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Remembering the First Buick

Posted July 27, 2007 2:44 PM by Steve Melito

One hundred and three years ago today, Dr. Herbert Mills of Flint, Michigan bought the first Buick automobile ever sold commercially. Walter L. Marr, a machinist for Buick Auto-Vim and Power, had purchased the first car to be called a "Buick" several years before, in a private sale, when company president David Dunbar Buick faced insolvency and sold most of his company's assets. The car in the picture on the left – the first Buick ever manufactured in Flint – is from 1905, a year after David Buick lost control of his company. Of these three cars, which one is the "the first Buick"?

An Inventor, Not a Businessman

David Dunbar Buick was a gifted inventor, but his mastery of machines never made him a rich man. The Buick Motor Car Company that he founded in 1903 produced a powerful and efficient valve-in-head engine, but control of his company soon passed to William Crapo Durant, owner of the country's largest carriage maker. Whereas Durant was a skillful businessman who mass-produced vehicles, Buick saw every automobile as a work of art. In 1906, a frustrated Buick quit the company he had created and moved back to Detroit. Two years later, the Buick Motor Car Company became the top producer of American-made automobiles, surpassing Ford and Cadillac combined.

Never Call Retreat

During the last years of his life, David Dunbar Buick held a series of low-paying jobs and couldn't afford a telephone, never mind one of the cars that bore his name. Still, Buick was not bitter. A year before his death from colon cancer in 1929, David Buick was interviewed by Bruce Catton, a young newspaper reporter who later became a Pulitzer-prize winning historian. According to Catton, Buick spoke of his life without regret and expressed no ill-will towards William C. Durant.

We'll never know what went through David Buick's mind on that day long ago, but maybe he kept his cool by remembering a hot day in July of 1904, when his first successful vehicle reached 30 mph on a trip around Flint, going so fast that the driver "couldn't see the village six-mile-an-hour sign".

Was that car the first, real Buick?

Resources:

http://www.promotex.ca/articles/cawthon/2003/07-01-2003_article.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Dunbar_Buick

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