With yesterday’s introduction of the Buick Avenir concept ahead of the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Buick continues a tradition of progressive concepts that stretches back to the 1938 Buick Y-Job.
“Buick, under the design leadership of Harley Earl, created the industry’s first concept vehicle and for more than 75 years each new Buick concept has pushed the brand forward and influenced the industry through great design,” said the vice president of General Motors Global Design, Ed Welburn. “From designs that push the boundaries of graceful, elegant proportions and progressive interior designs, Buick’s concepts have always inspired with the relevance of a future that is not too far away.”
The Avenir “blends exploratory styling with advanced technology to probe new directions for Buick” and serves as a test bed for features that may trickle down to future production models.
Here’s a look at five of the most influential Buick concepts that have advanced the brand’s design, driver technology or powertrain technology:
1. Y-Job (1938)
As the industry’s first true concept car, GM design chief Harley Earl’s Y-Job was developed to gauge the public’s response to innovative styling and features, rather than to foreshadow a new production model. At the time, the media hailed the Y-Job as the “Car of the Future” and, in many ways, it was − it previewed features that eventually would become common throughout the industry such as power windows, flush-mounted door handles, disappearing headlamps, and a concealed convertible top. Simply put, the Y-Job represents the “blueprint for concept vehicle design and execution.”
2. Wildcat Series (1953-55, 1985)
The original 1953 Wildcat concept vehicle ended up being part of a series that pushed the brand’s design language forward while showcasing new and innovative technologies. The fiberglass two-seater with four-wheel disc brakes led to the more radical 1954 Wildcat II, a smaller and sportier two-seater with open front fenders; it was followed by the 1955 Wildcat III, which exploited Buick’s signature sweep spear. The grille design of the new Avenir concept can be traced to the influence of the earlier Wildcat concepts.
In 1985, Buick revisited the Wildcat with a new futuristic concept that served as a test and data platform. This new 4WD two-seater had no traditional doors, instead relying on a canopy that raised and lowered to allow access. The innovative body was made out of fiberglass and carbon fiber, and behind the cabin and was a unique take on Buick’s 3.8L V6 with 24 valves, dual-overhead camshafts, and an early version of electronically controlled port fuel injection. A head-up display – a feature available on today’s LaCrosse − cast driver vehicle information onto the large windshield.
3. Riviera Silver Arrow III (1972)
Bill Mitchell‘s Silver Arrow III was based on the production version of the third-generation Riviera but consisted of bolder design elements to showcase advanced production technologies for the time, such as four-wheel antilock brakes and the Max Trac traction control system (a precursor to traction control). The Silver Arrow III distinguished itself from the production Riviera with a lowered roofline, restyled quarter windows, and six halogen headlamps; inside, adjustable pedals and telescoping steering wheel eliminated the need for fore/aft driver seat movement.
4. Centieme (2003)
French for the term “one-hundredth,” the Centieme marked Buick’s centennial with proportion, design cues, and three-row seating configuration that influenced the Enclave crossover four years later. The Centieme’s aluminum and wood accent trim and ambient lighting spurred Buick’s focus on interior design and attention to detail.
5. Velite (2004)
This RWD four-seat convertible is the link between the original Y-Job and the new Avenir concept. While designed by General Motors’s stylists in Detroit, the Velite was built by Bertone in Italy. Portholes on the front fenders and a boattail-inspired rear deck evoke Buicks of the past, while under the hood was pure modern technology: a 400-horse 3.6L twin-turbocharged V6 engine.