In The Beginning, Buick Meant Performance1
Road & Track has a really nice article on Buick and its performance beginnings. Seems that it’s been 111 years since David Dunbar Buick changed the name of his company from Buick Auto-Vim to, simply, Buick. Amid a crowded market of fledgling automotive brands, Buick bet its future on one feature: the overhead-valve motor (OHV).
At the time, companies were playing around with plenty of different designs, but the OHV (known back then as “valve-in-head”) was not as common as sleeve-valve, side-valve, and flathead designs. The OHV’s main characteristic was not running out of steam in the upper RPM ranges (in a time when redlines were not very high to begin with), but it was more complicated than other designs. Developing and promoting this design was too much for Buick to bear financially, and in 1903 the company was taken over.
However, the new prince of the American automotive industry and founder of General Motors, William C. Durant, saw value in what Buick had developed and purchased the brand in 1904. The OHV motor put out 25% more power with 70% of the displacement. As the industry progressed, sleeve- and side-valve designs fell out of favor but the OHV endured. Today, it’s not the most technologically advanced design, but it has its advantages, which is one reason why the Corvette continues to use the design as its calling card.
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You are getting some of your valve configurations confused. Sleeve valves only arrived in 1904 and were most uncommon. Both the L-head and T-head were side valve arrangements or flat heads. The L-head had one camshaft whereas the T-head had two, on opposite sides of the cylinders. Even overhead cams existed by 1905, with the Welch not only having OHC but hemi-heads as well. Yes Durant was attracted to Buick because of its OHV, but bought Welch as well because of its innovating valve gear. He also bought Elmore, with its early two stroke engine.