Photos by Trent Sherrill.
Those who took one look at the redesigned 1955 Buick knew GM’s Chief Designer Harley Earl was still on his game. Earl, who presided over the likes of the 1953 Corvette and 1954 Cadillac Eldorado, brought the 1955 Buick to the leading edge of styling. From every angle, it stood head and shoulders above the previous year’s model. Model offerings remained the same as 1954 with the Special and Century, both derivatives of GM’s B body platform, and the Super and Roadmaster, versions of the C body platform. For 1955, Buick had the distinction of being the only GM division that offered convertibles in all models. Other body styles included two and four door sedans, hardtops and station wagons.
Front and rear sheet metal was entirely new. Front fender wheel openings were more angular, providing a graceful look. Restyled fender “ventiports” continued, with three per side on the Special and four per side on the Century, Super and Roadmaster. Parking lamps were positioned beneath headlamps on the Special and Century, while the Super and Roadmaster included them within the headlamp bezel. An oval honeycomb style grille replaced the waterfall grille of 1954. The front bumper was redesigned and included “Dagmar” bumper guards and twin horizontal spears that wrapped around the fender. A new hood ornament completed the refreshed look to the front end.
Large reverse angled taillights included integral back-up lamps positioned below the taillight. The rear bumpers and bumper guards were redesigned. Roadmaster models included twin deck lid lift handles. All Buicks received new hubcaps, but customers could opt for 40 spoke wire wheels on all models except the Special.
Buick’s “million dollar ride” was courtesy of a mildly revised chassis and minor suspension tweaks, including softer spring rates, modified valving of the shock absorbers and tubeless tires (except when ordered with wire wheels). Coil springs sat at every corner. The Special series used 15 x 5.5-inch wheels, with all others using 15 x 6-inch wheels.
The interior was considered luxurious by most standards. The Century, Super and Special model each had two different trim selections – standard and custom – and were available in a wide variety of colors. The Special offered vinyl seat covers, while the remaining models included a combination of vinyl and nylon. Century and Roadmaster convertible buyers could order leather seat covers available in five colors.
While it wasn’t known as a hot rod, Buick was, in fact, the second quickest domestic automobile for 1955 when equipped with the 322 cubic-inch engine. Only the Corvette was quicker. Two V-8 engines were available, the 264ci, 188hp version that powered the Standard model and the 322ci 236hp version that powered the Century, Super and Roadmaster. On paper, the V-8, called the nailhead due to its unusually small valves and ports, didn’t appear to be a performance engine. Horsepower increases from the previous year came from a higher lift and longer duration camshaft, larger exhaust valves, higher compression and a bigger four-barrel Carter carburetor.
Power was transferred to the ground via either a three-speed manual transmission or Buick’s Variable Pitch Dynaflow transmission. The Dynaflow’s unique design allowed for a nearly shiftless experience. The “twin turbine” stator blades changed pitch, allowing smooth acceleration through the rpm range. Contrary to what many believe, the Dynaflow was not a revised version of Chevrolet’s PowerGlide transmission. A torque tube driveshaft brought the power to the rear axle. Axle ratios were 3.9:1 on manual shift vehicles and 3.4:1 on Dynaflow equipped vehicles.
The combination of body, powertrain and interior changes were just the ticket for increased sales. Buick dealers moved 738,814 units, compared with 444,609 in 1954, an increase of over 60%. And as a Buick advertisement once stated, “Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?” Apparently the public agreed.
Fuel For Thought
Nailhead engine known as the “Fireball V-8”
Used by the California Patrol due to its performance
First year for tubeless tires
First year for 12-volt battery
322 cubic-inch engine produced 110 rear-wheel horsepower
Number built – Total Buick production - 737,130
Construction – Body-On-Frame
Engine – 264ci V-8, 322ci V-8
Power/Torque – 188hp/256 lb-ft torque; 236hp/330 lb-ft torque
Transmission – Three-speed manual, Dynaflow automatic
Suspension front – Independent with unequal length control arms, coil springs and stabilizer bar
Suspension rear – Coil springs
Steering – Worm and nut – 26.7:1 ratio (24:1 w/power steering)
Brakes – 12-inch drums front and rear
Length/width/height – 206.7/76.2/60.6 inches (Special and Century), 216/80.0/62.7 inches (Super and Roadmaster)
Wheelbase – 122 inches (Special and Century Motor Trend, April 1955)), 127 inches (Super and Roadmaster)
Weight – 4,075 lbs. shipping weight (Century H.T.)
0-60mph/quarter mile – 9.8 seconds/17.5 seconds at 78 mph (Motor Trend, April 1955)
Top speed – 116 mph (Motor Trend, April 1955)
MPG – 11.6-19.3 mpg
Price – $ 3,453 (Roadmaster Riviera); Today – $15,100-$37,900
Buick’s famous nailhead V-8 was designed with a strong bottom and beefed up connecting rods. The intake manifold incorporated redesigned passages with increased flow. Cam duration was increased from 282 degrees to 287 degrees. A Carter WCFB four-barrel carburetor replaced a Stromberg model for added acceleration. Together, these changes offered added performance and reliability.
The four corner coil spring suspension provided a soft boulevard ride. Hard turns gave moderate body roll and understeer with a tendency to wallow in corners.
Large model mix
Sheetmetal parts difficult to obtain
Known as an “old man’s” car
Dynaflow transmission has reliability issues
Typical rust issues
What To Pay
1955 Buick Roadmaster Riviera
MSRP – $3,453
Low – $15,100
Average – $25,700
High – $37,900
*Based on prices from the Classic Cars and Parts Price Guide, fueled by NADA and available wherever Kustoms and Hot Rods magazines are sold.
Insurance cost is $251/year for a stock 1955 Buick valued at $25,700. For a modified vehicle, insurance cost is $291/year. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving.
*Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance, www.heacockclassic.com
Number built – 329,000 units
0-60/quarter mile – 11.4 seconds, 18.0 seconds at 78 mph
Top speed – 114 mph
Price – MSRP – $2,631 (Montclair); Today – $9,150-$30,000
Number built – 115,485 units
0-60/quarter mile – 12.8 seconds, 19.2 seconds at 76 mph
Top speed – 108 mph
Price – MSRP – $2,939 (Fireflight); Today – $9,300 - $26,800
Most owners enjoy driving their Buicks. The car is exceptional on long rides by virtue of its soft suspension and excellent performance.
Buick Performance Portfolio 1947-1962 by R.M. Clarke
Buick: 1946 through 1960 Photo Archive by Byron Olsen
Hemmings Book of Buicks: Drive Reports from Special Interest Autos Magazine by Hemmings Motor News
How to Build Max Performance Buick Engines by Jefferson Byrant
Fan belt - $34.50
Motor mount - $65.00
Back-up light lens - $14.50
Brake drum - $94.50
Front end rebuild kit - $399.00
Left front floor pan - $59.50
Headliner - $165.50
Shock absorber set - $92.50
*Based on information from Cars Incorporated, www.oldbuickparts.com
While the 1955 Chevrolet receives most accolades, the Buick was clearly a winner for the model year. Graceful styling with stunning performance brought buyers into dealerships by the droves and today is considered one of the best styled GM product of the 1950s.
Owner: David Marrero
From the Owner
I've had this car ten years. As far as I know, I’m the third registered owner of this car. It was originally bought in North Carolina by an airman who then brought it to California, where it lived in the Monterey area for many years. It was backed into a garage with a bad trans, where it stayed for what I understand was fourteen years. Then it was bought by someone in Salinas who completed the necessary repairs on the trans. This person also lowered and shaved the door handles on the car.
I traded this car for a 1968 Camaro that was done but I was bored with. The Buick needed everything, and so our relationship began. The drive train is all-original – all 74k-plus miles of it. The only mods to the motor are the Offy dual four intake and carbs, Mallory YC type distributor equipped with a Pertronix ignition module and the Moon No-Name valve covers and valley pan. All the chrome has been re-plated by Superior Chrome in San Jose, California.
The car was painted by Ricardo Avalos of Supreme Collision & Paint in Salinas, California with House of Color Sunset Orange with a white bas. Then it was cleared, but with a flattening agent to give it its suede appearance. The dash and the garnish moldings were painted by Lionel Duran of Spectrum Auto Collision in Salinas, California. Pin striping on the dash was done by Rod Powell of Salinas, California, hood and truck by Makoto Kobayashi of Japan, and fenders and sides by Herb Martinez of Livermore, California. The air ride suspension was done by Elias Nuñez of Nor Cal Kustoms in Salinas, California.
Model: Doris MayDay
Clothing: Bettie Page Clothing