Curbside Classic: 1974 Buick Apollo – Back To Being a Daily Driver In Its Second Lifetime

(first posted 3/5/2018)       This is one of my very favorite curbside classics in Eugene. Why? Because I actually know its whole story, having met its original owner; that’s not often the case. And it’s a sole daily driver again for the past five years or so, in the hands of its current young second owner after the original owner passed away. And I see it in traffic regularly. Given what great shape it’s in, that does worry me just a wee bit. But why not? If it were tucked away in someone’s garage or warehouse, I’d really miss seeing it dicing it up with traffic on 7th Avenue. It never fails to cheer me up every time.

This picture above was taken way back in 2009, not long after I started curbsiding. Back then the pristine Apollo normally sat in the driveway of this house, but I was hot to shoot it. I knocked on the door and a very elderly woman with a heavy French accent opened it. When I explained my mission, she went…bonkers. “The internet? My car on the internet! Never! Go away!!”

When I mentioned my encounter to Stephanie, she chuckled, and said “I know her; she’s a Meals On Wheels client of mine. And she’s …ah…eccentric. Not really working with a full deck anymore. And she can be very gruff”. Yes.

Well, a couple of weeks later as we walked by, the Apollo was out on the street! So I started shooting. And out the door she came, like a crazed witch, yelling at me: No!! No!! You can’t do that!!  But I already had. And as I told her, it’s in the street, so it was fair game. It was as though I had just deflowered her virgin daughter that she kept locked in the tower.

But the odd thing is that I ended up honoring her demand, because I never wrote it up, until now, years later. Stephanie told me about a year after that incident that she had died rather suddenly. And a month or so later, the Apollo was gone.

But not very far. I started seeing it all over the downtown area, driven by a young man. A relative? Or was it sold? I’d like to think it was her nephew, or great-nephew. And he’s been driving it ever since. These shots were taken a little while back, but I saw it in traffic just the other day, which reminded me I have to write it up.

Needless to say, this Apollo is a badge-engineered Chevy Nova. It appeared in 1973, along with its stablemate, the Olds Omega.

They followed the 1971 Pontiac Ventura’s pioneering badge-engineering footsteps by two years. I called the Ventura a GM Deadly Sin, as it marked the beginning of a very long era when this became rampant, before GM realized that they needed to at least differentiate their platform-mates a bit more than a different grille and tail lights. This was totally new territory for GM.

Needless to say, the cover of the 1973 Apollo’s brochure makes it clear that Buick was a bit defensive about the subject. It tries (way too hard) to make it appear that this is a genuine Buick through-and-through, and not just a badge-engineered Nova.

There’s a lot of talk about sound insulation and such in the brochure, but the only significant difference is in the optional V8, which is a genuine Buick engine, unlike the standard Chevy 250 six. This kind of language would soon fall away too, as GM started intermixing engines across its brands.

A plusher Custom interior was available, but not surprisingly, this car’s original thrifty owner would have none of that. Which means it looks an awful lot like a Nova. Just don’t ask me about that strap for pulling the door closed. Hmm.

And no, this Thrush mufflers logo decal was not on it when she owned it. It’s the only visible change on the car, along with blackwall tires.

The Thrush decal does not signify an actual Thrush muffler, as I’ve heard it in traffic all-too often. And its distinctive gentle in-line six moan confirms that there’s no genuine Buick engine under its hood.

We haven’t answered the question as to why Buick decided it needed (or wanted) a Nova clone for 1973, as that was a year before the energy crisis. Prescience? No; the demand for small cars had been growing for some years, and Buick’s own Century (née Skylark) had of course become morbidly obese for 1973. What had been a trim 2,600 lb compact in 1961 was now a 4,000 lb Colonnade heavyweight. GM realized the error of its ways with its 1971 mega-full-sized cars and the 1973 Colonnades even before they arrived. But it was too late, so pinch-hitting, in the form of pinching the Nova from Chevy, was the solution.

Not that it was very convincing or effective, initially. Some 33k were sold in 1973, but the energy crisis upped that to a rip-roaring 57k in 1974.

A complete restyle for all of the NOVA cars (Nova, Omega, Ventura, Apollo) arrived in 1975, and the Buick transitioned back to the Skylark name. Sales trended upwards, and topped 100k for the 1976-1978 years, before it was replaced by the X-Car Skylark midway through 1979. That became a serious hit for Buick.

Meanwhile, this Apollo soldiers on; the only representative of its breed in probably quite some area. Is there another Apollo of this vintage being used as a sole daily driver? Inquiring minds would like to know.