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Sunday, February 20, 2011

1969 Buick

The least expensive tri-shield Canadians could buy in the
1969 Buick lineup was the Special Deluxe two-door coupe.
Base price was $3,000 f.o.b. Oshawa for the V-6.
An extra $93 would buy the V-8 version.
David Dunbar Buick was two years old when his parents immigrated to the United States of America from the United Kingdom in 1856. The Scottish family settled in burgeoning and prosperous Detroit. Young David showed a creative streak, inventing the lawn sprinkler and then patenting the process by which enamel adheres to cast iron. That latter discovery made the bathtub a “must have” household item and Buick was a rich man.

He dabbled in horseless carriages but his companies went bankrupt. Finally the backers—the wealthy Briscoe brothers--sold the faltering Buick concern to entrepreneurs in the city of Flint. The Buick automobile became a cornerstone of what would become the General Motors empire. Sadly, the marque's creator never shared in its success, working every day of his life until he died of colon cancer in 1929 at the age of 74.

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Meanwhile here in the Dominion, the McLaughlin family decided to add automobiles to their line of long-established carriages and highly esteemed buggies. From their factory in Oshawa, Ontario they supplied the rest of the nation as well as the British Empire with its superior products. In 1908, they inked a ten-year deal to use the Buick drivetrain in a vehicle of their own. The engines were sturdy and McLaughlin quickly rivaled Ford for reliability. 

General Motors purchased the McLaughlin concern in 1918 and created General Motors of Canada, Limited. Colonel Sam McLaughlin still headed the Oshawa, Ontario-based subsidiary and would continue to do so until he was 100 years old. The McLaughlin automobile became the McLaughlin-Buick until the first half of the hyphen disappeared at the end of the abbreviated 1942 selling season. The cars were well received and sought after by the affluent, including our Royal Family.
This 1936 McLaughlin-Buick was built for King Edward VIII.

During the war years. GM Canada's manufacturing might was focused on building weapons of war. When victory came in 1945 GM was first off the mark with production of civilian vehicles, but the Buick nameplate did not return to the corporate lineup right away. The reason for the long wait was to allow Ottawa time to balance the budget. A special ministerial permit was needed to import a Buick—and those were far and few between. 

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1951 Buick Custom Riviera, built in Oshawa, Ontario.
The same vehicle was built and sold in the US as the
Buick Custom.

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Finally, GM Canada's top brass was given the green light by Parliament to build Buicks again. The company geared up for Buick production in time for the 1951 season. Model year production reached 11,148 units that model year before settling back to a more comfortable 6,940 units produced in 1952. Production climbed to 9,303 units in 1953, rose to 13,846 units in 1954, followed by 23, 762 units built in 1955 then dropping 14,738 units in 1956. That figure rose to 15,884 units for the 1957 model year.

The bubble would burst. Small, thrifty imports lined up on our shores to challenge venerable Buick. Dollar conscious consumers turned to the pint-sized wheels in droves, prompting Buick production to nosedive down to 12,375 units in 1958. Production slid even further to 11,732 units for the 1959 model year. There was no relief in 1960 as Buick production skidded alarmingly to 9,279 units. 

Sales for Buicks continued to be dismal, slumping to a dismal 8,648 units produced during the 1962 model year. 

Buick was not alone in its sales woes. Mid-priced products from competitors shared the same problems as an industry-wide shakeout took place. The import challengers prompted Kaiser and Frazer to throw in the towel and move to Brazil. Nash and Hudson both disappeared from American Motors, replaced by the ritzy, downsized Rambler. Monarch and Edsel were deleted by Ford of Canada. DeSoto was replaced by the compact Valiant at Chrysler Canada.  Studebaker was about to breathe its last.

Help was at hand for the tri-shield with the introduction of the compact Buick Special. It garnered an extra 1,091 sales for Buick during calendar 1961. 

The full-sized Buick would stumble along with 10,000 to 13,000 domestic sales annually, with 1,000 to 5,000 additional sales for the smaller Special until 1965 when the big Buick suddenly bounced upwards to 11th place.  The story was much the same in 1966. When all the Buick nameplates were added together they hit 21,000 units, fitting nicely between 8th place Volkswagen and 9th place Valiant. 

With the freshly signed Auto Pact firmly in place, product lines were rationalized with American factories for efficient continental delivery. Only Specials were built in Canada; the other Buick models were imported from our neighbours to the south.

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When Buick bowed for 1967 the lines were very much the same as previously seen. No Buicks were built in Canada during Centennial Year.  Sales alone told of consumers' romance with the Tri-Shield: 16,496 LeSabre and Wildcat models, 8,343 Specials and Skylarks, 1,467 Electras and 812 of the ultra-posh, front-wheel drive Rivieras rounded out the picture.

For 1968 Buick did well enough. Le Sabre and Wildcat sales put the combo in 11th place with 18,175 units delivered. Special and Skylark sales were lumped together and equaled 12,862 units. This year the Electra was separated out from Riviera for statistical purposes. The former sold 1,946 units and the latter racked up 1,383 units delivered. Production of Specials resumed in Oshawa and 46,405 of the econo-Buicks were built.

Canada would have its first million-plus passenger car year in 1969—pushed along by the phenomenal success of the Ford Maverick. Ford’s new compact accounted for almost one out of every five cars built in the country that year.

Buick fielded the posh Electra 225, the Riviera, the LeSabre and the Skylark. LeSabre and Electra were all new. For the first time in the marque's domestic history, a heater was offered as standard equipment throughout the line.

Advertising asked, “Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?” 1,350 Canadians said, “Yes!” to the stylish Riviera, laying down $5,679 plus tax for the imported personal luxury car.

The Riviera was positioned far upstream from the rest of the Buick fleet. The flagship still used the same body as it had been born with in 1963 but the latest update gave it a graceful new grille. To gild the lily, an extra-cost Gran Sport package was listed as being available. 
Imposing and regal from the rear, the 1969 Buick Electra 225
 two-door hardtop listed for $5,412. The price was right for
2,701 sales Canadawide.
Electra held its 126-inch wheelbase and 224.8-inch overall length but designers made the envelope look dramatically longer and lower than ever before. Side vent windows were eliminated for a cleaner look but smokers did not appreciate the visual. Delivered as a four-door sedan,  a two-door or four-door hardtop, a Custom version carried even more refinements. A Custom Limited package added sugar rosettes on top of an already pure buttery frosting. 
Fast and furious, the fresh-faced
1969 Buick Wildcat two-door hardtop
carried a sticker price of $4,166. 

Wildcat was downsized, now sharing a 123-inch wheelbase and sheetmetal with the smaller LeSabre. It still had its own distinctive look and made use of the big 430-cubic inch Buick mill. The big engine made the relatively light car a very serious contender on the track and in traffic. 

 Slippery was the design for the 1969 Buick LeSabre
Hardtop Sedan. It listed for $3,919 in base form but
an extra $90 got one the Custom upgrade.
The LeSabre series was brand new, and the longer car measured a full 218 inches in length. The themes were heavily sculpted sides with kicked up accent lines over the front and rear wheel wells. A split grille was recessed into a wraparound front bumper. Massive taillights were integrated into the rear bumper. A Custom sub-series was even more posh. 

The Special Deluxe came as a two- or four-door sedan and a station wagon. They were available with Buick’s 6-cylinder mill or the V-8 engine. Standard engine in the Buick intermediates was the Fireball 250-1. The 155-horsepower six-banger promised to deliver “butter-smooth dependability.”  

Skylark was shorn to only two models—a two- and four-door sedan. The California GS, the GS 350 and the GS 400 were all upscale and fast sub-series sharing the intermediate body.  A ragtop was available in the GS 400 line.

At the end of the 1969 calendar year sales were 18,731 for the Buick LeSabre and Wildcat. Special and Skylark added 13,851 units more to the total. Electra moved up from last year, finishing with 2,701 units and Riviera was off ever so slightly with 1,350 sales. 

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 Copyright James C. Mays 2006
 All rights reserved.


Marlene Henley said...

Way back on my senior high I imagine myself on that car, hitting the road to feel absolute freedom. But now that I have it in my garage I don’t just imagine anymore. This is my first love and now that I have it as my priceless-possession I take care very well of it. I even pay for its dent repair in Dallas. That is how I take care of things very important to me.

James C. Mays said...

What model is your Buick? Remember the advert? "Wouldn't you really rather have a Buick? Get a Buick this year!"

Anonymous said...

Great article! I've only seen calendar year production for Canadian built Buicks, never model year production. Now only if there was production by individual model. Do you know if GM of Canada ever built the Buick 264 V8 nailhead engine in Canada? It was built by Buick in the US during 1954-1955, but I'm not sure about Canada. Also, do you know how to decode 1951-1963 Canadian Buick engine serial numbers? Information is available on decoding car serial numbers, but I can't find anything on decoding engine serial numbers.


Unknown said...

hi, wondering if you know how many 69 Rivieras of the 1350 sold in Canada had the GS package? Thanks!

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Anonymous said...

You state that Buick Rivieras at this time were front wheel drive. They were rear wheel drive until the intoduction of the sixth generation in 1979. The stablemates from Olds (Toronado introduced in 1966) and Cadillac (Eldorado introduced in 1967) were front wheel drive and shared much of the Riviera platform.

Anonymous said...

In the caption of the first picture you note that in 1969 the V-6 was available, it wasn't. After the 1967 models the 225 V-6 was replaced by the Chev 250 I-6. Buick would Introduce the 231 V-6 in the mid 70's.

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