Since its earliest days, the word “quality” had been a hallmark of Buick, keeping their line of cars competitive in terms of both price and quality against other luxury makes like Cadillac and Packard. However it’s no secret that by the late Twenties the cornerstone division of GM had become somewhat complacent with their products. Not only had Buick slipped to fourth in the industry, in the spring of 1929 new chief engineer Ferdinand “Dutch” Bower was steadfast in keeping the ship in line with it’s past; never waivering from quality yet unwilling to adopt change unless absolutely necessary. As sticker prices slowly increased (as was the case with all manufacturers during the Roaring Twenties) Buick continued to make their cars of composite bodies and fit mechanical brakes. Most of GM had already made the switch to steel bodies and hydraulic stopping force. Flint’s halls started to fill with whispered echoes of restructuring, but instead management took a different route by designing and introducing a companion make: the Marquette.
The Marquette was the latest in the companion effort – Oakland, Cadillac and Oldsmobile having already issued their salvos into the market – set for an earlier-than-usual 1929 release date of what were to be 1930 models. Plans called for six body styles: the Model 30 two-door Sedan, Model 34 Sport Roadster, Model 35 four-door Phaeton, Model 36 Business Coupe, Model 36S Special Coupe and Model 37 four-door Sedan. Production began on June 1, a full two months prior to the parent make, which – at least in theory – would have given the Marquette a leg up on the competition’s new car announcements that were to follow.
Mechanically the Marquette, however, was far from what traditional Buick customers – and salesmen – had come to expect of the division. Rather than employ a traditional valve-in-head straight-six, engineers installed a 212.8-cu.in. L-head straight-six rated for 67.5 hp; not as efficient as Buick’s standard engine, yet – according to promotional material – the L-head was “lighter and more economical to manufacture.” Although it was cast/built in Flint, it was, essentially, a copy of Oldsmobile’s engine. Other mechanical deviations included the installation of a Hotchkiss differential with semi-floating axles (versus Buick’s torque tube and 3/4 floating axles), and single plate clutch versus multiple.
Buick – as a parent division – put forth a tremendous effort in advertising, while the contemporary media reacted favorably to the effort. Performance became a key selling point: a Marquette recorded a 5 to 25 MPH time of 8.8 seconds, and a 10 to 60 MPH time of 31 seconds flat. This, in addition to a top speed near 70 MPH, and a race from Death Valley to the summit of Pikes Peak that took just 40 hours and 45 minutes; an hour-20 of it was the 21-mile climb up the mountain. What the media seemed to miss was that, like its engine, the Marquette’s bodies were near-copies of those used at Oldsmobile. Dealers, on the other hand, did notice these differences, and so, too, did consumers. Collectively, just 35,007 examples were built during just eight months of production at which point Buick pulled the plug on Marquette, no doubt in part due to the stock market crash.
Today, surviving Marquette examples are few and far between. However we’re proud to announce that spectators at this year’s Hemmings Motor News Concours d’Elegance will be able to enjoy one of these near-forgotten and rare models from Buick’s past. Scheduled to be on display on this year’s show field is pictured above: a four-door Marquette Phaeton kindly displayed by John Giokaris of Ohio. It’s one of the mere 889 Phaetons built.
According to John, this example was partially assembled in Flint and was then shipped to Capetown, South Africa, where it was bodied as a right-hand drive unit by the Stewart Body Company. How long the Phaeton resided in or near Capetown is unknown; however its second owner, also of Ohio, began its restoration that commenced with its reconversion to conventional left-hand drive steering. In May 2012, John purchased the unfinished project, along with 15 boxes of parts and a spare engine. Completed in April 2016, John’s Marquette has already been bestowed with AACA First Junior and Senior awards.
The Hemmings Motor News Concours d’Elegance is presented by Gullwing Motor Cars. HMN and our partner, the Saratoga Automobile Museum, are proud to welcome supporting sponsors McCollister’s Transportation, Restoration & Performance Motorcars, Restoration Parts Unlimited Inc., Stewart-Warner Genuine Parts, Magic Creeper, Colonel Crawford Eagles All-Sports Booster Club, the New England Auto Auction, Coker Tire, Car Dolly, and Microbead Car Covers.
The Concours d’Elegance will be held on Sunday, September 25, in the picturesque Saratoga Spa State Park in Saratoga Springs, New York. The automotive gala will be preceded by the Hemmings Rally to Lake George on Friday, September 23, followed by Saturday’s Cruise-In Spectacular and Concours evening banquet, the latter headlined by a keynote address from this year’s Honorary Chairman, automotive legend Lee Holman. Joining us throughout the weekend once again will be Master of Ceremonies Ed Lucas.
If you would like to have your vehicle considered for this event, please send full contact information, photos and a brief write-up about it to Hemmings Motor News Concours, Attn: Matthew Litwin, 222 Main Street, Bennington, Vermont, 05201, or by email at [email protected].
For more information about the 10th Annual Hemmings Motor News Concours d’Elegance presented by Gullwing Motor Cars, including tickets and accommodations, visitHemmings.com/Events/Concours. A portion of the Concours proceeds goes directly towards the Saratoga Automobile Museum’s educational programs focused on safety and distracted driving awareness. To learn more, visit SaratogaAutoMuseum.org.