes, on the edge of adventure.
I certainly have appreciated the different nuances of Buick grilles over the years. I now quickly know every model year of grille, especially through the 1930’s, but also of course the 1950’s where chrome ruled supreme.
The extra buttresses and bling on the mid-fifties grilles scream style and seduction. And matched with ever more outrageous wings (fins) at the tail, they have a presence all of their own.
Yes, cars are defined in many ways, but it is the face that really does hold our gaze.
In closing , I resisted titling this piece “Bare Grilles” inspired by the incessant adventurer Bear Grylls, but ultimately could think of nothing better. For me Bear Grylls is unforgettable on many fronts, and his name is only upstaged by two of his children’s names Huckleberry and Marmaduke.
I may have only scratched the surface with this column, so you are invited to add your piece and perspective to it. Now where’s that cuppa?
Penned by Saddo