Buick Celebrates 100 Years
Well its all over now and the years of planning by the Buicktown Chapter of the Buick Club of America and I’m sure Buick Motor Division and of course the participants all paid off. I must confess to having some doubts about the whole deal, as the last Buick Nationals we attended in the USA were somewhat disappointing and the last Nationals we attended in Flint in 1988 were so hot as to be most uncomfortable, but this was Buick‚s 100th anniversary and we figured we would not be around for the next centennial, so we would give it a go.
The venue was the Flint Cultural Centre, and let me try and describe this area, it is on a 30 acre site, not far from downtown Flint, which was originally part of the C.S.Mott estate and adjoins the original Mott home and garden, which in itself is a magnificent building and garden. It has the following features, The Flint Institute of Arts (De Waters Art Center)
The Flint Institute of Music (Dort Music Center) home of the Flint Symphony Orchestra and the Flint School of Performing Arts, The Flint Public Library, The Flint Youth Theatre, The Robert T. Longway Planetarium alongside a very pleasant ornamental lake complete with fountain, Alfred P. Sloan Museum, James H. Whiting Auditorium, Sarvis Center (Food catering), F.A. Bower Theatre and of course the Buick Research Centre. In all an excellent facility, with plenty of room to display cars, mainly on grassed areas plus hard standing for the swap meet area. Parking was a bit of a problem for non show cars, but it all seemed to work OK.
Arriving in Flint on Wednesday afternoon we first went to the registration area in the Sloan Museum and collected our “goodie” bag which contained among other things a beautiful cast epoxy stand into which was embedded the very nice meet emblem, and it was engraved with our name, a really nice reminder of the event. People who entered cars received a number plate with the meet emblem on it. This was the first chance to meet up with old friends both from the USA and Australia. The Hospitality area was a huge marquee in the court yard of the Sloan Museum with rows of tables and chairs plus an area where hot and cold drinks and nibbles‚ were available free, courtesy of the local Buick dealer “Patsy-Lou Williamson”. This was an excellent area in which to catch up with old friends and make new ones. Of course we had to have a look at the swap meet area too, most vendors were set up by the Wednesday afternoon, then it was off to our home for the next few days with Norb and Lee Burwell in Flushing, about 15km from Flint.
Thursday I went to the meet by myself as Margaret went shopping with Lee, this was a good opportunity to look at the cars and the displays. Buick had on display most of their concept cars from the “Y Job” to the very latest, they were mainly in too large marquees opposite the Sloane Museum, there was another large marquee containing ten very nice cars from the collection of jewellery magnate Nicola Bulgari, plus two smaller tents, one containing a GSX and the other the last Grand National to be produced (This was the car I talked about in the June issue of Buick News.). The Buick Research Centre had on display more of the Buick concept cars plus the usual cars and displays which are normally housed there, but for this event there were two “Royal Tour” Buicks from Canada also displayed. They were a 1928 McLaughlin Master touring car and a 1939 Limited with a special convertible body again by McLaughlin on an extended wheelbase. Apparently the Canadian Museum only agreed to the loan of these cars if Buick guaranteed their safety. Another interesting car displayed there was a 1948 Special Sedanette which competed in the recent Peking to Paris Rally, the car was right hand drive and apparently prepared in England. Buick also had current models on display.
Now to the general display, as I said most of the cars were shown on the grassed area, many under trees, so it was pleasant walking around them, not all the cars had arrived on Thursday but there was still a lot to look at, obviously there were more cars the later in the time frame, so there were few really early cars, but some nice examples and some interesting ones, few early1920’s cars, I don’t remember seeing any 1920-22 models but from 1923 on I think every year was represented. The display was set out more or less chronologically with special areas for 63-65 Rivieras and Reattas. Among the interesting “specials” were a 1938, 40 series converted to a motor home and a 1942 Limited which was a utility, there were some ambulances and hearses and a bus.
Buick Club of America also caters for modified vehicles and there was an area set aside for them, the workmanship on some of these vehicles was very impressive, although the modifications were not to everyone’s taste, but to each his own.
All the swap meet vendors were set up by Thursday so another round of the area was called for, most vendors were only displaying Buick items, plus a few other GM things, it was not like a normal swap meet in this regard.
A tour had been organised for the Buick V6 engine plant on Thursday and although I booked on the tour I missed it because I got caught up talking with old friends, which I think is the most enjoyable part of our hobby. The people who went on the tour were impressed with the plant and the tour. Also tours of the C.S.Mott estate adjoining the cultural centre were on and this was a worthwhile self guided tour of the gardens of this quite magnificent home, a film on the life of C.S.Mott was also shown.
The other highlight, for me on Thursday was the audio visual presentation by Historian Terry Dunham on early Buick racing, an article he wrote on this subject was printed in the Buick News some months ago, but this presentation really brought the subject to life, and to top it off, the Buick “Bug” racing car was fired up and driven up to the theatre.
Friday we both went in to the meet and of course the swap meet called again, well you had to walk past it to get from where we parked our horrid rented Chevrolet Cavalier, to get to the main areas.
A plant tour of the assembly operations in Hamtramck Detroit was available for those who had booked, we had missed out on tickets for this, but from the reports from the people who attended, it was a disappointing morning. What was not disappointing however was the trip to the Flint airport to see the B17 and B24 World War 2 bombers which were powered by Buick built engines, busses were run from the Cultural Centre to the airport every hour, which gave you time to crawl through the aircraft and appreciate how little room the crew had to do their jobs, these aircraft are reputed to be the only ones of their type still flying. The planes flew over the city twice a day from Thursday to Saturday and you could be a passenger for a mere $400 (US), but they did make for an impressive sight when they flew over. Also on display at the airport was a Hellcat Tank also produced by Buick during W.W.II, other military displays just topped off the scene.
Friday was also the day for “speed freaks”, the Milan Drag Strip was the venue and among the other events the Buick Bug was run against the Blackhawk Concept Car, although we did not go down to the Drag strip, apparently it was a great day if you are into drag racing.
After more looking at cars and socialising, pizza was ordered for a whole group of us and enjoyed in the hospitality marquee before the evening entertainment which consisted of a musical group L‚USA playing in the open and dancing in the street for those who wanted. At about 10.00pm the fireworks display started, it was touted as the biggest display of fireworks ever seen in Flint, and I can believe that, it was a most spectacular display, which incorporated the Buick emblem and 100th anniversary illuminated in fireworks. This took place across the ornamental lake and was very impressive.
Saturday morning dawned quite dull and rain was forecast for the afternoon, up till now the meet organisers had done a great job ordering the weather, it had been sunny and not too hot with a nice breeze. I arrived at the meet about 10.00am and of course that swap meet was still there, so one more look couldn’t hurt, could it? By now Buick had brought in a Semi Trailer, which was a photographic studio and you could have your photo taken with Tiger Woods, although he was nowhere in the area, what would we do without electronics?
This was the main display day and of course the whole area way busy, some 1700 cars had been registered and the display area was full, many of the cars had been there for several days, but there were some I hadn’t seen before. Plus there were many people to talk too.
The local radio station was there, encouraging locals to come and join the party and enjoy the display of Buicks, many came. The whole area was crowded and lines at the food concessions were formidable and prices had gone up.
The highlight of Saturday, for me, was the audio visual presentation by Buick Public Relations man and Historian, Larry Gustin. The presentation entitled “The Spirit of Buick” was exceptionally well put together with some never before seen footage of interviews with early Buick personnel and families, plus some early TV commercials and public relations material.
Buick Motor Division was presented with a plaque from the Society of Automotive Historians on attaining 100 years of continuous production this was accepted by Larry Gustin, he and Terry Dunham were congratulated on their research which went into the new (6th) edition of their book “Buick a Complete History”.
The formal part of the event took place on Saturday evening, starting with the Banquet, as there were so many ( I believe 3000) people to feed this was divide into two sitting in each of two venues. The venues were the Sarvis food centre and the Hospitality Tent first sitting was 5.00pm and by this time light rain was falling, so we got a little wet waiting for the doors to open, our meal was buffett style, but I believe the meal served in the hospitality area was a sit-down affair, anyway the meal was quite nice and we sat at a table with our hosts the Burwells, the Weekes and a couple from New Orleans, he had been a Buick Sales Rep. As the next sitting was waiting we were hurried out of the area at 7.00pm, to wait for the evening presentation in the Whiting auditorium, the overflow saw the presentation on a big screen in the Sarvis centre.
This was quite a presentation, compared by local TV anchor man and member of the Buicktown Chapter, Bill Harris, the flags of twelve nations, representing people from other countries who were attending the meet, were paraded. A pipe band representing Scotland, the home country of David Buick led the parade. After the award presentation (This was not a judged car show, but personal choice awards from Buick management and other dignitaries were presented) the main address was by Buick’s General Manager, Roger Adam, the title of which was “A Legacy of Power, Passion and Style”, this was a very interesting address encompassing Buick’s past and its relationship to current and future products. Buick will try to appeal to younger buyers in the future with new sport utility models, which have recently been released and more are on the way.
The evening entertainment was by the band Huey Lewis and The News, unfortunately the thousands of watts of amplified volume of their presentation drove us out of the auditorium and we did not get to hear the Buicktown Chapter Director’s final comments.
On Sunday morning we went back for a final look at the area and to take a photo of the sign for this article, it must have been a great party and even the “I” in Buick could not stand up on Sunday morning. The transport trucks were there loading Buick’s cars and Bulgari’s cars, these were worth seeing in themselves, fully enclosed with hydraulic lifts to enable cars to be loaded on two levels, and with “sleeper cab” more like a small caravan.
Well that was the end of great meet, obviously with that many people and cars to be catered for, there were a few grumbles, but we thought that the whole thing went off very well and the Buicktown Chapter and Buick Motor Division were to be congratulated on a great show.
On the way back to Detroit we visited the Walter P Chrysler Museum, but that’s another story, we flew out of Detroit about 7.00pm local time (Late of course) changed planes and airlines in Los Angeles and arrived home in Sydney at 8.30am Tuesday (Late of course). It was good to drive an Australian built car again.
Eric & Margaret North