BUICK GOES RACING
Featuring the Buick Bug!
The following article is reproduced from an article written by Dave Norton from
the UK Chapter of the Buick Club of America 1988, found amongst some old
yellowed papers. What an era of racing it must have been with thundering cars
and smoke over some pretty rough tracks, and also the involvement of Bob
Burman and Louis Chevrolet driving Buicks to success.
“It has always been felt among motor manufacturers that a success in a race or
rally would almost certainly increase sales from the showrooms. Nearly every
company has attempted this, although if Mr Average Motorist really does
concern himself with this is a matter of conjecture. Obviously if a chap is
motoring minded and follows, as it were, the sport, then no doubt any decision
to buy a particular make could be encouraged by a big race success. It was
to this end that William Durant like many other early car builders, decided to
plunge his company into the fray.
The year was 1905, the event was held at Grosse Point, and the car …….. a
diminutive little Buick that was not even an official entry. As the field was
somewhat sparse, the Buick was allowed to compete. Its eventual first place
was in no small way attributed to its capable handler – Bob Burman.
Its strange to think that the name of Wild Bob Burman coupled with Buick was a
force to be reckoned with in the years around 1910, when a couple of years
earlier he had been a wheel painter in the old Durant-Dort Company. Durant,
although very busy producing motor cars for the clamouring public, was quick to
see the duo’s potential, and so Burman was entered for races at St Louis and
Grand Rapids with similar results. Walter Marr, Buick’s first Chief Engineer,
won the Eagle Rock Hill Climb in a 22 hp Model F, and the Mount Washington
event during 1907.
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By 1908, Durant was working on a full race team for the season and it was at
this juncture that the Chevrolet brothers, Arthur and Louis, were enlisted to join
Bob Burman and Lewis Strang. It was also in this year that Burman thundered
to victory in the Massachusetts Dead Horse Hill Climb, Giants Despair Mountain
Climb and the 100-mile Free for All at Empire City Track, New York.
One of the biggest events of the year was lost to Bruce Brown in a massive
Benz, this race being the Savannah Georgia Grand Prix, against formidable
opposition of Lancia, Fiat and Benz in the hands of professionals like Hemery,
Wagner and Nazarro. Burman in a modified Model 10 Buick suffered no less
than 15 tyre changes against Brown’s Benz needing only one. Burman
finished third having no doubt quite a heated exchange with the tyre men!
During 1909, one success followed another. C E Easter won the Light Car
Championship on the Vanderbilt Cup Course, while Louis Chevrolet averaged
69.9 mph to gain a new American road race record and World Stock Car record
in the Riverhead, Long Island road race. The 200-mile Coca Cola Stock Car
trophy at Atlanta was also won by Chevrolet at 72 mph.
An actual Bug at Flint in 2003
In fact, by 1911 Buick had collected over 500 trophies, having competed all over
America, and even at the Coupe de l’Auto in France, St Petersburg in Czarist
Russia, and at Brooklands in Surrey, England, where in fact, an all Buick benefit
race was run in 1912.
Unfortunately, due to a culmination of events, no participation took place in
racing after 1913, but a treatise of Buick’s early racing history would not be
complete without mention of the Buick Bug as a motor car rather than a
somewhat fanatical state of mind.
The Model Sixty Special, or “Bug” as it was christened was built in 1910 and
looked like no other Buick. The power supply came from a four cylinder engine
of approximately ten-litre capacity fitted with overhead valves and two plugs per
cylinder. Seemingly, she had rather a large appetite for oil, thus an oil injection
system was manually operated to replenish the ever decreasing six quarts in
The Bug would tick over at 600 rpm and could be eased back to about 10 mph
in top gear, but could also be opened up to 55 mph in second. Of its top
speed, at the Indianapolis Raceway on July 1st, 1910, it was clocked at 105.87
mph on the straightway ….. yes, in 1910!
The Bug ran on 34 x 4 ½ tyres, and had foot brakes and transmission mounted
hand brake. The latter was the only means of stopping as the foot brake was
absolutely useless! It was said of the car that visibility was excellent in all
directions…….. except straight ahead! What a fantastic machine it must have
After the incredible success at Indy, Burman took the Bug to Pablo Beach
where he won a 20-mile free for all at an average speed of 91.06 mph.
Thankfully the Buick “Bug” is still with us. The car is on display in the Sloan
Panorama of Transportation in Flint, and the state of mind is in many.
L Haime (WA Buicks)