• Hey, Buick: Name It “Invicta!”

Reportedly, the “Invicta” concept car to be displayed in a few days in China is the LaCrosse replacement.

Let us hope that the production car is actually named “Invicta,” not LaCrosse, and deserves the name.

“Invicta” is a name from the past, from both Buick’s heyday and the classic auto era in Great Britain.

LaCrosse is a rather dumpy city in Northern Wisconsin.

Buick has used the “Invicta” name before. From 1959 to 1963, to be precise.

(more, for the history afficianado, after the jump)

Prior to that, there were three Buick models, easily distinguished: Special, Super, and Roadmaster. The Special and Super shared the same basic body as Pontiacs and the Olds 88. The Roadmaster shared the smaller Cadillac body, that of the deVille. The Super was a Special bodied car with the more powerful engine of the Roadmaster. There are those who suggest that it was Buick that truly invented the muscle car, having stuffed the big engine in the smaller car long before the Pontiac GTO.

In 1959, Buick decided that those names, dating as they did to the first new models after World War Two, did not befit the new line of vehicles being introduced by the division (and GM as a whole) that year.

A sidelight is required here.

In 1957, Chrysler had introduced an entirely new line of cars, with tall, sweeping fenders, that caught GM completely by surprise. In comparison, GM’s cars were chunky, fat, and over-chromed. It is said that a GM stylist driving home for lunch caught a glimpse of the ’57 Chrysler Corporation line-up being photographed for upcoming ads as he drove past and, within an hour, virtually everyone from GM styling was hiding behind the fence and peering into the photo shoot.

It was a dispirited bunch that returned to the GM styling studios. For the first time since the 1930’s, GM’s legendary design chief, Harley Earl, had been caught out. Not only that, the new Chryslers, compared to the designs on the board for the future GM cars, made it abundantly clear that Earl had lost his touch.

Earl, as it happened, was on an extended tour of Europe when this happened and his second-in-command, Bill Mitchell reportedly ordered all future GM designs scrapped the day after the Chrysler viewing. By the time Earl returned, the designs on the board at GM were very different than when he had left, and Earl shortly retired, with Mitchell, his protégé, replacing him as the head of GM design.

The 1959 models, including the new Buicks, were the first GM designs to reflect the new styling theme at General Motors, the first response by GM to the Chryslers of 1957.

Oddly, by the time GM responded, Chrysler had lost its way. Chyrsler carried the ’57 designs over to ’58, virtually unchanged. But, the demand for the new designs had swamped Chrysler’s ability to produce, and the result was sloppy production tolerances and a rapidly escalating reputation for poor quality. By 1959, Chrysler was forced to update their designs, and the update lacked the style of the originals. Moreover, the reputation for poor quality was catching up to a brand which had always counted on its reputation for quality engineering to offset stodgy styling.

But, nonetheless, Chrysler set the stage for General Motors in 1959.

(We all know the 1959 Cadillac. The tail fins weren’t originally designed to be that tall. The much more tasteful 1960 model was what was originally planned for ’59. They were raised to their legendary height because GM decided that if tailfins were the standard, they would set the standard, as the Empire State Building had exceeded the Chrysler Building in New York.)

Buick, as befitting the rather image of restrained elegance which had always marked the brand (except, of course, for 1958), did not elect to inaugurate towering tail fins on its models for 1959. Instead, it elected tailfins set at a 45 degree angle. It’s cars had a very modern look, much lower than their predecessors. They eliminated many of the Buick trademark styling devices, retaining only the legendary “portholes.” The LeSabre had three, as had the Special. So, too, did the Invicta. The Electra had four, as had the Roadmaster.

But, in 1962 Buick introduced a special car, a car designed to appeal to the performance oriented person. It was built within the GM rules, which decreed that the big engine could only go into the bigger body, not the intermediate body. Though that convention was about to be defied by John DeLorean, it was the rule that begat the “Wildcat.”

The Wildcat was, in effect, the Super with bucket seats and a console. Big engine in small body.

It left no room for the Invicta.

By 1963, the Invicta was available on only one model: the station wagon. It was, in effect, the Chyrsler Town and Country of its day.

But, it deserved better.

You see, GM stole the name from a legend of Great Britain.

“Invicta” wasn’t an original name.

Hey, Buick: Name It “Invicta!”
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Invicta was a Brittish brand, something of an unsuccessful version of the Swallow, the brand that later became Jaguar. It was one of those Brit brands in small production that took saloon underpinnings and attempted to make them sporty. Few were made, none profitably, but the classic Brittish Invicta had “the look.” It had a low chassis for the day and was remarkably sporty in appearance, even if underpowered.

There is a lot to the Invicta name.

One can only hope that GM gets it right this time.

But, don’t bet on it. It’s GM.

Believing in GM is a lot like Charlie Brown letting Lucy hold the football.

You want them to win. But you’re not surprised when you find yourself on you’re a— as a consequence.

But, maybe, this time . . .

Ralph Kalal
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