We finally moved to Tokyo a couple weeks ago, so things have been a tad hectic, leaving very little time for CC hunting. Fortunately, I had found a bunch of stuff in France over Xmas, but that’s almost done too. A few days ago, I was wondering if my new digs would offer me some good CC opportunities when I found this. Sure, you US-based folks will find it a bit common, but around here, 25-year-old Buicks are anything but. And the weird thing is, this Century is called Regal. That warranted a bit of digging.
I haven’t uncovered the entire story, but it seems the A-Body Buick Century wagon was something of a hipster hit in mid-‘90s Japan. I know, I’m baffled about that too, but the Japanese websites seem to all agree on this. The sedan was also on offer (but never the coupé, AFAIK), but the trendy one was the wagon, offered as a Buick only. I’m unclear as to when official imports really started; I think it might be 1990, but I’m not 100% sure. The local GM importer is Yanase, who still sell GM, Chrysler, VW, Mercedes, BMW and Volvo (among others) in Japan and have been the biggest car importer since the pre-war days, though most of these carmakers also have their own dealership networks nowadays.
Our feature car is a Yanase import, but I understand demand was so high that some grey imports were also allowed in. However, those would have been badged as Century. On the JDM, by the ‘90s, that was not a name to be trifled with – Property of Toyota, no trespassing. So Yamase and GM had to finagle a replacement nameplate. I’m guessing that the US-market Regal was not imported, so it probably didn’t matter too much for JDM buyers what the wagon was called, just as long as it was a Buick name. They could have gone for LeSabre or Electra, but they picked a name that used to be associated with the Century. It sort of makes sense.
One notable difference compared to North American models, aside from the nameplate, are the rear lights with amber turn signals. Now that’s a modification that I can get behind – red turn signals are really not the smartest aspect of the US Highway Code. I kinda flubbed this picture, unfortunately, but then this is a Buick wagon trying to fit inside a Tokyo parking space. There wasn’t too much of an angle for me to work with here.
I mean, look at the dimensions of this thing. The Buick is 7cm wider and 13cm longer than the space is designed to hold. Owning one of these in this country must be really a source of constant joy and amusement. The thing is, I can relate: my father owned a 1986 Pontiac 6000 wagon. He bought it when we lived in the States in the late ‘80s and brought it back to France when we moved back again. Sheer lunacy on his part, as that model was never imported there. He had to go through a mountain of paperwork in order to get it legalized (it took over 18 months), and when anything broke, parts had to be ordered from overseas. That car served us well though and I remember it fondly. It died of a broken transmission in 1995.
Anyway, back to our “Regal.” As I understand it, the official Japanese imports only came with the 3.1 litre V6 – no slow-poke Iron Dukes or smelly Diesels – and with the front bench seat, so that it could be registered as an eight-seater. Our Pontiac had bucket seats and a floor shifter, which never made sense to me in a wagon. This configuration is much more in keeping with the car, IMHO.
Buicks are no longer imported these days. Maybe they only liked them here when China couldn’t afford them. Now, it’s all Cadillacs and the odd Chevrolet, though there are still a few Hummers about as well. Most are LHD, like this Buick (though I did find a RHD Caddy), which is not an issue for the Japanese authorities, strangely enough. They used to forbid LHD cars, but changed that rule in 1965. Still, you’re likelier to see a new RHD French or an Italian car here than a new LHD American one, so I guess having the steering wheel on the wrong side is still not too popular, because it’s a real pain in everyday life.
I’m not sure when they quit offering Buicks on the JDM, but it seems Yanase imported the first ones in Japan in 1920. They published Buick brochures in Japanese on a yearly basis, some of which can be found on the Internet. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a decent scan of the Regal Sedan / Estate Wagon JDM publicity material, so the above will have to do.
It’s always fun to find a familiar car with a weird local variation or two. That’s one of the reasons I like living in Asia – you never know quite what you’re seeing, sometimes. So when someone asks you when the last Buick Regal wagons were made, and they expect you to say 1987, you should reply: “1996, because Toyota forced GM to find a Regal loophole.”
CC Outtake: c. 1995 Buick Century Wagon – A Century Ago…, by Joseph Dennis
Ballotside Outtake: Buick Century Wagon, by Tom Klockau
COAL – 1988 Buick Century – My First Wagon, by TJ1977