1959 Buick proposals – An Era of Fins and Chrome

The 1950’s is remembered as a decade of automotive style highlighting fins and chrome. During 1956-57, the designers at General Motors Styling Studio generated new design proposals in order to compete with its automotive competitors. The release of the 1959 Buick was significant within the GM lineup since Buick continuously ranked among the top three in sales.

The automotive design proposal, which is displayed among the following photographs, represented a bubble top design including three fins. Although these inventive ideas quickly moved from clay to manufacturing steel, these were not the final models sent production. Several designers at the GM Technical Center located in Warren, Michigan, preferred a sleeker design that including a thin roof and added glass for the fins.

1959 Buick

Mr. Harlow Curtice, former President of GM, often visited the design staff at the Buick studio. His comments regarding the direction in which Buick designers were headed with the 1959 production proposals were always spoken about on a positive term. The 1959 Buick proposals were developed under Mr. Harley J. Earl, Vice President of Design and designer of “Art & Color Section” styling studio for GM under Mr. Alfred Sloan.

From 1958 to 1977, Mr. Bill Mitchell, Vice President of Design of GM, had the vision for change regarding the 1959 Buick proposals. Mr. Harley Earl was in Europe at the time when Mr. Bill Mitchell abandoned Earl’s ideas and moved away from the old shapes by introducing new designs for the 1959 Buick proposals. Consequently, Mr. Harley Earl was not pleased with the direction that the 1959 models were about to take, however, management and many others encouraged the change that would represent the new model lineup for its 1959 production vehicles.

1959-Buick

On September 15, 1958, Buick introduced its 1959 production model to the buying public. The model featured a completely new styling which was fashioned by Edward T. Ragsdale, General Manager of GM. The 1959 Buick was referred to as a whole new concept model within the automotive design world. The model lineup included a lavish use of glass with a huge compound that curved back into the roof design which helped eliminate noise when the car was in motion. The 1959 Buick came in three different models, the LeSabre, the Invicta, and the Electra models. The LeSabre model was the lowest priced vehicle while the Invicta and Electra became most popular among the buying public.

The new 1959 Buick production models were highlighted by delta-wing rear fenders which flared outward to highlight its fins and chrome. The 1959 Buick production models also offered a new kind of air-ride which was a combination of air springs in the rear and coil springs in the front, which was optional for each model. Buick was the first to introduce this type of suspension at the time that provided softness of air-ride coupled with the incomparable handling and stability characteristics of steel springs.

1959-Buick

1959-Buick

Mr. Don Butler, author of The Plymouth – DeSoto Story, The Story of Hudson, and Auburn Cord Duesenberg, was a dear friend of mine that passed away. I still recall many conversations of him stating that the 1959 Buick models were some of the best designs ever created by General Motors. Many automotive historians and automotive fans today share the same opinion as Mr. Don Butler.


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A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection (NAHC) of the Detroit Public Library. (Bibliography: Scott Gerald (February 22, 1999), Detroit’s Mr. Packard Recalls Lifetime of Fun pg 6A Tech Center News) For further information please visit: http://www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/ or email nahc@detroitpubliclibrary.org. Please do not use any photographs without the permission of MotorCities. For further information contact Robert Tate at btate@motorcities.org