By on January 24, 2022

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.

[Images: Buick]

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26 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1958 Buick Limited Lineup, a Very Expensive Roadmaster...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    Compare this to the styling of the ’61 Electra. It is like the late 50s wild-chrome era went supernova and left behind a more conservative neutron star.

    The later trends from brougham to aero and aero to utility weren’t as abrupt.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    Throwing more sugar and frosting on a cake does not necessarily make it taste better.

  • avatar
    PotLizard

    I love the allusion to the B-58 “Hustler” bomber!

  • avatar
    Syke

    I started in the antique car hobby in 1968 (at 18) with a 1937 Special, so I love vintage Buicks. And I hate the 58’s. Overblown, over chromed, be grateful for the Forward Look because the ‘59’s were supposed to be an even more overdone version of what you’re seeing here. Gawd, that car was everything wrong about 50’s styling, exceeded only by Mercury and Lincoln.

    1958 GM styling was a decent Chevrolet, an ok Cadillac, and abysmal for the other three, with Buick the worst.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    More great work Corey. Virgil Exner and Harley Earl must be looking down and laughing at the ‘styling’ of current mass market vehicles. My ’59 Cadillac had an ‘Autronic Eye’ it was a luxury accoutrement for GM high end vehicles. Note also that instrument panel vents are listed as a ‘luxury’ item. Many of us remember cars that only had vents in the footwells. Windshield defrosting was still an optional extra. And the term ‘electric window lifts’ demonstrates just how rare and exotic power windows were.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks!

      Speaking of undesirable GM vehicles, wonder what they’d think of this very tidy DTS with a sparkling service history.

      https://www.premiummotorsonline.com/details/used-2009-cadillac-dts/81454745

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      Agree great work Corey. My parents bought a used 59 Buick LeSabre station wagon to replace the 59 Plymouth 9 passenger Sport Suburban wagon (bought new) that was totaled by my middle brother in an accident. Late 50s cars for the most part were just overdone with massive fins and chrome. I too remember the vents in the footwells but both our Plymouth and Buick wagons had factory air which put out a lot of cold air especially the Buick with a huge air conditioning compressor. The Buick had a buzzer you could set to a certain speed that would go off if you exceeded that speed. The Plymouth had round defroster vents on the top of the dash that worked well for defrosting the inside of the windshield. The Plymouth also had air conditioning vents between the 2nd and 3rd seats that worked well for distributing the cold air. The Buick had electric windows. Both cars were comfortable but mpgs were not a thing for large 50s land yachts.

      My paternal grandfather had a cool 2 door 58 Chevy Impala he bought new coppertone with white trim and white top. He never liked it as well as his Buicks but it was a cool looking car.

  • avatar
    kcflyer

    Hopefully it had a better safety record than it’s namesake bomber.

    • 0 avatar

      I read here and there the B-58 was bad. Just crashed a lot?

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Apparently it was expensive and very difficult to fly:

        https://nationalinterest.org/blog/reboot/b-58-hustler-super-bomber-was-super-failure-181329

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        Entered service just in time to be the target for 3,000 mph Soviet missiles, which made all of the advantages of flying a smidge higher at 1,000 mph instead of 500 round to zero.

        The expensive compromises they’d made to get there – short range, high maintenance, suicidal takeoff and landing behavior, etc. – didn’t go anywhere.

        But for global thermonuclear war 1955 it’d have been just the thing.

        • 0 avatar

          Just what you want out of a government aircraft!

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            The Strategic Air Command wanted Mach-2 and they got it, despite all the compromises Convair had to make.

            As Dan noted, it was designed for high altitude supersonic flight, just in time for Russian missles to make that dangerous. The plane was forced into low altitude missions it wasn’t designed for, just as the high altitude F104 was loaded with extra gear and made to serve as a low level, all-weather, multirole fighter-bomber it was unsuited for.

            Government bean counters are infamously good at forcing the military to use the wrong tool for the job, instead of letting them have the right tool. They’ve done it again with the F35, trying to adapt one design for three different roles, rather than design three aricraft for their appropriate roles. If the military needs a hammer, a saw, and a chisel, the bean counters will come up with a 3-in-one tool that does none well.

        • 0 avatar

          As a kid I liked the look of the B58 and was completely unaware of the issues the delta wing had. My still favorite jets are the F-104 Starfighter and the X-15.

      • 0 avatar
        kcflyer

        yeah, the safety record was atrocious. Lot’s of good men died while they tried to work the bugs out.

      • 0 avatar
        Irvingklaws

        They only built just over a 100 or so and nearly a quarter of them crashed, mostly during flight testing. The first supersonic bomber ever built, it pioneered loads of new technology. Not a bad plane once most of the bugs were worked out. But by then it was nearly obsolete. Seems to me the F-100 ‘Super Sabre’ was much worse. According to wiki over its time in service 889 were destroyed in accidents killing 324 pilots. That doesn’t include horrendous combat losses in Vietnam. Search Youtube for ‘F-100 Sabre Dance’ to see just how unforgiving it could be.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff S

        You use to see B58s in the airplane graveyards out West. I believe it was called the Hustler.

        The B-58 was designed to fly at high altitudes and supersonic speeds to avoid Soviet interceptors. But with the Soviet introduction of high-altitude surface-to-air missiles, the B-58 was forced to adopt a low-level-penetration role that severely limited its range and strategic value. It was never used to deliver conventional bombs. The B-58 was substantially more expensive to operate than other bombers, such as the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, and required more frequent aerial refueling. The B-58 also suffered from a high rate of accidental losses. These factors resulted in a relatively brief operational career of ten years. The B-58 was succeeded in its role by the smaller, swing-wing FB-111A.The bomber was powered by four General Electric J79 engines in underwing pods. It had no bomb bay: it carried a single nuclear weapon plus fuel in a combination bomb/fuel pod underneath the fuselage. Later, four external hardpoints were added, enabling it to carry up to five weapons.

        The first prototype, serial number 55-660, was rolled out on 31 August 1956. The program was performed under high security: prior to the roll out, no unauthorized individual had knowledge of its shape or basic configuration. On 11 November 1956, the maiden flight occurred. The prototype exceeded Mach 1 for the first time on 30 December of that year. The difficult and protracted flight test program involving 30 aircraft continued until April 1959.A total of 116 B-58s were produced: 30 trial aircraft and 86 production B-58A models. Most of the trial aircraft were later upgraded to operational standards. Eight were equipped as TB-58A training aircraft. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convair_B-58_Hustler

  • avatar
    cardave5150

    More great work, Corey! I agree with the others above – ’58 was a difficult (awkward?) year for GM styling. It must have been an incredible expense for the bean counters.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    1958 was an awkward year for GM. The ’55-57 bodies had run their course, and the new shells were bigger, bulkier, and uglier all around, then all that got dumped in a panic for “longer, lower, wider” for ’59.

  • avatar
    RHD

    What do the Air Born Buick and Airborne, the remedy designed by an elementary school teacher, have in common?

    Neither one will do a damn thing for you when you have a cold.

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