Buick Gallery and Research Center

Buick Gallery and Research Center
A GM Heritage Site
Flint, Michigan

Buick has a unique and incredibly important history: Buick formed the foundation upon which General Motors was built. William C. “Billy” Durant & partner Dallas Dort were successful carriage makers when Durant took over tiny, struggling Buick in 1904. By 1908 he’d turned it into the world’s largest producer of automobiles. He shrewdly parlayed that success into the creation of GM and the rest is history. All of this took place in Flint, Michigan which had been a huge lumber town, then a major carriage-building center with all the accompanying industries that supported it. Then it was cars. Ford was in Dearborn, Chrysler was in Auburn Hills. But Flint belonged to General Motors. And this lovely old brick building was once home to Buick’s own Research & Development Center where advanced design work was done, and some of Buick’s famous ‘concept cars’ were conceived. Today, it’s a museum, open to the public for the paltry sum of $9.00, which includes the Sloan Museum, which is one building over.

As we walked in, I was taken with the look of the place. While it was old, and I like old, it was also clean and modern, well-lit yet dark enough to be dramatic, with enough open space to move around and really enjoy the cars. And for a shutter-bug like me, the more angles you can get on a car, the better. Along the outer walls, starting in front, it starts with horse-drawn buggies and carriages, then advances to horseless carriages, and then to early cars, and beyond. The horseless carriage with the red upholstery, below, is actually a very early Pontiac. An early prototype for the first Trans Am, perhaps. (Kidding, of course.)

The photo above gives a good idea of how they progressed through the early history of the automobile, working their way from left-to-right, with a ’63 Split Window Vette in the middle of it all.

ABOVE: This lovely white Buick is a 1910 Model 16. Check out the tires on it.
BELOW: This is a closeup of the tires, above. Check out the tread pattern. It spells out “NO SKID” again & again, in both directions. Clever, huh? Wonder how well they worked? So well that you never see them anymore.

ABOVE: This 4,700-pound beast is a 1958 Buick Roadmaster 75. That front bumper & grille looks like it weighs 300 pounds itself.
BELOW: This 1987 Buick GNX is one of only 547 built that year, truly a limited-edition, with power & handling upgrades which allowed it to go 0-60 mph in just 4.7 seconds.

GM has always made a big deal over production milestones like this, often throwing a party, or a parade. But they never seemed to choose very spectacular cars to receive this great honor. The 50 Millionth GM car was a 1955 Chevy 210-series 2-door hardtop, not even a Bel Air. The 75 Millionth was a ’64 Pontiac Bonneville convertible (why not a Grand Prix, or better yet the first-year ’64 GTO? Above and below are pictured GM’s 100 Millionth car, a lowly 1967 Chevy Caprice with a formal roof. Why not a Corvette?

The Buick Gallery and Research Center was where many of Buick’s famous concept cars were conceived and in some cases developed, including what is commonly considered the world’s first concept car, the 1938 Buick Y-job. Above and below is the ungainly 1956 Buick Centurion, which shows strong fighter plane influences, typical of these “Jet Age” cars. Notice the clear cockpit bubble. The rear end looks like the tail of a jet, with its rear stabilizers and afterburners.

ABOVE & BELOW: This sinister-looking beauty almost has a Batmobile look to it. It’s actually a 1967 Pontiac Phantom concept car. Not very practical with its mail slot side windows, but it surely must have been a show-stopper at the time.

ABOVE: The 1951 Buick XP300 also had strong Jet Age styling cues, and made no apologies for it.
BELOW: There is a small workshop within the Buick Gallery and Research Center, certainly not big enough to actually restore cars, more likely used for simple repairs, maintenance and detailing.

Check out these books on the

General Motors: A Photographic History (MI) (Images of Motoring)

The Buick: A Complete History (An Automobile Quarterly Library Series Book)

Billy, Alfred, and General Motors: The Story of Two Unique Men, a Legendary Company, and a Remarkable Time in American History

A History of General Motors

Chevrolet: The Complete History

Cadillac: A Century of Excellence

Cadillac: Standard of the World : The Complete History

Henry Ford: Father of the Auto Industry (True Bookgreat American Business)

Drive!: Henry Ford, George Selden, and the Race to Invent the Auto Age

Complete History of Chrysler Corporation 1924-1985