The year 1949 has always been one of my favorite years for cars.  It was also the year I was born.  Radio was still king, with shows featuring Bing Crosby, Jack Benny and Fibber McGee and Molly among the favorites.  Television sets were then selling at a rate of 60,000 a week, with “Uncle Miltie” Berle as Mr. TV.  In baseball, Joe Dimaggio was the highest-paid player, making $90,000 a year, and the VW Beetle was introduced to the U.S. with annual sales of 2 cars!  The mood in America was one of optimism and pride in saving the world from the destruction of World War II.  This new attitude of confidence was reflected in the 1949 cars.  They were lower, wider and sportier than ever before!  Buick, like the other car manufacturers had been tooled up for the war effort, having built the infamous “Hellcat” M-18 tanks, aircraft engines and ammunition.  This left little time for re-tooling for an all-new post-war car, so they, like most all other carmakers, continued their pre-war 1942 bodies through 1948.  Harlow W. Curtice headed up the Buick division, with Harley Earl as GM’s chief designer and Ned Nickles as the same for Buick.  The team created the “Hot” new ‘hardtop convertible’ which had reportedly been designed in 1945 by Nickles at GM’s “Art and Colour” design studio.  As the story goes, Buick’s manufacturing manager, Edward T. Ragsdale saw Nickles’ hardtop design and said that his wife Sarah would like it--that she always bought convertibles and left the top up with the windows all rolled down, so that the wind wouldn’t blow her hair and that she liked the sporty look.  The result became the first Buick Riviera Hardtop Convertible.  1949 was also the first year of the famous “sweep spear” side styling and it appeared in that year only on the Riviera.  This was also the first year for the portholes, with three appearing on each front fender of the Super and four on each front fender of the Roadmaster.  This continued as a Buick tradition through 1957.  Nickles had installed them on his personal ‘48 convertible, and had amber lights inside the fenders to give the look at night of a fighter plane.  When they went into production on the ‘49 Buick, the lights were deleted.  The portholes, along with the gun sight hood ornament, fuselage body and “pilot centered” asymmetrical dash, became the closest thing to flying a fighter plane that the buying public could achieve, and they loved it and bought 398,482 Buicks for the calendar year of 1949!  Other innovations were the body-length fenders,  panoramic windshield, wrap-around bumpers and taillights that neatly capped the rear fender, giving a smooth, uninterrupted flow from front to back.  In these cars, like the ‘48-’49 Cadillacs, it is obvious how much the Mustangs and P-38 airplanes influenced the design.  All ‘49 engines were straight 8s:  the 40 Special  110 hp, Super 115 hp, and Roadmaster with Dynaflow 150 hp. On the Roadmaster, the interior was plush with grey wool pinstriped broadcloth seats capped with black leather, pleated door panels and thick carpeting.  This sleek and graceful Buick looks good in all series, but my two favorites are the Roadmaster Riviera and the Roadmaster Sedanet.  Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to find a Roadmaster Sedanet and am in the final stages of a complete restoration.  This car will be featured in upcoming issues of Southern Wheels Magazine.  As the ads say, “Buick looks fine for ‘49!”  See you next month.

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