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SNAPSHOT 257: 1938 Buick Roadmaster Series 81

Sized at only 80 x 55mm – was that known as the ‘En-print? – this image truly is a ‘snapshot’. But it has been taken with care, the exposure has been judged to perfection and the image is more sharp than one would ever have expected. Your contributor remembers in his extreme youth in the 1940s seeing American cars like this Buick – and indeed many Buicks themselves, as the make was well-represented here in the UK, in daily use, commonly by the owners of successful local businesses, doctors and of course garage proprietors for private hire. They were tough, solid… and thirsty. Memory says that all were painted black.

In 1918, General Motors bought out the McLaughlin car business that had been making cars in Oshawa, Ontario under their own name as well as, latterly, Chevrolets under licence, and even Rauch & Lang electric cars. Renamed General Motors of Canada, Buick cars were then produced in large numbers, thenceforth ‘McLoughlin-Buicks’. Sales could be made to the British Empire without the import tariffs that would otherwise apply to vehicles coming from foreign factories.

On an official visit to Canada in 1927, the Prince of Wales was provided with a pair of special McLoughlin-Buick open touring cars which had many luxury features including lizard skin upholstery, and his love affair with the make was set to continue. Mr Simpson’s last gift to his soon-to-be ex-wife, Wallis, was a Buick, and so the make assumed a supporting role throughout the abdication crisis of 1936. Once established in France as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the couple ran matching Buick sedans, with the rear quarter-light part of the bodywork panelled in for privacy.

As with most of the major transatlantic marques, a multiplicity of models and options were listed, all subject to annual revisions of styling if not specification, and our photograph seems to feature Buick’s Roadmaster Series 81, a ‘trunk back sedan’ with four doors and a 320 cu ins (5¼ litres) ohv straight-eight engine. That year, the new ‘Dynaflow’ engine with domed pistons raised the output to 141 bhp, and coil spring suspension at the rear joined that previously present at the front. The ‘side-mounts’ – for either one side, or both, with steel covers – were among numerous extras listed, as likewise were a heater or a radio. It was an awful lot of motor car for the money.

This is the fourth and final Snapshot generously provided by the late John Warburton before his passing in January 2020. We are privileged to be able to post it on our website.  He will be truly missed by all who knew him.


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