Making the case for the 1960 Buick
Recently, I was at a collector car dealership performing a pre-purchase inspection on one of the dealer’s vehicles. On my way out the door, I was taking a look at some of the other vehicles in stock and stopped in my tracks when I came across what I think is one of the more under-appreciated cars of the 1960’s.
The car was a 1960 Buick Invicta Convertible, finished in Chalet Blue with a white top. I hadn’t seen one of these cars in a long time, and I had forgotten how great they look in person. I didn’t inspect the car carefully, but it appeared to be a clean and reasonably straight, mostly original driver with a reasonably worn but mostly original interior. I took several minutes circling the car, taking it all in.
Buick changed things up in model year 1959, discontinuing their full size Special, Century, Super and Roadmaster. In its place were three new full size models; the low-end LeSabre, the sporty Invicta, and the high end Electra and longer Electra 225, known as the “deuce and a quarter” as it was about 225” long. For ’59 and ’60, these models would represent Buicks entire lineup. The lineup was enhanced when the compact Skylark and Special were introduced in ’61. In 1960, the LeSabre was the big seller, with over 150,000 units produced. In comparison, there were 45,000 Invicta’s, 35,000 Electras and 20,000 Electra 225’s produced that year. The Invicta ragtop I saw was one of only 5,236 made in ’60.
For 1960, customers had their choice of 2 engines; either a 364 or 401 cubic inch Nailhead V-8, dubbed “Wildcat”, with a corresponding number after it which designated engine torque. The LeSabre was only offered with the 364 cubic inch engine, while all other models were only offered with the 401’s. The 364’s came in 4 variants; the most powerful being the Wildcat 405-4B, producing 300 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque. It was the only 364 offered with a 4 barrel carburetor and dual exhaust. Other 364’s offered included the Wildcat 384, with 250 hp, the Wildcat 375, with 235 hp, and the low production and low output “Wildcat” standard, with only 210 hp and 340 lb-ft of torque. There was only one version of the 401 offered, The “Wildcat 445”, with 325 hp and 4 barrel carburetion. The 445 was the most powerful Buick engine ever produced at that point. Only about 1500 Buicks were equipped with manual transmissions, all other cars were equipped with a two speed, twin-turbine (Dynaflow) automatic.
Compared to the ’59, the facelifted 1960 Buicks were a vast improvement, with beneficial styling changes front and rear. The front end was cleaned up, with an elegant concave grille that was a much cleaner design than the somewhat garish ‘59, while the rear fins were toned down and more subtle than the ’59 models as well. The slab sides of the ’59 were gone, and in its place were gentle, graceful curves on three different levels. Buick got it right; as even the 4 door models, whether in hardtop or flat-top, look elegant and stately. The problematic triple turbine Dynaflow transmission introduced in ’58 was discontinued, with a return to the slightly reworked twin turbine automatic.
The cars could be ordered with a variety of options that were normal for full size mid-level cars of that era, including air conditioning, power seats and leather interiors, which was standard on all Electra and Invicta Custom convertibles. New for ’60 was something of a novelty, the adjustable, “Mirro-Magic” instrument panel. The instrument panel was a mirror, adjustable for the height and sightline of the driver. The mirror reflected the image of the actual instrument panel which was mounted low in the dash above the steering column. The actual panel, as well as the odometer and fuel gauge, were printed in reverse image and angled up towards the windshield. The optional clock, mounted next to the instrument panel, was a piece unique to Buick. According to legend, the clock was modeled after a Howard Miller desk clock owned by a Buick stylist.
Performance was on par with other full size cars of its time, with a Wildcat 405 delivering 0-60 in about 10 seconds, and about 9 seconds for the Wildcat 445 with Dynaflow.
Intended as a publicity stunt at the time, Buick ran an endurance test with a stock Invicta coupe at Daytona in January of 1960. The goal of the test was “10,000 miles in 5,000 minutes”. The car was to run continuously for 10,000 miles. With pit-stops only for tire and driver changes, the car needed to average at least 120 mph for the entire test. The test featured racing drivers Fireball Roberts, Marvin Panch, Tiny Lund, Ralph Moody, Larry Flynn, Bobby Johns, and Larry Frank. Refueling would be accomplished on-track with a chase Buick. Using a special highly pressurized apparatus mounted on the chase car, and through use of a 200 gallon expansion tank mounted in the back seat in the Invicta, the chase car could give the Invicta 15 gallons of fuel in only 6 seconds, at speeds of 115 mph or more. Buick accomplished its goal, achieving 10,000 miles in less than 5,000 minutes, averaging a speed of 120.184 mph. GM made a promotional video of the test, and a link to it is below.
So why is the 1960 Buick relatively unloved compared to other offerings of the era? In this author’s opinion, the Buick lineup was better looking than any other full size car offered by the big three in 1960, and yet it was not a great success for Buick. By 1961, Buick was ninth in domestic sales; they were fourth in 1956. It’s true that a steel production strike in 1959 delayed production by about a month, but Buick had been in decline before then.
Part of the reason may be that there are not scores of these cars left. These Buicks rusted with aplomb, like most cars built in the early sixties, and the convertibles in particular rusted away very quickly, everywhere. Reproduction exterior panels are not currently available, which makes restoration even more complicated and expensive. Other parts can be sometimes difficult to obtain as well; it’s much less costly and complicated to restore a clapped out 1960 Chevrolet Impala than a Buick. The 2 speed Dynaflow may be a turnoff to collectors and enthusiasts as well, as many find it creates a sluggish driving experience, and manual transmission Buicks are exceedingly rare.
Still, today when you see one, they are quite striking; with a side profile that has lots going on, but yet does not appear busy. The car was a forerunner of what today is known as “angry headlights”, and brings out an aggressiveness in design when looking at the front of the car. It’s a shame we don’t see more of these at car shows!
The good news is that if you want one, there are still some out there for you, and for very reasonable money. Take your time and find one that’s already been properly sorted. A nice solid #3 driver’s car will run you somewhere between $25-30k, for an Invicta drop top, while a comparable ’60 Impala drop top with a 348 and single 4 barrel will set you back almost double that. As an added bonus, the Buick 401 makes an extra 25 horsepower over that Chevy 348. Prepare yourself for extra attention, as yours will be the only one at the local cruise-in.
To watch the GM documentary, 10,000 miles in 5,000 minutes, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dczamtg3UMk