Friday, March 30, 2012

FAST FRIDAY: The Grand National: Part I- Inspired by NASCAR

There's no doubt that the decision by Buick to enter the Nascar circuit in 1981 led to the development of one of the most revered Buicks of all time. Buick had gone into Nascar in 1981 with the goal of turning the heads of younger buyers.  The newly restyled 1981 Regal was a good looking car that turned out to have excellent aerodynamics. It was said that the car was born to race, and race it did very well- allowing Buick to win the coveted Manufacturer's trophy in 1981 and 1982. What it didn't have was the V-6 engine, due to a GM decree that all divisions would use the 358 cubic inch Chevrolet engine, and that ultimately proved problematic for the folks in Flint. But they had a couple of amazing seasons in 1981 and 1982.

Here's what Stock Car Racing had to say:

"The first Buick season came in 1981, and it was gangbusters. Darrell Waltrip won the championship in a Buick, posting 12 wins and 21 Top-5 finishes. The second-place finisher, Bobby Allison, also drove a Regal. But there were a lot more Buicks in the Top 10, with Harry Gant in third, Terry Labonte in fourth, Ricky Rudd in sixth, and Richard Petty (who drove Buicks for this single season) in eighth place. Other drivers wheeling Buicks that year included Tim Richmond. The coming dominance of Buick certainly came to light when Richard Petty took the Daytona 500 that season with a total of 14 Buicks in the starting field."

"The 1982 season was even better for Buick, with Waltrip again taking the title, followed by Allison and Labonte in second and third, Gant in fourth, Dave Marcis in sixth, Ron Bouchard in eighth, and Morgan Shepherd in 10th. The domination was again overpowering for Buick, with 25 total wins. Next in line was Chevrolet, with just three wins. Twenty-five of the 42 cars starting the 1982 Daytona 500 were Buicks. Bobby Allison took the win."

So Buick was riding high in the Nascar world in 1981 and 1982. It is into this reflected glory that the first Regal Grand National was launched in 1982, hoping to turn Nascar victories into retail sales for Buick dealers. A dealer bulletin was released on February 8, 1982 and said the following:

"The New "Grand National" Regal is a luxurious commemorative version of the winning Grand National Vehicle.  Buick designed this magnificent Regal to be a one-of-a-kind car. With its special "GN" styling treatment and appointments, it is a distinctive vehicle inside and out.  Our objective in producing these "Grand National" Regals is to offer an attraction that will stimulate sales of all the 1982 Buicks  We also want to capitalize on the momentum being generated by the Grand national racing competition and take advantage of enthusiast's magazine coverage to increase Buick's penetration of the enthusiast market!"

It was based on a Regal coupe, with charcoal and silver two tone exterior and interior color scheme, red striping, and special BUICK graphics and wheels. It featured two tone Lear Siegler seats and a special dash plaque. Grlles and wheel opening moldings were blacked out and modest front and rear spoilers were fitted, Produced by Cars and Concepts, it was a very sporty looking coupe and featured the 125 HP Buick 4.1 litre V6 as standard. The Turbo V6 was offered, developing 175 HP. Of the 215 cars produced, only about 50 had the Turbo V6 engine. 

Who would have thought that from this modest beginning, one of the most desired cars in Buick history would arise?

Coming next: Part II- Bad to the Bone

Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday Memories: The Riviera...By Buick

By now most of you have figured out that we here at Reynolds consider the original 1963 Riviera to be one of the most important cars of the postwar generation, and there is increasing evidence that Buick felt so too. Entered into evidence is the launch brochure from the fall of 1962. 

Note the supreme elegance of the piece- the utter lack of backgrounds, the dramatic photography and the black on silver color scheme. Make no mistake, the piece is shot and printed in full color, but the overwhelming theme is black on silver. 

Riviera is shown in its signature color of Cloud Silver with black leather. No escaping the fact that this is one impressive piece of lifestyle positioning. We will shut up now and let you enjoy the piece. It's simply exquisitely composed.

NOW wouldn't you really rather have a Buick?

Friday, March 23, 2012

So Cal Drive: 2012 LaCrosse with eAssist

2012 LaCrosse with eAssist at Covina Bowl
Recently I was in Los Angeles to photograph some historic architecture, and the folks at Reynolds suggested that I utilize the opportunity to get to drive the new 2012 LaCrosse with eAssist technology. I hadn't been behind the wheel of an eAssist Buick yet, so I jumped at the chance.

The car I drove was the 2012 LaCrosse in base level trim with no additional options. It featured the same basic 182 hp 2.4 litre 4 cylinder engine as last year, with a few changes to integrate the eAssist system. An electric motor capable of adding 15hp is added in place of the alternator, and is connected to a 115V battery pack in the trunk. This battery pack feeds the motor and is charged during regenerative braking- similar to a mild Hybrid car. It also uses slightly numerically lower gearing- 2.64:1 instead of last year's 3.23:1, a slightly smaller gas tank, special tires with lower rolling resistance, thermostatic shutters on the air dam (as seen on the Chevy Cruze ECO) and a new six speed automatic transmission.

In many ways the system acts like the mild hybrid it is derived from. Upon deceleration, the brakes charge the battery and the fuel cuts out- the car goes into "Auto Stop" mode and the engine shuts down. The electric motor pushes the car from a stop and the engine restarts- all of this is very similar to a mild Hybrid system.

Where eAssist differs mainly is philisophical - Mild Hybrids aren't intended to drive without the gasoline engine, but with eAssist, the electric motor offers assistance while driving (even at highway speeds) and cuts down on the amount of gasoline the that is used. How much less? EPA Fuel economy ratings for the 2012 LaCrosse with eAssist are 25 city/ 37 highway, compared to 19 city/ 30 highway for last year's four cylinder. In my combined driving of city landmarks such as Covina Bowl and the Northwoods Inn, combined with a rather congested freeway drive to Bob's Big Boy in Downey, the eAssist LaCrosse averaged just over 29 mpg- for a full sized roomy sedan with Buick comfort and safety.

How much attention from the driver is needed? As little as you care to give it. There's a fascinating display on the cluster that shows the power mode- engine, electric, or hybrid- and the state of the battery- but the car does everything seamlessly with no conscious effort from the driver. Those who exercise light brake pedal pressure will recharge the battery more quickly, but that is about it. If I covered the display, you'd just think you were driving a responsive family car that does really well on fuel economy.

And isn't that what you've always gotten from Buick?

2012 LaCrosse with eAssist at the historic Covina Bowl

2012 LaCrosse with eAssist at the historic Covina Bowl 
Power display in Auto Stop Mode

Fantastic original Covina Bowl signage

LaCrosse with eAssist at the classic Northwoods Inn

The Northwood Inn features western details

LaCrosse with eAssist at the classic Northwoods Inn 

Modern car, historic setting
Tasteful cloth trim in the 2012 LaCrosse

The instrument panels flows into the doors

Rear seat is comfortable with excellent leg room

Classic Buick Ventiports on the hood

Futuristic Projector Beam headlamps

Timeless Bob's Broiler in Downey- beautifully restored

Beautifully restored signage

LaCrosse with eAssist under the Drive-In 

LaCrosse with eAssist under the neon lights

Perfect destination for a road test- Bob's broiler

LaCrosse with eAssist under the lights at Bob's Broiler

Neon  reflections on LaCrosse's hood
(Test car provided by Reynolds Buick- cross posted on the Palm Springs Automobilist)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday Miss: 1963 Riviera Convertible? Almost

Many early Riviera enthusiasts have long wondered why no convertible version was ever offered to supplant the coupe. The prime competitor, Thunderbird, was offered as a convertible and so it would seem to make sense that Riviera be offered in one as well.

Now comes a series of photos that suggest that, not only was Buick thinking about such an idea, they were taking the idea very seriously. These photos were taken on the GM Styling patio in the summer of 1962 and show a Riviera convertible prototype that had been the subject of considerable planning.

Retired GM stylists recall the car clearly and note that it was not a fiberglass mock-up, but rather a body in white that arrived from Fisher to be converted by the craftsmen at the Styling buiding. In other words, this was a high level exercise.

The convertible top has been carefully styled to mimic the crisp look of the hardtop as closely as possible. Note the sharp upper rear corner- no descending bow as was so often the case on GM convertible tops- and note the sharp corners of the rear quarter windows. They look like they were taken directly from a coupe.

Look carefully at the top- it's the parallel arm top that was first created for the 1960 Cadillac Fleetwood four door convertible prototype. This will allow for a full width rear seat and side panels similar to the coupe.  The top will be utilized on the 1971 full-size GM convertibles. Also notice the top deck (a'la Corvette) which mates brilliantly with the rear seat back and provides a beautifully finished look with no separate top boot. Clearly they had paid attention to the T-Bird.

This rear 3/4 view shows how carefully the top had been styled to mimic the coupe version. It lacks the slight curve of the roof where it meets the rear deck, but otherwise mirrors the coupe lines beautifully.

Here is the convertible in profile with the top lowered. Those who saw the car say that without the crisp, formal roofline, it simply lacked the dramatic presence of the coupe and in all likelihood explains why it was not approved for production- a convertible should never be less exciting visually than the coupe from which it is derived.

So the convertible was not produced. An interesting footnote above however shows a Hatch roof as photographed on a 1963 Coupe, also on the styling patio. This photo suggests that even after the convertible was killed off, stylists were continuing to explore open air themes for the Riviera luxury coupe.

(Photo credits: General Motors. Cross posted at Palm Springs Automobilist)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Feature: Play Misty for Me

 A couple weeks back we ran an article called Get to Know: The 1971 Buick GSX in which we showed a photo of each of the six colors available in 1971. That led to an email from Scott Roys of Midland, Texas whose Platinum Mist car was shown. He gave us some backstory on the car and we thought it would make a great Friday Feature.

The "Roys Boys" are a Buick family. Father Curtis Roys has owned some great '70s Buicks over the years, including a 1972 Skylark Sun Coupe, a Centurion convertible, and an Apollo White 1970 GSX, and currently has a couple of GS 455s.   Brother Tim is guilty of totalling a 1971 GS back in his high school days, and currently owns a 1970 GS 455 which he drives much more carefully.

Scott's 1971 GSX is named "Misty" for its Platinum Mist color, a rich silver metallic with a slight blue cast- which means Misty's color changes in the sunlight. The Platinum Mist looks awesome with the GSX striping and makes a strong visual impression overall.

"Misty" came to the Roys family in 2006 from Arizona. The prior owner had acquired a totalled 1971 GSX and moved all of the components to a new body shell, including the original matching number drive train. He restored the car exactly as the original had been built, including finishing it in the same Platinum Mist color . The restoration was so authentic that Misty rode on Goodyear Polyglas G-60 -15 Bias Ply tires on 7-inch wide Buick V2 chrome wheels.

Now Scott Roys is a drive kind of guy, so a set of raised white letter radials were quickly fitted to those chrome rims. And after an oil pump failure on the original 455 engine, he began thinking about the power train as well. The original engine was rebuilt, of course, but Scott had the opportunity to acquire a John Massoud specially built Iron Head Stage 1 engine and Scott jumped at the chance.

The new engine dyno tested at 606 hp before shipment, and is now installed in Misty's engine bay, complete with all original power accessories and working A/C. Misty went to the 2008 GS nationals with the new engine and ran an 11.34 at 119.8 mph- pretty phenomenal run for a fully dressed, street driven, luxurious loaded Buick.

We at Reynolds Buick have a soft spot for these particular beauties (having owned a pretty fast one ourselves) and would like to thank Scott Roys and the Roys family for sharing Misty with us. That's one fine looking Buick, guys.

Check out Misty at the 2008 GS Nationals turning an 11.34 at 119.8 MPH: