As They To The Lychgate Draw Near So Waxes Quick The Quiet Fear

Chopping the back off a saloon can lead to unfortunate results.

1979 Buick Century Aeroback

The 1978 A-body cars at GM lost a lot of fat in the downsizing wave of the mid-70s. Half a tonne of car vanished per model. For the Aeroback cars such as this 1979 Century coupe even more metal got sliced off (the same went for the very similar Olds Cutlass Salon). The 1977 Talbot Sunbeam and 1975 AMC Pacer underwent the same sort of radical surgery in the name of making one car out of another. But if you want to consider less egregious examples, think of the 1993 BMW 3-series Compact, 2008 Benz CLC and 2000 Alfa Romeo 147. Like the Century Aeroback, the CLC lasted only four years and it also had carry-over doors and windscreen. Wasn’t that a real mayfly car?

1979 Buick Century Æroback B-pillar.

Apparently GM wanted to add some European panache to the Century line-up and may very well have instructed Buick’s designers to peep at Opel’s work on the 1978 Monza when styling the Æroback. Customers for Buicks didn’t warm to the Aeroback or, more likely, the application of the idea to the front half of the corresponding sedans. The car is overbodied at the rear and other half is not aerofront in the least.

V8 Engine by Pontiac

What’s it like inside?

1979 Buick Century Æroback interior

Like many externally large Detroit cars of the time, width and length doesn’t translate into longitudinal  interior space. Despite its near-luxury pretensions, little about this passenger compartment invites and leg-room is scant. This scant:

Stretch out sideways.

There is a fine ashtray built into the front-seats but no centre arm-rest. A 1978 Ford Escort is about as roomy and well-equipped. Buick had good company in this regard: a Mercury Monarch is equipped as parsimoniously. A W-123 coupe is equally mean on space, possibly worse.

1978-1981 Buick Century Æroback: Wikipedia

On a general note, such relics as this Tri-Shield are not very uncommon in western Denmark; in contrast East Jutland is a desert for this class of old cars. I am not sure why except it might be something socio-economic. Further, like the Monarch I looked at a few years back, this is surely an eccentric choice of import and there must be a very particular story behind its appearance in the place where even the crows turn. There are at least ten worthier mid-size Malaise-era Detroiters one could select ahead of this ill-proportioned vehicle.

[The title photo is the unfortunate result of poor lighting, obstructive rubbish and a lack of time.]

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

19 thoughts on “As They To The Lychgate Draw Near So Waxes Quick The Quiet Fear”

  1. I wonder why the Alfa 147 is in this list. For me, this is a standard ‘Golf-class’ hatchback, not a chopped-down version of a car a class above.
    What about the Opel Kadett City from the late seventies? This was Opel’s first attempt to play in the market of compact hatches. A task its successor played much more convincingly with its longer wheelbase and the option for five doors.

    1. I wasn’t aware of that. Still, the modifications seem more thorough to me than just a cut back. Apparently, there aren’t any carry-over bodyparts, or at least they’re not obvious (windscreen and pillars, maybe?). Therefore, I can agree, nice job. (If I’d want to be picky, I’d have liked bigger windows, especially in the back)

  2. The Mercedes CLC was a facelifted C Class Coupé first launched in late 2000 so was somewhat more long lived than four years.

    1. Finally I found the dates. The CLC is a moderately-to-quite revised C-Class Sportback which dated from 2000. If we grant the CLC is a revision then I get to condemn it as a cynical retread. And it’s a properly different car my original “mayfly” verdict stands. I can’t lose!

  3. The original 3 series compact wasn’t really a shortened E36, but more of an E30-based parts bin special, whereas its successor truly was a truncated E46. Which makes it all the more ironic that the former was considered a success, just as the latter, despite being far more sophisticated a machine, is deemed a failure on all fronts.

    1. Wikipedia and my recollection of Car’s launch material are not in accord with the E30 provenance; likely it’s a bit of both. The front is all E36 and maybe rearwards E30 bits were used to the extent that the 30 begat the 36.

    2. One thing I remember is that they used parts of the E30 in the interior, e.g. around the dashboard (air vents probably). There might also have been a simpler rear axle.

    3. The E36 Compact was a combination of the front from the E36 four door with the rear suspension and some underbody panels from the E30. The same underpinnings were used for the Z3 with shortened wheelbase.
      In the interior push-pull switchgear was used for nostalgic reasons.
      The Compact was a low cost half hearted toe in the water attempt at testing market reaction to a premium compact – just like the first Audi A3.

    4. Stronger engined Compacts reportedly suffered from similarly adventurous handling characteristics as the E30. I am however unaware that anyone ever put a paving slab in the boot of a Compact.

    5. A cousin of mine worked for BMW and had (amongst others) a succession of E30 M3s as company cars. These were quite sure footed and real fun to drive. I always wondered why BMW didn’t use the M3’s suspension geometry with more (lots more) castor as general setup for the E30.
      An E36 was not necessarily better to drive than these old bangers.

    6. Dave: the E30 is a car that is either very ordinary (Sir Jeremy’s view) or an ultimate driving machine. Conceivably the M versions were just that while the bread and butter cars were merely well made conveyances.

    7. Dave: your description plus Wikipedia plus the stuff Car wrote leads me to cling to
      my description of the Compact as mostly E36. I drove on once and only remember the push-pull light controls and the colour: white. I took it on a tour of the desert in California and I suppose I am lucky nothing bad happened such as a fine or a crash.

    8. The E30 or E36 Compact weren’t nearly as bad on the road as public memory has it. Most of them simply hadn’t enough power to get you into trouble by kicking their tail out. And the one with the necessary power had its chassis sorted – the E30 M3.
      In reality, most E36 variants were much worse to drive despite their theoretically superior new rear axle because they had nasty steering that was very sticky around the straight ahead, they were criminally sensitive to cross winds and had a twitchy rear with an aggressive tendency for snap oversteer in the wet (that was in pre-ESP days, Sir).
      The push-pull switchgear was an hommage to the 02-series, still highly cherished in its home country as the car that more than any other defined the character of the marque.

  4. “For the Aeroback cars such as this 1979 Century coupe even more metal got sliced off (the same went for the very similar Olds Cutlass Salon)”

    The Aeroback was present as a model when the new GM “A” bodies came out in the fall of ’77 as 1978 models. It was available in both 2 and 4 door versions. Neither sold very well, not in either Buick or Oldsmobile forms. It was not cut off after a year, nor is there any reason to believe it was in fact shorter than the same car known as the Chevy Malibu.

    Really all these A body cars were junk. The separate chassis rusted badly, and the interiors literally fell apart, the door pulls came out, the upholstery split, and the trim went strange like that in the photo car’s under the rear window. In hot/sunny US states, it cracked apart. It was obvious that the B body cars, the full-size, were in another league of quality altogether. This owner is just lucky he got the Pontiac 303 engine rather than the utter slug of the 267 Chev V8, as GM mixed or matched about six generally awful engines from different V6’s to undistinguished V8s in these A bodies. Still, people bought these things anyway.

    If the two door aeroback version was shorter than the four door it was a matter of a couple of inches at most. Those abysmal shorty BMW 3 series Compact with the old swing arm rear suspension, and the manx cat Mercedes C230 C class loser cars were ridiculous to behold. Only a few poseurs bought them round here.

    More interesting to me is all the cars that looked as though they were hatchbacks but weren’t when you trotted round the back and looked. I owned one, A 1982 Audi Coupe. What we called the VW Dasher and you the Passat was another. Now cars are getting back to that form like the latest Honda Accord most still lack a hatch or liftback.

  5. “More interesting to me is all the cars that looked as though they were hatchbacks but weren’t when you trotted round the back and looked. I owned one, A 1982 Audi Coupe. What we called the VW Dasher and you the Passat was another.”

    The VW Passat/Dasher Mk1 offered the alternatives of a conventional small boot opening or a large hatch because conservative buyers preferred the small lid.
    Opel did the same with the fwd Kadett E as their customer base was extremely conservative and mostly didn’t like the hatch simply because it was invented by the French.
    Some upper class cars like Citroen CX, Lancia Beta and Gamma had a small lid to prevent passengers from being exposed to the elements when the boot was open. With the XM, Citroen even fitted a second rear screen on the parcel shelf to keep the wind out when the hatch was opened.

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