In my recent article on the Buick Enclave, I highlighted the fact that crossover SUV models have completely taken over Buick’s North American model lineup. 2020 was the last model year passenger cars were offered. It was the end of a very long line going back to 1903. The passing of Buick cars in 2020 should have been the occasion of months of pitched lamentation across the land, sackcloth and ashes, at least according to lovers of the marque. It certainly was more important than anything else going on in 2020, a slow news year if ever there was one.
Well, when I ran across this nice 2019 LaCrosse, in a fitting color for mourning, I wiped away the tears and snapped a few pictures. I figure any reason is a good one to look back at the greats, so click through for a memorial celebration of Buick sedans of the recent and distant past.
2019 was the last year for the LaCrosse, but the Regal soldiered on into the 2020 model year. While this LaCrosse isn’t quite the last sedan, as the highest model in their lineup at the time, it is the last one that could be considered any sort of flagship. The final generations of the Regal and the LaCrosse were actually built on different length versions of the same platform (P2xx and E2xx, respectively). Kind of a latter day LeSabre and Electra.
What you think of this particular LaCrosse is subjective, except for the fact that it’s better looking than its immediately preceding generation, which is objectively irrefutable. Contemporary road tests were pretty laudatory of the new LaCrosse. It was a competent and winsome sedan both functionally and stylistically. The biggest complaints were on the interior comfort and high price.
Seeing Buick’s last big car got me thinking. How would it stack up against some of Buick’s greats? Any reason is a good reason to look at classic cars, so I decided to make a top 10 list of my favorite Buick sedans. Accordingly, this list won’t include Rivieras, musclecars, convertibles or wagons. For the purposes of this article, by sedan I simply mean any two or four door with a roof and trunk, not the more dogmatic official definition.
So, here is my unranked, chronological list with some short elaborations of my thoughts. Your favorites should vary and I’d love to hear your opinions below. I got all my pictures from either brochures or advertisements and I took some care to find images that bring out each car’s beauty as much as possible.
Packard said you should ask the man who owns one, but Buick was a bit more inclusive with their sales material. Both men and women could appreciate the fine qualities of a 1933 Buick, especially in an idealized artistic picture like this. Buick’s 1933 advertising campaign had their cars in front of mythical figures to create rather striking images. The car is certainly drawn to be a little more rakish than it was in real life. Still, this is my favorite period of the full classic era, when the fenders filled in some and the headlights were still separate (mid and late 30’s).
1949 was Buick’s first all-new postwar design and it’s notable for having one-year-only styling. It’s quite a clean design, with the rear fender bulge being a bridge between the previous world of separate-fendered cars and the new slab-sided look.
I said no Rivieras, but I lied because this Roadmaster is technically a Riviera, which is what Buick called their early hardtops. This is the first and only 1949 model to get the sweepspear, which would extend to all models by 1951.
1950 had the same body shell, but heavily restyled to differentiate it more from other GM divisions. The design got busier but the flowing sides were quite attractive. Even by 1950’s standards, the new grille was extreme. It makes me think of many modern Toyotas, as it has the same “what in the world were they thinking?” quality to the front end. Whatever they were thinking, they changed their mind when the 1951 grille was significantly toned down.
I personally think the 1956 models were the best looking of the 50’s. It was the third year for the body, with two years of minor tweaks that really put it in a sweet spot. I especially like the vee’d grille that was added for 1956. In case an unfortunate pedestrian is wondering exactly what car is about to hit him, the emblem on the grille says “1956 Buick”.
This picture really worked for me because of the background. The mid-50s were the tail end of the oceanliner era and nothing portrayed the ideal Buick lifestyle better than an occasional European vacation (Cadillac owners could go every year!). Of course, parked dockside by a beautiful modern liner, people naturally stare at the Buick instead!
The 1958 is a love it or hate it car, and I’ve always loved it, especially in coupe form. I like the rear-canted C-pillar and rear fenders on which each GM division put their own super chromo-ramic ornamentation. The grille was a bit overwrought, but at least you can’t accuse them of cheaping out. It was called the FashionAire Dynastar grille and consisted of 160 individual chrome squares.
Only GM could have pulled off a brand new body after only two years. The rapid changes may not have been the most conducive to high quality, but GM sure styled the heck out of them. Longer, Lower, Wider never had a better application. The Buicks are just so extreme, I can’t help loving them. I really dig the continuous line from the taillights upwards across the entire side and across the canted headlights and grill, then back down the other side. The theme is repeated in the rear, going from the front door, across the tailfins and back up the other side. The four door hardtop cantilever roof is also great.
I like every 1960s Buick, especially in the full size department. There’s not a bad year, though for me it all came together on the 1965 B and C bodies. Wildcat was where it’s at, Daddio. I picked the ’66, which is quite similar to ’65 but I like the meaner-looking front end a little better. I’ll take a red coupe with chrome wheels just like this older young person, who is clearly living the good life.
Jump forward 10 years and a universe away from the full-size-muscle vibe of the Wildcat. This 4129lb LeSabre has a 3.8L V6 and improved fuel economy (and with 105hp, a complete resistance to acceleration). Sharp-looking car, though. I admit this is a personal bias, as I have owned a 76 Estate Wagon and a 75 LeSabre convertible (both with a 455, thank you!). I really do think that the 71-76 B and C body Buicks were nicely styled, even if they have their shortcomings functionally. Especially on the 76 with square headlights, it may be the cleanest-looking of the bunch and the big bumpers really don’t come across badly, as cars of that era go. The line running from the grille to the taillights is reminiscent of 59-60. I prefer the hardtop sedan, but the coupe isn’t bad. Notably, the coupe is also still a real hardtop even with the giant C-pillar window.
I needed to put a mid sizer on the list, because Buick had some really nice ones over the years. Even considering some of the great 60s and early 70s models, I have to say the 81-87 Regal coupe is my favorite, at least from a design standpoint. It has a wedgy, light look to it, one of my favorite interpretations of the “sheer” look GM was using on everything by that point. It looks best without the vinyl half topper most Regals came with. The only bare-roofed one I could find in the brochures was a T-type, which may violate my no muscle cars rule for this list, since it came with a 180-235hp turbocharged V6. Even though it shared that engine with the Grand National, the GN is undeniably the musclecar black sheep of the family.
I’ll round the list off with a car I didn’t care much for at the time but have come to appreciate quite a bit: the front wheel drive Electra. What I once saw as bland and unworthy of its forebears, I now see as amazingly reserved and understated.
Buick had a T-type version of just about every model for much of the 80s, amazingly even the 1985-90 Electra. I don’t know if that strategy was truly successful, but I think it was admirable that Buick was trying to inject some performance into their cars in a notoriously low-performance era. This one definitely couldn’t be accused of being a musclecar, with the 125hp 3.8L V6 it shared with standard Electras.
How much technology has marched forth can be measured by comparing the LaCrosse’s power to its 1985 Electra predecessor. The 3.6L naturally-aspirated V6 made 305hp, 180hp more, or a 144% horsepower increase with a smaller displacement. And it still got better gas mileage despite weighing about 600lb more.
Functionally, it could probably be proven the final Buick sedans were superior to most every historical Buick sedan. They ride, steer, accelerate, and brake better in a safer, more rigid body and do it more reliably and efficiently. But should that make it #1 on everybody’s top ten list of the best Buick sedans of all time?
Hardly, because we humans aren’t driven entirely by checklists, statistics and graphs, rather we are creatures of the heart as much as the head. Nothing could replace all the old beauties in our hearts, no matter how practical. As for their current lineup, my head says why should Buick continue to sell passenger cars if the market just isn’t there? My heart still feels it’s a tragedy that the legacy of so many elegant, alluring cars is now a lineup of tall, boxy people movers.
2019 LaCrosse photographed Houston, TX April 19, 2021
Vintage Snapshots: Buicks – In Their Best Decade by PN, lots of great 1950s photos