Bobby Allison's 1981 Buick.
By the late-'70s in Winston Cup racing, the number of brands had settled down to basically Ford, Mercury, Chevy, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac. The MOPAR models left early in the decade. But there was one interesting exception to that rule that occurred in the early '80s-the long-dormant Buick brand.
Buick had experienced a short tenure of success in the mid-'50s when 322cid-powered Centurys were competitive, but then a quarter-century dry spell set in. That changed only when General Motors came out with a super-slick Regal design that set NASCAR on its ear starting in 1981.
Buick Body; Chevy Engine
The race cars featured Buick sheetmetal on the outside, but there was no Buick power under the hood. That's because GM had decreed that all of its models running in Winston Cup would use the same basic 358 cubic-inch, small-block Chevrolet engine. That applied to Chevy, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Buick.
With the identical "corporate" engines, it was necessary to acquire an edge in some other way, and Buick did it with aerodynamics. The super-slick Regal body style was hands-down superior to its GM brethren and the other brands. It looked like a wind tunnel had played a big part in this design, making it look like a rocket, and the car sure ran like one. The design had a look that wouldn't have been out of place with the car models of the 21st century.
It was hard to cool down Bobby Allison and his Buick in 1983, a season in which he won six
First, the grille was not vertical (as was the trend), a design that allowed air to hit the old version like a barn door. With the Regal, a double-angle slope in the grille allowed a smooth, non-restricted airflow up and over the car. Also, the windshield was sharply angled backward, with the sides being completely smooth. It was though the shapely Regal had been designed to be a race car from scratch. NASCAR drivers loved the handling of the machine all around the track. The front end of the model provided significant downforce, which was a major reason for its superb cornering capabilities.
Winners From The Start
The first Buick season came in 1981, and it was gangbusters. Darrell Waltrip won the championship in a Buick, posting 12 wins and 21 Top-5 finishes. The second-place finisher, Bobby Allison, also drove a Regal. But there were a lot more Buicks in the Top 10, with Harry Gant in third, Terry Labonte in fourth, Ricky Rudd in sixth, and Richard Petty (who drove Buicks for this single season) in eighth place. Other drivers wheeling Buicks that year included Tim Richmond. The coming dominance of Buick certainly came to light when Richard Petty took the Daytona 500 that season with a total of 14 Buicks in the starting field.
Who's that in the No. 2 Buick? None other than Mark Martin taking a spin at North Wilksbor
The 1982 season was even better for Buick, with Waltrip again taking the title, followed by Allison and Labonte in second and third, Gant in fourth, Dave Marcis in sixth, Ron Bouchard in eighth, and Morgan Shepherd in 10th. The domination was again overpowering for Buick, with 25 total wins. Next in line was Chevrolet, with just three wins. Twenty-five of the 42 cars starting the 1982 Daytona 500 were Buicks. Bobby Allison took the win.
As other models started to catch up in 1983, the domination fell off a bit for Buick, but it still had the champion, this time with Bobby Allison. Waltrip had moved to a Chevrolet, finishing second in the points. Harry Gant brought a Buick home seventh, but that was it for the Top 15. In all, there were only six victories, dropping Buick down to second place behind Chevrolet's 15 wins. The following year, there were only two Buick victories, both of them coming from Allison.