Curbside Classic: 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition – Go For The Gold In Your W-Body

Ah, the W body. Say what you will about this line of bread-and-butter sedans, they had staying power. As you read this, the last W-body ’12 Impalas are rolling down the line, to be replaced in a few months with a more luxurious 2013 version. Buick’s version of this platform debuted in coupe form in 1988, but the sedan would take a little bit longer.

The W-body Regal had a somewhat uncommon gestation period. A lot of this had to do with Buick playing musical chairs with their car lines in the ’80s. In 1982 the rear wheel drive Century sedan and wagon were folded into the Regal line, the Regal having been a coupe-only model since 1978 (In its introductory year it was only a coupe, but from 1974-77 there was a Regal sedan). This was short-lived, however.

The wagon disappeared after 1983 (replaced with the new FWD A-body Century wagon) and the sedan was last offered in 1984. This may have been due to the success of the A-body Century sedans, and Buick was just trying to eliminate overlapping models. Also, the upcoming FWD C-body ’85 Electra and H-body ’86 LeSabre would have been very close in size, if not in packaging, to the A/G-body Regal lineup.

The ’81 Regal coupe avoided all this confusion, and remained pretty much the same through the 1987 model year. In 1988, it was replaced with a new FWD Regal on the W-body platform, shared with the Chevy Lumina, Pontiac Grand Prix, and Olds Cutlass Supreme. Just like the 1985-87 Regal, it came only as a coupe.

The coupe-only strategy didn’t last long. The coupe market was beginning to shrink, and more and more folks were getting interested in mid-sized sedans. So for 1990, the Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick W-body coupes got four door companions. The Luminas did not debut with their corporate siblings in ’88, so they had two and four door models from their introduction as 1990 models – plus the distinctive Lumina APV “dust buster” minivan.

The W-body Oldsmobile sedans looked like a giant Saturn thanks to their roofline, although the Cutlass Supreme coupes were sharp. The Pontiacs, despite their heavy cladding, were also attractive, but my personal favorite is the Buick version. Actually, my most favorite is the Regal coupe (give me a ’92-’93 Limited with leather interior; dark green, navy blue or burgundy, please!) , but we’re talking about the sedans today, aren’t we?

I do believe the Regal sedan was the best looking four door W. The roofline was subtle, but elegant – just right for a Buick. I also think those turbine-spoke Buick alloys were one of the nicest looking 1990s GM wheels. They remind me of the Sabre wheels on 1950s Cadillacs. The engine lineup started with a 3.1 liter V6 with 140 hp. This powerplant, along with Buick’s supple DynaRide suspension, came standard in Customs and Limiteds, while Gran Sports came with the 170 horse 3800 V6 and Gran Touring suspension for a less-than-traditional Buick experience.

Interiors were appropriate for a Buick, with lots of woodgrain trim and chrome accents. The analog gauges shown here were standard on the Regal Limited and Gran Sport, while entry-level Customs got a digital dash. Remember this interior, for drastic changes were coming, and not for the better.

Regal sedans got a new grille for 1993, among other minor changes. As before, sedans rode a 107.5″ wheelbase – same as Regal coupes – but were one inch longer, at 194.6 inches. The same model lineup of Custom, Limited and GS continued.

With the optional turbine alloys, Limiteds like this one looked an awful lot like a Gran Sport, but GS sedans sported two tone paintwork and slightly more aggressive ground effects. The nice chrome moldings really said Buick, and helped it look like its big brother, the Park Avenue. But they would disappear after 1994, along with many other trim bits. A big decontenting was in the works for 1995.

Which brings us to our featured CC. Now, it doesn’t look drastically different, does it? A new grille, restyled bumpers and side trim, “retro” cursive Regal scripts on the front doors, and new taillights. But that’s just the outside.

While there is no major difference between 1995 and 1996 Regals, I am fairly certain that this one is a 1996 because it is an Olympic Edition. Buick was a sponsor of the ’96 Olympics, and special edition models like this one were offered. It included gold accents on the wheels and side trim and special Olympic badges on the front fenders and trunklid. I am not sure if this was a factory option or dealer installed. Perhaps one of our Curbside Commenters can fill us in.

Remember that instrument panel I mentioned? The elegant, squared off version that the ’88-’94 Regals sported may have been a little old fashioned, but it did look like it belonged in a Buick. It said luxury car. Now what do we have?

Rubbermaid dash! No fake wood, no chrome air conditioning vents, nothing! Just acres of plastic and the same basic radio as Chevys and Pontiacs. This does not look like a Buick interior, it looks like a 1995 Chevy Biscayne, if such a thing had existed. The Brougham content in my blood is getting low just looking at it!

There was no relief from the monotone plastic, even on the door panels and console. Is that a Cavalier center console in the ’95 interior shown on the right? At least you could still get the nice leather seats. The Regal coupes had color-keyed door pulls in a woodgrained surround (shown above left), while sedans had woodgrained door pulls set in a woodgrained garnish panel – perfect for a Buick. At least, they had them until 1995.

Where are those woodgrained door pulls? I want my woodgrained door pulls! This particular car does have one saving grace – two, actually. First, it is tan, and not black or gray. Second, it does have the optional leather seating. But I’d take a ’92 over a ’96, thank you very much.

I found our featured CC at a little car lot in Silvis. What impressed me was how nice it was. No scratches, door dings, wheel rash, or anything else. The leather was perfect too – even the driver’s seat. From all of this, we can deduce that this car belonged to a little old lady or a little old man until very recently. If I was in the market for another car, and had the space, I would have looked really hard at this car. It was that nice.

As for the Regal itself, it morphed into a bar of soap for the 1998 model year. It was essentially a new-for-1997 Century with a different grille and trim. There was a new supercharged version (does anybody else remember the “Supercharged Family” Regal commercials of the late ’90s?), but it never really took off, and most Regals sold were the more bread-and-butter LS model. It lasted through 2004 with only slight changes.

Only in the last couple of years has the Regal (and Buick) come back into its own, thanks in part to improved quality and Opel-derived underpinnings. I test drove a 2010 LaCrosse when they came out, and I really liked it. Me, the dedicated Volvo guy! The last couple of years have been promising, let’s hope Buick can keep it up. I for one would love to see a new Riviera and V8, rear wheel drive Electra. How about it, GM?