Curbside Classic: 1994 Buick Century Wagon – Fighting A Losing Battle

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(first posted 4/4/2013)    As you might recall, my part of the country is chock full of A-bodies, particularly the Cutlass Ciera and Century variants. We Midwesterners stuck with GM far longer than those on the West Coast; as a result, I average 10 to 20 A-body sightings per day, mostly four-door sedans. A Century or Ciera wagon might be pretty common in Eugene, but when I see one around here, I notice!

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We’ve covered the FWD A-body history numerous times. In a nutshell, these cars were introduced in 1982, as two- and four-door sedans that were joined by wagon versions in 1984. While the earlier models had some quality issues (sound familiar?), by the late ’80s and early ’90s these cars were pretty robust. By 1994 they were still available, except for the attractive but slow-selling coupe, which said sayonara after 1993.

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The 1994 Centurys came in four-door sedan and four-door wagon models, in Special and Custom trim levels. Although the Limited had departed after 1993, the ’94 Custom used its same interior. The wagon was available only as a Special, with the plainer seating.

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The woody Estate Wagon (a ’93 is pictured) was also still around, and would remain so until the 1982-vintage Century was retired after 1996.

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Despite its age, the platform remained very, VERY popular–and not just with rental car companies. I cannot speak for the East and West Coasts, but here in the heartland these Centurys and their Cutlass Ciera siblings were all over the place. Of course, they were popular with the type of people who enjoyed early-bird specials, but they weren’t the only ones.

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For those of you who prefer Toyotas and Hondas, let me try to explain. No, these GMs may not have been as refined as, say, a Maxima or Camry of similar vintage, but they were still attractive cars, even in the mid-’90s–at least in your author’s humble opinion. By this time, they had become reliable and had a nice, cushy ride. Folks out West might like carving corners and going out for sushi, but your average Midwestern guy would prefer a nice, smooth ride down Telegraph Road and stopping at a Cracker Barrel for chicken-fried steak. That’s just the way we are!

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In 1989, a new sedan roofline helped nudge these cars into the modern era, but they still delivered an appropriately American middle-class luxury-car feel, thanks to Buick’s vaunted DynaRide, plush interiors with lots of room and simulated wood trim and, on the Limited and 1994 Custom, pillowed seating for six. There was even leather available, although it was seldom ordered.

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It was a safe choice for folks who’d probably been buying middle-class GM brands from Jerry Lundegaard-types since the ’60s. As the 1994 brochure put it: “Century is an automobile designed to meet the requirements of those who demand exceptional quality. Century is, in every measurable way, worthy of the Buick name.”

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Buick might have been more than halfway to senior-special status by 1994 (cars like the Park Avenue Ultra kept its reputation relatively solid for a few more years), but at least here in the Midwest, owning a Buick still meant something to a lot of people.

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Standard features on the ’94 Century included anti-lock brakes and a driver’s-side airbag. The center armrest contained slots for CD storage, and fold-out cupholders–an important new feature for many ’90s car buyers. Buick’s smooth DynaRide suspension set the Century further apart from its Oldsmobile sibling–except for the wagons!

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The standard engine was the 2.2L port fuel-injected four cylinder, which produced 120-hp @ 5200 rpm and 130 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm. The fine 3.3L V6 was no longer available, but the 3.1L V6 with sequential fuel injection was optional. It provided a little bit more oomph, with 160-hp and 185 lb-ft, at the same rpm ranges as the four.

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The single Special wagon model was available with painted sides or the aforementioned woodgrain, and also in two- or three-seat versions. These were quite capable little haulers, with 74.4 square feet of cargo area. And unlike the silly Country Squire-on-stilts SUVs then exploding in popularity, these were rather economical and a snap to park. The dimensions were quite tidy, with an overall length of 190.9″ and a 104.9″ wheelbase. Light, too, with a 3,134-lb. curb weight.

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But it didn’t matter. The SUV scene eclipsed any wagon sales, and the A-body long-roofs suffered for it. Though the sedans were popular right up to the end in 1996, the wagons were seldom seen after 1989-90 or so. I don’t have the figures for the Century, but sales of the Cutlass Cruiser, its Olds twin, were 9,809 in 1994.

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Only the die-hard wagon fans still bought these by the mid-’90s, and I suspect today’s CC was purchased by a retired gentleman, considering its Light Driftwood Metallic paint, beige interior, and whitewall tires. What I really like on our featured Century was its optional 14″ alloy wheels. These wheels are my favorite, and although they were prominently featured in the brochure, were seldom seen on actual cars. From my observations over the years, my guess is that the wire wheel covers were ordered on roughly 65% of Centurys, with 20% having the standard full wheel covers, 14% with the styled steel wheels, and the remaining 1% having these alloys.

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The few Century and Cutlass Ciera wagons I see around here are pretty rusty and bedraggled, but when I spotted this very nice example at a local car lot, I had to check it out, just for the wheels alone! I always liked the instrument panel on these–it seemed quite a bit more upscale than the Olds version. I remember wandering around the showroom at Key Dodge-Buick-GMC when my folks were ordering their 1992 Grand Caravan ES, and although I really liked these cars, the burgundy Century sedan (with matching interior and wire wheel covers, natch) looked quite vintage compared to the white over tan ’92 Bonneville SSEi sitting ten feet away.

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I frequently tagged along when Mom had to take the car in for an oil change, so I could hang around and get all the nice deluxe full-line brochures! I always liked the Century and Roadmaster, so I have every Buick brochure from 1992 to 1996. And although I remember Century sedans in the showroom, I don’t recall ever seeing a Century wagon, though I do remember a couple of Roadmaster Estate Wagons–another Buick I’d love to own.

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It is only in the last 4-5 years that Buick’s luster has returned, with cars like the 2nd-gen Lacrosse and Regal GS. Will we ever see another Buick wagon? Probably not, because even though there is an Opel version of the Regal that comes in wagon form, all the people who whine and moan about no wagons in the U.S. would probably not buy a Regal GS wagon as a new car, so approximately four would be built.

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