Curbside Classic: 1988 Buick Century – Direct from the Waning Years of the Great Brougham Epoch


(first posted 12/4/2013)    I’m on a quest to find a first-year example of each of the FWD GM A bodies. I haven’t found one yet, but every time I spy that pre-facelift squared-off roofline I pause for photos. You might recall, for example, the showroom-fresh ’86 Olds Cutlass Ciera I found this spring (read about it here). Here’s the Buick version, from 1988. 


I found it at my nearby Meijer, which is a slightly nicer version of Walmart that you’ll find only in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky. Maybe it’s because this Meijer is on the edge of the inner city, but it is ripe with curbside classics. I seem to find one here every month or so when I shop for groceries. I’ve already shared an ‘81 B-body Buick (here), an enormous ’75 Olds (here), and a stubby ’88 Corolla (here), all found in this very lot. I have yet to share a second-gen Accord I found here, and a mid-70s Cadillac Sedan DeVille. I guess everybody’s got to go for groceries sometime, even people who drive old cars. Which this Buick Century most certainly has become.


Though it doesn’t much look it. It’s dirty, perhaps the paint has faded on the horizontal surfaces, and there are some nicks and scratches. But I own a 16-year-newer car that looks a lot worse. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that this vinyl roof used to be a richer shade of beige, by the way, but sunlight and time left it this tepid color that almost clashes with the brown paint below.


And about that vinyl roof. Oy. I know that we were still transitioning out of the Great Brougham Epoch in 1987. GM knew there was still a market for such nonsense, and they weren’t foolish enough to ignore it. But even when these cars were new, vinyl looked ridiculous on these cars. I think vinyl works best when there’s a wide C pillar, and there just wasn’t enough sail panel behind the A body’s back doors for it to work.


Perhaps this Century’s broughaminess is why it survives. Maybe somebody’s grandmother bought it new in ’87 and drove it lightly, and when she couldn’t drive anymore handed it down to a grandchild as a first car. The hardly worn driver’s seat certainly points to light duty. And you could do worse than an A body for a first car – easy to drive, cheap to fix, and roomy enough to carry you into responsible adulthood (read: baby seats).


Here’s my dirty little secret: I would love to have one of these. Dare I dream about finding a sportier model, like this ’86 T Type, that hasn’t been chewed up? A buddy of mine bought a brand new Century just after the T Type went out of production, though he checked all the right option boxes and got a Century that accelerated very briskly and handled very crisply. Or maybe I should set my sights on the wagon. I love wagons! And I’m probably more likely to find one in good nick since those tended not to be driven in a spirited manner. Plus there’s that capacious wayback.


I keep scanning Craigslist. Ideally, I want to go Buick, if for no other reason than I like the dashboard and front-end styling better than the Olds. And I’d prefer one from the sealed-beam era, especially this front end, which I think is the best looking of all the A bodies.