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Buicks: Weather and Style 1904-1927
Buick Motor Company was formed in 1903, and the first production car was completed on July 27, 1904. Thus Buick is the longest continuous producer of cars built in the US.
The first Buicks were all open cars. They had no roofs, windshields, or doors. This left the occupants open and vulnerable to whatever was in the air – wind, smoke, bird bombs, rain, snow, sleet, hail, dirt, bugs, sun, etc. Often, the result was messy hair, nasty smells, objects in the eyes, and burned skin.
Almost immediately, accessory glass windshields, doors, cloth tops, and cloth side curtains (later replaced by windows), became available. Nonetheless, most cars were totally open. In 1910 Buick also began making open cab trucks. Buick made its first closed body car in 1910. Only 40 model 41 closed body cars were produced that year. The car had glass windows and a wood-supported metal roof. While the car protected passengers from the elements, it cost $2,750, which would be over $50,000 in today’s money. Many smaller open models sold for around $1,000. Ford Model Ts started at $650. Ford and Buick were the two top selling brands in 1910.
Almost from the start Buick produced owner’s manuals, sales literature, parts books, and magazine ads.
By 1924 only 40% of Buick model offerings were open bodied cars, but they still accounted for 60% of Buick’s sales. People preferred closed cars but the open cars only cost 75% as much as the closed bodied ones. Buicks cost about the same as they had in 1910, from $935 to $2,795. They also sold about the same number of cars as they had in 1910.
In 1924, half of the cars sold in the world were Fords. A t a starting price of $265 they were selling more than 10 times as many cars as Buick. Buick offered its first repair manual in 1923. In 1924, Buick made its first engine with removable heads. In 1924 Buick offered its first rumble seat. It was a fold out seat in the back of the car. When open it would accommodate two persons who were exposed to the elements.
By 1924 the handwriting was on the wall – closed cars were coming. And come they did. By 1927 over 90% of Buicks had closed bodies. Open bodied cars no longer had a price advantage. Cars were air tight, with little or no wind leaks and the top of line model 50 offered a heater as standard equipment.
No sooner had the occupants become protected from the wind, dirt, and rain than they began to remember the joys of the open car in ideal circumstances. They remembered the wind in their hair, the sun on their skin, the smells of trees and flowers, the sounds of the world, and the sense of freedom that comes from an open car.
Enter the convertible; it had the joys of the open car when conditions were ideal and the protection of the closed car when they weren’t. The convertible was air tight because it had roll up windows and no side curtains. Buick produced its first convertible in 1927. As bodies became more complicated with roll up windows and other gadgets, Buick produced its first body manual in 1928.
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