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How Buick Works

Buick Century and Buick Regal
After years of few styling changes, the 1997 Buick Century sported a complete redesign.

Smaller cars, particularly intermediates, were far more important to Buick's fortunes in the '80s. For 1981 these comprised the workaday Regal coupes and a mostly carryover group of Century sedans and wagons. All continued the 1978 A-body design that was renamed G-body for '82, when the Centurys became Regals and Buick's 4.1-liter V-6 replaced a 4.3 V-8 option.

Model-year volume was some 384,500 for 1981 and over 328,000 for '82, not bad for two very difficult industry years. Production eased to some 226,000 for 1983-84, by which time four-speed automatic transmissions had been adopted as a much better bet for improved mileage.

Meantime, Buick had introduced the first front-drive Century, a notchback coupe and sedan built on the new 1982 A-body used by sister Chevy, Olds, and Pontiac models. Like them, this Century was just a "deluxe" X-car with more expansive sheet-metal and plusher interiors on the same 104.9-inch wheelbase. Initial engine choices were a 2.5-liter Pontiac four; a new 3.0-liter Buick V-6 (destroked from 3.8); and a 4.3-liter Olds diesel V-6.

Euro-style T Types were added for '83. The following year brought a 3.8-liter option (standard for T Types) and new five-door Custom and Limited Estate wagons (replacing the old Regal models).

Though little changed for '85, Century displaced Regal (now down to coupes only) as Buick's best-seller, with annual production through 1987 of over a quarter-million units. The '86s were modestly restyled via a curiously unaerodynamic under-cut nose. The T Type coupe vanished, Chevy's familiar 2.8 V-6 ousted Buick's 3.0 as the step-up engine, and the 3.8 gained 25 horses (for 150 total) via low-friction roller valve lifters, sequential-port injection, and distributorless triple-coil ignition.

For 1987, the T Type became a package option, and both the four and 2.8 V-6 received "Generation II" improvements conferring slightly more power. More standard equipment eased the sticker shock of 1988 prices that were up to the $12,000-$15,000 range (versus $10,000-$12,000 five years before).

The 1989s received a minor facelift and a new 160-bhp 3.3-liter V-6 derived from the veteran 3.8 (to replace the 2.8). Nevertheless, volume withered to some 150,000 for '88, then dropped below 90,000 for '89, thanks to a worsening national economy and other factors. Still, this was highly important business for Flint -- and highly creditable for such an elderly basic design.

The aging front-drive Century was one of Flint's most profitable assets in the early 1990s. Buick increased quality and added features that customers wanted while keeping the lid on price. While holding on to an old design might seem questionable, Buick couldn't afford to let this one die, because the Century had come to have great appeal for rental-car companies and other fleet buyers; in fact, they now accounted for the majority of sales.

The improved workmanship was just a timely bonus, the result of a gradual but wholesale reengineering effort for both Century and Oldsmobile's related Cutlass Ciera. And it paid off. In 1993, the influential J.D. Power organization ranked this elderly duo near the top of the industry for initial vehicle quality.

Sales, of course, were the most important payoff, and Century model-year production remained well above 100,000 for 1990-95. This was achieved with remarkably few changes: a more-orthodox face for '91, new downpriced Special models for '92 (recycling yet another familiar Buick name), a new 2.2-liter base four for '93 (ousting the old Iron Duke at last). A standard driver-side airbag and ABS arrived for '94, when offerings thinned to Custom and Special sedans and a Special wagon.

By that point, Buick was into "value pricing" (like other GM divisions), which meant selling well-equipped cars for several hundred dollars less than if they were "optioned up" the usual way. Yet Century's price spread hadn't changed that much, with stickers still in the affordable $16,000-$18,000 range. Even more than Roadmaster, Buick's "old dog" A-body had learned some profit­able new tricks -- enough to earn a complete redesign for '97.

Two collectible '80s Buicks are found among the rear-drive Regal coupes, which were reskinned for '81 with crisper, more-aerodynamic lines that persisted through the end of series production in December 1987. These are the hot turbo-powered T Type and Grand National.

The new-for-'82 Regal T Type replaced the previous sport coupe as Flint's "factory hot rod," offering fat tires, beefier chassis, attention-getting exterior, and plush interior. Horse­power was rated at 175-180 bhp at first, then boosted to 200 bhp for 1984 via sequential-port fuel injection.

The GN bowed at mid '82 as a low-volume commemorative car (named for the Chevy-powered Regals then starting to clean up on the NASCAR circuit), but in reality, it was just a fancy T Type. After a one-year hiatus, though, Grand National returned with a mean all-black exterior and more unique touches.

For 1986 came a turbo intercooler that swelled horses by 35 for both T Type and GN. Recalibrated engine electronics gave the '87s 10 bhp more -- and truly phenomenal acceleration. In fact, these Buicks bid fair as the fastest cars in the land, able to bound from 0 to 60 in about six seconds.

Quicker still was the 1987 GNX, a $30,000 end-of-the-line limited edition (547 built, by contractor ASC) with higher turbo boost, "smarter" electronics, cleaner porting, bigger tires, meaner looks, a claimed 300 bhp (276 actual) and a mighty 355-420 pound-feet of torque. Magazine testers clocked 0-60 in the mid-fives and the quarter-mile in about 14.5 seconds at 95 mph.

For all this grandstanding, the Regal T Type was always a peripheral seller and the GN almost invisible (only 215 of the '82s, about 2000 for '84, even fewer for 1985-87). Still, they were great fun, even if Buick wasn't the place one expected to find a modern muscle car.

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

  • Buick New Car Reviews and Prices
  • Buick Used Car Reviews and Prices
  • 2008 Buick Lacrosse
  • 2008 Buick Lucerne