Curbside Classic: 1973 Buick Centurion Convertible – Catching Cows

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With Toyota Week firing on all four cylinders, now is probably the right time for some respite in the form of a gargantuan US ragtop. To my memory, this is the first 1971-76 B- or C-bodied Buick I have ever encountered in the metal, and it wasn’t until I sat down to do a capsule that I realised how relatively rare the Centurion was.

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1971 saw an overhaul of the fullsize GM cars across the board. Buick had been lagging in the B- and C-body looks department for the last few years but jumped to first place with this new platform.

As Jerry Hirshberg, who was involved with the styling of this range, told Collectible Automobile; “In an era of edge and boxiness, I think what we introduced with this car was the beginning of three-dimensionality, and that was unique for a big car. For example, the line that crossed over from the hood, which usually would have intersected the base of the windshield, swept over at the bottom of the A-pillar and became a side line.”

However the cars were longer, wider and heavier; which did not augur well for the future.

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The Centurion replaced the Wildcat as the top trim level B-body Buick, taking its name from a 1956 plexi-cabined show car. It featured the 455 as standard, with the high performance version also available. The Wildcat’s sporting pretensions were downplayed in favour of a more distinguished look featuring less chrome trim, a unique and discrete grille, deluxe steering wheel, but still no ventiports.

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In 1972 not much changed, although the quoted output for the 455 was reduced from 315 hp to 225 hp, and from 360 hp to 270 hp for the high performance variant – a change from gross to net figures (if I have absorbed correctly from my CC readings). Visually, the grille was ‘dropped’ in a similar fashion to the Chevrolets of the same year. As per 1971, the Centurion was available in four-door hardtop, two-door coupe and two-door convertible bodies – all sitting on the 124″ wheelbase.

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1973 would be the Centurion’s most successful year, selling nearly 45,000 examples across the three body styles. The quasi Electra-like prestige over the shorter wheelbase seemed to make more sense as the full size ranges gave up any lingering pretensions towards sportiness, but with thrift increasingly part of the purchaser’s intent, the 350 cu in engine became standard for the Centurion.

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The Centurion range provided the only Buick droptop for 1973. The new A-bodies didn’t feature an open air version, the LeSabre convertible was a one-year omission and there had not been an Electra convertible since 1970. Only 5,739 of these were produced, apparently about half with the 455.

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1973 marked a precipitous decline in styling for these cars. With tougher impact laws affecting bumpers, a lot of the beauty was lost in the process. The turnunder that was such a compelling aspect of this shape was not served well by the new front-end termination.

Hirshberg continues; “The most difficult areas were the corners of the car. Suddenly, the profile could not be clean and simple. There was this big step that was three-dimensional because everything had to be protected from an angle hit, and there was so much expensive real estate that had to be protected. That was tough. The cars got long at the bottom, front, and rear, and the early ones were pretty crude. We called them ‘cowcatchers’, like on trains.”

I have to agree, but I also find the revised sculpture around the headlights and grille to be really disappointing; longer yet more snub and not anywhere near as attractive as the 1971 and 1972 frontal treatments.

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The rear bumpers on the 73 were more in keeping with the earlier years, but by 1974 these were remodelled as well. And the front bumpers became even larger.

Although this Harvest Gold example sports twin exhausts, I’m assuming it carries the 225 hp version of the 455. The 1973 brochure shows both 455s available, but my Standard Catalogue of American Cars doesn’t list the high output version for this model year. Hopefully the CCognoscenti might know.

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In truth, the success story for the 71-73 Buick B-body was the LeSabre Custom, outselling both the Centurion above it and the LeSabre below. Comparing prices across the three levels for the hardtop sedan see the 2bbl 350 LeSabre at $4,125 and LeSabre Custom at $4,217 and the 4bbl 350 Centurion at $4,390. Splitting hairs really.

This convertible started at $4,534 – however that was without the 455.

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The 1973 models were the last of the short lived Centurions, which were replaced atop the the B-body lineup with the LeSabre Luxus in 1974. The LeSabre Custom disappeared for 1974 and then reappeared in 1975, when the Luxus disappeared. Buick in branding fluxus.

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This Centurion is an even more uncommon sight in Australia given that Buicks were not a part of GM’s import program in 1973. These days you can fully register LHD vehicles here in Victoria, so I’d guess this is not a recent RHD conversion either.

I saw it more recently bearing registration plates. Just in time for a pleasant summer cruise.

Further Reading:

Woodgraincoasty on his 1971 Olds Custom Cruiser

Chris O’Bryant on his 1972 Olds Delta convertible

JPCavanaugh on a 1973 Buick LeSabre Custom

Tom Klockau on a 1974 Buick Estate Wagon 

Paul Niedermeyer on a 1975 Buick Estate Wagon

JPCavanaugh on a 1976 Buick Electra