Curbside Classic: 1995 Buick Regal GS – Is It Worthy?

This is a test, and only a test, of the Curbside Classic Classification System. Normal CC programming will resume as soon as this test is over.

(First published March 1, 2011) The qualifications for admittance into that three-ring CC tent are pretty loose: it needs to be of some interest to me or you, preferably both. A car’s age isn’t really a hard and fast issue; I did a CC on the original 2000 Prius. I’ve had requests for newer cars, American ones specifically. And I really did spontaneously stop to shoot this Regal GS (I’m not sure about that year, though), because it caught my eye when it first came out in 1988. The question is, should I have sat on these shots for ten years or so, or is it ready now?

This is not a car I have much personal experience with, which applies to quite a bit of more recent American cars other than as rentals. I briefly considered whether this qualifies as a GM Deadly Sin. Hardly, despite still suffering a bit of overly strong family kinship issue that the all-too similar 1986 Riviera/Somerset Regal identical twins had (GM DS #1, and coming back here for an encore very soon).

Although the new for-1988 Regal coupe has that distinct family resemblance to them, it was a pretty substantial jump forward stylistically otherwise; gone was the ubiquitous perfectly vertical rear window, at last. In fact, GM’s DS #1 was fresh in their minds, because they made a very concerted effort to differentiate these new mid-sized W-Platform cars, which included the Grand Prix and Cutlass Supreme. The threesome arrived strictly as coupes, a rather odd decision since it left the always popular four doors moldering along on the long-in tooth A-Body platform. It took three years for GM to introduce the technically almost identical Regal sedan. That decision was a deadly little sin. And after a while, those add(ed) up.

There’s no question in my mind that the new Regal coupe was by far the best looking of the three. The GP was too busy and disjointed, and the Cutlass was clean enough, but just didn’t turn…my neck. The Regal did. I was a lover of the clean smooth aero-look school at the time, which had in part led me into the embrace of a 1986 W124 MB 300E. Admittedly, that was part of my problem at the time; I was a car snob. Nothing could touch my perfect new Benz in any criteria whatsoever, blah, blah, blah…

But I still played the field with my eyes, and the Buick caught them regularly. The fact that it sat on the un-shortened 107.5″ wheelbase of the yet-distant sedan was a curious choice, given how far back those rear wheels were. That didn’t work for me on the other two variants, but it somehow did on the Regal coupe. I’m still not sure exactly why; intuitively, it shouldn’t have. GM’s laziness somehow worked this time. When I finally figure out how to use my recently acquired Photoshop program, I’d like to change the wheel base on this car and see how that strikes me. I’ve got a whole bunch of cars I want to do that with, but it’s an intimidating hurdle to jump.

Update: Thanks to a comment by geozinger, he reminded me of the car that the set-back rear wheels of the Regal Coupe reminded me of, but I couldn’t put my finger on: The Javelin. And it was presumably for the same exact reason.  The Javelin underpinnings/platform were heavily borrowed from the American/Hornet sedans, and since it was shortened once already for the two-passenger AMX, it was undoubtedly expedient to leave it as. Or maybe Dick Teague just liked that long rear quarter look.

Like most products of GM’s not-so golden era, the Regal got a lot better. It started out looking a bit less clean than this very slick later version, but it was what was out of sight that really improved the most. The Regal started out with a distinct lack of regalia under the hood, the 2.8 60-degree V6 packing 125 hp. After almost ten years since its debut in the X-Bodies, one would have hoped for more, like the more Buick-worthy 3800 V6. Just wait a few years; the usual GM mantra…mañana…who’s in a hurry…everything is just fine…you’ll love that little 2.8 motor.

When the 3800 did come along, it was in very decent form too; the 170 hp Series I. We knew you could do it GM, eventually. Just one minor problem; er, more like GM’s most recurring Deadly Sin: by that time, the buzz was off, and the Regal coupe ended up being a consistently disappointing seller from day one, and never recuperated. Maybe that alone qualifies the GS version on account of its rarity; it never sold more than four digits per year, typically around 4-6k annually.

Yes, the 38oo’s fat torque curve combined with the four-speed automatic made a terrific American style drive train. No doubt the Regal could probably beat my 177 hp 300E out of the gates, but not for long. And that combo has a rep for delivering surprisingly good real-world fuel economy numbers.

Handling? Well, that’s a bit out of my comfort zone, but I do seem to remember W-Body rentals that were, well, better than the previous GM front-drivers. The front end didn’t seem to have the mind of its own like the X and early A Bodies. And I suspect with the GS tuned suspension, it might have been a fairly decent affair. The ride with the new fully independent rear suspension was comfy indeed, and four wheel disc brakes were standard from the first year.

Now we get to that very dangerous area of quality. There seems to be plenty of strong feelings on that subject of GMs of this vintage, and they run to the polar extremes at times. I think the best thing I can do is to just throw that subject out there like a bone and see who bites. I was dealing with my own quality issues with a Jeep Cherokee and a Dodge Caravan, so I have nothing to draw on.

It’s ironic that there’s no clue to me about the exact year of this Regal, given that its maker invented the annual styling change and planned obsolescence. I should have read the VIN, and if I’m going to do more newer cars like this, I will have to. Even the Peugeot 404 has enough external cues to pin its year down. Help me out, please…