IT was on this date in 1854 that a very famous name in American automobile history entered life here in Scotland. David Dunbar Buick was born in Arbroath, the son of a joiner named Alexander and known as Sandy. I have mentioned Buick before but today I am commemorating his remarkable roller-coaster of a life.

The national records of Scotland show his birth registration. It reads: “David Buick (here spelt Buik) was born on 17 September 1854, the son of Alexander Buick, joiner and Jane Rodger.”

The entry in the Old Parish Register (OPR) for Arbroath gives the date of baptism as October 1854 and records that there were several witnesses. As NRS states: “It isn’t clear where the middle name Dunbar comes from.”

His family emigrated to the USA when he was just two, and after school, Buick started his working life in a factory which made plumbing items such as baths.

The National:

The company almost collapsed in 1882 until Buick and a partner took it over and boosted its fortunes with his first major plumbing invention – he had already invented a lawn sprinkler – which was a method for coating cast iron baths in vitreous enamel. It is no great exaggeration to say that baths around the world are mainly white because Buick made them so.

Though the company was successful, he did not get all the rewards he deserved from the bath invention, mainly because towards the end of the 19th century, he developed a passion for the internal combustion engine, and virtually ignoring the plumbing business, his partner and he agreed to dissolve the company.

He then raised the money to establish the Buick Auto-Vim company in 1899 with the aim of making entire cars. He managed to produce precisely one car before the company collapsed with crippling debts.

Again, he came up with an innovation, the overhead valve engine. It was more powerful than the side valve engines used by most manufacturers back then and was the forerunner of the overhead cam engine which is now the most popular car engine today.

Sadly, Buick did not have any flair for business and his invention earned him little. He was obsessed with producing entire cars and in 1902, he set up the Buick Manufacturing Company to do so, moving to Flint, Michigan, which would eventually make that city, and later Detroit, the centre for automobile production in the USA.

READ MORE: Call for Scots to take part in 'rejoin the EU' demo in London

Buick was persuaded to take on board a successful businessman, William C Durant, but the two men soon fell out. He simply disagreed with the philosophy of Durant who took over the company – he believed in mass production while the Scot wanted every car to be a piece of craftwork.

Durant won, and later founded General Motors, while Buick left the company which bore his name in 1904, though the Buick name continued to be used for decades for the quality range of vehicles produced by General Motors.

Having made a fortune in plumbing, Buick now lost his chance of a lifelong fortune, departing his own company in murky circumstances. He would later say: “I had a good block of stock. The directors held a meeting the day I left, I was told that they’d voted to pay my salary [for] the rest of my life. I thought I was all set. But they only paid for three years. After that, I never got a cent.”

He did get stocks and shares in the company but lost that second fortune in poor investments in other states such as California and Florida. Buick and his son Tom – David was married twice – tried to start a business making carburettors and he had another unsuccessful go at manufacturing a car, this time called the Dunbar.

He moved to Detroit but could not find any work, stating: “You know I’ve been to practically every one of my friends of the old days – millionaires now, everyone – and asked for a job, and none of them had anything for me.”

But he wasn’t bitter, and finally got a job as an instructor in the Detroit Trades School. Virtually penniless and unable to afford even a telephone, Buick died of colon cancer in 1929, aged 74.

In an interview given shortly before he died, Buick said: “I’m not worrying. The failure is the man who stays down when he falls, the man who sits and worries about what happened yesterday instead of jumping up and figuring [out] what he’s going to do today and tomorrow. That’s what success is – looking ahead to tomorrow. I’m not accusing anyone of cheating me. It was the breaks of the game that I lost out on in the company I founded.”

The contemporary American businessman Theodore F MacManus said: “He sipped from the cup of greatness, and then spilled what it held.”

In 1974, a great wrong was righted when Buick was honoured by the US-based Automotive Hall of Fame. Its citation reads: “David Buick’s inventing talents touched on virtually everything – including the kitchen sink – but his creativity wasn’t enough to ensure his prosperity in the early scramble for automotive success.

“Fascinated by ideas and invention, Buick seldom looked up from his workbench to capitalise on his achievements … Buick died penniless though many of his inventions were major achievements. A year before his death, Buick told a reporter that the outcome of his career was just the breaks of the game.” A life-sized statue of Buick was unveiled in Flint in 2012, and there was a plan to have a copy of it erected in Arbroath but as far as I know, that has yet to come to pass. Retired journalist Ian Lamb campaigned for an Arbroath statue, telling the BBC: “In David Buick we have someone who was responsible for major advances in the development of motor cars, advances which are still relevant across the world to this day.

“Yet how many people know this inventive genius was born here in Arbroath? Yes, we have a plaque marking the last remaining building from the street where he was born, but even the majority of people living in the town would be hard put to place it.

“Buick deserves to be remembered.”