Buick has been so long the butt of so many a geriatric joke that it may be hard for some to see its appeal; not as flashy as a Pontiac or Cadillac nor as popular as a Chevrolet, Buick has often occupied a sort of niche market. It’s the automotive equivalent of Vernors ginger ale: wildly popular in Michigan but less well-known abroad. If it’s summer in Flint, however, you’d think that every car ever sold wore the tri-shield. People here remember Buick City vividly, and although its absence can almost be measured now in decades, the pride remains.
This week, the subject is the Sloan Auto Fair, and if I’m driving to Flint I’m driving a Buick, in this case, my beloved ’53 Special. Here, I’m parked among some Reattas, looking for all the world like Ozzie Nelson landed in the middle of a George Michael concert; however, the ’53 Special blossomed in the midst of “Peak Buick,” the halcyon years of the early to mid-1950s when Buick could do little wrong. The 1970s, although not unkind in any way to Buick, was a decade where Electras, LeSabres, and Regals sailed a wide sea of all rightness. No better or worse than many of their contemporaries, they nonetheless deserve a Flint-style homage.
In shades of blue that recollect my Special, the lead-in car is a 1975 Electra 225 Limited, almost certainly 455 propelled, a love-it or hate-it car from a love-it or hate-it period. Big bumpers, big length, big fuel consumption; this boat is the pinnacle or nadir of American wastefulness. Even with its undeniable bloat, it carries itself with a certain elegance.
Not too far away, like a gaping crocodile is the proud ancestor of the ’75 Limited, the artist’s earlier rendering if you will, the 1972 Electra 225 four-door hardtop, black on black on black.
I am a bit smitten by this one, which is perhaps the most perfect and clean ’72 Electra in the land. In 1972, the big 455 had not yet been too smogged out and was more than capable of playing the draft horse to the Electra’s ample plow, event though the new “net” horsepower ratings emasculated the big-block on paper to the tune of 225 horsepower.
The inside is as perfect as the rest, with its up to the minute “coved” instrument panel that leaves passengers with little to do but marvel at the vast spaces in which they are surrounded.
The back seat is capacious enough for any number of chores.
Unfortunately, the Electra is not parked in an advantageous position for picture-taking, but this roaming security officer seems as taken aback as I am. The ’72 is a pleasant surprise; normally, my passion for 1970s B and C-Bodied cars is reserved for Chevrolet models only.
Many automotive instances have proven that the first year or two of a design is the most attractive version of that design; for example, the ’66 and ’67 Rivieras are certainly better looking than the ’70, and a ’70 Camaro makes a ’74 look a little putrid. This ’75 LeSabre, when compared to the ’72 Electra above, is no exception. Of course, government crash standards must take a preponderance of the blame; however, the blockiness of the ’75 almost makes the ’72 look svelte, although they say black is slimming.
Along with the grille, the dashboard cove is flattened, and the cool black-on-silver instruments are a dead giveaway that you’re driving a Buick.
Perhaps the most successful styling elements of the big ’70s Buicks are the creased quarter panels, although this picture accentuates the massive overhang indigenous to the design.
A car more fitting for its time is this ’77 Regal, V6 powered if you believe the fender badge. The personal luxury coupe was all the rage in 1977, although the new downsized B-Body undoubtedly stole a few Regal sales. Of course, the Cutlass and Monte Carlo absorbed most of the GM personal luxury spotlight, though enough of these Regals were sold to make them not uncommon at a local get-together.
The V6 is an interesting element on its own. After selling the tooling to Kaiser-Jeep following the 1967 model year, Buick bought it back in reaction to Energy Crisis I. The 3.8 at that time was the “odd-fire” version, where each cylinder did not fire an even 120 degrees after the preceding cylinder. Instead, the variations were split between 90 and 150 degrees, which was determined by the cylinder’s location in the firing order.
This created some odd vibrations that Buick attempted to tame through motor mount tuning. Some time in 1977, however, Buick redesigned the engine with split crankpins to create the “even-fire” 3.8, creating a much smoother engine, one that would continue to be refined all the way up to the first decade of the 21st century.
And Buick turbocharged that engine in 1978, using a two-barrel or a four-barrel carburetor. A far cry from the Grand National’s 1987 high point, this turbocharged engine was Buick’s first step in what turned out to be an intriguing, but perhaps ahead of its time, engine combination. Interestingly, the carbureted turbo 3.8 was used in several GM cars, including the Monte Carlo.
The engine is wrapped, in this case, in one of the most controversial body styles of the 1970s, the Aeroback Buick Century “Turbo Coupe,” a 1979 model that predates the namesake T-Bird by four years.
The aeroback was not well-received, and only lasted a couple of model years. Their spectacular weirdness and 1979 model status ensure that this is a fine place in which to adjourn. Many readers will no doubt weigh Buick in the 1970s with a crushing “Meh.” Please judge kindly, however, because throughout the decade, these behemoths and tentative technological first steps created a lot of pride and wealth in a city that could sorely use it today.