In addition its radical design, the 1954 Wildcat II concept was developed to test the viability of a fiberglass body.

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“The celebratory spirit of America’s great auto shows returned to Motor City this year,” said Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book’s 

The ongoing Detroit auto show — fully titled the North American International Auto Show — feels very retro, because it has debuted a series of big, brash, unapologetic concept cars and production models, he said.

The bold nature of the show cars reflects growing optimism in the automotive marketplace, Brauer said. “U.S. automakers are feeling particularly confident in their current and future financial outlooks, which is quite a change from where they were in 2010,” he said. 

Buick has recalled the past and applied it to the future with its Avenir concept, which will be on view at the show through next Sunday. The big, four-seat sedan has some provenance from the 1938 Buick Y-Job, created by the brash and arrogant Harley Earl. The Y-Job’s aircraft-influenced styling was, perhaps, the most dramatic styling exercise to arise from the war years of American history. 

The Avenir — French for future — blends exploratory styling with advanced technology to probe new directions for Buick, the company says. 

“Buick, under the design leadership of Harley Earl, created the industry’s first concept vehicle and for more than 75 years each new Buick concept has pushed the brand forward and influenced the industry through great design,” said Ed Welburn, vice president of General Motors Global Design. 

While not a flamboyant concept, the Avenir appears to have realistic proportions that would be seen in a production model. A new grille design (recalling the 1954 Wildcat II concept) puts a new face on the brand, said Michael Simcoe, vice president of design, GM International Operations. The Avenir concept is 7.5 inches longer than Buick’s largest car, the LaCrosse, and 3 inches wider.

Flowing interior surfaces were inspired by nature and sea waves receding on a beach. The motif is imprinted on the seats and other trim components — even the carpet.

The Avenir is a sculpted design with a lot of snap in the character lines — with a classic long, low proportion, said Simcoe. “Its length enables exceptional spaciousness inside, but just as importantly, a presence that speaks to luxury and the importance of style. In short, it’s the befitting proportion for a Buick flagship.”

Here’s a look at five of the most influential concepts that advanced Buick’s design, driver technology or powertrain technology:

1. Y-Job — 1938: Developed by Harley Earl, GM’s first design chief, the Y-Job was designed solely to gauge the public’s response to the innovative styling and features rather than foreshadowing a new production model. It previewed features that would become common throughout the industry, such as power windows, flush-mounted door handles, disappearing headlamp and a concealed convertible top. 

2. Wildcat Series — 1953-55, 1985: The Wildcat series of concept vehicles pushed the brand’s design language forward and showcased innovative technologies. The first 1953 Wildcat concept was a fiberglass two-seater with four-wheel disc brakes. The smaller and sportier 1954 Wildcat II (shown) and 1955 Wildcat III showcased elongated front fender openings. 

The futuristic 1985 Wildcat concept was made of fiberglass and carbon fiber. Instead of traditional doors, it had a canopy that raised and lowered to allow access for two passengers. Behind the cabin and driving all four wheels was an engine based on the Buick 3.8-liter V-6.

3. Riviera Silver Arrow III — 1972: Designed by Bill Mitchell, the Silver Arrow III was based on the third-generation Riviera, but with bolder design that showcased technologies such as four-wheel antilock brakes and a traction control system. The plush interior of the Silver Arrow III had adjustable pedals and telescoping steering wheel, which eliminated the need for fore-aft driver seat movement.

4. Centieme — 2003: French for “one-hundredth,” the Centieme was introduced in Buick’s centenary year. The three-row seating configuration influenced the Enclave crossover that debuted about four years later.

5. Velite — 2004: Designed in Warren, Michigan, and built by renowned coachbuilder Bertone in Italy, Velite was named after an elite class of soldiers in Napoleon’s army. Portholes on the front fenders and a rear deck contoured in a boattail shape evoke Buicks of the past.

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