Today, as Americans prepare to gobble up turkey in celebration of Thanksgiving, I thought it would be fun to take a look at an automotive fowl. This 1979 Car and Driver review provides the perfect taste of turbocharged turkey.
For decades, Buick had enjoyed a comfortable perch near the top of the General Motors divisional hierarchy. Typically seen as more upscale than its corporate siblings (save for King of the Hill Cadillac), Buick enjoyed a cornucopia of riches, combining relatively high volume (the 5th best selling brand in the U.S. in the late 1970s) with the handsome margins afforded by its premium positioning. Conservative, comfortable cruisers were Buick’s stock in trade, and buyers loved them.
When downsizing swept the American car industry in the late 1970s, Buick served up some winners. Though smaller than its predecessors, the reduced-scale Regal Coupe, for example, was exactly what the market expected from Buick and was a big hit.
Buick even decided to get a little saucy and play around with turbocharging beginning in 1978, though when packaged in models like the Regal Sport Coupe, the blown engines simply became the hearts of rather conventional Detroit coupes. The Buick Turbo models were not big sellers, but at least they offered a bit of cayenne pepper in the gravy.
But not all of Buick’s downsized cars were a success. Shaped a bit like a Butterball in the rear, the Aeroback Century models hit the market with a thud. Similar to the kid in the photograph above, most people were left thinking “what is with the back of this car?!?!?” In both 2-door and 4-door guise, the Aeroback Century models were an unmitigated disaster.
My paternal grandmother, who had owned 5 mid-sized Buick sedans since the 1960s (and had been a lifelong Buick driver), couldn’t wrap her head around the Aeroback Century. When she was in the market for a new car in 1979, she defected from Buick (though at least sticking with GM) and picked up a Poncho instead.
While she never truly loved the Pontiac (what can I say, WoWo was a Buick gal), at least the Grand LeMans was more conventionally styled.
So, left with slow selling Turbo models and slow selling hunchback Century Coupes, what was Buick to do? Eureka!! Combine them!! And then add gaudy graphics befitting a Pontiac Trans Am in full “screaming chicken” mode. What better way to excite traditional Buick buyers? And lure youthful sports car prospects?
Was it a recipe for success? Let’s see what Car and Driver had to say.
Right out of the gate, C&D noted that the Century Turbo Coupe was a paradox, with two contradictory ideas mashed together. Kind of like the encroachment of Black Friday binge shopping on Thanksgiving evening….
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Yes, Buick’s engineers set out to build a car that looked, drove and sounded like no other Buick, and they succeeded. The only problem was that was about the last thing most Buick customers were seeking (they wanted to buy Buicks precisely because they were Buicks).
Fear not, however, GM was still GM. While Buick engineers may have been going wild with suspension tuning and turbos, sort of like overly rambunctious children at the Thanksgiving kid’s table, The General was in no mood to give them extra sugar. That’s right, the infamous GM bean counters wouldn’t cough-up the added dough to provide a manual transmission or a modified instrument panel that didn’t look like the one in Aunt Lavinia’s Regal. So, in addition to not appealing to Buick buyers, the rare enthusiasts who might have actually wanted a quirky, rather large sports coupe were equally repelled by the lack of a proper driving environment.
Car and Driver’s Counterpoint section sometimes felt a bit like a conversation after Thanksgiving dinner is over and everyone has had a bit too much to eat and drink: the guard comes down and the truth comes out. Rich Ceppos wished that the Turbo magic had been applied to the more modern, just introduced FWD Skylark (be careful what you wish for). Don Sherman was bluntest: the Century Turbo Coupe was a miss in every way, from styling, to equipment to its basic mission. Patrick Bedard tried to pat down ruffled feathers by praising the Turbo V6 as a modern-day hot rod engine, combining performance and efficiency (sadly, in reality Buick’s promises of “V8 power with V6 efficiency” for the Turbo turned out to be “V6 power with V8 efficiency”). But none of the editors really loved the car.
And even in summation for the article, Car and Driver ever so politely deemed the Century Sport Coupe a turkey, missing all the potential intended buyer groups. Which, in reality, is exactly what happened: only a paltry 1,653 Century Sport Coupes were sold for 1979 (compared with 21,389 of the more typically Buick Regal Turbo Sport Coupes that left dealer lots). Plus, at $8,473 ($30,600 adjusted) as tested, the Century Turbo Sport Coupe pricing was well into Regal territory, making the conventional choice even more of a no brainer.
So there you have it. When it came time to carve things up, this high flying hawk was nothing more than a desperate turkey just trying to run fast.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!!
Additional Reading: Top 10 Obscure Special Editions and Forgotten Limited-Run Models: Buick Edition, Part II by William Stopford
That ad for J&R Music World took me back.
I was always buying blank cassettes and by 1979 was more into the chrome tapes that were more expensive than their standard-bias counterparts.
Interesting, growing up I remember ads from J&R but in MacWorld! This was around 2001 or so, guess they repositioned themselves sometime in the 90’s. The logo was the same, though.
I was buying reel to reel tapes and cassette also in those days. Buy an album and record it on R to R for home and cassette for the car and then put it away.
The Sony 90min CrO2 tapes are $3.58. At first blush that seems okay, but if you run that through the inflation calculator that’s $13.40 in 2021 dollars.
Since this is perhaps a story about a Buick, its selling price then would be $31,799 today. So there’s that too.
I really didn’t understand Buick in those years. You could still get an elegant Electra or Riviera but they had mostly gone all-in on that rough, gutless V6. I thought Oldsmobile was the place to be (if you were going to a GM dealer) in the late 70s and buyers agreed.
I had forgotten all about these.
And I found that screeching eagle in their advertising really irritating. Buick? A car for the free-spirited? Wishful thinking.
Across town, Mercury had a cougar growling on top of their sign, so I guess they were just keeping up with the Jones’. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
It was a hawk.
“It was a hawk.”
Even worse. 🙂
Don, the author is just being purposely ignorant to come across as funny, when in reality, making himself look like an moron.
Olds was indeed a powerhouse in 1979. When you look at the sales results from that year, it is almost impossible to fathom the collapse of GM in the 1980s. Here are the stats and total market sales ranking by division, all impressive:
Chevrolet: 2,254,749 (#1)
Oldsmobile: 1,071,155 (#3)
Pontiac: 907,412 (#4)
Buick: 727,274 (#5)
Cadillac: 380,249 (#7)
But the seeds of the collapse were being sown in ’79, and your point about the Buick V6 is spot-on. As a fuel crisis stop gap, repurchasing the old tooling made sense. But seriously, from there, GM couldn’t develop a new, modern line-up of 6-cylinders? GM’s engine strategy became band-aid on band-aid, tweaking old engines every year to make them slightly better, but no powertrain breakthroughs. They would soon fall farther and farther behind….
You’re absolutely right. I mean, eventually the 3.8 became quite a good engine but still, into the 2000s most of their engines were descended from either the Buick 3.8 or the Chevy 2.8.
Their first NA-market modern DOHC V6 proved to be a dead-end so it wasn’t until 2004 with the High Feature 3.6 that they had a V6 that looked more like what rivals were offering. That’s not to besmirch the later versions of the 3.8 which, while “old tech”, were well-suited to American tastes and had decent torque and fuel economy. And i remember when Holden switched from the 3.8 to the 3.6 with the VZ Commodore and reviewers were saying, “Really? This is it? This isn’t the huge improvement we thought it would be!”. As someone who owned one of the earlier 3.6s (in my ’07 Calais), it was a bit unrefined and could have used a bit more torque. That 3.6 is mostly gone from GM’s lineup now though.
The 2.8 liter V-6 was a brand new engine in 1979 for the x bodies. Although a pushrod design, the 60 degree angle was naturally smoother than the 90 degree 3.8’s which eventually got an offset crankshaft for even firing.
The 2.8 would be bored out a number of times, received fuel injection, but lasted much longer than it should have.
They did: the 2.8 V6 for 1980 was a clean-sheet design.
A swing and a miss. I really liked these cars, especially the styling, as coupes. Between these and the aeroback 442s, it’s hard for me to say which I like better. I guess the styling is an acquired taste, but I’ve often thought that these cars were a tribute to the “torpedo” fast back styled cars of the immediate post-WW2 era.
The cars were about 85% of the way to being great; the minor things like the missing tachometer don’t seem quite as important as the fact that it had the turbo motor and better seats and suspension. But that last 15% could have pushed it into a higher league.
I bet you are right about the styling inspiration for the Aerobacks. These were among the last Bill Mitchell cars, and The Maestro carefully took styling cues, past and present, for his designs. While this one was a miss (which shouldn’t have been surprising, given that the old torpedo bodies were soon goon as well in the early 1950s–Americans didn’t care for fastbacks with trunks), I do think there is a lot of integrity in the design. It was an interesting style decision (at least in 2-door guise), even if it’s not my personal cup of tea.
Oh, Americans like fastbacks with their trunks. The problem with the Aeroback is it just wasn’t styled very well. It seems to be another committee car where too many compromises were made that spoiled the final product. The roof seems too high over the rear passenger seating, undoubtedly a compromise for headroom. Likewise, the quarter windows don’t look right (too large, for one thing). Frankly, the roof almost looks like a Gremlin that had been elongated to make an actually usable rear seat.
If the Aeroback’s roof had been styled just a bit differently, with more of a slope, as well as some kind of design feature in the quarter windows (maybe a BMW-esque Hofmeister kink in the C-pillar), the Aeroback might have had a different outcome.
Rear seat specs Regal vs Century Coupe
Head room 38.1″ 38.2″
Leg room 36.3″ 35.1″
Shoulder room 56.1″ 55.7″
Hip room 51.6″ 54.5″
And because I’m sure that everyone thinks that the trunk on the Century is much smaller than the Regal see below.
Trunk capacity 16.3 cu. ft. 16.1 cu. ft.
Happy Thanksgiving all. Among the things I can give thanks for is this fun little community of automotive enthusiast generalists.
And the car. Well to be charitable this paved the way for the much better Grand National. But as I’ve said before one of my friends had one of these early turbos in the late 80’s, and the turbo and intake plumbing was so torturous that we figured most of what the turbo did was overcome the additional inefficiencies in the system.
In the epic street drag between his Turbo Regal and my dad’s normally aspirated 3.8 Regal his rear bumper was level with my front bumper at the end of first gear. Since both cars were equipped with a miserable 2.41:1 rear end gears the end of first gear was probably 55mph.
I’m guessing the plumbing on that Turbo was a bit plugged up or something, because there’s no way a NA version could even dream about those 0-60 (9.2 sec) and 1/4 mile (17.4 sec) times. These turbos were about as fast as the mid-range V8s had been back in the good old days. Pretty decent, actually, and this was just the beginning of the Turbo V6’s career.
Judging by the condition of the rest of the car, that was quite possible.
However note that the tested car above had a 3.08 gear, which would have improved acceleration quite a bit. Just looking in the “Standard Book of Buick” here the 1980 Regal turbo was available with 3.08 or 2.73:1 rear end. My friend’s car definately didn’t have a 3.08
Thank you for your input, Paul. Its nice to read words spoken form someone with intelligence on this blog. The Turbo V6’s of that era were far from perfect, but Buick took the first leap forward on trying to improve performance, and these turbo V6’s were outperforming the smogged to death V8’s of that era. In 1978 a Chevrolet 350 was only putting out 175 to 180 HP and weighed a heck of a lot more than this V6. There will always be critics as long as there’s ignorant people not having all the facts and trying to come to a conclusion about something they have no clue about. I read these posts for amusement. People try so hard to be smart.
I thought the Aeroback Oldsmobile was an interesting idea, but using the same roofline on a very conservative Buick….what were they thinking? It’s just a guess, but with Buick moving into V6 power, almost exclusively, the idea was that this body style was more European looking? And when GM used this body style on the X-body cars, it also bombed.
As far as the Turbo Coupe, the model that preceded this one had a few large graphics applied to it, didn’t it? But it is a shame that Chevy and Pontiac offered better instrumentation on their non-performance as well as their performance models.
I actually saw one of these Aeroback coupes on Craigslist a few months ago, and considering it’s pristine condition it was a real bargain. A beautiful light blue with a dark blue interior, but with a bench front seat and column shift, it’s only attraction at the moment, was that roofline. Still, I regret that I passed it up.
And when GM used this body style on the X-body cars, it also bombed.
Chevy alone sold 811k Citations in 1980, the overwhelming majority being fastbacks. It was the notch coupe that didn’t sell. And together with the Phoenix, GM sold over a million X fastbacks in 1980. And over half a million in 1981. And then sales dropped, due to the new A Bodies and the growing bad rep of the X Body.
But a key difference was that the X Bodies had actual hatchbacks, unlike these A Bodies.
Considering that the RWD Nova, etc were available as hatchbacks, I really don’t understand why these A/G coupes reverted to the tiny trunk lid. I’m lucky to have briefly driven a co-worker’s new ’80 or ’81 Regal turbo, and it was impressively quick for that era. Quite a nice car.
Weirdly, the RWD X-Body hatchbacks were always vastly outsold by the coupes, even though 1) they looked almost identical and 2) the hatchback was much more versatile.
Were the hatchbacks appreciably noisier inside?
These Aerobacks would have made more sense with a hatchback… They remind me of British Leyland’s Princess in that respect, although at least it eventually got a hatch.
I don’t think so. Hatchbacks in the US were seen to be for truly small cars, which is of course where they originated, because one could flip down the rear seat to critically expand the cargo area. That was completely unnecessary for the larger cars which had longer trunks. I can’t think of a single large hatchback that ever found any success in the US. The Citation was the upper limit.
“Genuine” hatchbacks had a shorter body in the rear than a corresponding sedan, hence their existence/purpose. The VW Golf and Jetta are perfect examples of that. And the Jetta has grossly outsold the Golf in the US for a very long time.
The RWD X-Body hatchback was the most expensive body style and commanded a significant premium over the coupe (4-door sedans falling in between). For that money you got the identical notchback profile which limited the usefulness of that pricey hatch.
> I can’t think of a single large hatchback that ever found any success in the US. The Citation was the upper limit.
In recent years, larger hatchbacks have become quite popular in the US for luxury brands. While they might not be large cars by early-1980s Detroit standards, the Audi A7, Porsche Panamera, and Tesla Model S are all roughly 20″ longer than a Citation.
Okay, I spoke too quickly, again. However, this fastback/hatchback body style didn’t help sell any cars at GM that weren’t badged as Chevrolet.
I like this different /unusual bodystyle, but it was still considered to be an economy car body style by many potential buyers.
To my eye, these oddballs are the predecessor to today’s egg-shaped Honda, BMW and Mercedes turds. Hideous, all. I remember LMAO at these in 1979, as I do now at today’s “Butterballs”!
My bosses boss had one of these circa 1981. Ralph was a regional supervisor for a well known fast food chain and spent a lot of time on the road. It was not unusual for him to drive 700-800 miles a week travelling among the different stores so the Buick had quite a few miles by this time. The interiors of all GM cars from this era always seemed cheap to me, they gave the appearance of being made from the least expensive parts they could find. Not long before I left the restaurant business the Buick was replaced by a Mercedes-Benz turbo diesel (one of the W123 series). From what I gathered Ralph considered this a major improvement over the Buick.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, stay safe if you are travelling.
Another wonderful (Thanksgiving Day) read from you, GN! Thoroughly enjoyed it…
Being from Flint, I probably have more love for these than most, though the styling took a while for me to warm up to. I saw one at a car show last summer (2016), and I’ll say that in person, it actually looked kind of awesome. I’m not sure if that had more to do with its relative rarity, the condition of that example, or something else, but I fell for it – hard. I may write it up here at some point.
Thanks Joe! Please do write-up that Century.
Your comment makes me think of the French term “jolie laide” which I think is appropriate for this car. Translated literally, it means “beautifully ugly” as is often applied to people who are unique looking and striking, though not conventionally beautiful (actress Meryl Streep could be an example). I think that sums up the Aerobacks: unusual, but oddly attractive/interesting in its own way. Certainly it was the wrong choice for mid-sized GM cars that needed to be volume sellers, but the look did find it’s fan base.
I might be the only one here who actually really liked the aeroback sedans.
Apparently not. They have their fans here!
Yes! Had a 1979
Our family got the formal roofline Century sedan that was introduced in the 1980 model year and it just seemed to match up better. I’d have to look up the sales figures to see if there was a boost.
There sure was a boost: in ’79, Buick only sold 55,837 Centurys, and that number jumped to 148,429 with the arrival of the notchbacks for 1980.
My grandmother WoWo traded in her Grand LeMans for a 1981 Century notchback sedan, and was happily back in the Buick fold. It was a conventionally handsome car and much more in keeping with what Buick buyers wanted.
And that increase from 1979 to 1980 was achieved in a model year when the U.S. auto industry was hit with an oil crisis-induced recession, in which sales of most cars this size or bigger were down sharply.
I know the notchback was what more people wanted and it was very Seville-esque, but something about it has always seemed so stodgy to me. While the Regal, and the 78-80 Malibu and LeMans sedans seemed a little more youthful. But then the Malibu got that dorky formal roofline too and got so much more…. old-mannish… overnight. If they just raked that pillar just a scooch, it would have looked much nicer.
I guess I don’t like formal rooflines. After all, I prefer the early Lincoln Versailles to the later ones with that roof cap.
Funny thing is that I preferred the later Versailles with the more upright, formal roof line, it gave it a distinctive look apart from the lesser Granada/Monarch. But there was just something about the squared-up C-pillar on the 1980-83 Centurys that just didn’t look quite right to my eye.
I always thought Chevy and Pontiac should’ve kept the 1978 six-window notchback look through that whole design cycle. Now I wonder if it was a case of wanting to build volume for the crash-designed formal roof before the FWD A’s 1982 debut (Olds ended up building a formal-roof G sedan until 1987 but nobody in 1980 would’ve guessed that).
Whoa! This is a first!
I am a proud owner of a 1977 Lincoln Versailles, and it’s well known that fans of the Versailles are very few, but even in the niche Versailles community, there is a further divide that most everyone who identifies as a Versailles enthusiast, they only prefer the 1979-80 models – specifically because of the revised, formal roofline… it’s amazing how a simple roofline modification can have a polarizing effect on a car…
many of these Versailles enthusiast blame my 1977 model for the failure and shortcomings of the Versailles and therefore my car gets little appreciation in the Versailles community… but whenever a 79 or 80 model is presented, there is a massive outpouring of love and praise, and it’s crickets with a 77-78 model… or of course, all the typical tarted up Granada comments and how it’s an ugly car and whatnot…
I’m just over the moon happy that there is actually another person who understands and prefers the original roofline of the Lincoln Versailles… I much prefer the original look and didn’t care for the 1979 revision…
Beautiful Versailles man!
Look, there’s no getting around the fact the Versailles was close kin to the Granada and Monarch. And yes, the original roofline makes it look even more like a Granada/Monarch. But I just can’t appreciate that formal roofline which makes it look even more pretentious.
So yes, you have found someone that likes the original roofline more! I’ve been trying to track down a print ad of the original Versailles for my ad collection… there’s one with the TransAmerica building in SF in the background but I can’t find it anywhere. Had to settle for an ad of an ’80 on an airport runway. Not as nice…
There is of course also a third group of Versailles enthusiasts who value the car only because its rear disk brakes can be easily swaped into early Mustangs. I think these brakes were optional on at least some Granadas and Monarchs too but few were so equipped. If you come across a Versailles in a junkyard, it’s almost sure to be missing its rear brakes by the time you find it.
I always wonder how things would’ve turned out had Chevy and Pontiac used the aeroback roofline, and Olds and Buick had used the notchback.
It would’ve made more sense 18 months later, because that’s about how the rooflines were assigned to the FWD X-car four-doors when they were first introduced. That’s also the year that this generation of Olds and Buick A-bodies were available as four-door notchbacks.
They did…ten years later. They built fastback G bodies as NASCAR ringers.
I think you’re being a bit harsh on the this poor little Buick. Obviously, its styling was a bust, and the dashboard was a typical GM mistake, but to say that the engine had 6 cylinder performance and V8 thirst is a bit harsh, and hardly correct. For 1979, the performance of this engine was quite good. Go find me a V8 powered comparable 1979 car that had better performance stats.
The Malibu it was compared to had a V8, and the Buick blew it away, and it also got much better mileage. So there’s the perfect rebuttal to your argument. Turbocharging made a lot of sense at the time, and it worked quite well with an automatic, whose torque converter compensated for any possible turbo lag. Speaking of, that dreaded word was not uttered once. Which goes to show that Buick had done their homework, and of course would go on to make legendary turbo V6s.
I’m quite impressed with the drive train.
Let’s see, “the styling was a bust” and “the dashboard was a typical GM mistake,” makes me think of the old joke: “other than that, how did you like the play Mrs. Lincoln?” Those were fatal errors for a car with an interesting, enthusiast oriented engine.
As for the engine performance, I based my assertion on period road tests from Consumer Guide Auto Test for 1978 and 1979. They noted that the Turbo “slurped gas like a V8” and that the car was sluggish before the Turbo kicked in. They recommended the normally aspirated engines–the V6 for economy and the V8 for consistent power–over the blown V6. Given that Consumer Guide tested real cars in the real world (not specially prepped PR units), I give a lot of credence to their comments.
I also know that for the typical Buick customer, the V8 was a more satisfactory choice. We had Regals of this vintage in my family (maternal grandmother, my Aunt Lavinia–yep, she’s the one in the post) and they were V8 powered. Smooth, easy-to-use, decent power and reasonable economy (for a V8) as befitting a Buick.
I wish GM had deployed the Turbo in a division where it would have fit better with the brand image, like Pontiac. For the ’78-’80 Grand Am, for example, the engine and the product positioning would have been a better match.
In what is likely a minority position, I have never been a fan of the small displacement/turbo solution for performance in gasoline engines. Yes, they do certain things (like all out acceleration) well but have too many compromises that can make them difficult to live with, in terms of both drivability and durability.
Drive a turbo 4 or V6 like a V8 and it is going to suck fuel like a V8. Drive one like an economy car and you will have the sluggish performance of an economy car. It seems the only mainstream turbo applications in the US have been in response to CAFE. Once engineers have found ways to make larger displacements more economical, turbos vanished. Until CAFE targets were hiked again in recent years.
I appreciate the engineering effort that went into the Buick turbo V6 in the way I appreciate the engineering effort that went into the Laserdisc. An A for effort but there proved to be better ways of doing the job. I also recognize that there are those willing to make the tradeoffs that this engine required and that it was a good solution for them.
I will admit that in the dark days of 1978-82 or so there were few other options. But the Buick turbo V6 looked good only because of how much worse everything else was.
With the development of reliable EFI in the early 80s, turbo engines became practical. By the mid-80s, they were quite well-designed. Seeing one running over 200,000 miles is nothing remarkable…especially the Volvos, which weren’t even water-cooled! My wife’s rip-roaring Grand National had over 150K hard miles on the stock long-block with no trouble. (It got a stroker V6.)
In the 80s, NOTHING could match a Grand National, not even the “more powerful” (yeah, no) Tuned Port Corvette. Turbo-4 Ford’s were strong performers, despite most being the relatively-heavy Thunderbird Turbo Coupes. Even now: Jim Huber’s Mustang runs 9s, with a turbocharged 4 cylinder cranking out close to 1000HP(!), and is fully streetable.
I really like the whole package, as a teen a neighbor across the road had a 442 with the aeroback body style and I remember thinking it was kinda cool. This may have been a first step but in 5 years the 3.8 would have sequential FI and the next year 235 with intercooler.
Very appropriate post my grandfather owned a 78 Century Limited V6 Aeroback (from new until 1995!). It would have been his birthday yesterday.
The car was old by the time I was a kid and the only one left in our typical North Jersey suburb. I remember it was good for hauling stuff with the hatch but no rear seat window. Interestingly my grandfather traded his 73 Impala for this in between gas crises. His next car was a very fine 87 Lesabre Limited and the Century finally got sold when they bought an even more upgraded 95 Lesabre Limited. Both the other Buicks were in my family almost as long as the 78.
“It looks like something the local sheriff would use to sneak up on the kids down at Shakey’s” (I miss the old Car and Driver). Buick was sure intent on selling some freaks of nature in 1979—don’t forget the ‘Open Road’ Skyhawk and the cringe-inducing Buick Opel by Isuzu S/C.
I actually like the silver two door one in the ad with the kid.
I really like the wheels on it.
Wouldn’t mind finding one of these for a daily driver.
I’m loving how much my fellow Curbivores seem to like the Aeroback design. Maybe the distaste has washed away with age. I like the GM took a chance and I find both the 2- and 4-door Aerobacks to be quite attractive in a peculiar way. I’d like a ’78-79 442 with the 305 V8 and the 4-speed stick. Although, that being said, the other A-Bodies were quite attractive without being so strange. The Grand Am is still my favourite.
I think “strange” was anathema in this conservative market segment, where GM defined the formula for success from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. I’m with you in singling out the Grand Am as my favorite, especially in four-door form. For the two-door models, I like the 1978-80 Malibu the best.
IMO the ’78-80 Malibu in any body style looks more elegant and upmarket than the Buick, and that has as much to do with the face as the fastback.
I think the Century aeroback was reasonably attractive, the rear window kickup looked a lot nicer on it than the the Cutlass with it’s flat beltline. The wraparound taillights, totally distinctive from the Regal, seemed better finished too.
These cars were the crime of the Century 🙂 I remember you couldn’t give them away as used cars in the early 80s, with turbo or without.
But today, I kind of like it. Not only does that dash make me feel right at home after my ’79 Monte Carlo, but an unmolested survivor would have some serious reverse snob appeal.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!
I have to agree with some of the things in the article & comments. Gauges are sorely lacking in the Turbo Coupe. At least Olds did offer a proper gauge package (optional of course). But gaudy graphics ? I think Buick took a very reserved approach. Although I liked (and still like) the paint scheme on the 442, it was an in your face, hey look me scheme with no power to back it up. Having owned both the Olds & Buick versions of these cars,I’m biased of course. In 78 (I was 26), I bought a new 78 Cutlass Salon Brougham Coupe. It came with A/C, buckets, console, AM/FM stereo, 260 V8, automatic & a 2.29 rear axle. Needless to say, it was a gutless, buttless Cutlass. The 79 Buick Century Turbo Coupe I purchased from the original owner in 2007 with 12,000 actual miles on it. Totally different car from the Olds. Far better performance than the Olds & better gas mileage too. As far as looks go, I think Buick did a better job with the styling on the Turbo Coupe then Olds did with the 442. Also, although Buick did build 1653 Sport Coupes in 79, very few were Turbo Coupes. The original owner gave me a letter from Buick stating that in 1979, they built a total of 61 Century Turbo Coupes. Happy Thanksgiving !!!!!
Thanks for providing more details about this car! You have quite the rare one! I knew production on the Century Turbo was low, but could never find a break-out separate from the rest off the Century Sport Coupe models. That is incredibly low!! Do you know how many have actually survived? I doubt there are many, particularly in as nice shape as yours.
I have wanted to independently verify the production numbers without any luck. For it to be a real Turbo Coupe, it had to be a Sport Coupe (G87) & have been ordered with the Turbo Coupe Package (W13). I contacted both SloanLongway & G.M. Heritage Center but they said they had no information available. To get the number you would have to search through all Century production orders for 79 & 80. Apparently, those are not available. Probably no more than a dozen survived. I know some have been modified with engine swaps, etc. I do know two guys in Michigan that are original owners. See attached picture taken in Flint in 2012 at the Back To The Bricks car show.
Thank you for your interest. I do have a Facebook page dedicated to 1978-80 Buick Century & Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon 2 door coupes.
I have a rear spoiler from my 1979 buick sport coupe know anyone interested?
I don’t know if this is really a turkey or Buick hedging their bets stylistically. The aerocoupe bustleback was popular at the time. Was this going to be the new trend or was the traditional sedan going to win out? In 1979 this was a valid question. I can’t see the engineering for the Regal and the Century being wildly different so why not try both? The Turbo V6 wasn’t going to work in the LeSabre and no Camaro\Trans Am owner is going to pass up a V8. The midsize Buick was the logical home. The turbo V6 was too good a package to just sit collecting dust.
I can remember when these first came out and seeing them at the LA Auto Show and thinking that GM’s styling folks had completely lost their minds. Sure, this may have flown with a bowtie on the grille but flying the Buick flags, the popular character played by Gary Coleman at the time said it perfectly – “Whatchutalkin’ about, Willis?”
Interesting, seeing this post on the heels of this FB post linking a Hot Rod piece from 2004…
The Buick Turbo V6 is in there, along with the story of its evolution into the landmark GNX engine.
I bought a new ’78 Turbo Regal Sport Coupe and owned it for about 3 years. The memory I treasure most was the feeling I had watching a twin-stick Dodge Colt blow past me on a sweeping freeway interchange. Poor build quality and I haven’t bought a GM car since.
Gotta tell you, although I never owned one, at the time I really wanted one of those twin-stick Dodge Colts. Where have they all gone? And, would have never guessed that it could beat a turbo Buick.
Agreed, they were cool cars! We had a couple of them as pool cars at my engineering office back in the day, along with Chevettes and a couple of K cars. The Colts were always first choice.
I loved my Turbo Coupe. Had tons of zip and turned heads. It was comfortable yet sporty. It was quicker off the line than just about anything encountered out on the street. But unfortunately the OPECers raised gas prices and I was unhappy filling the tank every other day. So I traded it off. And had no trouble getting top dollar for it. Replaced it with a boring Honda (yawn). I still miss the turbo sing.
I find the authors lack of knowledge amusing. The infamous Grand National would NOT exist if this car was not part of Buicks timeline. Every great success story starts some where’s, its better than not starting at all. Its hard to have respect for a car such as this if your not a true car enthusiast, yet a mere assault slinging disrespectful wanna be author whos truly lacking of knowledge about automobiles is so forth telling.