The 1958 Buick Limited range, a very expensive roadmaster

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Today’s Rare Ride was a one-year offering from Buick; it came and went in 1958. As General Motors reworked its big car offerings that year in response to styling changes at one of its biggest competitors, it reintroduced a historic 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 brand Imperial has also received this new style. Forward Look was less conservative than other luxury offerings and caused luxury buyers to herd at Imperial. Well-heeled Americans bought over 37,000 Imperials in 1957 and achieved the marque’s best-selling year. General Motors was caught off guard by the Forward Look and had to act.

The simplest and simplest answer was to revamp the Buick and Oldsmobile lineups for 1958. The Buick lineup at the time consisted entirely of full-size cars: Special, Super, Century and Roadmaster. All brand offerings received a new Harley Earl-designed front end for 1958, distinguished primarily by Buick’s subtly named Fashion-Aire Dynastar grille. The chrome face was made up of 160 separate squares and was designed to reflect light as much as possible. In the current year, you would just call it Dynamic Bling or something.

Other visual changes included America’s favorite new thing – quad headlights – and extra chrome around the perimeter of the body. As with Chrysler, pistol sight trim appeared (front instead of rear like Imperial), and additional chrome was added to the rear fenders. Such details were added to the entire range, which he called “Air Born B-58”. Marketing materials incorporated here and there references to fighter jets to drive the point home. Limited was set apart in the lineup and given its own serial numbers: it used 700 for the hardtops and 756 for the convertible.

Limited was previously used on a Buick in 1936 where it represented the brand’s flagship and used the same platform as the larger Cadillac (the 70 series). Limited existed until 1942, when Cadillac executives were sick of the encroachment of the prestigious Buick on the territory of Fleetwood. Buick hit back and said the tiny limited production run could hardly be a problem for Cadillac’s big, strong sales numbers. Neither argument mattered for a long time, as World War II came to a halt and Buick dropped Limited offerings. The name remained 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 one fateful year alone, GM turned the Roadmaster into a 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 cu in (6.0 L) Nailhead V8. This engine was shared across the Buick lineup that year and came in two different variants until 1961: a two-barrel carburetor for 250 horsepower and a four-barrel carburetor for an even 300. All cars used the same transmission two-speed Dynaflow automatic. Dynaflow was in its final days at this time, as the three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic approached the mid-sixties. Power brakes were standard on the Limited.

Limited differed in length, as it was especially longer than the top-tier Roadmaster. Stretching to 227.5 inches, it eclipsed the Roadmaster’s 219.2 inches. The other dimensions corresponded to the Roadmaster, with an overall width of 79.8″ and a height equal to 60 inches. Because 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 in number and included a four-door hardtop and a coupe and convertible with two-door hardtop. Although the hardtops were similar to the Roadmaster, in 1958 the convertible was available exclusively in Limited trim.

Another differentiation occurred via the trim, where the Limited was more toned down in its use of chrome (relatively speaking). Where the Roadmaster had large chrome panels on the side, Limited used color-keyed trim instead, adorned with a total of 15 chrome backslashes, arranged in groups of five. The rear of the Limited was also different and used wrap-around taillight lenses, again with more chrome added. The rear lighting was contained in some large Dagmars.

Inside the Limited it was pure luxury, as land barge passengers benefited from higher quality materials than the Roadmaster. Convertible versions took things a step further and included a full leather interior. Besides its more upscale materials, the Limited shared interior design entirely with the Roadmaster. Limited was available in 18 different exterior colors, with two tones optional. Seven different leather interior colors were offered on the Limited convertibles.

With a high level of standard equipment and a long list of options as well, the Limited was not an affordable automobile. The four-door Limited was asking for $5,112 (adj. $49,833) new and was actually $221 (adj. $2,154) more expensive than the four-door Cadillac Series 62 hardtop. Unfortunately for Buick, American consumers were unwilling to spend more money on a Buick which they generally considered too glitzy and instead turned to Cadillac. The aforementioned Series 62 displaced over 13,000 examples in 1958, while Limited sold 7,438 (839 were convertibles).

There were also other problems forced upon Limited, such as the global recession of 1958 and the fact that Buick did not have a great reputation at the time. As a result, GM told Buick executives to have a redesign for 1959, and the company’s entire model line was renamed and restyled. The Chrome-Aire-Whatever grille is gone and Bill Mitchell wrote the new Buicks. The models were now called LeSabre (formerly Special), Invicta (Century) and Electra (Roadmaster). The lower mid-level Super was dropped from the lineup. For its part, the Limited was replaced most directly by Electra’s most expensive version, the 225. Buick moved on, and there was never another Limited as an independent model.

Thanks to reader Steve M. for suggesting today’s Rare Ride.

[Images: Buick]

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