1930 Marquette
1930 Marquette . Click image to enlarge

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Article and photo by Bill Vance

In the early 1920s the legendary General Motors president, later chairman, Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. decided that GM’s 10 car lines were just too many. There were two Chevrolets (490 and FB), Oakland, three Oldsmobiles (a four cylinder, a six and an eight), Scripps-Booth, Sheridan, Buick and Cadillac. Sloan noted that their prices overlapped and they were competing for sales with each other almost as much as they were with GM’s competitors.

Sloan gradually rationalized GM nameplates down to five: Chevrolet, Oakland (later Pontiac), Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac. It was a tidy arrangement intended to attract customers to GM with the low priced Chevrolet, and as their fortunes improved, to lure them up the GM hierarchy. A Cadillac was the reward for real success.

In the late twenties, however, the prosperity of the “Roaring Twenties” induced GM to stray from that policy with another binge of marque proliferation. It began in 1926 when the Oakland Motor
Co. added the Pontiac as a so-called “companion car” for the Oakland. Companion cars were created to trade on the prestige of the parent make, expand its market share, but cost less. As events unfolded the Pontiac proved more popular than its parent and Oakland was discontinued in 1931.

Other GM divisions also wanted companion cars. Thus in 1927 Cadillac brought out the LaSalle, followed by Oldsmobile with its 1929 V8 powered Viking, and Buick with its 1930 Marquette.

The Buick Motor Co. introduced the Marquette in June 1929 as an early 1930 model. Buick sales had been declining for several years, a situation that was not helped by its 1929 model which was styled with a bulging waistline, earning it the unflattering “pregnant Buick” nickname.

The Marquette was intended to provide Buick quality at a lower price, in the $1,000 range compared with almost $1,300 for the lowest Buick. The first step in the Marquette’s cost reduction was using a modified Oldsmobile side-valve six engine rather than Buick’s overhead valve design. This was a real departure for Buick who had always had overhead valves and was famous for them.

The bore and stroke of the Oldsmobile engine were altered to increase the displacement from the Old’s 3.2 litres (197 cu in.) to 3.5 (213) for the Marquette, with a horsepower increase from 55 to 67.5.   

Underneath, the Marquette was quite orthodox with longitudinal leaf springs and solid axles front and rear. The four wheel mechanical brakes could be operated by either a food pedal or a lever.

With a 2,896 mm (114 in.) wheelbase, the Marquette was a roomy car. It came in six body types, from a two-passenger coupe to a five-passenger, four-door sedan. Although there was nothing really outstanding about its appearance, the Marquette could still be called rather handsome, if conservative. It did have a couple of distinctive features: the grille had a herringbone design, and the windshield was sloped back at a seven degree angle.

The Marquette’s performance was competitive at that time. Buick claimed it could accelerate from 16 km/h (10 mph) to 96 km/h (60 mph) in 31 seconds in high (third) gear, climb a 12 per cent grade in high gear, and reach a top speed of close to 113 km/h (70 mph).

In the days before automatic transmissions a car’s high gear performance was highly prized. The Marquette, with its 4.54:1 rear axle ratio, excelled in this regard, but it did make the engine a little busy at highway speeds.

Unfortunately the Marquette arrived on the market just before the great stock market crash of October, 1929, that ushered in the Great Depression and would severely depress new car sales. This, and Buick dealers’ lack of enthusiasm for the Marquette’s side-valve engine after they had long extolled the virtues of overhead valves, spelled doom for the new car.

Not long after dealers received their new “Marquette – authorized Buick Service” signs, the decision was taken to discontinue the Marquette. Just over 35,000 were built before the Marquette passed into history. All were 1930 models, although a few leftovers may have been licensed as ’31s.

The Marquette wasn’t a total loss for GM, however. Its body was used as the basis for new Buick models, eliminating the “pregnant Buick” appellation. And the Marquette engine was sent to GM’s recently acquired German subsidiary Opel where it was used in commercial vehicles.

Apart from Cadillac’s LaSalle, which lasted from 1927 to 1940, GM’s companion cars were a short-lived experiment. Oldsmobile’s Viking lasted a few months longer than the Marquette, and as noted, Pontiac that started out as a companion car became the parent marque when Oakland was discontinued.

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