It’s hard being last. People tend to celebrate firsts, but not so often lasts. The final generation of Buick Park Avenue was ably profiled by Brendan Saur a few years ago, featuring a first-year 1997 example. His take on the car was understandably somewhat negative. As a Buick lover and irrational fan of these cars, I have a more positive spin to put on them by celebrating a last-of-the-breed 2005 model.
It was the last of its generation and the last Park Avenue but the question I will try to answer is this: was this the last Real Buick?
By that, what I really mean is this the division’s last car that really looks like a Buick, so I will be focusing mainly on styling. To answer the question, we have to ask another question: what makes a Buick look like a Buick? The division has been used as a styling flagship by GM and been a design leader in the industry, with many, many beautiful cars over the years. Answering this question will give us a good excuse to take a tour through Buick’s styling history, and hopefully tie it all into the final Park Avenue.
This will be part Curbside Classic and part COAL, since this car belongs to my wife’s uncle and I’m pretty familiar with it. Settle in for a deep dive into this roomy car’s soft, soft seats.
To my eyes, the first Buick that really looks like a Buick is the 1942 model. That’s not to cast any aspersions on earlier models, which are beautiful cars, it’s just that they don’t have any of the styling cues that have come to be trademarks for Buicks. The 42 model was the first year for the vertical grille pattern that would be used through 1957 and at various points thereafter. For the first time, some 1942 Buicks featured front fenders that swept back all the way to the rear fenders. Car companies had evocative names for every feature back then, so they called these “Airfoil” fenders which, along with a complete absence of running boards, were a unique style in the industry that year and a foreshadowing of future Buick styling themes. The front fenders do kind of look like the profile of an airplane wing, don’t they?
These themes were incorporated into the all-new postwar design, seen in this 1951 Roadmaster. It features “Sweepspear” chrome trim, which would be a long-running Buick styling cue, with and without chrome. 1949 saw the introduction of the front fender “Ventiports”, which were initially functional but soon became strictly cosmetic. These were used on most models through the 60’s and on full-size models though the 70’s.
The Buick’s model names, including Roadmaster, went back to 1936. For 1959, the division decided to replace all their old model names with future-tastic-ramic new ones, including Electra for their luxury flagship models. Surprisingly, two of these new names would outlast the old ones by a good margin.
The 1959 sweepspear evolved into a body-length line descending to the rear of the car. It still resembled the profile of an airplane wing, with the fins adding to the aviation theme. 1958 and 59 Buicks did without the virtual ventilation of Ventiports.
A big part of the original Riviera’s universally-admired styling is the smooth, graceful flow of the fender tops from front to rear, with a gentle rise over the rear wheels and back down again. The very top of the fenders have a razor-edge line running from the front of the car to the rear, including where there is a 3/4 inch horizontal shelf under the side windows which allows the line to continue uninterrupted. Remember that feature, we’ll come back to it later in the story.
Bill Mitchell and the designers wanted a European flavor for the car. Flowing fenders that curve up over the wheels were seen on many Old World cars such as Ferrari, Jaguar and Rolls-Royce, but not on any previous American car that I can think of besides the 56-62 Corvette.
Though the styling was pretty well locked in before the Riviera was given to Buick (it was called LaSalle II in development), the styling fit very well with the division’s established designs. The 42-48 “airfoil” fenders, the 50-53 body side styling which incorporated that look and the 49-58 Sweepspear trim which echoed it all shared the general theme of front fenders flowing rearward, then curving up and over the rear wheels. I see the Riviera’s flowing fender style as a natural evolution of Buick design. It became a new Buick styling cue, used on other models in the 60’s and early 70’s and copied by other divisions and makers. This flow was again used to great effect in the popular 79-85 Riviera.
From 1961-66, Buick dropped the sweepspear style from their full size cars, but did adopt what would become another Buick styling hallmark: horizontal taillights, often wide and often connected with full-width trim, especially on the Electra (64 excepted). Electras would sport some degree of a tailfin look through 1984 (61 and 62 excepted).
On the interior front, the early 1960’s saw another longstanding Big Buick style established: the full-width dashboard. Of course, most cars through the mid 50’s had a full-width style dash but many, including Buick, started moving away from it in the late 50’s. Buick re-embraced the style starting in 61. Except for the period from 68-74, Buick would stick with the style on their big cars all the way through to our subject car.
I’ve always liked the full-width dashboard because it accentuates the interior roominess in large cars.
The Sweepspear showed up in a big way on the 1971 Riviera. The rear end justifiably gets all the attention with these cars, but the sides of the car are equally as bold. The bodyside shaping is very reminiscent of the 40’s and early 50’s models. This doesn’t really further my story, but I can’t resist an opportunity to throw in a gratuitous photo of the boattail Riv, which is one of my favorites. Feel free to disagree!
1975 saw the first Park Avenue, as an Electra option package. It would soon be upgraded to a submodel and remain a popular one through 1990. The 71-76 models sported a stem-to-stern Sweepspear look, somewhat like the 59-60.
The sweepspear made its final appearance on the 77 Century/Regal sedans.
The 77-84 Electra gave up any sweepspear look or flowing flanks, but it does still have wide horizontal taillights and the Park Avenue still held onto its Ventiports. The rigid angularity of GM’s styling starting in the late 70’s precluded any of Buicks’ trademark curves and graceful lines, with the happy exception of the previously mentioned 79 Riviera.
The stand-up style grille with slightly angled-back headlights would be a design Buick would use on many models in the 70’s and 80’s. Though not totally unique, it did become a cue strongly associated with Buick in that period.
The second downsizing of GM’s big cars left even less opportunity for Buick to differentiate itself. It seems like GM could have taken this car and, with slight grille and taillight modifications, plausibly labeled it an Oldsmobile or Pontiac or even Chevy. Come to think of it, they basically did do that!
That being said, I have always found this generation Electra to be pleasant, clean-looking cars, just a bit diminutive and generic to make a great Park Avenue.
All this brings us to Buick’s 1990’s reboot of their flagship sedan. While the pleasant previous generation Electra suffered from a lack of visual distinctiveness, with little to say it was a Buick besides its taillights and Tri Shield badges, for 1991 it practically shouts, “I’m a Buick and I’m damn proud of it!” Most of the design elements discussed above were incorporated into the new car. The grille was more clearly vertically patterned as well as bringing back a mild version of the 70’s/80’s stand up grille. Taillights and trim stretch across the tail, naturally. Rear overhang was increased. Most important was the return of curviness.
This curviness is easy to overlook, as cars got generally curvier increasingly in the 90’s. This continues to today, with many cars having all kinds of curves, flow and character lines, some attractive and some just pointlessly busy. Back in 1991, The Park Avenue managed to be both conservative and a leader in the industry in the return to expressive sedan design. Let’s call it Aggressively Conservative. The Airfoil to Sweepspear to flowing-fender evolution continues with this car. It is low-key, but you can see the early Riviera in the fender line (as well as the contemporary Riviera, of course).
Most Electras had been Park Avenues for years, so Buick made it official and finally dropped the Electra name.
Now, onto our subject car. I believe Buick’s 1997 Park Avenue redo was a styling masterstroke and is arguably the best styling job by Buick since the 1979 Riviera. It certainly was one of GM’s best looking designs to come out of the 90’s. The previous generation Park Avenue had been a strong seller, albeit in gradually declining numbers along with most other Buick and GM models, so Buick kept the styling themes intact while modernizing the look as much as possible without losing it.
The front has just a suggestion of the stand up grille, with the vertical ribbing more pronounced. It’s all very rounded, as was the style in the mid 90’s. One might think they could have given it a substantial facelift somewhere during the car’s run..
Park Avenue moved to the G-platform used by the Olds Aurora and the 95-99 Riviera, but manages to look nothing like them. It gained three inches of wheelbase over the old model, which greatly helped the outward proportions and rear seat room. The wheelbase was once again longer than the LeSabre’s, as the good Lord intended. Generous rear overhang hearkens to the stretched-out rear wheel drive Electras.
It looks kind of like the lower portion of the door is all cladding, but there is actually just a three inch vinyl door guard strip with sheet metal below it.
The defining styling trait remained the continuous gentle flow of the fender line, with a slight kick up over the rear wheels and returning back down. A couple of things really set the Park Avenue 2.0 apart.
One is the line at the top of the fenders created by a sharp crease running from stem to stern, giving a very clearly defined beltline. Having a well defined beltline was a characteristic of most cars from the 50’s and 60’s, but hadn’t been seen as much over the previous 20 years (platform mate LeSabre shares no sheet metal and does not have this crease). It’s hard to see in the pictures, but this line runs under the side windows as well because the bodywork sticks out from the windows creating about a half inch ledge. The flowing fender line topped by a razor-edge line running the length of the car (with the window ledge) is the same feature we noted on the 63-65 Riviera. This is surely not an accident, especially since the 95-99 Riviera shares this feature in slightly milder form (a car I’m surprisingly not a fan of).
Secondly, this beltline is also even more clear than on the previous generation because the beltline has no dropdown under the greenhouse. This dropdown became very common in the front wheel drive era (but not exclusive to FWD cars) and can be seen particularly in the 85-90 model. The cowl and the rear deck are higher than the bottom of the side windows. The dropdown is much milder on the 91-96 model, but it is still there.
Having the beltline and losing any remnant of the greenhouse drop down (my term) gives the car a more fundamentally old-school look, allowing it to lose some of the more superficially retro items like the large stand up grille, faux front window vent panes, most chrome trim and the large chrome door handles. I think this is a huge improvement in this generation.
The sharply creased beltline is also a welcome relief from the 90’s soft corners, roundness and outright bulbousness that seemed to overtake many cars of the time.
No, these aren’t those stick-on fender vents you can buy at Pep Boys. Ventiports weren’t on the car when it was introduced, but they returned in 2003 on the supercharged Ultra model, then on all cars for the 2005 final year.
My least-favorite feature on the car is the oversized wraparound headlights. Automakers were just beginning to feel out the freedom created by composite headlights, with headlights stretching up, down, around and every which way. With all that space, you’d think they could have incorporated the turn signal and amber side marker light into it! There are at least cornering lights (extra light that turns on when the turn signal is used).
Wide taillights and full width trim maintain a styling cue seen continuously up to this point on Buick’s top sedan since the mid 60’s. You can see in this rear angle how the beltline crease comes back to the rear of the car, actually higher than the deck lid. This creates some unique visual interest at the back of the car. Perhaps unintentionally, it is also slightly suggestive to my eyes of the tailfin look that the Electra maintained until it switched to FWD. I know I may be reading too much into it, so I won’t even mention how the angle of the trunk seams recall the 1959 Delta Wing fins. Oops.
Bench seat interior was standard for the last time on a Buick. As mentioned in the intro, this car belongs to my wife’s uncle, Boyd. In 2002, he bought a brand new LeSabre, figuring that the differences from the Park Avenue were superficial and it would be a better value. Unfortunately, he found that he just couldn’t get comfortable in the seats.
The Park Avenue’s front seats are significantly deeper and more substantial. Boyd found them very comfortable and after only a year of ownership, traded his LeSabre in on a lightly used 2002 Park Avenue. Upgrading to a Park Avenue also got you a very roomy and comfortable rear seat. I’m 6’2” and have plenty of leg room.
Boyd drove that Park Avenue for 9 happy years until he had a high speed encounter with a deer. It was a lose-lose situation for both the deer and the Park Avenue, but at least the people survived. Finding himself in need of a car, and in the mood for a change in his life, Boyd bought a new 2013 Honda Accord (his 43rd car and first foreign make).
Within a few months, he realized he wasn’t in the mood for that much change. There wasn’t anything really specifically wrong with the Honda, it just wasn’t his style. He looked at a few alternatives including a Cadillac DTS , but concluded he wasn’t a Caddy sort of guy. Conspicuously missing from his list were the Buick Lucerne or Lacrosse, but more on that later. What he really wanted was a Park Avenue, so he spent a few months looking for the right low mile, creampuff Park Avenue, the youngest of which were seven years old by this time.
He finally found this 2005 car. It’s loaded with everything including a head up display, but is not an Ultra. In keeping with long Buick tradition, it has a full width dash. In fact, it shares its general layout with the 1966 dash seen above. Squint your eyes and you can see it past the 90’s style plastic, rounded corners and curviness.
Another concession to the 90’s-modern style of the time is the complete lack of any brightwork. That did seem modern at the time, but in hindsight at least a little bit of chrome would be welcome. While having a somewhat similar dash to the 2000-2005 LeSabre, that car is different from the woodgrain up and does not have as much full-width styling.
Boyd has been very happy with the car. It now has over 150k miles, much of that highway miles as they drive from Minnesota to Arizona every March and periodically to family in South Dakota and around Minnesota. So far, knock on plastic wood, he has had no major mechanical failures.
Much of that track record is due to both the best and worst thing about the Park Avenue: the 3800 V6. Most of you probably are familiar with the engine, which Buick developed in the early 60’s. By the 90’s, it was a stone cold reliable powerplant that will usually outlast the rest of the car. As a bonus in the era of shared corporate engines, it is a genuine Buick engine.
The problem is that it’s not a particularly powerful engine, especially for a flagship car that has inherited the mantle once held by glamorous vintage Buicks with big, smooth, powerful V8’s. Such a pedestrian powerplant seems kind of underwhelming in such a car as this.
It is practical, though, and for its intended audience of guys like Uncle Boyd, it’s perfect. Gas mileage is excellent for such a large car. Boyd routinely hits 30mpg on highway trips. He loves it, but will admit it is no powerhouse. One time we caravaned with them from Minnesota to Branson, Missouri, the route containing some very long, steep hills in southwest Missouri. My LT1 V8 Caprice wagon had no problems maintaining its speed on the inclines, while the Park Avenue would fall back quite a bit on the steeper grades.
Buick did address the power shortage somewhat by offering a supercharged Ultra version since 1992, giving a 35hp bump to the 3800. Boyd pointedly didn’t want an Ultra because he preferred to have the most reliable and fuel-sipping engine possible.
Hopefully I’ve made my case that the Park Avenue looks like, and in fact is, a Real Buick. But was it the last one? Let’s take a brief look at its Buick flagship successors.
The 2006 Lucerne took the baton from both the Park Avenue and LeSabre, ending the era of multiple full size models for Buick. The Lucerne continued on the Park Avenue’s G platform and while a perfectly capable car, it seems to me that it was sent to surgery to have every last milligram of charisma removed. If you took the waterfall grill, ventiports and badges off it, it would have nothing to identify it as a Buick, or anything else for that matter. A totally generic car. Not a particularly good-looking or ugly car, it just dwelt in the automotive background. The dash was sort of full-width, but also charisma-free. A bench seat was optionally available for traditionalists. It also had a V8 available, so that was pretty cool.
Buick’s sales in China surpassed U.S. sales during this model’s run, setting the stage for Buick’s next top sedan.
The second generation 2010 LaCrosse was engineered and styled in China, though U.S. versions were still built domestically. The Chinese did make it look a bit more like a Buick with a mild Sweepspear. However, the cab forward proportions, tiny hood, strangely placed Ventiports and super-high beltline make it the Urkel of Buicks. Not even cute like the young Urkel. Just awkward, like the teenage Urkel. With substantially smaller dimensions, a standard 4 cylinder engine and no cool V8 option like the Lucerne, I don’t believe this is a worthy Buick flagship.
The third generation 2017 LaCrosse comes across as a much better looking car to my eyes. It’s only an inch longer, but looks like more. Somehow it even carries itself with a little swagger. Does it make a compelling choice among similarly-priced competitors? U.S. sales don’t suggest it does. It’s a moot point, though, since it recently fell victim to the ever-shrinking American market for sedans. But it’s still on sale in China! The smaller but related Regal will soon be Buick’s sole automobile in the U.S.
Could the Enclave have inherited the title of Real Buick? I think maybe so, but I’ll let the commenters have their say on that if they want to.
I believe this is the last Real Buick in a long line of great cars. I’m not arguing that Buick should still be selling the same car. The problem with the Park Avenue is that Buick let it wither on the vine. Nine model years with virtually no change, during which time the market changed significantly. The Park Avenue’s exclusivity also suffered somewhat because all of their automobiles adopted much of the same design cues. The number of car buyers that wanted a sedan that looks (and rides) like a traditional Buick shrank while Buick didn’t develop much of a follow up plan.
Is it possible in the 21st century to build a front wheel drive car that premium buyers really desire? Plenty of other upscale brands have managed to offer cars that people want to pay good money for, such as Chrysler, Lexus, BMW and a certain iconoclast-led upstart American company, though most of the examples I’m thinking of are rear wheel drive. Buick did a great job with the Enclave. Why can’t they do it with a sedan?
Boyd’s Buick is 15 years old (based on build date) and going strong. A little rust is cropping up on the bottom of the doors, though he tries to keep the salt washed off in the winter. He has no plans to replace it, but you never know what fate or the deer population has in store. Let’s give this fine example of the last Real Buick the celebration it deserves.
Those portholes look like JC Whitney.
Does anybody remember a write-up of one of the Buick models of the 80s in MT or C/D where they were actually referred to as not just “ventiports”, but “cruiserline ventiports”? That name has stuck with me for an awful long time, but I haven’t heard it again since.
UPDATE: a quick google search shows GM marketing may have trademarked the name Cruiser-Line Venti-Ports in 1949.
They do. Top Buick ship historically had 4 ventiports, not 3. Though in this case I think that’d be even worse
My first Park Avenue, a 1999 was purchased in 2005 when I was 20. I bought my second one in 2008 shortly after graduating from college. It was a 2005 model that looked exactly like your uncle’s except it had a gray interior (your uncle’s shale was my preference but I had to get what I could find). It only had 16K on it at the time and was loaded with every option including the sunroof and 12 disc CD changer in the trunk and it also was not an Ultra. I bought it from an 84 year old gentleman who had to stop driving. I wanted the standard model as I didn’t want to buy premium fuel, have the stiffer ride afforded by the Gran Touring suspension, and I liked the standard chrome wheels better than the Ultra’s. I drove it until 2011 and traded it on my first new car an ’11 Lucerne that I hated. I only kept it 10 months and traded it for a new Enclave which was much better. I then got a ’15 Enclave, a ’90 Buick Estate Wagon I drove for a year as a second car, and then an ’18 Yukon that I really liked but the ’05 Park is still my favorite car and I still regret selling it to this day! I recently totaled my Yukon and am looking at getting a cheap Park Avenue until I can get another new Yukon and hopefully hold onto the Park as a second car. I am driving my brother-in-law’s ’11 Camry right now and HATE it! I sure wish Buick and Detroit in general hadn’t forgotten how to build a real traditional car. At least they can still build a real truck/SUV but I would take a true full-size American luxury sedan any day, sadly you just can’t buy them anymore.
I believe the Riviera was intended to be a Cadillac, but was rejected by Cadillac and offered to Chevy. And again rejected. Pontiac, Olds and Buick were next but only Buick would not tinker w/ the design so Buick got it. (from Ate Up w/ Motor)
I have a Collectible Automobile issue from 1985 on the original Riv. The authors (James Howell and Dick Nesbitt) covered the development of the car and said that Bill Mitchell envisioned GM’s personal luxury Thunderbird-fighter as a Cadillac when styling the car, but when it came time to give it to a division, Cadillac’s sales were so strong they had no interest in a new model. Chevy also had no interest. The remaining three divisions gave presentations to an Executive Committee. Buick came loaded for bear, including using their ad agency to give their presentation a professional polish. It had its marketing group conduct a new survey that showed the potential customers for such a car fit well with Buick’s customers. And Buick sales had fallen in recent years, leaving them with plenty of factory capacity.
The article doesn’t mention how styling may have played into the decision, but it seems an obvious call now. The car just looks like a Buick.
Jon, you might be interested in an interview Bill Mitchell did with the Automobile in American Life and Society project.
Mitchell said he steered the car to Buick because it was the only division that would take it without major changes. John DeLorean, who was at Pontiac, “had some crazy ideas . . . and I wouldn’t let him touch it,” Mitchell said. Meanwhile, Oldsmobile wanted to “put a blower on it.”
The car was originally code-named the LaSalle. Presumably that’s why the first-generation Riviera has a hint of the 1940 LaSalle’s front end. The Riviera’s dramatic front fender ridges are similar to the LaSalle’s prow-like grille, with its thin horizontal ribs.
Mitchell did a particularly clever job of giving the Riviera’s interior a distinctive look while sharing most of the dashboard’s components with the regular Buicks.
Very interesting, thanks!
Buick had slipped to 9th place in 1960 after being #3 throughout most of the 1950’s so the ‘63 La Salle II/Riviera was the kind of glam car Buick needed.
As a kid in the ‘70’s I was a Buick fan. I liked all generations of the Riviera, except for the last. My parents had a ‘65 V6 Special and most of uncles drove a LeSabre or Electra, but sometime toward the late eighties I lost interest. I thought the 2010 Lacrosse was almost as hideous as 2002-2007 Rendezvous. Then there was a confusing array of name changes and badge engineered CUVs or minivans. I’m sure GM would of dropped Buick had it not been for it’s huge popularity in China.
I agree with you that this Park Ave was the last ‘real’ Buick.
The 1963/1965 Buick Riveria was by far the best looking Riveria ever built. Especially the 1965 with the hidden headlights and big Nailhead engine for power.
+1. There are other great ones, but you just can’t beat a ’65!
My friend has a ’99 that identical to this one only without the portholes, and I’ve never had the chance to drive it but I’ve ridden in it so many times I’ve got a basic understanding of the dynamics. They’re not very good. Don’t get me wrong, I love these cars and the gentle, easy-going, kind grandma vibe they exude, but the way it handles the road sometimes is just excessive. I get it, it’s all part of the floaty-gelatinous-like-floating-on-a-cloud feeling that “all modern luxury cars should have”, but frankly it’s kind of a crude way to get a cushy ride. Any road that’s less than smooth sets up a nautical jiggle that only gets worse as the road gets crustier. If things get bumpy enough, you get to feel all 18 inches of the suspension travel come crashing down to the earth and back up to the sky. Pushing it hard is out of the question. I’ll admit, my ass was quite cushioned by the pillowy springs and the heavenly seats (which are some of the best I’ve ever sat in), but if you hit a bump at the wrong time the weak shock control lets it crash through the entire structure (which isn’t all that stiff anyway).
I’m not saying it’s a crap car or anything, my point is maybe it’s not such a bad thing this kind of car died.
Sounds like that one needs new struts and shocks. And of course they will be much better than the original GM ones, or you could get something more expensive and more better.
I might be wrong but I think it at least has new shocks on it. Like you said though, they’re probably oem shocks.
IMO these ’97+ cars took a nosedive in quality compared to the ’91-’96. Styling wise too, inside and out they are bloated looking to me.
In 1990, I almost traded my 1986 Chevrolet Celebrity for a 1984 Buick Electra Park Avenue. This is something I regretted ever since because Electra would be a great car for the frequent road trips in America West that I took a several times.
I actually prefer the 91 Park Avenue over the newer one. It seems a bit more elegant, and better proportioned. I remember seeing this car vat the Toronto Auto show and was blown away. After seeing years of generically styled GM products that all looked the same from division to division with ubiquitous and quite boring “formal” upright backlight, the sweeping lines of the new Park Avenue was gorgeous. Although it had some Jaguar styling cues it was still quite “American” and fit into Buick’s theme of great AMERICAN road cars.
These cars are cockroaches of the road in Iowa – they both sold very well and were/are durable. I joke that they’re the official car of northeast Iowa as they’re so ubiquitous there and case in point – your example was even sold there! Too funny!
The new Buick Regal TourX piques my interest but I’d either need to sell my Tacoma and Supra to afford one or get a sizable raise. I don’t see either of those things happening soon.
TourX’ (née Opel Insignia Country Tourer) are easily found with 20-30% off MSRP. They’ve been very slow sellers. If you get the Preferred trim, prices can be found well under $30K. Our well-equipped Essence was just over $32K out the door. Every time we start a road trip in it, we both comment on how comfortable it is.
Good to know! Wow, pictured with a Chevy SS/Pontiac G8/Holden?
About the only two autos GM’s made in 20 years I could remotely care about. Lucky guy!
Here you go, Ed wrote it up last year (The SS):
Lucky to have the means, but they landed in his driveway by good taste, not luck! Very nice pair!
That TourX should be a home run! Best looking Buick in a long time to me. Seems like good value, too. But cars I like are rarely the big sellers. The car companies should ask me what I like and do the opposite and they’d sell a bundle.
Definitely Park Avenue country! Good eye catching that his car came from IA.
In my opinion, this generation of Park Avenue wasn’t well designed outside, interior is subpar, but it still features the traditional elements from a Buick with much improved chassis and CAN bus (But I think GM spent too much time on CAN bus during this era without improvement visible to ordinary users). I like the previous generation the best in design and build quality ( more crisp and substantial ) but it handles too vaguely and body flex is excessive.
This generation has a lot of fashionable designs that doesn’t age well, and headlight is the biggest one of them. Overall, ’98-’04 domestic cars are too organic to a certain degree, Buick LeSabre is the worst. Still, this Park Avenue rides like an upscale Buick, drives very well ( McPherson suspension doesn’t equal to inferior technology, it drives nicer than some cars with double-wishbone suspension on front ) with fairly good reliability ( compromised a bit by the build quality on the other hand )
It is also the last generation of USDM Buick sedan involved in diplomatic use to my knowledge. ( in a decent number too )
Agreed in full. The ’91-’96 Had crisper styling inside and out, better materials inside. The ’97+s seem puffy and bloated and plasticky.
I really like the ’91-’96 model. On the later ones, the headlight shape doesnt bring the corners and front together very well, which is what it needs to do if the headlights go into the front, hood, and fenders. That’s a lot to ask of any headlight shape, but if it can’t be done well then why do it? Just leave the lights in front where they should be. They don’t even contain the turn signals in them? Just lazy design IMO.
That lazy headlight shape was never fitted to the ’91-’96 Park Avenue, only to the post-facelift LeSabre that originally shared the basic PA front clip but later changed to a revamped design (since it was made a for a few years longer after the Park Ave was fully redesigned). And agreed, the earlier design was better
I’m with you on the styling, its the last Buick that carries many of the hallmarks that made Buicks attractive car. The creased ‘shoulder’ continuing below the windows and C-pillar are particularly important to enforce that theme. When it appeared on the ’95 Riviera, I had hope for future Buick styling.
Alas, there is one last, still-born Buick sedan that would have nicely revived many of the classic hallmarks if brought to production: the Buick Avenir sedan concept car of a few years ago. It gave me great hope. But, the American consumer is no longer interested in such cars to the potential volume to make them viable here. Shame.
Here in the northeast, the vinyl cladding on the door bottoms rust ruined a good many otherwise decent Park Avenues. It was a terrible idea, one very hard to repair.
The rubber has the function and previously they were used on RWD GM full-size sedans (Caprice, Roadmaster, Custom Cruiser and Fleetwood). It is to prevent water and debris from entering and sticking at the door bottoms.
But it does exactly the opposite. Road salt is collected and it’s stuck there for months and it doesn’t come off easily like regular cars. They put the rubber strip on the body afterwards
The 1959 Electra is the one GM design of that year, all of which obviously shared a lot since the greenhouse is seen on everything from a Chevy to a Cadillac, that really works. It deserves some kind of Nobel Prize or something.
I’m assuming that GM decided on only one basic body that year because they were doing a crash course to bring them out as fast as possible to replace the several bodies fat chrome bedecked outdated 1958’s.
And the boat tail Riviera is an abomination after two classic designs.
I’ll be the contrarian and argue that this is not the last “real” Buick. Unless we can say that the 78 New Yorker is the last “real” Chrysler or the 78 LTD is the last “real” Ford.
I would argue that other years had bigger breaks with tradition – like 1959. Or 1977 when V6s started to become common under the hoods, displacing the V8 that belonged in “real Buicks.” Remember that Buick had sold nothing but 8 cylinder cars going back to 1931. Or the 1953 when the big straight 8 went away, an engine that had powered Buicks since 1931.
I suspect that many of us tend to thing of this as the last “real” one because it is the last of the kind we are familiar with. Maybe when all Buicks start being built in China, the last US model will be the last “real” one. All that said, I will confess that when I first read this, I nodded along with it being the last “real” Buick. I get it. But I am not sure the sentiment holds up to hard scrutiny.
Good points. “Real” is certainly a subjective term. What makes a Buick a Buick? I would say a car that may be mechanically similar, but is a substantial upgrade over a Chevy in style and equipment. It has a tasteful front end on an attractive, but not gaudy, body. It should be nice enough to inspire people to want to step up from a cheaper car and should say to the world that the owner has had some success in life but doesn’t flaunt it.
If Buick could make a car that captures the imagination of large numbers of car buyers by continuing that tradition, that would be a Real Buick, whether it used the old design cues or invented new ones.
Their most successful vehicle in recent years has been the Enclave, which just happens to also be the vehicle that does that best and as a result looks most like a Buick to me.
BTW, I think you could make an argument that the 78 New Yorker was the last “real” Chrysler. The 80’s ones just paled in comparison (K-cars and 5th Ave glorified Volares), the LH cars in the 90’s were largely Renaults under the skin and the 300 is largely Mercedes under the skin. See? Totally flawless argument! (kidding)
Funny that you mentioned LTDs, because as I read this piece, I couldn’t help thinking of your article on the 1986 LTD titled “The FInal Ford.”
I know that Jon is sticking mostly to styling arguments here, but to me this was the Last Real Buick in terms of its general aura of being a big, comfy, solid car. Similarly to how that ’86 LTD was the last of a long line of plain, good-enough sedans.
True, apart from the styling, if one thinks of a Buick as a big car that’s primarily about comfort, that definitely supports the idea that this is the last one. Wide, soft, well-trimmed bench seats riding on a chassis tuned solely for a soft ride? This one’s got that in spades and the ones after it didn’t. For better or worse.
I looked that article up and I remembered it after seeing it. To illustrate the point the article made, before looking it up, I thought you were referring to the Fox-based LTD, not the full sized LTD Crown Victoria. So many models, there truly wasn’t “just a Ford” by the 80’s.
I just noticed that the side swoops on the second-Gen Lacrosse were meant to echo the boat-tailed Riviera.
My wife wants a Regal AWD. Maybe soon we’ll find a good deal on one, though used-car prices are presently ridiculous no matter what brand.
I may be a bit biased, having recently bought a ’04 LeSabre, but overall I prefer them to the Park Avenue of this generation. I do like the chrome bumper accents, and prefer the Park Avenue dash, but I find them a little heavy looking from some angles.
If we are talking about the previous generation, I would take the PA hands down over the LeSabre.
I’m surprised to hear about the lack of power. I drove mine home through the hills/mountains of the Southeast US and never felt I had to push it that hard. I assume the Park Avenue weighs a little more, but wouldn’t think a lot.
I’m not as familiar with these as with the previous generation Park Ave., which were imported in Europe back then. There weren’t that many around, but when you saw one, it really stuck out – in a good way. The ventiport thing is a bit tacky. Let Maserati have them. But the baleen grille, that’s the Buick hallmark.
I agree with your contention that the ’42 was the template for the remainder of the century (pun intended). One of my favourites.
But I don’t see the 1963-65 Riviera as a real Buick, from a styling perspective. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful design, but it just doesn’t scream “Buick”. It screams “GM”. It’s like the 65 Mustang: it’s a Ford by accident of birth, but there’s nothing inherently Ford about it. The Bottail Riv, on the other hand, is pure Buick.
This is certainly a grand look at Buicks both legitimate and questionable, and a very fine evaluation of the last PA. I’m a little baffled, though, when you say Automakers were just beginning to feel out the freedom created by composite headlights. Eh? How do you reckon it? After 1939, composite headlamps of nonstandard design were first allowed on US-market cars in 1983. The first equipped model was a 1984 Lincoln, 13 model years before Buick’s ’97 PA. Between 1983 and 1997, most automakers did a pretty big variety of experimenting with the size, shape, and style of headlamps. I have difficulty finding much of anything novel or radical in the ’97-’05 PA’s headlamps; they’re of conservative, conventional design and technology.
Onward, you say With all that space, you’d think they could have incorporated the turn signal and amber side marker light into it! But all what space? The parking light needn’t have taken up any frontal real estate; that’s easy. There’s almost zero room for a turn signal of at least the legal minimum size outboard of the low beam, but if they’d managed to squeeze there in the outboard corner of the headlamp, they would have had to get much higher performance out of it—front turn signals closer than 4 inches to the low beam headlamp, lit edge to lit edge, have to give at least 2.5× the intensity of more distant front turn signals like the ones on the car. The higher-performing turn signals are more difficult and expensive to make, and the curves and angles in that part of the headlamp would make it difficult or impossible to meet the inboard visibility angle requirements, without unsightly lens protruberances.
Or they could have shrunk the low and/or high beams to make room for an integral turn signal…thus reducing headlight performance, likely to uncompetitive if not legally inadequate levels, and changing the frontal appearance of the car in ways the designers probably would not accept.
Or they could have put the side marker light and retro-reflector into the headlamp housing, too, but only by kicking out the cornering light—probably a feature much appreciated by this car’s target demographic.
Those conflicts could have been overcome by putting the turn signal and side marker + reflector above or below the low and high beams, but that would have required making the whole lamp taller, which would have violated the design lines of the car’s front end—the taller lamps would not have fit the car. Plus, the turn signal intensity would still have to be higher than with the separate turn signals they used.
One tidbit I do appreciate about the final-year ’05 PA’s lighting system missing from the ’97-’04 cars: real rear turn signals, some of the very few installed on US-market Buicks prior to the China-prioritised era for the brand.
Those are some good thoughts about headlights. The one area I was trying to criticize the Park Avenue in, you did an excellent job refuting. Considering that the article was mainly me defending the PA against the obviously widespread opinion that it is not an attractive or well-built car, your headlight explaination actually fits in well with my theme. At first thought, it would seem they could have arranged the turn signal/marker lights better, but in reality they probably had very good reasons to do it the way it is.
Concerning headlight shapes, my observation has been that the first decade or so of composite lights, automakers used them in much the same way they did sealed beams. They were in generally the same shape as the old ones, just a bit sleeker. In the mid 90’s and really around 2000, makers started getting much more creative in headlight shapes.
Take for example the Camry. The 1991 generation headlights were very rectangular and could easily be replaced with sealed beams if one wanted to. For the 1997 generation they were a bit more angular, but still mostly rectangular. For 2003, though, they are truely triangular or teardrop shape and stretching into the fender.
I wasn’t aware the 2005 rear turn signals were changed
Yep, I see where you’re coming from; some of the early composite headlamps were sized and shaped to take up the same space that had previously held sealed beams—the ’87 Caprice, the E24-E30-E32-E34 Bimmers, the Camry you mention, the Subaru GL. Guess that’s analogous to those horrid stacked 165 × 100mm rectangular sealed beams taking up the space originally designed for a single 7″ round lamp.
As to the rear lamps: take a look at the ’05 (red lower half, colourless upper half with amber bulbs behind it) versus the ’97-’04 (all red).
Can I perhaps suggest an even later “real” last Buick Park Avenue – RWD, 118 inch wheelbase, rather handsome thing, made from 2008-on? (Alright, by GM China from Holden CKD kits, but it is a very large old-style Buick nonetheless, badge says so!)
Great read! I still can’t warm up to the styling of this Park Avenue, as it still looks rather cartoonish to me. To each and their own though 🙂
I happened upon a late model Buick SUV today and as it passed me I noticed it had ventiports mounted on each side of the hood. They appeared to be stuck on, and while not completely out of place, they were opposed to the side mounted position of these we are all used to seeing.
Hey Jon, great article on one of my favorites. I wrote an article myself on a Park Avenue of this generation for a website named Barnfinds.com, with a title similar to yours. Here is the link: https://barnfinds.com/a-future-classic-2000-buick-park-avenue/ I have owned three Park Avenues: a 1991, a 1999, and a 2004. I drove the 1991 to 159,000 miles until the transmission went. I looked around a few months for a few other cars but decided I wanted another Park Avenue and bought a 1999 PA in 2002. I drove it nearly three years and decided I just had to have a new car since I had not had a new one for myself (wife had new ones) since 1978. My daily commute was about 100 miles round trip. I bought a 2005 Nissan Altima. For the luxury I gave up I only gained about one mile per gallon over the 1999 PA, and gave up a lot of features. Hard as I tried, I could never get 30 mpg with the Altima’s 4 cylinder 2.5 engine. After a few years, the Altima went to my oldest son when we got my wife a 2010 Buick Lacrosse (we intended to buy a Lucerne, but my youngest son convinced us we didn’t need the grandpa car and we got the Lacrosse instead). I then took her 2003 Buick Rendezvous. But I kept thinking of it as a chick car, so I kept looking for a good used Park Avenue. I found one and drove it a little over two years when it was time to replace the Rendezvous with 175,000 miles. We traded the Rendezvous and Park Avenue for a 2015 Nissan Rogue. I would have kept the Park Avenue, but it was a northern car and had more rust than I realized, so I now drive the 2010 Lacrosse. It is a great car but I still miss the Park Avenues. As stated in my article, I felt like I had arrived driving a Park Avenue.
Thanks for the link! It sounds like someone needs to buy himself another Park Avenue…
“…I can’t resist an opportunity to throw in a gratuitous photo of the boat tail Riv…”
Yeah–the Buick guys really scared themselves silly with that one, so much so that they went all super-conservative for the next four model years after the 1973 version. From 1974 thru 1978 the Riviera was little more than a dressed-up 2-door LeSabre. That’s not to say they weren’t nice cars or good cars, they were quite handsome, in fact. They just didn’t have the presence to carry the legendary Riviera name with any real authority.
Now the 1979-1985 Riviera? Probably the best looking Riviera ever!
My mom’s second husband had a 1998 Park Avenue Ultra, and he loved it. He was flying up I-70 west into the mountains west of Denver one day and was surprised to glance down at the speedometer and see he was just passing the century mark! He said he had no idea he was going that fast! A fine car, these Parks.
I agree about the 74-76 Riviera, it’s actually a pretty nice looking car. It just gets lost in the shadow of its predecessors, plus it’s full malaise era and nobody gets too excited about almost anything from that time.
I also agree the 79-85 is a great looking car, but best ever? Maybe best ever post-72.
Yes, I may have went a bit overboard on my hyperbole. As it is, I also happen to find the 69-70 Rivieras quite a stunning car.
Well, at least it was a Buick, not another Opel with Buick badges slapped on it.
For the record I agree with your opinion that the’05 was the last true Buick. Buick since it’s inception was famous for it’s selection of touring cars. The fact that they appealed to older Americans stemmed from the fact that the older the human body gets the more and tear and the more comfort we seek. And for many we want comfort and performance!
With the exit of the Park Avenue/Ultra Buick abandoned their primary clients. Buick has decided (much like most manufacturers) that it’s primary base is no longer relevant and will just have to buy what we produce or find other means.
In the mid 90’s I was a District Executive for the Boy Scouts living in Hays Kansas. Driving 50,000 plus miles a year and much of it on I-70, I spent a lot of miles behind Park Avenues and in reality fell in love with their boat tail design.
(To me at least, and to this day I think Buick took a page from BMW on at least part of the styling.)
So in ‘95 I bought a ‘91 that had been ordered with every option available at the time including the sunroof. The only thing keeping it from being an Ultra was the lack of a Super-Charger.
Shortly after I met my future wife who lived in Eureka Kansas some 200 plus miles East of Hays. We were Married a year later and several years later I sold the car with over 425,000 miles on the original engine/transmission. I still saw it driving around Wichita 2 years later.
After selling that Park we bought a Beautiful’94 Ultra that was by far the best Park I’ve owned. (Yes, from’97 on the quality declined every year. Thinner carpet, less soundproofing, thinner leather, cheaper fabrics).
It was a year later and we were South bound North of Wichita on I-35 when a Triumph went around us and then immediately slowed to where I had to pass. The Triumph did this several more times before I passed again and pulled up next to it at 90. The Triumph driver matched my speed increase’s up to 120 mph. It couldn’t go any faster. At that point I floored the gas the transmission shifted into passing and the Ultra shot ahead of the Triumph. I finally let off the gas at 148. The car was still accelerating. The ride was controlled and tranquil!
Since that wonderful ‘94 We’ve had a ‘97, ‘99, and an ‘02 that a Florida Dealer dubbed a Gold Coast edition resplendent with matching badges on the half vinyl roof with Landau bars. (Yes I bought it but every time I got in it I felt that I should be wearing a Fuzzy wide brimmed hat trimmed with little balls hanging down and a long leopard skinned fuzzy coat, big sunglasses and lots of gold chains around my neck.
We drove it for 6 years and decided to buy a 2011 Lucern. We still have the Lucern I hate the car. As a replacement for the Park it “sucks”. On a weekend trip a few months after purchasing it (only 35,000 miles on the clock) it threw a rod. I keep the oil changed every 3,000 miles and it had been changed recently. What quality modern passenger car engine throw’s a rod? Since I had spent $400 having the seats fixed so they had some modicum of comfort for highway travel we opted to have a a nearly new replacement engine from the more highly rated’07 installed. Besides sipping less gas the power output is more on par with the blown 3.6 up to 95mph.
I have “bitched” so much about having to drive the car that my wife found a pristine’99 Ultra with less than 100,000 miles and bought it. It had belonged to a 92 year old gentleman and hadn’t been driven in over 2 years.
This will probably be the last Ultra we own. The nice thing about it is it will probably be worth more than we paid for it when our kids sell it!