It’s weird. I very much consider myself a Ford man when it comes to the domestics, yet my buying history puts me fairly firmly in the General’s camp. I’m not sure why that is, but every once in a while a GM car comes along that makes an impression on me. And so it was with this one, albeit in a bit of a roundabout way…
For several years after my friend Don moved to Chicago, it became an annual ritual to visit there and go to either the Chicago or Detroit Auto Show. One of the Detroit years, Don had purchased a new (to him) car, a 1997 Buick Regal GS.
Even though I’d had the LeSabre T-Type previously, I didn’t pay much heed to Buick’s newer offerings; however, driving/riding in that car from Chicago to Detroit and back impressed me. The power was plentiful, the comfort level was good and the size was right. Oh, and the heated seats were cozy.
So, several years later while pondering what might be a good car for my long commute, I came across one for myself, this one a 1998 model from the second year of production. The one I found was a one-owner car whose fanatical owner had every receipt, several copies of the brochure, the window sticker and a full set of official GM shop manuals (the three-volume set) even though he went to the dealer for everything…in short, a PERFECT seller!
The car had about 50,000 miles on it, and the price was very reasonable. We met in Palo Alto, between both of our work places, where a deal was struck quickly. We drove to my bank, I had them draw up a cashier’s check, and then we drove back to his house in Morgan Hill (a bit of a trek), where he found the shop manuals and more brochures and insisted on filling the tank (on his dime) before I left with the title and the car.
Finished in Navy Blue (The pic makes it look purple; it was not) with a gray lower section (hey, the same as our old Land Cruiser!), this car boasted a gray-leather interior and the standard GS non-chrome alloys. I find the shape of this fourth-generation Regal body (shared with the Century line) to be very attractive and modern, with styling that wears well to this day. The “Regal” script on the sides is (and was, to be frank) a little passé, but otherwise I have no complaints regarding styling.
These are part of GM’s “W”-body line, and were built in the Oshawa, Ontario plant, which was (is) one of GM’s highest quality plants. At this time Buick was always near the top of the quality charts, in no small part due to this assembly plant. The platform was shared with the Oldsmobile Intrigue, Pontiac Grand Prix, and Chevrolet Impala and Monte Carlo. Of that bunch, I think I would pick the Buick every time.
The “GS” is a storied designation that harkens back to some very memorable Buicks. At least this modern version was not totally neutered for marketing purposes–the engine is based on Buick’s successful 3800 V6, but the GS version also sports a supercharger.
Officially designated as the 3.8L L67 Series II Supercharged, it generates a stout 240 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque; it was no slouch, and could spin its (front) wheels on demand. I suppose it goes without saying that it was equipped with an automatic, a four-speed in this case.
Inside, the GS was pretty much loaded. The aforementioned leather seats are heated, there’s an eight-speaker sound system, dual climate controls and power everything, leaving little left to be desired. The engine sounded good, and the supercharger whine was just-enough there to let you know the engine was a bit different. The interior, while a little plasticky, is fairly competitive for the times and nicely styled.
Driving across the Bay Area in this every morning and evening was nice. Very comfortable on the freeway, but still fairly competent in the corners, it was a good high-speed commuter that also was painless when the traffic stopped. As a nice bonus, a Buick Regal is pretty much invisible to the police, especially around San Francisco, which is filled with much fatter ticket-bait.
I started hanging out on the Buick Regal GS forum and realized that the car could be made even better. It turns out that there is a handling package available for the Impala and since it is the same chassis, is a direct bolt-on for the Buick.
I decided to order it from Flow Chevrolet, one of the larger GM dealers with an internet presence that sells a lot of factory performance add-ons, and could not believe that for under $200, you got a kit with front chassis braces as well as thicker swaybars delivered. These prices are a far cry from what you’d be paying for any import’s parts, with which I was more familiar. The kit sat in my garage on a shelf waiting for “that day with the spare time…”
Since I was driving a fair bit, it eventually came time to buy tires, and I decided to keep it American. What could be more American than a nice set of B.F.Goodrich Radial TA’s? The Tire Rack delivered them quickly and my neighborhood tire shop put them on. They looked wider than what was on the car before even though the size was the same and were all-around good tires for the price, which was very competitive.
For July 4th of that year, I took the week off and we (myself, my wife and daughter) decided to go on a road trip. We headed up to Mendocino County, where we spent the first night, then headed north to Ferndale where we spent another night. We then drove through a Redwood tree (it fit!) After that we drove up the Oregon Coast, stopping in several little towns along with taking a tour of the Tillamook Cheese Factory.
Eventually we got to Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River where we stayed at a great little boutique hotel named the Cannery Pier Hotel that as the name implies was built on the old cannery pier right next to the River. (I highly recommend a stay if you are in the area, the hotel is extremely nice). I was quite surprised to wake up in the morning and look out to see a giant container ship passing by what seemed like only several feet away from the window!
We crossed the river and eventually made it to Seattle, long one of our favorite cities and once again had a wonderful time there, this time with our daughter. After a couple of days, we’d had our fill and decided to take I-5 back home with a stop in Portland. By mid-day of the second day we were back home.
The Buick was great the entire time except on the last day the turn-signal stalk stopped working but intermittently. It was a weird issue, sometimes the signal would work, sometimes just nothing. Obviously either a contact or a wiring issue within the stalk, I suppose.
By this time the Buick had over 80,000 miles on it and the day after we got back I decided to try placing an ad on Craigslist for a price higher than I had paid for it just to see if there was interest. Sure enough, I quickly got a call from a guy who was thrilled to find it in the condition it was in, even with the wonky turn-signal stalk.
He ended up paying me a couple of thousand more than I had paid the year before so it worked out great for me and he was thrilled to have the car. I still look at the Regal GS whenever I see one with fond memories; great car, good times (except for the miserable commute), but just what I needed at the time. The formula was set for my next car.