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How Buick Works

1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974 Buicks
The 1971 Buick Riviera's controversial "boattail" deck was discontinued after 1973.

Flint would remain staunchly committed to big cars throughout the '70s, but energy economics and government mandates inevitably prompted smaller models as time passed. Never­the­less, full-size cars remained Buick's bread-and-butter through 1975, accounting for over 40 percent of total division sales.

GM completely redesigned its full-size models for 1971, and that year's big Buicks were the largest and heaviest yet -- as big as American cars would ever get. Styling was more rounded, with smoothly curved "fuselage" bodysides, massive hoods, and broader expanses of glass.

Wildcat was retitled Centurion (recalling a mid-'50s Buick show car), and shared its B-body platform with the popular LeSabre. The upmarket Electra remained a C-body cousin to Olds Ninety-Eight and Cadillac de Ville. Estate wagons moved up to its 127-inch wheelbase.

Big Buicks continued in this form through 1976, becoming busier and somewhat bulkier each year, but not significantly changed except where needed to satisfy blossoming safety and emissions rules. All were thirsty. The last 455-cid Electra, for example, was good for only 8.7 mpg in the Environmental Protection Agency's city-fuel-economy ratings.

Riviera also bulked up for '71, gaining three inches between wheel centers (to 122). It also gained about 120 needless pounds, though it looked like more. Dominating swoopy new Bill Mitchell styling was a dramatic "boattail" deck that proved controversial and was thus short-lived -- gone after '73. The GS option, a last vestige of sport, vanished after 1975, but Buick tried to keep enthusiasts interested with a "Rallye" package offering reinforced front antiroll bar, a new rear bar, and heavy-duty springs and shocks. This was claimed to provide even better ride and handling than the GS, and probably should have been standard to handle the size and weight of these beasts.

Oddball styling and outsize heft must have contributed to Riviera's sagging fortunes in this period; by 1975, sales were less than half of what they'd been five years before.

The last of the 1968-vintage Skylarks appeared for 1971-72. They remained solid, good-looking middleweights, though their engines were being emasculated by power-sapping emission-control devices, which meant Gran Sports weren't so hot anymore. Signaling the imminent demise of midsize Buick convertibles (ragtop sales were down to a trickle industrywide), Skylark hardtop coupes offered a fold-back cloth sunroof as a new '72 option. Trim packages created a bevy of models: base, 350 and Custom Skylarks, plus Sportwagons and Gran Sports.

Buick's last true muscle cars were also 1970-72 models. They've since become coveted collectibles for their performance and miniscule production. A prime example is the 1970 GSX, a bespoilered GS 455 hardtop with new "Stage I" engine tuning; it saw only 678 copies; the GS 455 convertible was little higher at 1416. Both were back for '71 (GSX as an option package) with bold black body stripes and hood paint, special grille, chrome wheels, and fat tires. Figures aren't available for the '71 GSX, but only 902 GS ragtops were built and just 8268 hardtops, reflecting the big drop in performance-car demand after 1969.

For 1973, the respected Century name returned once more, this time on redesigned intermediate Buicks with unchanged wheelbases. All employed a new-generation A-body with so-called "Colonnade" styling that did away with pillarless coupes and sedans. Convertibles were no more, GM reacting to a proposed federal rule on rollover protection that would have outlawed ragtops but which ironically never materialized.

Bolstered by spiffy Luxus and Regal submodels (the latter made a separate series after '74), the midsize Centurys sold well through 1977, providing an important "safety net" at times when inflation and rising fuel prices sent would-be big-car buyers scurrying for thriftier alternatives.

A compact also returned to Buick, its first in 10 years. Arriving for mid '73 as the Apollo, it was just a rebadged clone of the 111-inch-wheelbase X-body Chevrolet Nova from 1968, with the same three body styles (two- and four-door sedans and a hatchback two-door) plus, initially, the same 250-cid Chevy straight six as standard power. It was a definite asset during the big-car sales slump touched off by the Middle East oil embargo late that year, but intermediates would remain more important to Buick's overall health.

For more on the amazing Buick, old and new, see:

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  • Buick Used Car Reviews and Prices
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  • 2008 Buick Lucerne