Its that time of the week again, the glorious time where I stop writing my thesis proposal (don't tell my PI) and start writing about big cars too new to be old and too old to be new. There's been some talk about Buick lately, and I have to say, not all of it has been great. I love Buick, and that love isn't just for the old stuff, I'd be hard pressed to find a time where I didn't like anything in Buick's lineup (for one reason or another). To that end, I've got a real treat for you: The Buick Riviera, no not the classic from the 60s, the Eighth Generation from the 90s! And to balance out the sleek original coupe, I'll also be talking about The Buick Century. Which is, interestingly, none of those things.
Lets start at the beginning. Not the real beginning of the Riviera back in 1963, the beginning of the 90s. Things were not great for the storied model. The 1986 revamp, ushering in the seventh generation lost any trace of a v8, shortened the wheelbase (but added 11 more inches of overhang!) and basically had the looks of every other E body. But you could get a touchscreen you say! This is true, but sweet info centers were not enough to convince anyone to buy an overhanging coupe with a generic v6 making (generously) about 140hp and weighing as much as a full sized Buick sedan. Its looks were dated, even Ford and Chrysler were embracing smooth lines and rounded edges in their cars, and by 1993 only 4,555 Rivieras made it into the wild. This was bad news, something had to be done.
The last of the Seventh Generation
In a last-ditch effort to save their "performance" coupe, Uncle Buick skipped a model year to get his shit together. There was no 1994 Riviera, but for the 1995 model year we were treated to the glory that was the Eighth generation Riv. Based on the G platform (shared with the Olds Aurora) we got completely restyled looks, attractive dimensions, sporty suspension, and a supercharged version of the 3800 V6 rated at 225 hp and 275 lbft of torque! (there was a naturally aspirated v6 that made ~200 hp too but this one is SUPERCHARGED)
Apparently the decision to embrace blob (egg) styling and actually try for performance struck a chord with the public because the 95 Riviera sold nearly 42,000 units, thats nearly ten times the rivieras as the 93 model year. Good job Buick.
Unfortunately "performance coupes" weren't doing so great as a segment for the second half of the 90s, and sales dropped by double digits hovering in the teens for the next couple years. This didn't stop Buick from doing the respectable thing and improving the car even further. In 96 the supercharged V6 was improved, now pushing a little over 240hp and for 97 the suspension and transmission were redone, greatly improving handling, decreasing weight, and benefiting the driving experience overall. In 98 the supercharged v6 became standard but with only about 11,000 units sold GM decided enough was enough and designated 99 as the last model year for the Riviera. Just under 2000 99s were produced, with the last 200 bearing special silver paint and the "Silver Arrow" special edition badging.
The interior was well appointed and the list of standard features was... nice. But besides having the most powerful v6 in a Buick since the Grand National the Riviera lacked... something. It was a nice Buick, it was a pretty good sleeper, it looked cool? What the Riviera wasn't was a real halo car, and personally I think that was its downfall. Because it didn't blow anyone away, because we aren't still talking about that time Buick blew everyone's minds in 1995, I think the Riviera gets overlooked. It was a damn fine car. It had lots of horses crammed under its hood, it went fast, it was a coupe, it still felt like a couch. You can get a supercharged Riviera with under 100k miles for under 5 grand (I looked) right now. Why doesn't every high school gearhead have one of these, in flat black, with flames painted on the side? It just didn't leave the impression it should have, and it looked like a lumpier version of... well every other Buick in the lineup.
And that brings us to part two of my Buick-a-thon.
1996 finally saw the end of the square-and-boring A platform Century (1996!).
It was replaced with a revamped, now blobified W body described perfectly by the GM design team: "We purposely avoided anything that could be considered trendy, for a long shelf life. " And a long shelf life it had, the 97 Century graced showrooms until 2005 with no notable exterior changes. Centuries were available with bench seating standard, suspension so floaty you would swear it was actually a boat, and two iterations of a 3.1 liter v6 making, I dunno, like 160 hp in the first version and 175 in the second. Nearly identical to its sister the Regal, these fwd, boring, v6 bingomobiles have been driving 20mph around town unchanged for literally decades and thats what makes them amazing.
A Buick Century at some point between 97 and 05.
Go on craigslist (or better yet, check your newspaper), right now, and look for one of these. You can find one, literally driven from home to church to the grocery store, with a complete maintenance record for under 4 grand. The year doesn't matter, they're all the same. This v6 is so lazy I'm not sure it can even redline, not that you would ever know, you couldn't get a tach. But it was bulletproof. These cars will chug on and on with no maintenance, and with gas mileage somewhere in the mid 20s it wont even break the bank doing that. The word performance has never been used in the same sentence as the Buick Century but that's not what this car is about, this car is about boring, reliable, traditional transportation.
This car was MADE for first cars, Suzie first time driver and Johnny high school can jump as many curbs, ignore as many check engine lights, and skip as much required maintenance as they want and this thing will keep going. Look at this car, you could sleep two or drive 5 other friends across the state (or the country). Its not going to get you anywhere fast but It will get you there comfortable and it will get you there every time.
This is your grandfather's Buick, and I would never want it any other way. This car fills a very specific need, and that need is freedom. The transmission is smooth, the engine never works too hard, the bench seats are comfier than my couch. In some parts of the world (the town I grew up in included) there are still drive-in movies, and there are still drive-in fast food joints (thank god for A&W). When you live somewhere with nothing to do, you get in your car with your friends and you just drive around. This is the kind of freedom I imagine when people talk about automotive freedom, and this is the kind of car that makes it possible. Its comfy, its cheap, its indestructible. is it bland as hell? Yes, this car is so bland it makes Camry's look like Morgan Three Wheelers. But I'll be damned if I don't love it.
What do you guys think? Am I an idiot? Is there any love for big squishy Buicks or their "sporty" brothers?