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The empire strikes back – 1960 Buick Invicta

2 May, 2024

When Chrysler launched its ‘Flight Sweep’ models for 1957, Detroit responded by throwing off the shackles and unleashing its designers.
Buick,for decades one of GM’s strongest brands, launched the fight back

By Quinton Taylor  

Not many were prepared for the new eye-catching Buick in 1960

In the late’50s Chrysler went all in on hurting its market rivals with its radical new styles, and it worked. General Motors (GM) designs immediately looked dated and the corporation was desperate enough to cancel updates to its 1957-designed models. The green light was given to all five divisions for dramatic new designs for 1959. Buyers flocked to Chrysler showrooms to snap up the new cars,. For the first time in many years Chrysler was in the top three, knocking Buick back to fourth. It got worse for Buick the following year, suffering a drastic drop in sales from 762,231 cars in 1957 to a meagre 240,659 sales in 1958 and falling to fifth in the new-car market. It was one of Buick’s worst years. The pressure was on. 
Buick’s answer was as dramatic as it could be, with the introduction of three new models, ranging from the entry-level LeSabre, to the Invicta and top of the range Electra models. At the same time, it dropped a number of long-standing names too closely associated with older styles. 
The country’s obsession with speed and power, buoyed by a fascination with new rocket and jet-age flight, had left Earth-bound designs in the blast zone. The new design language introduced longer and wider delta fins adorned with an array of lights, while sweeping curved glass windscreens got longer and more curved. 

Happy owner, Graham Baird

Leading the charge
Even an industry juggernaut such as GM is mindful of costs, and this radical design about-turn had to be accommodated somehow. Competition drives innovation, and GM hit upon the idea of having one set of inner-body structural shells to cover all divisions. It accepted Buick’s designs. These could be shortened or lengthened as required for all models, and all divisions could still use their own running gear and suspension components as well as their own signature outer panels. 
It was a bit of a coup for Buick. It had always stood out among GM’s divisions as being able to design a signature look. Details such as its distinctive triple front-side portholes were now elongated to match the new styling, and the Buick family crest tri-shield badge now had thinner and longer shields set in the middle of the grille. It was also all go in the power stakes to match the new styling and the demand for rocket-like performance. 
There were now two Nailhead V8 engine size options in the Buick range. LeSabres kept the old 364ci V8 with four different tuning options. The rest of the range ushered in a new ‘Wildcat’ 401ci V8 delivering an impressive 325bhp (239kW) with a stump-pulling 445ft·lbs (583Nm) of torque.

“The failure is the man who stays down when he falls”  David Dunbar Buick

Big glass, delicate roofline, and cool pillarless look

Sabres drawn
Not many were prepared for the new eye-catching Buick outer panels with pronounced angled delta wings beginning at the headlight hoods and flowing back in a long, deep, diving curve, ending at the tail lights. Allegedly inspired by the fuselage shape of one of the outstanding jet aircraft designs of the day, the North American F1 Super Sabre, the new Buicks were the biggest yearly styling transformation the company had ever undertaken. They achieved the goal of looking fast even when standing still. 
There were 17 new models throughout the range, a host of colour and trim combinations, and they were big. The public loved them. The ’59 Buick shape was, and still is, acknowledged as one of the best designs out of all five divisions. Trend motor magazine voted the new Buick Invicta four-door hardtop sedan as ‘Best-Looking Car Overall’ and the Buick Invicta station wagon as ‘Best-Looking Wagon’ for 1959. A nod to GM’s revival was an Electra 225 convertible named as the pace car for the 1959 Indianapolis 500. Revenge was sweet.

Tri-shield badge and elongated bonnet shield in chrome
Massive doors

Grahams take charge
In just a few months of ownership, Graham Baird has worked away at his 1960 Buick Invicta two-door to bring it up to the stunning condition we see today. He says it was already in very good condition when he bought it from its previous owner in Invercargill. Unusually, the Buick comes with a very well executed conversion to right-hand drive, which Graham thinks might have been done in New Zealand. It won its first award in October, as the ‘Best Original’ at the recent Hardpark Takeover 2021 car show in Invercargill, as a delighted Graham explains.
“It was Graham Wilkinson’s own personal car but he hardly used it. Graham had it for 17 years and he found it in Te Anau parked up in storage sheds run by an elderly couple who had owned the Buick for about 10 years.”
As the history of the car was a little hazy, I made enquiries. The owner of last month’s Oldsmobile 98 feature car in New Zealand Classic Car, Robby Wilson, identified the car as one that had previously belonged to prolific car collector, Graham Butt of Omarama. Graham passed away in 1984. His friend and fellow car collector, Dennis McLaughlin from Canterbury, picked it up along with a number of others, as Dennis explains.
“The first time I saw that car was in late 1964 and it was for sale in Christchurch. Neil McVicar was contemplating buying it and Gary (Neil’s son) and I went and had a look at it and did a test drive.”
They didn’t buy the car then but it kept turning up.   
“The next time I saw it was when it was doing a wedding in Hamilton and I took some photographs of it, which I’ve still got. It was painted blue all over and it didn’t have any white on it.
“The next time we saw it was in Auckland. It had some mechanical problems and it had been painted brown and grey. I was with Graham Butt. Graham bought it and we drove it home to Omarama. Graham had it until he died. I inherited the thing and I had it here for a few years.”
Graham had about 70 cars at the time so in a minor rationalisation the Buick was sold to Graham Wilkinson in Invercargill.
“I didn’t use it a lot and probably put two or three thousand miles on it. We did replace the back and front windscreen rubbers. I notice it has gone through a lot of Grahams!”
Dennis believes it may have arrived in New Zealand with a whole lot of cars that someone had brought from the States in a ‘liberty ship’. 
“He would unload them late at night and got done for it in Auckland — avoiding customs. I believe he dropped one in the sea while it was hanging off a crane at the time, and a Cadillac got impounded. He had drivers sitting there ready to drive them all over the country.”
Dennis believes the right-hand drive conversion might have been done in the US. Number plate surrounds still on the car show an American dealer was involved.
“I’m 98 per cent sure the car is from the US. I think the number plate surrounds were for Gonzalez Buick. They were dealers in Santa Barbara in Southern California.”

Plastic seat covers still in place!
Nifty internally mounted speedometer with Buick mirromagic display

“Honey, there’s a spider in your bathroom the size of a Buick”  Woody Allen

Seat upright pivots inwards to allow easy rear access
Sealing all that frameless glass
Invicta — undefeated, unconquered!

Buick is a beauty too
The Buick needs very little work to be ready for summer cruises. It gets along at a satisfying pace for such a big car with just a two-speed automatic transmission. The purring exhaust note entirely suits its character. 
“It just needs a buff and polish. I’ve touched up a few bits here and there. It’s been all round Southland mainly, and it’s beautiful on the open road and so quiet,” Graham Baird says.
Graham’s other classic is a green Plymouth Suburban wagon that has won many trophies. Wife Ann drives both, and Graham says she is a big fan of the easy-to-handle Buick.
“One turn lock to lock power steering and power brakes. One thing she does also like is when you pull down the interior sun shield you see engraved in the glass the words: ‘Buick is a beauty too’!”
Graham Wilkinson replaced the front windscreen, saving the latest Graham quite an involved job. The only future work planned is to clean the engine bay and apply a new set of decals. For safety, the engine bay wiring needs some attention while a new sound system will be fitted. Graham is pleased with the availability of repro parts for the make out of the US, with the strong following the marque has there.  
“It still has its original radio, which gets all the AM stations. I will install a stereo system, which will be hidden in the optional Buick tissue dispenser under the dashboard so you won’t see it. A double boom speaker will also go in the back to avoid cutting the parcel tray.”
With two impressive classics stored away, Graham and Ann have a clear intention for the future of these vehicles.
“Yep, it’s a car each for my boys later on. My oldest son in the army is getting the Plymouth and my younger son is quite keen on it and drives the Buick.”
With a mileage in the mid 30,000 (48,200kms) range and a cosseted life, this classic is set for many years of fun cruising.

Side mirror frame edge copies passenger’s sun visor inscription: Buick is a beauty too
Room to spare and original carpet
All his own work: Graham’s multi-award-winning Plymouth Suburban wagon

Dictionary meaning of ‘Invicta’ — undefeated or unconquered

History of Buick Motors Photo: P9, David Dunbar Buick 
David Buick was just two in 1854 when his parents moved from Arbroath on the North Sea coast of Scotland to a new life in Detroit. Buick became a talented inventor, luckily also possessing good business sense. He became interested in the fledgling internal combustion engine market. His engineer, Walter Marr, developed an ingenious overhead valve engine. At the time, however, Buick was unenthusiastic about getting involved in the horseless carriage industry and Marr left in 1901 to form his own motor works. His replacement, Eugene Richard, took over the car design begun in 1900. In 1902, he patented Marr’s engine design in the name of Buick. The company progressed through a variation of Buick names into the Buick Motor Co. of Flint in 1904.
The Flint Wagon Works purchased the company in 1903 and David Buick was still involved. The company expanded and made its first batch of 37 cars in 1904. In the same year, William C Durant took control of the company and in 1908, building on the rapid success of its Buick cars. Buick stayed on as manager and rehired Marr. The pair developed a horizontally opposed, twin-cylinder engine of 159ci (2.6 litres). With some 8000 cars built in 1908, Durant formed General Motors (GM). David Buick sold his shares and left the company in 1906 and had no further contact up to his death in 1929.
Buick would become a prestigious marque under the GM umbrella, developing a reputation for reliability and style. It became GM’s top-selling brand for many years and one of the longest-lasting car brands in the world.
Australians loved the brand, and at one time the country was GM’s biggest export destination. GM appointed Holden Motor Body Builders to build bodies for its cars in 1923, making it GM’s first international motor manufacturing establishment. Holden was the largest auto body maker outside North America at that time.
The distinctive Buick logo and grille badges of three shields contained in a chrome circle was a development of the Buick family coat of arms put together by GM styling employee Ralph Pew. Pew found a description of the shield in an 1851 copy of Burke’s heraldry, with the family name then spelled ‘Buik’ and put together a badge first used on the 1937 Buick. It was slightly modified for 1939. In the 1960 sales year, the logo was substantially modernised and it is this version that adorns the grille of Graham Baird’s feature Invicta. The three overlapping shields represent the three new Buick models first exhibited in 1959 — LeSabre, Invicta, and Electra.

Buick Invicta two-door hardtop, 1960

Engine: Cast-iron block V8, 6571cc (401.0ci), water-cooled, cast-iron cylinder heads with two valves per cylinder, 10.25:1 compression ratio, five main bearings, nicknamed ‘Nailhead’ for its two valves per cylinder in a hemispherical cylinder head and valves mounted vertically side by side
Bore x stroke: 4.2-inch (106 mm) x 3.6-inch (92mm)
Fuel system: One (Carter or Rochester) four-barrel carburettor
Power and torque: 325bhp (239.2kW) @ 4400rpm, 583Nm (445ft·Ibs) @ 2800rpm

Transmission: Automatic twin turbine Dynaflow (fitted to feature car), optional automatic ‘triple turbine’ 

Suspension front: Independent coils and double wishbones

Suspension rear: coils, springs, and torque tube with solid axle and trailing control arms with telescopic shock absorbers

Brakes: Power-assisted drums front and rear

Weight: 4370lbs (1982.199kg) 

Length: 217.9-inch (5535mm)

Front track: 62.2-inch (1580mm)

Rear track: 60-inch (1524mm)

Wheelbase: 123-inch (3124mm)

Front track: 62.2inch (1580mm)

Rear track: 60-inch (1524mm)

Tyres: 7.60 x 15 crossply (215/70 X 15 radials on feature car)

Production number: two-door hardtop: 8960 

Body options: Convertible coupe two-door, 5236; hardtop four-door, 15,300; hardtop two-door, 8960; sedan four-door, 10,839; total station wagon models, 5071 

Seating: Six

Price new: US$3450

Performance: 0–100kph: 9.8sec; 0–160kph: 27sec; standing quarter-mile: 17.6sec; top speed: 194kph

Fuel consumption: 22.7 l/100kms 

Nailhead 401ci in Wildcat smooth and torquey

The Jowett Jupiter turns 70

John Ball has always enjoyed tinkering with old boats and cars. He’s old enough to think having gearbox parts on newspaper on the floor of his bedroom, while the relevant car sat waiting on nail boxes, was a normal part of growing up. His passion has always tended towards old British bangers. He reckons he’s fortunate not to have got caught up in the American muscle scene.
John’s love affair with this Jupiter started in December 2015 when, with some time on his hands during a Christchurch trip, he searched online for ‘cars, before 1970 and in Christchurch’.

A passion for classics and customs

In the highly competitive field of New Zealand classic and custom restorations, reputations are won or lost on the ability to maintain consistently high standards of workmanship. A company managing to achieve this is D A Panel beating Ltd, of Rangiora near Christchurch. Is your classic or custom car restoration stalled, or in need of a refresh, or perhaps you are looking for experts to rebuild that recent import project out of Europe or the ‘States?