Monday, April 30, 2012

The Silver Arrow Memos- Part III- For Clarity

Last week we looked at a very ambitious Oct, 15, 1962 memo outlining phases II, III and IV for Bill Mitchell's Silver Arrow Riviera (XP-810 and SO #40210.) The memo called for replacing the engine and transmission (Phase II), significant exterior detail changes and a fully retrimmed interior (Phase III) and even more changes down the road with the addition of high mounted stop lamps, a redesigned cowl vent, wooden steering wheel, and the addition of a tachometer into the instrument panel (Phase IV.)

This weeks memo is dated Oct. 31, 1962, and basically restates the contents of the Oct. 15 memo with a few changes. This time, Buick Chief designer Dave Holls is being asked to coordinate the replacement of the engine and transmission (Phase II),  a full size drawing of the new interior has been released from the Buick Interior Studio for the new interior, the Mouton has arrived for the carpeting, and the design for the seats has been revised (Phase III.)

Instead of reusing seats from a Skylark prototype car, they now plan to install cast aluminum prototype seats that are being considered for the 1964 Riviera. They are no doubt included in the styling drawing being released. The desire is that Phases II and II are to be completed by November 15, 1962, and Phase IV by early December, so there's a lot of work to do in the Styling garage before Santa comes. The document is signed once more by Bud Schenk of Program Planning.

So this document seem to be one of clarification. It is reported that Mr. Mitchell liked being in the know. As we have said before, it is good to be King.

Once again here are the memos for your perusal:

Friday, April 27, 2012

FAST FRIDAY: 1986 Grand National- Part IV: 1986-- Intercooled Thunder

There were only two major changes to the 1986 Grand National, but this was the year that changed the game. The big news of the year was the addition of the intercooler, along with other changes to the turbocharger itself, manifolds, and a resdesigned exhaust, the net of  which added an announced 35 horsepower - making an official output of  235 HP at 4,000 RPM, and 330 ft. lbs. of torque at 2,400 RPM. Of course, it is long rumored that the official output was really somewhere bewteen 270 and 290 HP.

One thing was certain- the Intercooled Grand National was FAST. Ford Motor Company bought one of the first ones to race against their '86 Mustang GT. In an internal memo, they bragged about how they hoped to show Darth Buick their new louvered tail lights, but at the end of the day the Regal whipped the pony every time and Ford were forced to cry uncle. It was a memo we treasured at Buick Home Office.

Exterior changes were minimal. The front spoiler was modified slightly to allow airflow to the intercooler, and the Grand National Badge now featured a separate "Intercooled" badge nesting beneath it on the front fenders. The grille carried over but the wheels were new, Grand National now featured meaty chrome plated wheels from Motor Wheel. Retired Motor Wheel Engineer Joe Guzek tells how he took a chrome wheel formerly offered for Riviera and welded Chevy Truck rims to it. Once plated and fitted with a V6 turbo logo center cap, Buick engineers loved it and bought it for the Grand National. 

A few new options joined the list for 1986. In all, a Grand National buyer could select from a list that included Hatch Roof (CC1) or Silver Glass Astroroof (CF5), Electronic Touch Climate Control (C68), Electronic Rear Window Defogger (C49), Electric Door Locks (AU3) Remote Electric Trunk Lock Release (A90), Manual Seat Back Recliner (AT6), 6-Way Power Driver Seat (WG1) Power Windows (A31), Electronic Cruise Control (K34), Front Seat reading lamps (C95- N/A with Hatch Roof  CC1), Electronic Instrumentation (U52), Theft deterrent system (YA6) and even Twilight Sentinel Lamp Control (T82). 

The motoring press went wild. Car and Driver tested one and recorded a 0-60 time of 4.9 seconds- unheard of in a Buick! They went on to turn a 13.9 second 1/4 mile at 98 mph in a box stock Grand National. Motor Trend published a more conservative 6.0 seconds and turned a 14.68 second at 93.7 MPH, but the word was out that "Bad to the Bone" was even badder and Darth Buick was the car to beat.

Improved performance meant improved sales as well. WE2 Grand National sales were up 150% to 5,512 units, plus another 2,384 T-Type coupes. Total Regal Turbo sales were almost double that of 1985. Buick's Mighty Mouse Turbo V-6 was on a roll, and they weren't done yet. Next time we'll look at how to go out at the top of your game, plus a very special turbo surprise Buick had up their sleeve.

Our photo feature car is an excellent example. Owned by our friend, renowned Buick collector  Roberta Vasilow, the all original example has only 11, 449 miles on the odometer. Thanks Roberta for sharing it with us!

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Silver Arrow Memos- Part II- Phases II through IV

In the second part of our Silver Arrow Memos, we have a very inclusive document that was written to Mr. W. L. Mitchell on October 15, 1962. By now we have gotten through Phase I and the 1963 Buick new car announcement, and it is presumed that all went well but it is worth noting that we have a new author for this document, Mr. E. C. Campbell.

 This memo outlines the steps for phases II through IV of the continuing development of XP-810, and is written to the fine standard and dignified tone of the last one. Honestly, I can imagine Audrey Hepburn reading them in her "Sabrina" voice.

 Phase II-Completion Desired as soon as possible: 

 "The car is to be picked up on or about Monday, Oct. 22 for return to the Division. The engine is to be replaced and the car returned to Styling."

Phase III- Completion Desired in Early November

"The following is being worked on now in the design, engineering, and fabrication departments and is to be completed as soon as possible in early November for evaluation before the car is returned to the shops for fabrication of the longer term items found in Phase IV.  "

I'm going to paraphrase here for the sake of brevity, but the memo describes the following changes in exquisite detail for Phase III- removal of the shields behind the headlamp covers, removal of sail panel chrome molding, refined trim for the quarter panel scoops, new rocker panel and lower rear fender moldings as per Riviera S. O. 40193 (Board of Directors Presentation Car), removal of the B U I C K lettering from the rear deck lid and creation of a Riviera script badge to replace them, and the design, engineering and installation of special low profile exterior remote controlled mirrors that will involve the coordination of Buick Exterior, Buick Interior, and Engineering.

There's plenty in store for the interior as well, starting with removing the Astra Buick Seats from a Skylark show car, S. O. 40224, retrimming them, and fitting them to this car. Along the way,  there are plans to chrome plate the windshield pillars and window garnish moldings, repaint the dash and console, fit new metal trim to the dash, create a new Riviera nameplate for the glove box door and create a wooden shift knob.

Oh, and retrim the entire interior. Seats of silver leather, new door panels, kick panels, carpeting, headliner, package shelf, and trunk. On a three month old car. And this is still Phase III- all this is being done while Phase IV is being developed.  Have you gotten the impression yet that all of GM Styling existed to please Mr. Mitchell? Of course, XP-810 was a rolling laboratory and the innovation could benefit future GM cars, but people certainly tried very hard to please Mr. Mitchell.

Phase IV- Desired by Early December.


  1. Panic stop lights are to be built into the tulip panel. This will require reworking of the backlight lower reveal molding.
  2. A new cowl vent grille, with air scoops, is to be installed. 
  1. A new wooden steering wheel and a new adjustable steering column are required. The wheel will be made new. The steering column is to be reworked from a 1963 production tilting column. A telescopic feature is to be added for fore and aft adjustment.
  2. The instrument panel cluster is to be revised to permit the addition of a tachometer. The requirements for the mechanical tachometer drive system are to be coordinated by the Interior Engineering and Mechanical Assembly Departments.
  3. An AM/FM radio is to be installed. A speaker is to be installed on the instrument panel. 
All design work will be done by the Buick Interior and Exterior Studios, and all development and engineering will be done by the Interior and Exterior Engineering Departments.

E. C Campbell
Program Planning

Below you will see the original memo along with period photography of the XP-810 Silver Arrow. And yes, there's much more to come

Friday, April 20, 2012

FAST FRIDAY: Grand National Part III- 1985

After the success of the mid-year 1984 Grand National, there was no surprise that Buick continued the Black Beauty into the 1985 model year with minimal changes. The car was still offered in black only with an exterior blackout package, indeed there are no distinct exterior changes from the 1984 model.

The biggest change is inside, where the seats, although still two tone gray and black with the V6 Turbo logo embroidered on the headrest, now have a black cloth insert instead of black leather. Production increased very slightly this year, with a total of 2,105 Grand National being assembled. In addition, there were 1,575 regular T-Type Regals built without the Grand National package.

The powertrain had minimal changes for 1985, and the 3/8 Litre SFI turbo continued to develop 200 HP, although at a slightly lower 4400 RPM (the 300 ft/lbs of torque at 2400 RPM was unchanged). The THM 200 Transmission remained the only offering to transmit the power to the wheels.

Factory options for 1985 Grand Nationals included  Hatch roof (CC1) or Silver Glass Astroroof (CF5), Theft deterrent system (UA6), Electronic Cruise Control (K34), Electronic Touch Climate Control (C68), Rear Window Defogger (C49), Electronic Instrumentation (U52) and Electric Trunk Lock release (A90). The Hatch Roof was a highly popular and prized option. 

And while the 1985 Grand National was little changed from the 1984, that was not a sign of indifference from Buick. Great things were in the works for Darth Buick and 1986 would prove to be a game changer.

The exterior of the 1985 Grand National was unchanged

The 1985 GN still features bright framed black grille

1985 Grand National with non-stock painted grille

Revised 1985 interior with two tone cloth seating

Leather trim was deleted for 1985

Grand National badging was unchanged for 1985

Alloy wheels with black painted accents were continued in 1985
Bad to the Bone- Your Editor with his 1985 Grand National, July 1986

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Silver Arrow Memos- Part I - Initial Phase

First Silver Arrow Memo- July 11, 1962
By Jeff Stork 

No Rivieras are more famous than Bill Mitchell's Silver Arrows. Created ostensibly as show cars but in reality intended for his personal use, the Arrows are a mixture of dream car, rolling laboratory, and ultimate corporate perk. We've spoken before of Mitchell and how it is "Good to be King."

Now in a series of original GM documents, we can watch the evolution of the original Silver Arrow as it evolves into its current form via a series of Styling Staff memoranda that track the progress of each phase of the car's modifications until they arrived at the car which resides today at the Buick Gallery in Flint.  They span a period of time from Summer 1962 until almost 1965.

The memos are really more letters of understanding, on impressively logoed GM Styling Staff letterhead (how cool is that) are written to Mr. W. L. Mitchell and concern the design and construction of one 1963 Buick "E" Riviera Production Car, Special Order # 40210. The early ones are written by E.G. "Bud" Schenk, head of Program Planning. and carbon copied to everyone involved, even if only tangentially.

Schenk was the one responsible for supervising the construction of the car, coordinating all of the activities between the various styling studios and all of the tradesmen, the division staff and above all keeping Bill Mitchell in the loop. The Special Order Number (#40210) was used to keep track of all the expenses incurred on the car for the accounting department. The prototype number was XP-810 and would be how design staff would refer to it. The world would know it as Silver Arrow I.

Silver Arrow I outside the GM Styling Building

This earliest memo is dated July 11, 1962, and outlines the first round of changes to be made to the car. It's obvious that Schenk chose the language very carefully and the memo is worth reading.

"Mr. Mitchell has requested the Buick Exterior to undertake the design and study involved in making new concealed headlamps, radiator grille, and extending of front end sheet metal as an experimental proposal on a 1963 Buick 'E" Riviera Coupe production car. Present plans call for the completion of these changes on the subject  car so that it may be available to be driven on Buick's 1963 Car Announcement Date Thursday, October 4.

In general, the required changes are as follows as of this date-
  1. New Concealed rotating headlamp grilles on the front fenders. Plans are to study the using of 7" diameter seal beam lamps. These units must be operable and applicable to a road car.
  2. Radiator grille to be installed per design as proposed and released by the Buick Exterior Studio.
  3. Revisions to front end sheet metal consisting of extending the hood surface and of possible fromt fender changes.  
Modeling of surface changes will be some in the Exterior Studio and information expedited so that engineering drawings can be released to permit the pre-fabrication of parts and components prior to the arrival of the car.

It is anticipated that the car will be delivered to Styling in the early part of September."

E. G. Schenk
Program Planning

In a word, wow. Buick Styling studio modeling, engineering drawings being completed, parts to be pre-fabricated prior to the first week of September so that someone very important can drive this special car on Buick's New Car Announcement Day. And as far as who the special someone was, one need look only to whom the memo was addressed - Mr. W. L. Mitchell.

As I said, it's Good to be King.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

1941 Buicks in the Petersen Showroom

1941 Buick Super sport coupe

1941 Buick Limited

1941 Buick Roadmaster convertible sedan

1941 Buicks in the showroom

Great news for Buick lovers in Los Angeles this summer (and who reading this doesn't fall into that category), the Petersen Auto Museum in Museum Row is having a very special display of the much loved and wildly popular 1941 Buick. We received the following press communique from Bill Anderson of the Buick Heritage Alliance and he explains it so well, we'll just let him describe it:
"Today, the experience of looking at new 1941 Buicks at a dealership in downtown Los Angles is again a reality. On the first floor of the Petersen Automotive Museum at 6060 Wilshire Boulevard, you will find a 1930s dealership showroom faithfully re-assembled within the museum’s confines and featuring samples of the “Best Buick Yet.”
Greeting you as you enter the Buick showroom is a Monterey Blue Super convertible sedan with a red leather interior. In the center of the showroom is a Super sport coupe in Mermaid Green over Cedar Green upon which every dealer-installed 1941 Buick accessory has been applied.

Finally, the “dealer” has a Limited Formal Sedan finished in Silver French Grey over Lancaster Grey, if your finances are really secure; the sticker price is $2,310.
Perhaps one of these cars is for you. If not, Buick has a full lineup of 26 different 1941 models, including many sedans, with prices starting at $735.
This step back in time featuring one of Buick’s most popular model years was made possible by the Buick Heritage Alliance in conjunction with Petersen Automotive Museum curator Leslie Mark Kendall and the generosity of each car’s owner. This special display will continue through July 29."
The Buick Heritage Alliance is a not-for-profit organization focused on preserving the heritage of Buick automobiles and the people who made them. Find the BHA online at .
The Petersen Automotive Museum is located on Museum Row at 6060 Wilshire Blvd,  Los Angeles, CA 90036. It can be found at

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

2012 Verano- Buick's Latest of the "Little Limousines"

By Jeff Stork- the Palm Springs Automobilist

Buick has had many successes over the years by making luxurious compact cars that were in tune with the times. The original Special of 1936, the compact Skylark coupe of 1962, and the front drive Skylark series if the 1980s were all 'little limousines"- cars that offered a high degree of comfort and style in a compact size.

For 2012, Buick again enters the compact car world with the all new Verano, but this time they go beyond the traditional small Buick and created a compact car with unprecedented levels of content, luxury, and quietness. They started with GM's compact Delta platform (shared with the Chevy Cruze) but created their own completely unique exterior with Buick touches such as the waterfall grille and signature Buick ventiports. I spent a day with Verano courtesy of the folks at Reynolds Buick and had the opportunity to capture my impressions.

The handsome exterior is complemented by an equally handsome and highly contented interior. Among Verano's many niceties are a standard audio system which incorporates a 7 inch color display screen with a USB port- for your portable music device or even to download a photo album. The optional Navigation system uses this same screen, as does Verano's standard Bluetooth interface and Sirius XM Satellite radio.

Our test car had the leather package and the interior was ultra luxurious. The seats themselves were beautifully stitched leather and sported a six way driver's seat with recliner, heated front seats, and a rear 60/40 split folding seat with even a rear center armrest. Other luxury features on our test car included Navigation, Bose 9 speaker audio, keyless entry, steering wheel controls, and even remote start which is great on sunny So Cal days. The base price of the Verano begins at $23,470 including destination, our fully loaded leather group model with Navigation and Moonroof listed for just over $28,000.

The standard engine is a 180 hp 2.4 litre inline four cylinder, mated to a six speed automatic transmission. The combination proved to be both smooth and responsive on our test drive, and the six speed was smooth and really quite innocous in its task. GM had really gotten the six speed transmission down to a science these days. The suspension, including the Z-link rear axle, is tuned for a quiet and comfortable ride. That's not to say it isn't a pleasure to drive, or that it doesn't have responsive handling, but that it's not a kidney buster like some sedans out there. It is a Buick, through and through.

Once inside the luxurious cabin, the most noticeable characteristic is quiet. Verano benefits from what Buick calls Quiet Tuning. The entire interior of the car, as well as the suspension components- are carefully chosen to minimize interior noise. “By positioning the Verano against the very best, our noise and vibration team went above and beyond to deliver the quiet driving experience for which Buicks have become known,” said Chuck Russell, Verano vehicle line director. “Quiet-tuning components and systems are built into every facet of the Verano’s architecture.” Another benefit of Verano is safety. In recent testing, the Verano earned Top Safety Pick status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), with a five star crash test rating and its ten standard airbags. 

Buick is known for a long line of "little limousines: that incorporate luxury, comfort, technology and safety into a compact size. After a drive, I'd say that the Verano indeed lives up to that proud heritage. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

FAST FRIDAY: The Grand National, Part II- 1984

Prototype Grand National at the Chicago Auto Show
The limited edition 1982 Grand National paved the way for things to come but was absent from the Buick line up in 1983, but the story was far from over. Buick engineers were hard at work on the 3.8 litre engine, and in 1984 came out with a 3.8 litre turbocharged engine with sequential fuel injection that produced 200 HP. It was available in Regal  and Riviera T-Type coupes and set the stage for one of the most famous Buicks of all time.

The special edition WE2 Grand National package was introduced as a limited edition in the spring of 1984. It came in one color- Black (Code 19) , with a black and grey interior featuring special Lear Siegler buckets seats with leather inserts and Turbo 6 logos. The bumpers and all bright trim was black. There was a front air dam and a black rear spoiler, blacked out wheel opening moldings, black window reveal moldings, black headlamp and taillamp bezels, and even a black standard antenna.

Every piece of trim on the car was black, the only bright being the Grand National fender emblems, the 3.8 SFI Turbo badges on the hood, the header car and edges of the black grille, and the aluminum wheels- and even they featured blacked out paint and black centers. It was Darth Buick, and people went crazy over it. Enthusiast magazines couldn't believe it was a Buick. The era of the modern Buick performance car was here, and it was all powered by Buick's amazing V6 engine, the one that was rapidly replacing the V8 as the backbone of the Buick line.

The WE2 was available only on the Regal T-Type (J47) coupe, and the 3.8SFI Turbo and Turbo Hydra Matic Transmission was the only powertrain. Additional options available included Hatch Roof (CC1), Astroroof (CF5),  Cruise Control (K34) , Electronic Touch Control Air Conditioning, (C68- regular C60 Air Conditioning was standard), Rear defogger (C49), Remote Trunk Release (A90), Electronic Instrumentation (U52), Theft Deterrent System (UA6) and Lighted Vanity Mirror (D64). Many of these options, especially Hatch Roof and Astroroof were very popular with buyers.

As was the Grand National itself. All told, 2,000 1984 Grand Nationals were shipped to Buick Dealers and the car was a great image vehicle for Buick- with the V-6 at the very heart of it all. It would continue through the 1987 model year and go on to become the stuff of Buick legend.

Introductory flyer for the 1984 Grand National

Page Two of the Introductory Flyer

Grand National Fender badge

3.8 SFI Turbo says it all

Bad to the Bone


1984 Grand National seats with leather facings

Only 1984 GNs have leather facings

1984-5 Grand national alloy wheels

One important footnote is the introductory commercial- George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone", recently used in the movie Christine, was licensed and adapted to introduce the Grand National. And "Bad to the Bone" became its mantra. Take a look:

Wouldn't you really rather have a B-b-b-b-uick?