As with most of the early auto manufacturers, Buick created a racing team - with stars such as Louis Chevrolet and Wild Bob Burman - that won 500 trophies from 1908 to 1910.
The success of Buick engines was evident on the race tracks - including 1909 successes at Indianapolis Motor Speedway two years before the first Indy 500 - and in endurance tests across the country and around the world. A 1912 Buick Model 28 was the first car to travel across South America, driven from Buenos Aires, Argentina, over the Andes to Santiago, Chile, in 1914.
Buicks won hillclimbs across the country - including one in 1904 with one of the first 40 Buicks ever built.
This photograph of W. W. Brown was taken on July 17, 1913 as he drove his Buick Model 10 “Bear Cat” up Pikes Peak in Colorado. He had raced the car in Winfield, Kansas just 13 days earlier.
By the late-’70s in Winston Cup racing, the number of brands had settled down to basically Ford, Mercury, Chevy, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac. The MOPAR models left early in the decade. But there was one interesting exception to that rule that occurred in the early ’80s—the long-dormant Buick brand.
Buick had experienced a short tenure of success in the mid-’50s when 322cid-powered Centurys were competitive, but then a quarter-century dry spell set in. That changed only when General Motors came out with a super-slick Regal design that set NASCAR on its ear starting in 1981.
Buick Body; Chevy Engine
The race cars featured Buick sheetmetal on the outside, but there was no Buick power under the hood. That’s because GM had decreed that all of its models running in Winston Cup would use the same basic 358 cubic-inch, small-block Chevrolet engine. That applied to Chevy, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Buick.
With the identical “corporate” engines, it was necessary to acquire an edge in some other way, and Buick did it with aerodynamics. The super-slick Regal body style was hands-down superior to its GM brethren and the other brands. It looked like a wind tunnel had played a big part in this design, making it look like a rocket, and the car sure ran like one. The design had a look that wouldn’t have been out of place with the car models of the 21st century.
First, the grille was not vertical (as was the trend), a design that allowed air to hit the old version like a barn door. With the Regal, a double-angle slope in the grille allowed a smooth, non-restricted airflow up and over the car. Also, the windshield was sharply angled backward, with the sides being completely smooth. It was though the shapely Regal had been designed to be a race car from scratch. NASCAR drivers loved the handling of the machine all around the track. The front end of the model provided significant downforce, which was a major reason for its superb cornering capabilities.
Winners From The Start
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.
As other models started to catch up in 1983, the domination fell off a bit for Buick, but it still had the champion, this time with Bobby Allison. Waltrip had moved to a Chevrolet, finishing second in the points. Harry Gant brought a Buick home seventh, but that was it for the Top 15. In all, there were only six victories, dropping Buick down to second place behind Chevrolet’s 15 wins. The following year, there were only two Buick victories, both of them coming from Allison.
Suddenly, as quickly as it started, the Buick phenomenon was over. The other brands had noticed Buick’s success, and their new models started incorporating aerodynamic improvements. That was particularly typified with the new Ford Thunderbird in the mid-’80s, which would be a dominator in NASCAR for years to come. A new nose on the Monte Carlo would make that model very competitive. It was an era that will never be forgotten, a period when all the big guys were driving Buicks, and running up front. That will never happen again, since the Buick model has been dropped from NASCAR competition. But for a single shining moment, Buick fans had their time in the sun.
1990: Interstate Batteries came onto the NASCAR scene with the black #94 Buick, branded with the dark green and lime green lightning bolt, our logo at that time. The car, driven by Stanley Smith, was seen at 17 NASCAR races, mostly All-American Challenge (now called the All-Pro) Series.
“The black car seemed to disappear among the other cars,” said Charles Suscavage, VP of Advertising & Public Relations. “Not only that, Dale Earnhardt– the ‘man in black’ –had already made a name for himself in his black #3 car.” So after just one year in racing, our plans for the ’91 season included a new car design–one that would help us create a true identity for Interstate Batteries.
1991: “To make our car more recognizable” said Suscavage, “We started talking about making the primary color green. Nobody else had a green car.” But the race team didn’t want to go with green. Actually, they hated green. Like many others in racing, they believed it was an unlucky color.
But the decision was made and, at the ’91 season opener, we rattled the racing community when we unveiled our new-look Buick driven by Stanley Smith. From the moment the hot neon yellow-green car rolled onto the track at the first race, one thing was as evident as its paint job–the Interstate car would no longer disappear on the track.
“In those days,” said Suscavage, “when you saw a flash of green, you knew it was the Interstate Batteries car.” It no longer blended in with the others. We took the lime green of the lightning bolt logo, added some brightness to it and produced the unique eye-catching green for the car body.
Shifting our focus to the more popular Winston Cup series, we reversed the #94 to the #49, because Terry Labonte was already driving the #94 Winston Cup car.