The Stock Market Crash of October 29, 1929 began an economic slide from which the country would not recover for over a decade. The affect of the crash on the automotive industry was significant - many companies shut their doors, including Pierce-Arrow and Franklin. One was established in the late-Thirties by Powell Crosley, Jr., the innovator behind an affordable radio, as well as a series of appliances designed to improve the comfort of the home as well. The Crosley Corporation made small, light, and practical cars that proved ideal for people on a tight budget (and few people during the 1930's were not on a tight budget). Crosley automobiles sold well after their initial introduction in 1939 and continued to do so during early years of the war, when the rationing of gasoline for civilian use proved a severe limitation on what people could drive. After the war, however, as the economy improved and production increased for most automobile manufacturers, Crosley --- but then, we're getting ahead of ourselves now, aren't we.
1934 Buick Sedan
- The Buick Motor Company was established in 1903, the oldest automobile brand in the United States and one of the oldest in the world. It began under the management of David Dunbar Buick, a dreamer and a tinkerer who was better at car design than he was at business management. Within a year, he had sold the company that bore his name, although he stayed on as a manager for a while before spending the rest of his life in relative obscurity. The ambitious William "Billy" Durant became a controlling investor of Buick and, by 1908, turned Buick into the most successful automotive company in the nation. The same year, he established a holding company called General Motors. Soon enough, Buick joined other car producers including Cadillac and Oldsmobile as an integral part to the success of GM. Chevrolet would join in 1916, and together they became the largest producer of automobiles in the world.
- The Great Depression proved disastrous for the automobile industry, and Buick sales were dramatically down by 1933. The company president at the time was 39 year-old Harlow Curtice, who introduced the Model 40 and 50 Sedans, with the promise of “more speed for less money.” People loved the cars, Buick sales improved and the future of the company was secured.
- The 1934 Buick has “freestyle doors,” which open outwards from the middle, with rear hinges for four-door cars. These types of doors were convenient and easy to use in the days of the slow-moving, horse-drawn carriages, but could be deadly when incorporated in automobiles, should they unexpectedly open and passengers fell out. They were informally and morbidly known as suicide doors. This moniker came about, it is conjectured, because of the relative ease doors unlatched back in the day. If someone was leaning against the door, it might have been easier for them to just fall out. If, on the other hand, the door just opened while the car was moving (it happened), the person who reached out to close it could accidentally fall out of the car.
- Then there's the gangster element. During Prohibition and the Great Depression, bad people did bad things. And that might have included pushing people out of moving vehicles. It was a lot easier to do that, we're told anyway, with suicide doors than it was with standard doors. In no way do we condone this sort of behavior.
- One feature you will see on our '34 Buick that is pretty unique is a bullet hole above the passenger-side rear fender. We can guarantee that it did NOT come with the car. We are fairly confident that it did not come from any of the famous 1930's gangsters, either, since "Pretty Boy" Floyd, "Baby Face" Nelson, Bonnie & Clyde, and John Dillinger all died violent deaths in the year 1934. That was also the year that Alcatraz Prison opened in San Francisco, and Al Capone, already imprisoned in Atlanta, GA, moved to the infamous prison as one of its earliest inmates (he was inmate AZ85).
- In 1971, the last of the suicide doors was retired when Ford gave it up on their Thunderbird design. Although by this time, door latches had become far superior to those used in the '30s to ensure they would not fly open. Negative press about rear-hinged suicide doors proved effective. Ralph Nader, in his groundbreaking criticism of the automotive industry, Unsafe At Any Speed, inspired the end of the suicide door forever.... At least until 1998, when Saturn introduced a rear-hinged coupe that required the front door to be opened before the rear door could be opened opposite it as a virtually fail-proof safety measure. Since then, BMW, Toyota, Mazda, Rolls Royce and a scattered few other producers have reintroduced them. We may see suicide doors again, but now they're generally referred to as 'coach' doors.