Curbside Classic: 1973 Buick Century Regal – The Confident Colonnade?

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(first posted 7/28/2014)    This is almost too nice of a car to be a true CC, given that it spends most of its time in the garage, but when I caught it during an evening walk, it was left outside where its owner’s late G-body Park Avenue usually sits. Brand loyalty dies hard, in this case. And if the said owner stuck with full-size Buicks after this A-body, it’s hard to think of any which would’ve failed to satisfy. Then as today, Buick’s remained one of the most consistent lineups in GM’s portfolio.

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Where do the Colonnades fit into this, though?  Skylarks had up to 1972 been one of the more obscure versions of the GM intermediates, though that doesn’t mean less worthy. Songs were sung about the GTO, certainly, but GSs had their appeal and outside of the sportier versions, the more subtle Buicks weren’t without their merit.  As if the underscore that idea, the introduction of the Century in 1973 capitalized on the brand’s strengths of understatement and quality, helping this big brown coupe certainly make a good case both for itself and for the Colonnade coupes in general.

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As if to downplay the name debasement, Buick introduced the Century Regal (Regal after 1974) as an entrant similar in concept to the Cutlass Supreme.  Seeing this relatively well-preserved example in a domestic setting gives it some context as an everyday device and it’s easy see why someone would have bought it new.  It helps that this is an earlier model in more basic trim, with no wheel covers or hood ornaments to busy its appearance, but enough gingerbread to match the formal roofline.

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That Curry dealer badge shows this is a local car; they’re still in business today, selling both Buicks and Cadillacs. Don’t let the rub strips fool you; the faded paint and non-historical registration shows this car likely spends time outside the garage.  I wonder whether the owner prefers to drive this or the Park Ave, and whether he notices or cares about the latter’s unibody or front-wheel drive.  Buick always did an excellent job of mating a traditional driving experience with newer technology and unlike other divisions or domestic brands, rarely had to face disappointing customers by promising a European-inspired driving experience.

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Odd that after GM’s recent reorganization, they actually do a very convincing job of delivering the latter.  I don’t see a ton of people dropping their Accords for Regals yet, but the car being offered under the nameplate today is a most respectable effort.  It will be interesting to see if the renewed focus on the brand after dropping Olds, Pontiac and Saturn continues to be successful or if my generation fails to be successfully wooed in the Tri-Shield’s direction.  The current car is arguably more desirable than anything seen in Acura showrooms, and I wouldn’t fault anyone for purchasing one over a Passat, CC, S60 or ES350.  I’ve heard that its successor will be built off of a stretched version of the next Delta platform–if true, I hope this use of Opel platforms pans out as well as VW’s similar strategy.

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No such worries plagued top GM brass when this car debuted, bigger than ever before.  One would’ve expected that if anyone stood to gain from the new A-body’s enormous size, it was Buick, who had less stock in cultivating a youthful image in its midsizers.  Even Chevy and Pontiac, however, could boast that the new cars could handle as there was evidence that engineers began to take roadability more seriously.  Buick had a variety of suspensions-tunes and powerplants on tap; this car has either a Buick 350 or optional 455 (axed after 1974), in one of the expected two-or-four barrel carb/single-or-dual exhaust configurations (150 horses at minimum; 225 tops).

There were no six-cylinders until 1975 when the Buick V6 joined the line-up; unlike the equivalent Oldsmobiles, additionally available with a variety of small-displacement V8s and Chevy I6s, the Buick coupes stuck with their own division’s engines and weren’t hobbled by any especially loud styling touches (like skegs on the bottom of the Oldsmobile’s doors or faux fender vents).  That might not have been enough to make the Regal the biggest seller when it was new, but confidence is a different, more enduring quality than popularity.

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With the Skylark name gone, it seems clear that Buick’s aim was to more directly link their A-bodies with full-size offerings.  With Pontiac and Olds nomenclature keeping the lineage with the original senior compacts of the early ’60s more overt, and Chevy trying somewhat to keep the muscle car era alive with its early Chevelles and Lagunas, the Century’s and Regal’s understated quality was more or less a given.  They sold in far less numbers than the other division’s intermediates, too, but then again, their role was simply to give more frugal Buick customers a place to go within the same showroom.

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As a rule, it was the high-trim variants of the A-bodies which got the big sales in those days (maybe because the base cars were so barren).  With its extra-Broughamy touches, the Cutlass Supreme was more popular than the Regal (the best-selling Buick variant), selling over twice as many two-door examples even before really taking off by the end of the model run through the early ’80s, but with so much pressure to keep up the performance, Oldsmobile was at a major loss to maintain volumes as tastes began to change.

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It would seem the Regal was much more comfortable in its unadorned skin, with less to prove. By the time imports became too big a force to ignore, Buick’s honest image became less of a liability than Oldsmobile’s eventually ill-defined “has-been” reputation (not to mention Pontiac’s perpetually precarious position within the brand hierarchy).  But the basic trend was still evident as early as when this Regal rolled off the line in Flint.  Just imagine driving home from the dealer in 1973, knowing your stodgy choice actually made you ahead of your time.

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Related reading:

Curbside Classic: 1990 Buick Century Coupe – If We Make It Forever It Will Be Good
1973 Buick Century GS455 C&T Video: The Best Performing Colonnade?
Curbside Classic: 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham: Finest Brougham In All Of Hampton, IL!
The Colonnade Cutlass Cult (And Have I Escaped It?)