Abatements, Rebatements and Staynade Colours

Generally I prefer to avoid memoirs of car ownership except en passant. I will try to do so here when having a small look at the afterlife of the 1984 Buick Century. 

1984 Buick Century: source

The reason I am in any way concerned with a car like this is that for a year and a half I owned such a vehicle, almost exactly like the one in the main photo. It differed only in that it had plate sized-rust patches on both front doors.

As minds work in peculiar ways, I can’t say why the one with which I identify myself opted to exhume the recollection of my former charge. It did so. Having summoned the memory, my mind then decided to wonder idly if a person could be so lucky as to be able to buy a scale model of the car. I counted 150 images in a Google image search for “1984 Buick Century diecast model” and not even one showed the car in question. Changing the search term to “scale model” instead of “diecast” yielded a value equal to the number of teeth in my nose.

Very pleasing tail lamps: source

What is a Buick Century? The Buick Century had its origins in the 1930 Series 60. The eponym appeared attached to a revised version of the 60 in 1936. By 1982 the nameplate had reached its sixth generation, landing on the down-sized front-drive A-platform which no-one loves. The V8s went the way of the PDA and dial-up modem at this point (sorry for the anachronism) and a 2.5 litre L4 petrol appeared in the mostly V6-line-up.

EveryAuto says the “…Buick Century was made from 1982-1996, with a significant midlife freshening in 1989. This was an extremely successful car, selling more than 2 million units during its lifespan. It was available in sedan, wagon and coupe body styles, the latter of which was dropped after 1993. Trim levels included Custom, Limited and Special, depending on body style and year. The sedan and coupe were capable of seating six, while the wagon had optional eight-seat capacity with a rear-facing and foldable third-row bench. The wagon could also be had with a forever-classy exterior wood grain vinyl appliqué.” 

Two million units and not one of them a scale model.

At the fifth generation the Century seems to have become something equivalent to Ford Cortina or VW Passat: commodity wheels for those uninterested in enjoying life in any way at all. EveryAuto describes the car as “affordable, comfortable but not particularly interesting transportation for millions of Americans“. Murilee Martin at TTAC sums it up as “sort of a forgettable member of the forgettable Celebrity/6000/Ciera family“.

The user comments at sites likes this one here don’t say a whole lot about the car either. This owner review of the revised fifth generation car avers: “I have had this car for 10 of its 20+ years of life. It has been extremely reliable. The most costly problem was when the ac died. Other than that it has never failed me. The v6 is not refined but extremely reliable. After 20+ years I still get over 23mpg running to and from work. Cup holders would be nice but it is a basic bare bones get to work/school car.” 

A car that sells two million units must be at some point omnipresent. And I expect a fair number of people liked them as I did. The one I had could be described in the same terms as the one in the quote above: that’s a good review of a pretty tedious car. I wouldn’t mind owning another one if there were not ten other cars on my hypothetical list.

Put another way: if I had to take charge of a 1984 Buick Century 3.0 Custom I’d be quite pleased. Like the Chevrolet Epica it’s a tough old boot of a car. It didn’t break and did its job without complaint. The soft ride and slowness would suit life in Denmark. After 30 years the styling has period charm too. I really liked the three-abreast seating and column shift. Lately I have wished my vehicles had bench seats so occasionally I could carry five passengers.

So, the first revelation is that the Century is pretty much an unloved car which isn’t worth much of anyone’s time. Thankless are the millions who owned and drove the car. The second revelation is that I have detected a difference in the US and European market for scale models.

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So, yet again we see continents divided by tastes. The European model collector will collect anything. Mundane is hot. Ordinary is fascinating. Dull is gold. The US collector has a taste for glamour, scale, performance and racing heritage. On both side of the mid-ocean ridge Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini sell steadily. I have absolutely no problem with the preferences of either continent, I should add.

What is surprising is that there really is a difference in this area. I know the cars themselves are different but I would have thought that car enthusiasms sub-classes were much the same everywhere. They are not. The European taste for scale models appears a lot nerdier and more obsessive compulsive. If it existed it must be modelled at 1:18. The American collector seems to want the model to be justified. Mere existence does not suffice – which is why the dogged old Century doesn’t cut any mustard.

Slide show credits: 1976 VW Passat; 1978 Mercury Marquis; Dodge Swinger; 1973 Ford LTD; 1978 Ford Cortina ;Lancia Lybra.

Author: richard herriott

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

5 thoughts on “Abatements, Rebatements and Staynade Colours”

  1. Isn’t remarkable that a car as ordinary as the Century can sell in huge numbers while the advanced and much more competent Talisman sells almost not at all. It is ordinary at a very high level, if you think about it.

    1. The eighties and nineties were probably a good time to sell ordinary cars. There was much less choice otherwise. Today we have plenty of manufacturers, all with their ordinary cars plus (remaining) MPVs plus SUVs plus CUVs…

      And then premium is the new ordinary. The only reason you buy a non-“premium” saloon or estate is to make a statement. At least that’s how it looks for me.

  2. This transverse engine front wheel drive Olds was the first modern layout bought by my traditional thinking dad after multitudes of front to rear drive straight axle types. I don’t recall hearing him ever comment over the different handling but can confirm it was sharper than previous American products and being lighter in weight the V6 was able to provide good acceleration and reasonable economy.

    1. Yes, I think it got quite good write-ups in the press. I would like to find a period review of one of the cars. Mine was a V6 and got 25 US mpg at 65mph. It had a 14 gallon tank and a useful boot. That said it stayed on sale for too long. Not that the public minded – they kept on buying them.

  3. Well, you had a unique engine in your Century, a 3.0l version of the 3.8l that was derived from the aluminum 215 Buick V8 that Rover bought. Yes, a 90 degree V6 with the split crank journals for even-fire they endowed it with finally about 1978. It didn’t emit the braying noise the Chev 2.8 60 degree V6 did for decades, the lord save my ears.

    We rented a 1996 Olds Cutlass Ciera with fake wire wheel covers for a long road journey that summer since my Audi lease miles would have gone over. Same chassis, different V6. Everything flexed and creaked, so one has to give GM credit for spot-welding them at the exact critical spots needed for them to last far too long. It reminded me of that old saw, a loose collection of parts moving in the same general direction. It had long travel semi-damped suspension of the heave and rebound variety at the front. It would zoom to 40 mph, then exhibit a kind of languid torpor. They were very light for their size, about the same as a present day Civic. About 15 million A cars were made so 2 million badged as Buicks didn’t become “omnipresent”. Wouldn’t be surprised if you drove one today you’d be horrified.

    Perhaps I’m guilty of not understanding why anyone but an owner would want a diecast model of this beast. It was a quintessentially unremarkable car, but reasonably reliable. As I have mentioned before, my belief is that people remember reliable ordinary cars with a fondness that sportier less dependable rides never elicit decades later.


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