(None of the pictures in this article are of the actual cars but pictures borrowed from the Internet using Google image search)
In our house during the late 80’s and early 90’s in, cars seemed to be disposable and cheap. It was not unusual for my parents to go through two or three beaters in a year. When I started driving, they decided to let me in on the fun.
The first offering was actually a Christmas present from Mom and Dad, a 1984 Buick Century coupe. Dad had gotten the car cheap because at 116,000 miles, it was considered a high mileage and used up vehicle. Remember, these were the days when 100,000 miles was considered end of life at least for American cars as evidenced by their five figure odometers.
This car in the ad above is pretty much what the car looked like. It was silver with the half vinyl roof with blue velour interior. The car was well optioned for the time with a rear window defogger, AC which was weak but operable, cassette stereo (inoperative), cruise control, map light and wire wheels with Buick center caps.
However, it did not have power windows and locks. This was the first car that was exclusively mine and I fell head over heels in love with it. It seemed so comfortable and luxurious to me and the half vinyl roof and hood ornament made it look so distinguished and classy (at least to me)…this car made me get the concept of the personal luxury coupe. We replaced the inoperative stock Delco head unit with an aftermarket Yamaha cassette deck and I was really traveling first class.
For propulsion it was powered by the 2.5 liter Iron Duke four cylinder which turned out to be its weakest link. The car felt under-powered but it did not really matter that much since I did very little highway driving. The car’s only purpose was to take me to high school and back. However, before long the “high miles” on the engine became evident when the engine began clattering like a diesel. At first, it would only do it at idle but before long, the slightest pressure on the gas pedal would make it sound like a cacophony of broken metallic parts accompanied by the flickering of the red oil pressure light. Realizing that the situation was terminal, I was heartbroken but intended to drive it till the bitter end.
The end came in a way that I did not expect. My route home from school consisted of an extremely steep hill with a traffic light at the bottom where I had to make a sharp left turn.
Anyway, one day driving home from school, I crested the hill a little too fast when I saw the light at the bottom of the hill turn yellow. I guess because I was a fairly new driver, I slammed on the brakes a little too hard causing them to lock and the car to skid through the intersection. Time switched to slow motion as I looked at the speedometer registering 20 miles per hour as the car slammed head on into a lamp post at the opposite end of the street. That lamp post bears the scars of the impact to this day.
I really think the car saved me from being more seriously injured. My only injuries were a bruised chest area from hitting the steering wheel and a bloody knee from hitting the lower instrument panel. My beloved Century however was destroyed. The impact was almost directly in the center of the car which was now u shaped. The radiator was broken in two and the engine was dislocated. The hood was so mangled that it would not open and the front fascia disintegrated. The car was so savaged that it was unrecognizable. The first Police Officer on the scene misidentified it as a Buick LeSabre.
So ended my love affair with my first car which died an honorable death in the line of duty protecting me.Unknown to me at the time, its replacement would be a blood relative.
The Century, along with its A body siblings, the Chevrolet Celebrity, Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera and Pontiac 6000 were supposed to be improved versions of the X Cars much like the IPhone 5C is an improvement on the IPhone 5. After the death of my Buick Century, I began searching for its replacement. Knowing what I know now, I laugh at the fact that ultimately I ended up with a one owner 1981 Buick Skylark coupe with 63,000 original miles.
Like the Century, the car was very well equipped. Fake wood galore, extra courtesy lighting, pillowy seats similar to my Mom’s Buick Regal and a functional AC. The car did not have power windows and locks but it did have an aftermarket cruise control mounted on the steering column. Also, the car did not have a cassette player so I ended up using a boom box on the console between the front seats as my sound system. Under the hood was… you guessed it, the same 2.5 liter Iron Duke found in the Century. I remember my mechanic looking at me shaking his head saying “you bought the same car!” I did not understand what he meant until years later.
The car resembled a smaller Buick Regal as can be seen in the pictures below. I especially liked the grill with BUICK in capital letters engraved on top of the grill.
I got in the habit of caressing those letters whenever I passed the car much in the way Arnie caressed the words PLYMOUTH on the Fury’s grill at the end of the movie Christine
The Skylark was one of the early adopters of GM’s Computer Command Control for the emissions system. You know what that meant of course….a Check Engine Light that would go on and off for no rhyme or reason. Besides the intermittent CEL the car was okay needing only a replacement alternator.
I ended up keeping the Skylark a bit longer than the Century. I began my college career with the car getting me through my Freshman year. I had fantasies about keeping it through college, taking it on all my adventures. It was not to be. Like the Century, the Iron Duke proved to be frail and it eventually self destructed in a smoky melted heap.
In retrospect, it’s ironic that my Buick Century’s direct cause of death was loss of control due to locked brakes which is what X cars like the Skylark were known for. Yet the Skylark died a natural death.
Being a glutton for punishment, my next three vehicles were equally troublesome but memorable triplets which I will discuss another time…