The Buick Blackhawk is not just any customized car – it’s designed to emphasize Buick’s heritage of distinctive design and outstanding power for the specialized audiences that attend custom/hot rod shows.
"This is a very special show car," said Michael E. Doble, Buick’s special vehicles manager: "It has classic styling combined with contemporary proportions. If you’re talking about customized cars, the Blackhawk is the ultimate expression of Buick."
The Blackhawk is basically a 2-plus-2 convertible with a retractable top, and a body that looks like it came out of the late 1930s or ‘40s – because it did. Its face is a classic 1939 Buick grille, which has a pattern of fine vertical bars, and its major sheet metal combines the sleek bodies of 1941 and 1948 Buick Roadmasters.
All of this except the grille has been modified, and the final appearance – featuring black cherry paint, doors without handles and hidden headlamps – is of a streamlined yet retro head-turner that looks like it was created specifically for the Woodward Dream Cruise.
In a sense it was. Doble has been in charge of creating Buick show and concept cars as well as some specialty production models for the last 15 years. Mostly, his Buick concepts have been built to headline major auto shows at Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. But the Blackhawk was created to fill a different need – one he perceived when he attended custom and hot rod shows and caught the enthusiasm of their crowds.
"The folks who attend those shows are very excited and knowledgeable about cars," he said. "We felt we needed a custom Buick for that audience, but not a hot rod. Hot rods tend to have simple bodies, exposed engines, large rear wheels and lots of chrome. But when you build a custom, it’s like you’re redesigning a car.
"The Blackhawk is a highly altered car, picking up design cues from Buick’s heritage. It will be a great showpiece for a lot of events as we head toward Buick’s centennial in 2003."
To Buick General Manager Roger W. Adams, the Blackhawk creates "a very interesting statement for Buick to make as we approach our centennial. Buicks have always had a strong element of power and distinctive style – and this is a good time to remind folks of that."
He said Buick leaders have long promoted the marque’s upscale image and such key Buick attributes as comfort, convenience, safety and security. But in the last couple of years there has been new emphasis on more expressive Buicks.
One example is the 1999 concept Cielo, a " no-compromise" convertible with roof rails and retractable top. Another is the 2000 concept LaCrosse, described as a "drop-dead gorgeous" flagship sedan, which packages styling cues from Buick’s past (such as vertical-bar grille, portholes and side sculpture from the ‘50s) in a refreshing way. LaCrosse, incidentally, can also reveal a pickup-type rear cargo area on a single voice command. Still another example is Rendezvous, a production Buick SUV for the 2002 model year that Adams says is more versatile than any other vehicle in its class.
The Blackhawk, while not intended for major auto shows, adds to that new trend with a more aggressive take on styling heritage and power. And, Doble said, the Blackhawk is "no trailer queen." It’s meant to be driven, maybe even from custom show to custom show across the country.
The Blackhawk’s performance goal is 0-60 miles per hour in under 5 seconds. Its powertrain is a 1970-vintage 455-cubic-inch Buick GS Stage III V-8 engine, heavily detailed and mated to the latest electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. The naturally aspirated, overhead valve, fuel-injected engine generates 463 horsepower at 4600 rpm and 510 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm.
While Doble had the idea of creating a great Buick custom car with heritage overtones, he did not create the Blackhawk. He took his ideas to five companies and they came back with a number of creative concepts, all of which were well received by Doble. Finally he chose one of four concepts submitted by Steven D. Pasteiner, a former Buick designer who owns a design and prototype company, Advanced Automobile Technologies, in Rochester Hills, Mich.
Pasteiner had done major design work on a number of Buick concepts over the years – such as Questor, Sceptre, Park Avenue Essence, Signia and XP2000, all well-known names to students of industry dream cars. He had also designed such production Buicks as GS models of the late 1960s and Regals from the 1970s until he left General Motors Design to create his own company in 1989.
Pasteiner’s enthusiasm for the Blackhawk matches Doble’s.
"This is the ultimate Buick custom car," Pasteiner said. "We used the 1939 grille because it is one of the most significant in Buick history. Those vertical bars are hints of the grilles that became Buick icons in the ‘40s and early ‘50s. The grille sets the tone for the Blackhawk. But we also liked the ‘torpedo’ body from the top-of-the-line Buicks of the 1940s."
Said Doble: "We wanted the best from Buick history, but also we wanted to create a contemporary design. For example, the Blackhawk has a split windshield, which is right for that era – yet the windshield glass is curved, a more modern feature. Even the side glass is curved."
Many of the Blackhawk’s major components are hand made, such as the frame, the unique carbon-fiber top and the retractable system that lowers the top into the trunk (leaving a small luggage area).
Other features include a fully independent suspension, remote keyless entry (so you can open the doors, which don’t have exterior handles) and dual exhaust with three-inch pipes. The Blackhawk is equipped with 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels (a style similar to those on uplevel Rivieras, Wildcats and Skylarks of ’65) with high speed, Z-rated tires -- P295/35R18 on the front and P295/45R18 on the rear.
As an accent complementing the exterior design, a slightly different shade of dark cherry is used to create a "sweepspear" along the sides of the body. The sweepspear is a decoration that first showed up on some ’49 Roadmasters and later became a shape sculpted into the sides of ‘50s Buicks. It’s basically a horizontal line that sweeps in a downward curve along the doors toward the base of the leading edge of the rear fender, then kicks up over the rear wheel openings. It’s a look that reappeared in the 1999 Cielo and 2000 LaCrosse concepts, both Doble projects.
While the Blackhawk looks to be from somewhere in time, it’s hard to pin down where. Borrowed from the same 1939 Buick that donated the grille, a lighted logo device in the middle of the trunk exterior incorporates turn signals – a reminder that this particular ’39 Buick feature was the industry’s first production turn signal. Borrowed from contemporary technology, the Blackhawk is equipped with Global Positioning System navigation tied to a liquid crystal display screen.
And borrowed from a 1996 Buick Riviera – one of the most luxurious of all Buicks -- is the heavily modified Blackhawk interior. That includes buff color leather for the door trim and seats, plus design of the instrument panel and center console (though the wood-rimmed steering wheel is unique). The custom car was created in the spring of 2000.
Even the name is borrowed. Buick introduced a subcompact Skyhawk for 1975 and the hawk symbol became an icon for the entire Buick line through the 1980s.
"I’ve worked on a lot of great concepts for Buick, but this is No. 1 for me," said Doble, on the eve of his retirement after 35 years with GM. "We’ll drive it – and I emphasize drive it – to custom and hot rod shows. In this car, we’ll be displaying design elements that gave Buick its character. And the message will be: ‘Buick is proud of its design and power heritage. And that we’re creating a new look based on that heritage.’ "