That's when he pleaded with Durant, a rival Flint carriage leader, to take over Buick. Durant, a skilled salesman and promoter, was reluctant, but he quickly became enthusiastic about the car's performance. Within four years Durant built up the tiny firm and used it as the foundation when he created GM.
Records are inconclusive, but it appears that David Buick stayed with the Buick company until 1909 — several years after his big role in the creation of GM was over. After Durant took over and quickly built a huge enterprise, David began to fade out.
As Durant told an interviewer: "David Buick was a likable fellow. But he was a dreamer, and he couldn't be practical. ... We did everything we could at the plant to make it easy for him. We arranged for his son, Tom, to be on the payroll and to try to keep his father settled. But after some years, he just drifted away."
It's said that Durant gave Buick $100,000 when he left, even though he was not legally required to do so. Tom Buick complained that his father was treated unfairly, but David himself never seemed bitter, said his grandson, David Dunbar Buick II.
David moved to California to head his newly formed Buick Oil Co., which was briefly successful before lawsuits over stock deals destroyed it. What money Buick salvaged from oil he soon lost in other poor investments, including Florida land deals.
By the mid-1920s, he was back in Detroit. Interviewed in 1928 by young news reporter Bruce Catton (later a Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War historian), David Buick, then 73, noted: "I'm not after charity or pity. But it's kind of hard for a man my age to be uncertain about the future. I've got to have a job."
Catton wrote: "This man whose name is world famous, but whose purse is thin, is neither discouraged nor unhappy. His eyes, that have seen the company he founded go on to greatness without him, are bright and cheerful. He does not seem defeated.
"The giants of the automobile world are true giants that cannot be crushed; and David Buick, if you will, is one of them."
Maybe not crushed, but certainly destitute, David Buick, 74, died of cancer in Detroit on March 5, 1929.
While the press and public lamented his financial situation when he died, David Buick's legacy is large. His name is cast in bronze on a Michigan historical marker at GM headquarters in downtown Detroit and on a plaque at his birthplace in Scotland. He is honored in the Automotive Hall of Fame. Millions of cars have borne his name over more than a century.
And Buick's automobile was the foundation for a corporation that became the world's largest seller of automobiles.