Buick: Romantic design meets the road

4 May 2011 | 3,829 views | No Comment
By Don Hammonds 'A few years ago, Automobile Journal caught up with General Motors styling chief Ed Welburn, and had a talk with him about Buick design. At the time, Buick had introduced a fabulous convertible concept called the Velite, and just about everybody had begged Mr. Welburn to make sure this one saw the light of day. Alas, it didn't--or at least it hasn't so far--but  Mr. Welburn did speak almost poetically about what he called the "romance" of Buick design. .More than any other GM brand, he said, Buick was  and generally, still is,  strongly associated with graceful, romantic cars that people love to drive, particularly back in the day when a Sunday drive was what you did immediately after a pot roast dinner on Sunday.  Buicks were considered to be the best in American motoring for families not quite at the Cadillac stage, but successful enough to afford something upscale.       Buick gave American automotive design portholes, the dramatic sweepspear--a vee-shaped slash that adorned the flanks of many Buicks and wide open wheel openings on many models (except for top of the line fender skirted Electras)  that added a touch of flair and sportiness.  And back in the day--let's say the 1940s and 1950s----Buick had a number of sleek fastback sedans with flashy, toothy grilles.  There were more fastbacks in the intermediate line during the 1980s, too. And everybody remembers the "boattail" Rivieras of 1981. Those are considered to be among the most dramatic and beautiful designs of that era, and are beginning to draw the attention of car collectors everywhere.  Interestingly enough, some of  those Buick hallmark design features can still be found on the newest Buicks--and that's no accident, Buick officials say. "We weren't trying to walk away from what Buick was," said  David Lyon, Buick executive design director.  " There was a lot of good in our design history, but it had not been applied to modern proportions. So we took classic Buick styling clues and draped them over one of the most contemporary silhouettes on the market, the LaCrosse, for instance.  I's a unique combination.  It doesn't come across as retro, instead it comes across as just a well-detailed contemporary sedan with unique jewelry signatures which happens to tie in with Buick's rich history," he said. The designers had just finished working on Enclave before turning to the LaCrosse. "The Enclave had been extremely successful at a time when you couldn't make an SUV look trucky enough, so we did a contrarian play with the Enclave.  We said, 'Hey, this is a Buick. When Buicks were great in history, they were the prettiest cars on the road. They may not be ostentatious, but they were elegant.When we applied that thinking to the Enclave, it really stood out in the world of crossovers and SUVs. Whatever metric you used, it was great," he added. The charge to the LaCrosse design team was thus, not unlike the one given when the Enclave was penne. "The idea was that this car needed to look as sleek and elegant as possible, and have a surprisingly big interior," he said. "So when we asked ourselves, how much do we want to do witih the LaCrosse to appeal to current buyers or appeal to younger ones," Mr.Lyon said. " It's hard to do both," but the LaCrosse thus far has managed to do both quite well. The LaCrosse was a unique program because it was "a shared project between North America and China," Mr. Lyon said. " It was a very exciting time, and as it turns out we were successful with the design.  The LaCrosse is a very spacious big car and we were able to provide both efficiency and making the car pretty. We wanted the longest, sleekest greenhouse ono the car, and we got it. We didn't want a traditional three boxed sedan with a formal roofliine.  We wanted something that was almost one single shape, and good for dynamics and a roomy interior. And still be pretty." But Buick wisely resisted the temptation to make the sporty Regal resemble the LaCrosse too closely. "If you look at  LaCrosse and  Regal, there's the same basic graphics: the distinctive grille and texture, for instance, and the headlamps have similarities. But with Regal, you see that dramatic boomerang sculpting gesture on the side of the Regal," Mr. Lyon said. " It's nowhere else on the Buick line. But the basic line had to be sleek and elegant.  Buicks have to have romantic sculpturing and they have to be pretty.They also have to have memorable sculpturing integrated into the design."

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