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Buick Returns 'Super' Name After 50 Years

Source: GM Media
Date: March 27, 2007

NEW YORK – Buick is re-introducing a famous name from a glamorous era – a designation that evokes memories of the elegance of travel in premium automobiles and locomotives in the United States , just before World War II.

The title is “Super,” and Buick is bringing back the historical moniker after 50 years. Beginning in the 2008 model year with LaCrosse and, later, with the 2008 Lucerne , Buick will emphasize its premium and powerful sedans with the Super badge.

“The Super name emphasizes Buick luxury, power and performance,” said Buick General Manager Steve Shannon. “We’re taking a great name from our heritage to designate the most premium cars we have ever offered.”

In 1939, when Buick introduced the Super line for the 1940 model year, it was the latest example of a new pattern for naming Buicks. Under General Manager Harlow H. Curtice – later chief executive of General Motors and recipient of Time magazine’s 1955 “Man of the Year” award – Buick had returned to its traditional position as a brand of great elegance, style and premium value after the Great Depression.

To emphasize its recovery, Curtice announced interesting names for the new Buicks. Designations such as Model F and Model 10 and Master 26 were shelved. In the 1936 model year, a new, high-value car was unveiled as the “Special,” instead of the Model 41. All models in the powerful 60 Series became “Century.” An upscale Model 81 became “Roadmaster.” Models in the elegant 90 Series were badged “Limited.” It is not recorded who originated the names, but historians presume they were dreamed up by Curtice, GM design chief Harley Earl or Buick advertising genius Art Kudner.

Buick didn’t emphasize a link between its new model names and those of the great passenger trains of the 1930s, but clearly the luster of the 20 th Century Limited locomotive rubbed off on the new Century and Limited models at Buick. (An added advantage of the Century name was a rumor that it signified the car could reach 100 miles per hour – impressive performance for the time. By 1938, the Century could reach that speed, but historians still generally link the name with the train.)

When the 50 Series cars were introduced for the 1940 model year and designated Super, it was likely no coincidence that one of the most famous American trains of the time was the Super Chief. It was the flagship of the Atchison , Topeka and Santa Fe railroad, and delivered an upscale ride between Chicago and Los Angeles . The Super Chief drew Hollywood stars and other celebrities. Not incidentally, it was also favored by Curtice. The energetic Buick leader often traveled by rail to California to negotiate appearances for Buicks in movies – and to visit Buick’s powerful West Coast distributor, Charles Howard (owner of the legendary race horse, Seabiscuit).

As one Buick historian put it, “The name Super, evoking the glamour and elegance of rail travel of the late ‘30s, harks back to a time when America was on the upswing, having weathered the trials of the Great Depression, but had not seen the horrors of a second world war that was on the horizon.”

From the beginning, the Super was a star in the Buick lineup and a big seller, with the name appearing on sedans, sport coupes, convertibles and even the Estate Wagon, which, in 1940, was Buick’s first production station wagon. Only 495 Estate Wagons were built for 1940. The combination of low volume and a wooden body makes surviving examples of this model exceedingly rare.

Perhaps the most popular Estate Wagon was the 1940 Buick Super Estate Wagon (Model 57), which was originally purchased by Warner Bros. studios in Hollywood for use in several motion pictures, including “Now Voyager” and “White Heat.” Widely known as the “Bette Davis Buick,” the vehicle – with a Burgundy exterior and matching interior – was gifted by Warner Bros. to Bette Davis. The famous Super is now owned by jeweler and Buick collector Nicola Bulgari. It has only 37,471 original miles.

For 1942, Buick introduced what became a famous design feature: the front fenders of some models swept back and downward across the sides of the car to touch the leading edge of the rear fenders. Several models of the Super had this dramatic and modernistic styling feature, which Buick labeled “Sweeping Airfoil.”

When Buick returned to automobile production at the end of World War II, after more than three years of building war materials, a Super was the first Buick off the line in October 1945. Almost all 1946 cars used 1942 styling, but the Super’s ’42 styling was so fresh that it gave Buick an early advantage in the marketplace.

When Buick introduced Dynaflow, its torque-converter automatic transmission for the 1948 model year, Roadmaster was first to get it, but Super was right behind it – receiving the new automatic transmission for the ’49 models. And when Buick introduced its “VentiPorts” – better known as portholes – in the front fenders in 1949, Roadmaster was the only model to get four portholes per side. Super initially had only three, but for 1955, Super’s role as an elite Buick was recognized when it, too, received a fourth porthole.

A widely known Super was a maroon 1949 Super Woody Wagon, which was driven by Iowans Patrick and Mary Brooks in two commemorative car rallies. One was the 90 th anniversary rerun of the 1907 Peking-Paris race, and the other was the 2000 “Around the World in 80 Days” rally to commemorate the new millennium. The car performed so well in the around-the-world event that the rally promoter told the press the car had “battleship engineering.”

Super remained in the lineup from 1940 through 1958 (not counting the war years of 1943-45). In the 1958 model year, Limited, Roadmaster, Super and Special all appeared for a finale, before Buick made a complete change with the radically designed Electra, LeSabre and Invicta – all with large tail fins – for the 1959 model year.

Over the decades, Buick has at times revived brand names, such as Century, Special and Skylark. Roadmaster returned briefly in the 1990s, after more than 30 years. But the Super name has stayed on the shelf for 50 years; t he 1958 Buick Super was the last model to bear the name.

The 2008 Buick LaCrosse Super will arrive in dealer showrooms this summer. The Super name will also adorn the 2008 Lucerne . Both models feature elevated design and luxury, and bring fuel-efficient V-8 power to Buick. Pricing has not been announced.