Today’s Rare Ride was a single-year offering at Buick; it came and went in 1958. As General Motors reworked its large car offerings that year in response to styling changes at one of its biggest competitors, it reintroduced a historical nameplate at Buick: Limited.
Chrysler vehicles wore new clothes in 1957, as Virgil Exner’s “Forward Look” introduced more fins, more chrome, and more exterior detailing. As we learned recently, the independent Imperial brand received this new styling as well. Forward Look was less conservative than other luxury offerings, and caused luxury buyers to flock to Imperial. Well-heeled Americans bought over 37,000 Imperials in 1957 and made for the brand’s best-ever sales year. General Motors was caught out by the Forward Look and had to act.
The simple, easiest answer was to facelift the Buick and Oldsmobile lineups for 1958. Buick’s lineup at the time consisted entirely of full-size cars: Special, Super, Century, and Roadmaster. All the brand’s offerings received a new Harley Earl-designed front end for 1958, which was notable mostly for Buick’s subtly named Fashion-Aire Dynastar grille. The chromed visage was made of 160 separate squares and was designed to reflect light as much as possible. In The Current Year, you’d just call it Dynamic Bling or something.
Other visual changes included America’s new favorite thing – quad headlamps – and additional chrome around the body perimeter. Like at Chrysler, gun sight trim appeared (at the front instead of the rear like Imperial), and additional chrome was added to rear fenders. Such detailing was added across the lineup, which it called the “Air Born B-58.” Marketing materials incorporated fighter jet references here and there to drive the point home. Limited was set apart in the lineup and received its own Series numbers: It used 700 for the hardtops and the 756 for the convertible.
Limited was used previously on a Buick back in 1936 where it represented the brand’s flagship and used the same platform as the largest Cadillac (the Series 70). Limited existed until 1942, by which point Cadillac executives were sick of the prestigious Buick’s encroachment into Fleetwood territory. Buick punched back, and said the minuscule Limited production could hardly be a bother to Cadillac’s big, strong sales figures. Neither argument mattered for long, as World War II interrupted and Buick dropped Limited offerings. The name lie dormant until 1958.
Buick’s flagship Roadmaster was already a new design in 1957 and used the familiar C-body platform for its fifth generation. For a single fateful year, GM turned the Roadmaster into the standalone Limited to compete more directly with the Forward Look Imperial. Limited rode on the same 127.5-inch wheelbase as the Roadmaster, and used the same 364 cubic-inch (6.0L) Nailhead V8. That engine was shared across the Buick lineup that year and came in two different variations through 1961: Two-barrel carb for 250 horses, and four-barrel carb for an even 300. All cars used the same two-speed Dynaflow automatic transmission. Dynaflow was in its latter days at that point, as the three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic approached by the mid-Sixties. Power brakes were standard on the Limited.
Limited was differentiated via its length, as it was notably longer than the top-tier Roadmaster. Spanning 227.5 inches, it dwarfed Roadmaster’s 219.2 inches. Other dimensions matched the Roadmaster, with an overall width of 79.8″ and height at an even 60 inches. As it was longer, the Limited weighed between 4,500 and 4,900 pounds, where the Roadmaster topped out at 4,700. Body styles were three and included a four-door hardtop, and two-door hardtop coupe and convertible. Though the hardtops were similar to Roadmaster, in 1958 the convertible was available exclusively as a Limited.
Other differentiation occurred via trim, where the Limited was more toned down in its use of chrome (relatively speaking). Where the Roadmaster had large chrome panels along the side, Limited used color-match trim instead, festooned with 15 total chrome backslashes, set in tally groups of five. The rear of the Limited was different too, and used wraparound tail lamp lenses, again with more chrome added. Rear lighting was contained in some big Dagmars.
Inside the Limited was pure luxury, as passengers in the land barge enjoyed higher quality materials than Roadmaster. Convertible versions took things a step further, and included a full leather interior. Aside from its more upscale materials, the Limited shared interior design entirely with the Roadmaster. Limited was available in 18 different exterior colors, with two-tone an optional extra. Seven different leather interior colors were offered on convertible Limiteds.
With a high level of standard equipment and a long list of options too, the Limited was not an affordable automobile. The Limited four-door asked $5,112 ($49,833 adj.) as new and was actually $221 ($2,154 adj.) more expensive than the Cadillac Series 62 four-door hardtop. Unfortunately for Buick, American consumers were not prepared to spend more money for a Buick they generally regarded as too glitzy and turned to Cadillac instead. The aforementioned Series 62 moved over 13,000 examples in 1958, while Limited sold 7,438 (839 were convertibles).
There were other issues foisted upon Limited too, like the global recession of 1958 and the fact that Buick didn’t have a sterling reputation at the time. As a result, GM told Buick execs to have a do-over for 1959, and the company’s entire model lineup was renamed and restyled. The Chrome-Aire-Whatever grille disappeared, and Bill Mitchell penned the new Buicks. Models were now called LeSabre (formerly Special), Invicta (Century), and Electra (Roadmaster). The lower-midlevel Super was eliminated from the lineup. For its part, the Limited was most directly replaced by the most expensive version of Electra, the 225. Buick moved on, and there was never another Limited as an independent model.
H/t to reader Steve M. for suggesting today’s Rare Ride.
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