Buick 91 Club Sedan

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91 Club Sedan





The Buick Series 90 produced between 1931 and 1935 is recognized by the CCCA as a full classic, the only complete model (as opposed to individual custom bodies) to enjoy that status. The year 1931 was also the first to see the production of Buick’s new Straight Eight engine, a 345 CI inline-8 producing 104 horsepower. The new engine arrived just as the inline-6 it replaced was coming to the peak of its development, and with competitors moving to larger displacements and more cylinders, its arrival seemed well-timed, but the Depression was in full bloom and sales dropped to fourth place; Buick sold just 843 of its Series 90 Roadsters, discontinuing the model at the end of that year.

In the 1930s Buicks were popular with the British royal family, particularly Edward VIII. He imported and used a Canadian built McLaughlin-Buick that were GMs top brand in Canada, Cadillac not having caught on there. George VI used one for a coast to coast royal tour of Canada in 1939.

For 1931, Buick launched not one but three straight eights. Moreover, the three shared almost no tooling or parts. Chief Engineer Dutch Bower delegated the design work to his protégé, John Dolza. There was a small, 221 cubic inch unit for the 50 Series, a 272.6 cid engine for the 60 Series, and the 80 and 90 Series shared a big 344.8 cid power plant that developed 104 brake horsepower at 2,800 rpm. With three new engines the transformation was complete. Buick would build exclusively eights for the next three decades.

The 1932 Buicks were easily recognized as new models when they appeared. Styling changes included new hood doors, rather than louvers, a raked windshield with no external sun visor, taillights, longer flowing fenders and a tapered radiator. At the top of the line were the 90 series cars, which had an elongated 134-inch wheelbase and carried a variety of differed body styles, the most sporting of which was the Model 96C Convertible Coupe. Providing ample power to these dignified automobiles was Buick’s 133hp 344.8 cubic inch overhead valve inline eight-cylinder engine. Also available on the 90 Series was “Wizard Control” which provided owners both freewheeling and no-clutch shifting between second and third gears.

In the wake of the new engines, however, Buick sales fell markedly as the Depression deepened. Sales for 1932 were barely half those of 1931 and 1933’s fell further still, although much less sharply. Buick needed a guardian angel. Then, two important things happened for 1934. The first was Knee Action independent front suspension, the second was Harlow Curtice.

Knee Action was a coil spring setup developed by General Motors engineering. Often confused with the system of the same name used on 1934 Chevrolets and Pontiacs, Buick’s system, employed also by Oldsmobile and Cadillac, was something completely different. Whereas the Chevy-Pontiac system was an oil-filled spring-shock absorber developed by French inventor André Dubonnet, and licensed from him, the Buick-Olds-Pontiac Knee Action was a short-and-long arm design by British-born engineer Maurice Olley. The idea of using the same trademark on two radically different systems seems bizarre, but despite inevitable confusion it saved GM plenty of backtracking when the Dubonnet system was found troublesome and the Olley design was extended to the lower-priced nameplates. Rolls-Royce evaluated the GM system and also Packard’s new independent setup, and chose GM’s to use under license.

In addition to Knee Action, the 1934 Buick received a number of other engineering features, including a starter switch operated by the accelerator pedal, which would remain a feature for decades, a cowl-mounted fresh-air ventilator, and safety glass. On the Series 90 safety glass all around was standard; other series made it an option. 

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