In response to the energy crisis, Buick began downsizing its larger models, like the 1977 Buick Estate Wagon.
1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979 Buicks
Confusing buyers for 1975 was the return of the Skylark name at the top of the compact line, where it would eventually supplant Apollo. In common with all X-body variants that year, Buick's version gained heavily revised outer panels that gave it something like European "sports sedan" flair.
A genuine surprise was the new-for-'75 Skyhawk, the smallest Buick in living memory. A near twin to the Vega-based Chevrolet Monza, this 97-inch-wheelbase subcompact "hatch-coupe" took a bit more than eight percent of total division sales in its first six months. Though not light for its size, Skyhawk offered a decent performance/economy blend thanks to a new 90-degree 231-cid V-6 engine, the only one available. Rated at 110 bhp, and also standard power for the '75 Skylark, Century, and Regal, this would be a significant engine in years to come.
Model-year 1977 brought the first of GM's downsized cars. Sometime before the first energy crisis, management had decided to move to smaller, lighter, more-economical designs in every size and price category. Its largest cars were the logical starting point, and they were rendered even more timely by the government corporate average fuel economy standards (CAFE) that took effect for '78.
The first fruits of this program were dramatically evident at Buick, where LeSabre and Electra shrank to almost Century size. Wheelbases contracted to 116 and 119 inches, respectively (Estate wagons rode the shorter one); curb weights dropped several hundred pounds. This made smaller engines feasible, yet interiors were within inches of the old behemoths' size. Riviera wasn't left out, becoming a high-spec version of the new B-body LeSabre (though it would soon return to the corporate E-body).
Electras through 1979 relied on a standard Chevy-built 350 V-8; a new 403 with 185 bhp was optional, courtesy of Olds. Convertibles were no more (killed after '75), but two- and four-door sedans were offered in LeSabre, LeSabre Custom, Electra 225, and 225 Limited series. The following year brought even fancier Electra Park Avenue models. An interesting 1978 addition was the LeSabre sport coupe, powered by that year's new 165-bhp turbocharged version of the Buick V-6.
Intermediates were next on the corporate slenderizing schedule, so a smaller Century bowed for 1978 along with a separate Regal series of personal-luxury coupes, all built on a new 108.1-inch-wheelbase A-body. Regal sold well from the start, but Century didn't. Sloped-roof "aeroback" styling on the two- and four-door sedans was out of phase with buyer tastes, though there was nothing wrong with the handsome wagon.
Buick corrected this mistake for 1980 with a more-formal-looking notchback four-door bearing a faint resemblance to the first-generation Cadillac Seville, and sales took off. Buick had turbocharged its V-6 with the new midsize line in mind, offering it in sporty Century and Regal sport coupe models. But the sales pattern was the same, and the blown Century vanished with aerobacks.
Riviera was downsized a second time for '79. Styling was crisper and tighter, and front-wheel drive finally put the model in line with its Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado cousins. A turbo V-6 was available here, too. Though most buyers opted for standard powerplants, the blown Riv was a fine performer -- able to leap from 0-60 mph in under 12 seconds while averaging close to 20 mpg in more-restrained driving, this despite a still-bulky 3800-pound curb weight.
Though it promised much, the little Skyhawk hatch-coupe was never a big seller and disappeared after 1980. One interesting 1979-80 variation was the Road Hawk, a package aimed at younger buyers more interested in sportscar looks than genuine ability. Fore and aft spoilers, special paint and tape stripes, identifying decals, mag-style wheels, and larger tires were included, but there was little action to back up the brag.
Yet despite the occasional flawed product and market miscalculation, Buick had moved with changing buyer demands in the '70s, reaping the benefit of good sales while some other makes faltered. Per tradition, Buick anticipated most market trends and responded with cars that, if not on the leading edge of design, were at least in tune with the times. Strong sales year after year were proof that Buick not only knew its market but how to satisfy it.