MotorCities National Heritage Area
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2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the General Motors Media Archives
Published 9.15.2021

1963 Buick Skylark Bronze GM Media Archives 11963 Buick Skylark Bronze (GM Media Archives) 

It was big news when General Motors introduced the brand new 1963 Buck Riviera Sport Coupe model. The model made headlines all over the world and was embraced by many Americans who admired its great styling features. Another model that year from GM, however, did not receive as much attention; even today, it seems to be a forgotten Buick model -- the 1963 Buick Special. I thought it was a great looking automobile design, and the station wagon and convertible models are very rare and hard to find today.

1963 Buick Special Deluxe sedan GM Media Archives RESIZED 21963 Buick Special Deluxe sedan (GM Media Archives)

In 1961, GM introduced some great cars across each division, including the great looking Buick Special, the original Chevrolet Nova, the Pontiac Tempest and the Oldsmobile F85. The most popular car introduced in the subcompact line was the totally new Buick Special four-door sedan, available in both Standard Special and Special Deluxe versions.

1963 Buick Special Skylark GM Media Archives 31963 Buick Special Skylark (GM Media Archives)

For 1963, the Deluxe sub-series was cut back to just two models. The only Special with a base price over $3,000 was the Special Skylark convertible model with optional bucket seats. An all-vinyl interior was standard. The compact Buick was introduced when Chevrolet released its Corvair to compete with the Ford Falcon and Chrysler’s Valiant. All these models were successful, so GM decided to add Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick compacts to its lineup of great looking automobiles for 1961.

1963 Buick Special station wagon GM Media Archives 41963 Buick Special station wagon (GM Media Archives)

Actually, the development for new compact models started in 1957. GM wanted the compact models to be described as American cars that provided average seating accommodation and luggage capacity within a smaller and lighter auto package than the stylized full-size models. The first Buick Special model introduced in 1961 was built on a 112-inch wheelbase and had a lightweight aluminum V-8 as the standard power unit. The popular Special Deluxe Skylark coupe Introduced at mid-year was enjoyed by many consumers.

1963 Buick Special Show Car GM Media Archives RESIZED 51963 Buick Special Show Car (GM Media Archives)

The 1963 Buick Special Skylark name plate was brought back, and many admired its great styling. The Special Skylark hardtop was priced at $2,857 and offered a Skylark Aluminum V-8 engine with 220 horsepower as standard. This model also featured different side chrome than the Deluxe Specials, where a white or a black vinyl top was optional at added cost. All-vinyl interiors and/or bucket seats were also optional.

1963 Buick Special sedan GM Media Archives RESIZED 61963 Buick Special sedan (GM Media Archives)

The 1963 Buick Special models also became a part of the municipal business pursuit cars, offering the Special Police Special, a Special standard four-door sedan with V-8 200 horsepower engine.

The 1963 Buick Special and Skylark model designs sold for one year only. For the 1963 model year, 148,750 Special units were manufactured along with 42,321 Skylarks. Each of these models received a totally new design for the 1964 model year. Buick Motor Division proclaimed the 1963 Buick Special and Skylark models were “Acclaimed for its performance ride and handling.”

1963 Buick Special Convertible ad GM Meda Archives RESIZED 61963 Buick Special Convertible ad (GM Meda Archives)

Another rare Buick show car was the 1963 Buick SR200 model, which was a modified Skylark convertible. It had a red and white vinyl interior, a red exterior with a white racing stripe across the hood, a rear deck, and a custom fiber glass top boot. This poster image featured in this story can be ordered from the GM Photo Store. As I understand, the 1963 Buick Special Deluxe station wagons are the most difficult to find, along with the convertibles.

1963 Buick Special Convertible ad GM Media Archives RESIZED 81963 Buick Special station wagon ad (GM Media Archives)

In conclusion, I have been an automotive historian and researcher for many years, and I have to say that the 1963 Buick Special has very little material out there. Nevertheless, I always thought it was a beautiful vehicle.

Bibliography

Norbye, Jan P. and Dunne, Jim. “Buick: The Postwar Years.” Motor Books International Publishers, 1978.

Dammann, George H. “Seventy Years of Buick.” Crestline Publishing, 1972-1973.

Strohl, Daniel. “What’s More Remarkable about This 1963 Buick Skylark, the Four Speed or the Unrestored Condition?” Hemmings.

Dunham, Terry B. and Gusting, Lawrence R. “The Buick: A Complete History.” Automobile Quarterly.

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of BriggsCunningham.com
Published 9.8.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the GM Media Archives
Published 9.1.2021

by A. Wayne Ferens
Photos Courtesy of the Wayne Ferens Collection, GM Media Archives and Ford Motor Company
Published 8.25.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Chrysler Archives, Barrett-Jackson Auto Auctions and the Robert Tate Collection
Published 8.17.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of Ford Motor Company Archives
Published 8.11.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Ford Motor Company Archives
Published 8.4.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the General Motors Media Archives and Motor Trend magazine
Published 7.28.2021

by Louise-Helene Filion
Image from YouTube/MotorCities
Published 7.21.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Automotive Sculptor and Historian Ron Konopka, Ford Motor Company Archives
Published 7.14.2021

A 1950 Lincoln front end image Ford Motor Company Archives 1A 1950 Lincoln front end image (Ford Motor Company Archives)

William Schmidt was considered by some automotive historians as a creative genius. Schmidt was a part of the auto industry design community during the 1950s.

His career started when he joined Ford Motor Company in 1940. Schmidt attended Ford’s old trade school before moving to the Lincoln and Mercury styling studio. His first assignment was to redesign the 1950 and 1951 Lincoln front end facelifts, which included an updated new front grille along with some side and rear end design changes. The resulting 1950 and 1951 Lincoln models featured more clean and functional lines than the previous year’s cars.

Ford introduced many great looking models during the 1950 and 1951 model years. The Lincoln models were successful from a sales standpoint. Schmidt said at the time: “It was a very exciting time. Originally, it was a fairly small group unrestricted by layers upon layers of management. I was able to carry out some pretty radical styling and advanced engineering plans.”

1955 Lincoln Futura show car Ford Motor Company Archives 21955 Lincoln Futura show car (Ford Motor Company Archives)

For many years, Schmidt worked with Edsel Ford, Bob Gregorie, George Walker, chief engineer Earle MacPherson, and many other talented Ford designers. Schmidt was also involved with the great looking 1953 XL-500 show car, but many historians have said that he was always quite modest about his automotive achievements.

An illustration of the 1956 Lincoln Premiere Ford Motor Company Archives RESIZED 3An illustration of the 1956 Lincoln Premiere (Ford Motor Company Archives)

Perhaps one of Schmidt’s greatest styling achievements was the design of the 1956 Lincoln Premiere models, along with the extremely popular Lincoln Futura show car, later turned into the “Batmobile” for television by George Barris.

1956 Packard Predictor on the cover of Car Life magazine Ron Konopka RESIZED 41956 Packard Predictor on the cover of Car Life magazine (Ron Konopka)

In the late 1950s, Schmidt left Ford for Studebaker-Packard, where he and Dick Teague designed the popular Packard Predictor show car. It was hoped this design shift would save the Packard name plate. This car is now on display in the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, Indiana.

Bill Schmidt pictured in a magazine ad Ron Konopka RESIZED 5Bill Schmidt pictured in a magazine ad (Ron Konopka)

After Studebaker-Packard, Schmidt moved to Chrysler from 1957 to 1959, where he was involved with many great looking designs under the leadership of the great Virgil Exner and his creative design staff. He also established William M. Schmidt Associates on January 16, 1956. The company was an industrial design and engineering firm, comprised of product designers, graphic and packaging designers, and, most importantly, automotive designers. In the ensuing years, Schmidt would become the designer that many automotive manufacturers would go to for special futuristic automotive projects.

William M. Schmidt Associates was located on Harper Avenue in Harper Woods, Michigan. His firm not only helped automotive companies but many other manufacturers as well. For example, Vlasic Foods was also a client. Vlasic created a line of pickle products with eye catching graphics that would result in great sales. Other clients included the Admiral Corporation and the United States Department of Labor. Schmidt headed the company management team as president, with Stanley E. Thorwaldsen as executive vice president and associate and George M. Krispinsky as director of automotive design.

The Gashopper concept vehicle Ron Konopka RESIZED 6The Gashopper concept vehicle (Ron Konopka)

The company designed an unusual vehicle called the “Gashopper,” a practical vehicle for the future. Other projects included building full-size prototypes for various boat manufacturers, such as 16 and 18-foot boats for Donzel Marine. They also designed complete exhibit systems for TRW, Simmons, United States Steel, National Steel, McLouth Steel and many others. The company also had many international clients, including the Paris Air Show and many other global companies.   

A Syd Mead illustration of the Innovari II 7A Syd Mead illustration of the Innovari II

An extremely popular vehicle designed and created for United States Steel Company was the Innovar II. The model was completely new, could seat five passengers and was considered a fully operable taxicab.

My good friend Ron Konopka worked for William M. Schmidt Associates and has many great stories to tell. Unfortunately, Schmidt died of a heart attack at his winter home in Florida in February 1990 at age 68.

In conclusion, although Schmidt is no longer with us today, he left a lifetime of great and creative designs that will always be a part of our automotive culture for many years to come.

Bibliography

Schmidt, William M. “Fifties Lincoln Mercury Stylist.” Special Interest Autos #136 July/August 1993 pg. 49.

Schmidt, William M. “Packard Projector: Tomorrow’s Luxury Car.” Car Life, February 1956 pg. 24-25.

Howley, Tim. “1956 Lincoln Premiere from the Longer, Lower Wider School of Design.” Special Interest Autos, December 1980 pg. 12.

A special thank you to automotive historian and sculptor Ron Konopka, who helped to make this story possible.

 

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the National Automobile Museum
Published 7.7.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Hot Rod Network, Jordan Lewis, Stangbumpers.com
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Photos courtesy of Ralph Gilles
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Images courtesy of the Ford Motor Company Archives
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Images Courtesy of the Sinclair Oil Archives
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images from various sources
Published 6.2.2021

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are presenting the following except showcasing the story of some of the trailblazing Asian Americans in the auto industry.
Published 5.31.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Getty Images, Barrett Jackson and the General Motors Media Archives
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Images Courtesy of General Motors Media Archives
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by Robert Tate, Automotive Historian & Researcher
Images courtesy of the Reggie Jackson Collection
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by Bob Sadler, MotorCities Communications Manager
Photos Courtesy of Bob Sadler/MotorCities
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Images Courtesy of Chrysler Archives
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Images Courtesy of the Ford Motor Company Archives, Shelby.com, Barrett Jackson and the Robert Tate Collection
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Images Courtesy of the Detroit News, Classic Car News and Classic Autos
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by Bob Sadler, MotorCities Communications Manager
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by Bob Sadler, MotorCities Communications Manager
Images Courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection, the Automotive Hall of Fame and the Library of Congress
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Images Courtesy of Lyn St. James, RacingNation.com, and the Women’s Sports Foundation
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the GM Media Archives and the REO Truck Archives
Published 3.10.2021

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Images Courtesy of the Robert Tate Collection
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Images Courtesy of GM Media Archives, Travis Lipinski, Tom Sturm
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection
Posted: 02.17.2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of MotorCities’ observance of Black History Month, we are revisiting this Story of the Week from August 10, 2016.

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of RoadTrack.com, Mrs. Mildred Overton, Todd Gould, Lafayette (Indiana) Journal and Courier
Published 2.10.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Published 2.3.2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of MotorCities’ observance of Black History Month, we are revisiting this Story of the Week from February 13, 2017. 

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Studebaker National Museum/Studebaker Archives
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Images Courtesy of General Motors Media Archives/Jill Reger - 1950 Oldsmobile emblem
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Images Courtesy of Ford Motor Company Archives
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Photos Courtesy of the Ypsilanti Auto Heritage Museum
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