Cohort Memories: 1978 Buick Century Aeroback – Skipping A Few Pages To Reach The Ominous Chapters

Cohort images by cjcz92, taken in 2017.

We returned to Puerto Rico in 1987, and were finally back in US territory after 11 years in Central America. Since those were the pre-internet days, there was much catch-up to do; being a teenager, I was eager for it all. Particularly when it came to cars.

While I was preoccupied with cars, Mom was obviously thinking of old acquaintances. Returning to a place is usually a mind-challenging exercise; with lots to absorb, culturally and personally. Like picking up on your favorite series after missing a few seasons. Who were these characters from my Mom’s past that remembered me? And what’s up with all these new clothing trends? Etc. And finally: What about the cars? Lots to discover there, since Central America hadn’t really been a hub for the latest trends.

It happened on a Saturday afternoon, when Mom was to meet with some ex-coworker from the old days. No memory of what the meeting was for, but whatever the reason, it was a rather formal matter.

When we arrived at his apartment building on the outskirts of Mayaguez; we went in, exchanged a few pleasantries, and were done in short order. For old-time’s sake, he asked for us to join him for lunch at the nearby mall. Mom, who never ever refused a trip to the mall, dutifully accepted (Above, the Mayaguez Mall in the mid-80s).

We were to go in separate cars, and as we boarded our trés chic 1987 Tercel hatchback, her old colleague came out of the apartment building’s parking riding a light-blue ’78 Buick Century Aeroback. What in the world is that? Said the voice in my head, and not in a good way.

The Buick passed us and went ahead, guiding the way, while Mom trailed him. On the way, I kept staring at the Buick, befuddled by its looks. Somewhere in the car, there was a concept that should look good -the fastback- but didn’t really.

In general, when it comes to GM, arriving in ’87 was like skipping a chunk of pages from Anna Karenina, and reaching the section where society just shunned her. Now, unlike poor Anna, there wasn’t much sympathy one could find for GM. For one, it wasn’t a poor victim of circumstance. On the other, we were a long way from Tsarist Russia.

Here was the GM I remembered from my childhood. Yes, against the earlier ’60s ones, this Impala is a bit chubby; but it carries that excess with poise and confidence. Hand me the keys to any ’60s Impala, and you may have to call the cops. There’s just no guarantee I’ll give it back on my own accord.

So, there we were, on our little Tercel following this humpback-fastback Buick. Or in GM-speak; Aeroback. Just what in the world had happened during my absence? Bill Mitchell, where were you?

Don’t panic, I know Bill was still involved with these cars. And while I’ve waxed lyrical about GM’s 1960s oeuvre, the truth is that in Mitchell’s later days, GM’s styling studios were already stretched thin. There were only so many variations possible for an increasing roster of models while keeping costs in check (plus regulations, oil crisis, etc.). Diminishing returns were appearing well before his departure; and as we know, far worse was to come.

From the looks of things, I could sense the model should have been a hatchback, but for mind-boggling reasons, it wasn’t. Bean counters I suppose. Curiously, the Aeroback Buicks don’t have an official entry at CC (and this won’t be it), other than period reviews for the Turbo version. I assume most CC contributors have already suffered enough Aeroback-related-PTSD by covering the Oldsmobile versions.

Not that they were awful-looking vehicles; but they just didn’t look that great either. And for upscale offerings such as Buick and Oldsmobile; what’s left if you don’t have a trendsetting suit to wear? Or at least a nice conservative-tailored one? With the Aerobacks being neither, they sold poorly and were short-lived. GM wasn’t yet completely lost in the woods, and a revised notchback body appeared in 1980.

As I said earlier, in regards to cars I had much catch-up to do in 1987. But did I really want to? In the Puerto Rican newspapers, the New Car Ads had endless permutations of GM N-Bodies, all with beaks poorly disguising their common origin. What part of the novel had I reached? Where society shunned poor GM? Or where the train could be heard approaching in the distance?


Further reading:

CCCCC Part 9: 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon – We Don’t Want No Stinkin’ Fastbacks

Vintage Review: 1979 Buick Century Turbo Coupe – This Wild Turkey Tried To Fly