Buick is the oldest continuously operating maker of automobiles in the U.S. and one of the oldest in the world. For most of its more-than 100 years, Buick has existed as a division of General Motors. And under the GM banner, Buick is considered a luxury division, eclipsed only by Cadillac. The Buick driver is well off but has no need for the ostentatious show of the Cadillac brand. According to one-time CEO Edward Mertz, "Buick owners ... love to drive -- get behind the wheel themselves. They'd rather drive than ride."
David Dunbar Buick built the first car with the Buick name in 1899. The Buick Motor Company was officially founded in 1903 in Detroit. An innovator from the start, Buick's company developed the valve-in-head engine, which was incredibly powerful and efficient for the standards of its day. The design innovations of the engine would eventually become standard in the industry. But even with its spectacular powerplant, the Buick company continued to struggle.
In 1904, the failing company was taken over by James H. Whiting, a wagon manufacturer, who moved its headquarters to Flint, Mich. An entrepreneur named William C. Durant was brought in to manage the new acquisition. Buick, at that time, sold his stock and left the company.
The struggling company offered its first line of cars to the public in 1904. The interior was designed to look like a luxury living room, leading to the nickname the "moving couch of America." All 37 cars were sold and Durant walked away with orders for a thousand more. By 1908, Buick had become the No. 1 selling car in the nation.
The success of the Buick line allowed Durant to take matters into his own hands after merger talks with Henry Ford and Ransom Olds deteriorated. Durant started his own holding company of automakers and called it General Motors.
On the track
Buick also distinguished itself on the racing track. Durant assembled a team of race drivers who were famous in their day, men such as Louis Chevrolet. Buick cars took home 500 trophies between 1908 and 1910.
War and post-war
During World War II, the Flint Buick plant built aircraft engines, Hellcat tank destroyers and other pieces of hardware for the armed forces. The post war years were some of Buick's best. The public could not get enough of the company's innovative style and engineering. In 1949, Buick introduced the "hardtop convertible." It was designed by engineer Edward T. Ragsdale after his wife complained that the convertibles mussed her hair when the top was lifted. A year later, the company introduced its now-trademark side "portholes" vents; a design feature uniquely "Buick."
Still going strong more than a century later, Buick continues to make a reliable car for the car-owner who likes to be behind the wheel in unpretentious comfort. Referring to the company's future, Edward H. Mertz promised that Buick will continue to make cars that are "Substantial, distinctive, powerful and mature."