Some of the pictures don't even show complete cars. The doors are
removed in one. Another photo has a pretty girl driving what could
only be described as the 1954 Buick Sawhorse. (Acceleration?
The reflection in the hubcap yields a further
A bunker-like shed with a curved roof (detail, right), enclosing either a
ramp or elevator to get the cars topside. Then we came across a
photograph showing, in addition to Herself at the controls,
a building with a large sign painted on
the side, blurrily visible in the distance.
Some more scanning and enlargement revealed
"Henry H. Stevens STORAGE Nationwide MOVING SERVICE." A little Googling supplied
the address: 1273 Broadway Boulevard in Flint, Michigan — Flint
being of course the birthplace of the Buick. A trip to the Terraserver
Web site provided a satellite photo (from 1999, at right) of
the location. And, in the upper left of the picture (white arrow), just across
the Flint River . . . our funny little shed! A bit more digging revealed this was a place called Buick City,
a huge complex of factories 50 miles from Detroit. General
Motors closed its plants there in 1999, and
demolition of the buildings was under way in 2002.
THIS IS a story that began with a dozen or so
interesting-looking 8-by-10 glossy prints bought from a New York
auto literature dealer. Taken in 1951 and 1953, they show
1952 and 1954 Buicks on the roof of a large building in an
industrial area. Some of the cars are perched on a turntable,
surrounded by white reflectors. Many of the shots feature
models of the flesh-and-blood variety, mostly Size 2 girls with a few guys
thrown in. But with an almost complete absence of backdrops, the
weren't intended for publication. (Click on the photos for the
Our best guess was that the pictures were
intended as artists' studies for advertising and promotional
illustrations. In the 1950s, most dealer sales brochures used
painted illustrations rather than photographs. The location of the
shooting was the bigger mystery. As with most
professionally made pictures, there's not much evidence of the
photographer (aside from an ink stamp
and the actual photographs). Except: 1950s cars
being what they were, these Buicks made liberal use of chrome. A
little hunting, and high-resolution scanning, revealed the
photographer and his crew — reflected in the wheel covers, bumpers
and miscellaneous brightwork.
At left are thumbnails of two aerial views of Buick City:
In its heyday, sometime before 1999 (top left), and in 2000 not long after the closing. Red arrows point
to the Henry Stevens building and to the roof where the Buick
photos were taken. (Click for
full-size images.) Below are the sad results of the demolition in progress,
with our funny little shed ready to meet the wrecking ball.
Oh what a time it was. We hope Buick doesn't go the way of
Oldsmobile. But if it does, we'll still have the marque's fabulous
cars as well as a few strange photographs.