The 1970 Wildcat hardtop sedan was the most popular choice of the year, at 12,924.

1970 Buick Wildcat

In its final year of production, sales of the 1970 Buick Wildcat nosedived. Just three body styles remained, all Customs. But the Wildcat got its most powerful engine ever, a new big-block "455-4" developing 370 horses.

Sheet metal and a slightly longer 124-inch wheel-base were shared with LeSabre. As usual, grille, taillights, and trim were altered just enough to identify the new models.

Among the rarest of the 1960s and 1970s Buicks was the 1970 Wildcat Custom convertible. It cost $4,079 and tipped the scales at 4,214 pounds. Output reached only 1,244 units.

For the first time since 1963, there was but one four-door model, the Custom hardtop. Priced at $3,997, it found 12,924 buyers. The hardtop coupe went for $3,949 and 9,447 were built.

Buick never seemed sure whether the Wildcat should be more performance or luxury oriented, more LeSabre or more Electra. After sales nosedived in 1970, the Wildcat was dropped. Thus ended the saga of the "banker's hot rod."

By 1971, the Wildcat nameplate had vanished from the production Buick arena. Replacing it, in that traditional niche between LeSabre and Electra, was a new nameplate: Centurion. Operating largely as a fancier, higher-powered version of the LeSabre -- as had the Wildcat -- it saw production levels slightly higher than Wildcat's dismal 1970 total.

Thus, it lasted only through 1973, after which it was canceled due to lack of interest and a changing marketplace. It was not replaced in the Buick lineup; apparently two big Buicks, LeSabre and Electra 225, were sufficient at the top end. Performance buyers showed a preference for smaller cars (of which Buick had plenty) and luxury buyers ordered Electras, rendering Wildcat/ Centurion redundant.

The 1970 Wildcat saw the vents changed one last time, and the grille and side marker lights differed.

Although the door was closed on the production chapter of the Wildcat after 1970, Buick would 15 years later reach into its name bin and pull out Wildcat for another show car. This one-off Buick hit the circuit as a two-place, four-wheel-drive machine powered by a dual-overhead-cam V-6.

The production Wildcat, despite its rather racy show car origins, was really a meat-and-potatoes car from the purveyor of solid American transportation -- Buick. At various intervals, Wildcat was either a fancier LeSabre or a down-scaled Electra.

Along the way, more than half a million -- 521,259 to be exact -- found spots of honor in the suburban garages of America. They rolled endless millions of expressway miles with the healthy throb of the most potent V-8s Buick could engineer.

Automatic transmissions shifted, with power-assisted steering and braking, to the sounds of the Beatles and the Beach Boys ringing from the optional Bi-Phonic rear seat speaker. A missed oil change or forgotten lube job was easily forgiven by the mighty Wildcat. Chances are the odometer saw a complete spin, or even two.

And still the big Buicks rolled on, solid as America in the 1960s and as solid as Buick could build them. When better cars were built, Buick -- General Motors' "premium motor car" division -- built them.

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