'Around the world' proved Buick's worth
6 months, 14 countries, 16,499 miles
Back in 1908 — another 100-year-old milestone — a Thomas Flyer won the famous New York-to-Paris Great Race, notably overcoming the mud roads of the Western states and Siberia. Six cars left Times Square in New York, headed west, and three — the American Thomas, a German Protos and an Italian Zust — made it to Paris. The Thomas covered the 22,000 miles in 169 days — actually, 13,341 miles was driven in 88 days, with the rest of the time and distance occurring over water.
But when General Motors Export and Buick created an around-the-world expedition in 1925, they put a twist on the endeavor.
Instead of challenging one team to drive a car the entire distance, the car was handed off from dealer to dealer. The GM team was to demonstrate not only the reliability and durability of the Buick but also the worldwide service network of General Motors.
Why was a Buick chosen instead of, say, a Cadillac or Chevrolet? At that time, Buick was GM's world car. When GM Export was created, Buick was virtually the only export.
In 1914, a Buick was the first automobile driven across South America. When adventurer Lowell Thomas made the first motor trip into Afghanistan in 1923, he drove a Buick.
Buick: GM's stalwart
China's first provisional president, Sun Yat-sen, rode in a Buick in Shanghai in 1912. And the last emperor of China, Pu Yi, had bought a Buick by the mid-1920s. Kings of England began to purchase Buicks made in Canada.
In the 1920s, GM President Alfred Sloan wrote to Chairman Pierre DuPont that "it would be better that the rest of GM be scrapped than any chances taken with Buick's earning power."
So Buick it was — a 1925 Standard Six Touring model with right-hand drive, shipped from New York on Dec. 20, 1924, on the S.S. Aurania bound for Liverpool, England. It was driven by different distributors under GM Ltd. to Manchester, Nottingham and Stratford-on-Avon, then photographed at Buckingham Palace in London.
The Buick was in Holland on Jan. 8. Three days later, it was in Belgium, then on to Paris and Marseilles, France. The only mechanical fixes in Europe were a check of valve clearances and brake adjustment.
After it was shipped to Egypt, the Standard Six was driven through Cairo, posed at the pyramids and Sphinx and sent across the Suez Canal to Palestine. Several blowouts were the only problem. It was driven through Jerusalem, Nazareth and Haifa and then, on Feb. 6, left Beirut by transdesert convoy for Baghdad.
And, finally, home
Said one report: "The road was terrible in places, being nothing more than a car track strewn with large boulders, yet the car stood up to the rough going and gave no trouble whatever."
The trip from Baghdad to Basra was rough. A small bridge collapsed, but the car wasn't damaged. The Buick was shipped across the Persian Gulf to India.
Then it was on to Ceylon and to Perth, Australia. The 1,825-mile run across the outback to Adelaide was a tough seven-day trip through bogs and mud. It was four more days to Melbourne before the car was shipped from Sydney to New Zealand. It was driven from Auckland to the southernmost city of Invercargill and back, then sent to Hawaii.
After being shipped back to San Francisco and then driven across the United States, the "Around the World Buick" stopped in Flint, Mich., for a welcome at its birthplace. By the time it reached New York on June 25, 1925, the car had traveled 16,499 miles through 14 countries.
All three of the cars that finished the Great Race in 1908 have survived to this day. But nobody knows what happened to the Around the World Buick.
Patrick and Mary Brooks, who drove a 1949 Buick woody wagon around the world in a new millennium rally in 2000, tried to track it down. The best they could do was find a similar model, right down to the right-hand drive, and restore it. Today it's in the GM Heritage Center.