It’s often been claimed, both on this website and elsewhere, that the late ‘80s / early ‘90s, otherwise known as the Roger Smith era, General Motors was at the bottom the absolute pit of Deadly Sin-riddled despair. And those were very troubled times, for sure: just remember the C4 Corvette, the Allanté, the Pontiac/Daewoo Le Mans, the Reatta… But let’s try and be fair: it wasn’t all doom and gloom at old GM. In fact, there was one wide, toothy chrome grin over at Buick that perked things up a bit.
It’s a bit surprising that CC has not given the 1st generation (1991-96) Park Avenue its fifteen minutes of fame yet. There have been a couple of posts about it, but never a long-form CC. Perhaps these are still common as dirt throughout the North American continent – somehow I doubt that, but maybe because they once were pretty widespread, like the Pontiac Grand Am we saw recently, the notion of writing one up has seemingly never occurred to our (majority) US-based CContributors. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that. That’s OK, given enough time, yours truly will find the appropriate model sitting pretty somewhere in Tokyo, waiting to be photographed from nearly all angles.
All except the rear, so here’s a factory PR pic of a US-spec model, in base (i.e. not Ultra) trim. In the ‘70s and ‘80, “Park Avenue” was just a trim level for the Electra. With the demise of that nameplate after MY 1990, the Park Avenue took over. The quantum leap, style-wise, was pretty incredible: gone was the squarish cookie-cutter formal C-pillar shape. Instead, the new Buick was all curves. It was quite a bit longer, too, though the outgoing Electra’s 110.8-inch wheelbase remained the same, so passengers weren’t better off.
The Park Avenue was the highest status variant of the C-Body, but that meant little to anyone outside of GM fans and car journos. The C-Body was also used by Pontiac for their Bonneville (top left) and the Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight (bottom left) and Ninety-Eight (bottom right), and Buick themselves put devised a cheaper option in the LeSabre (top right). The Bonneville and LeSabre aren’t bad-looking, but those Oldses are peculiar. At least, GM had shown more effort to differentiate these cars than they had with their predecessors.
Behind that bulbous bling-bedecked baleen-esque beak, things remained pretty similar to the Electra as well. That was a good thing: the 3.8 litre V6 is known to be a fine engine – not necessarily a given for every GM product of the time. But at least it got a few vitamin injections to handle the extra overhangs (or is that hangovers?).
That was especially the case with the Ultra version, which was the higher trim level and the one whose V6 could be equipped with a supercharger. Contemporary Japanese sources claim 225hp for this car, though I understand that the very last MY for these cars, i.e. 1996, saw the introduction of a revised version of the 3800 that provided the supercharged Ultra with 240hp. I’m not sure these were exported here though.
For yes, this Buick was definitely bought here new. Those rear lights do not lie. But as a matter of fact, the Park Avenue was sold in a bunch of places, including Europe. And it did rather well there.
The big Buick was one of the more popular Detroiters around continental Europe, back in the ‘90s. I vividly recall seeing those taillights fairly regularly in places like France, Switzerland and Benelux – not the UK, but then I don’t think GM ever bothered with a RHD version, so that explains that. But it was rare enough to see true-blue new American metal in those days and in those times to be noteworthy.
On the other hand, this is the first and only one I’ve caught here as of yet – compared to the boatloads of “Regal” wagons and Cadillac Fleetwoods that are to be seen about the place, that is notable. Perhaps the hefty ¥6m price tag (for the Ultra) had something to do with it: that was Toyota Century territory. Buick probably didn’t have the cred, brand-wise.
Peeking inside, we find a fairly typical “GM Big Car” dash of the period – nothing amazing, but at least they gave the old horizontal speedo the heave-ho. Uncommonly for a Japanese market car, this Buick has leather upholstery. Lovely deep red colour, too!
Gotta say, that rear seat looks pretty inviting – much more so than the contemporary Roadmaster. I’m given to understand that the Park Avenue Ultra was supposed to be the top of the Buick line, even if the Roadie was V8-powered and even bulkier (on the outside). I’m not having any luck finding the MSRP of the early ‘90s Buick range, but I’m sure someone will set the record straight in the comments section.
After a very good introductory year (111k sold), the Park Avenue settled at about 60k units per year for 1992-96. A total of 410,000 units were made – most will have stayed in their country of birth, but a few got funny taillights and made it out. How many exactly? No idea. But some.
The second generation Park Avenue (1997-2005) got a lot more bloated and, in my view, lost the first generation’s dignified swoopiness, but then those were not widely exported either, as far as I know. These Buicks were a bit too expensive for Japan, but somehow managed to find an audience in Europe. Its Oldsmobile-branded stablemate, the Ninety-Eight, made the GM Deadly Sins list due to its highly questionable looks. But as far as I’m concerned, this Buick is without sin. Hope it won’t start throwing stones to the rest of us because of that.
CC Capsule: 1991 Buick Park Avenue – A Heritage Of Class, by Joseph Dennis
COAL: 1993 Buick Park Avenue – In the Wrong Neighborhood, by Danny F. Cabrera
Classic CARmentary: 1998 Buick Park Avenue Ultra, by Adam Dixon