Here’s something you would not expect to see amongst common late-model fare at a small repair shop/car lot. Yet there it was: this stately ’56 Buick Special, looking like an elegant matron stranded at a Burger King. A car built during Buick’s early- to mid-1950s heyday.
You would not know it to look at one, but the Special was the shortest-wheelbase, plainest, and lowest-cost Buick that year. Top of the heap was the luxurious Roadmaster, then the Super, the Century (not all Buick Centurys were wire-wheel covered, landau roofed Early Bird Special-mobiles), and finally, the Special.
Even the plain two-door Special sedan looked pretty nifty with wide whites, full wheel covers and snazzy black-over-yellow two-tone paint. You can see why Buick bumped Plymouth off its #3 perch for a few years in the ’50s, despite its higher prices and position in the new-car hierarchy of the times.
The four-door Special had a price of $2416 and saw 66,977 sales. The most expensive Special? The $2775 station wagon, with the $2740 convertible right behind it.
And for you numbers fans, the most expensive 1956 Buick of all was the $3704 Roadmaster convertible coupe, which saw 4,354 assemblies.
Specials were much more down-to-earth, and were very popular. The best-selling Special was the two-door hardtop, with 113,861 sold. A 1956 Ford Fairlane could be had for $2294 and a pillarless Plymouth Belvedere for $2258, so the Buick, with its standard 220-hp 322 CID V8, was a pretty good deal for, on average, only $200 or so more.
It all worked to Buick’s benefit, as the company held third place in sales for the year, and had model year production of 572,024. Buicks were seen as a very pretigious make, and the 10% or so markup over a Chevy, Ford or Plymouth seemed a small price to pay for such a step up.
The lovely styling of these cars certainly couldn’t have hurt, either. Even this basic four-door sedan looks pretty good to me; a four-door hardtop or convertible would be even more stunning. Sad to say, though, 1956 was the last year Buick held third place. The marque dropped to fourth in 1957, and the combination of the ’58 recession and chromed Hohner harmonica styling plummeted Buick down to ninth place.
But the new ’59s were lookers, and things were back up to par by the early Sixties, perhaps hitting the peak with the unquestionably beautiful 1963 Riviera. Buick would never again soar quite as high as they did in the Fifties though, sales-wise.
I spotted this Special way back in August of 2013. After passing it several times, I finally stopped to check it out and take some pictures. It was in very original shape. Not perfect, but a solid, honest car, one you wouldn’t worry too much about driving semi-regularly in nice weather. A cool bonus to see it while taking a late-evening summer drive!
It was nice to see such a well-preserved example and odd to see a ’56 Buick at a small downtown car lot that usually has the typical 10-15 year old rolling stock!