Doc, I think it’s my heart.
From day one to sometime in the late 20th century, the archetypal Buick customer was formed of doctors, architects – the professional classes. Not for me the first 1990 evocation of this particular model, nor indeed the (admittedly beautiful) 1989 Essence concept. The syringe laced with youthful elixir came with in late 1996 in second-generation form, before handing over to the Lucerne (but not before transforming into something less coherent) in 2005. The Buick Park Avenue (BPA) – a sublime sedan.
DTW’s own Richard Herriott sang some general praise here whereas today’s critique ploughs distinctly narrower avenues. Bill Porter, the Park Avenue’s designer offers, “a measure of stateliness is conveyed by Park Avenue’s generous proportions.” Its a soft car in stance, looks and Dynaride set up, almost harmless for a metal object weighing in at 1700Kgs.
Identically wheel-based to GM’s other comparable products – only the lengths differ – Oldsmobile’s Aurora (shorter) and Buick’s own Riviera (longer), the Park Avenue bags centre stage. Available in standard (plush) or Ultra (gizmos) trims, front wheel motive power came from the same 90° pushrod V6 3800cc engine, breathing naturally (205bhp) or for Ultra versions, 240 when supercharged. Park Avenues were never intended to be Corvette chasers. More Substantial. Powerful. Distinctive. Mature.
Exterior views afford us the ubiquitous three box sedan silhouette but on this iteration, a four window DLO with black rubber alongside subtly thin chrome surrounds. This trope arches back through Buick’s history but was soon to change. The Park Avenue offered for its $40,000 (and upwards) a somewhat beige demeanour which the typical Buick driver positively lapped up. Sensitive to colour, lighter hues lifted the cars weight, while darker tones added gravitas – horses for courses. The front end has an almost Jaguar-esque grille with gunsight tri-shield on that elongated bonnet, apologies, hood.
Aft, we find neatly chromed brake and turn signal lamps. Dependable, eminently clear, non-revolutionary with some additional Chrysler hints. Later versions gilded the lily somewhat. The C-pillar is large but softly rounded. Visibility appears perfectly adequate.
Inside we find every conceivable gadget and comfort inducing convenience known to late twentieth century man. Seats, available in velour or leather and choices of colours could electronically manoeuvre ten ways. A six seater car offering a grandchild (or weedy European) centre stage or a cup holding armrest when Timmy was elsewhere.
CD, cassette playing or programmable radio stations were but a button push away. The steering wheel could alter not only volume (with the rotary dial rotating in cool symmetry) but also the air-con temperature. The front passenger got their very own hot and cold controls to play with. A firm palm shove emitting an authoritative horn sound.
Ashtray centre front requires similar efforts to close yet with fingertip opening. Buick’s engineers slimmed the door sill width along with subtle height extensions to the car for easy access; perfect for the more mature drivers these cars were aimed at.
On this particular Park Avenue, the dash came as one single complex magnesium casting with a delightful inch high raised edge housing the idiot lights, with David Dunbar’s surname in the centre, lest you forget what car you’re driving. Above the automatically dipping rear view mirror, near the double sun visors (with vanity mirror and dimmable light) one could flick a switch to open the gates and/or garage doors.
The ceiling housed a red LED Lamp Monitor for checking which bulb has popped when the ignition was switched on. Heady stuff for a quarter century ago. Real wood wrapped its way around the dash to the doors which housed the usual switches for windows, side-view mirrors and locks.
Dials were perfectly legible white on black analogue, glowing a luminous turquoise at night, which could be adjusted for brightness. Headlights could be set to automatic with the delightfully named Twilight Sentinel switch. The column mounted four speed automatic transmission (4T65E) allowed for either gently slurring or surprisingly swift changes dependant on the right foot’s mood.
As a doctor’s bag would contain stethoscope, thermometer and perhaps, magic sponge, the BPA’s suspension was traditionally familiar. MacPherson struts front, semi-trailing arms on springs rear. Anti-lock brakes, traction control and GM’s Magnasteer for effortless boulevard or highway cruising. Again, the set up was not for frivolous twirling or tourniquets, although a competent helm-person (the fairer sex admiring the soft set up) could unleash some unexpected brio.
Of course none of this matters now, the quarter century old Park Avenue never selling in huge quantities even in its heyday but usually, once a Park Avenue owner, always a Park Avenue owner. The fact that the (rather too) similar Riviera cost less hardly assisted matters either, especially with the competition leaning towards a sporting bent, attracting beefier sales numbers.
But interest surrounding the Park Avenue remains undeniably strong. Seen today as a respectable entry level motor, engines can with withstand 300,000+ miles on basic maintenance. Generic parts availability lead to conservative repair bills and the majority of owners regularly serviced their Park Avenue leading to encouraging reviews when heading on down to the fifth owner.
When new, Buick provided a pamphlet (called Let’s Talk) on translating to the mechanic what noise derived from which area for more accurate repairs. Did Coventry or Stuttgart offer such a service?
Perhaps worthy of greater interest being this car’s convergence of strong yet simple engineering without a fundamental reliance upon electronic systems to go haywire. As aggressive inasmuch the doctor transporting his golf clubs, this car is no quack. The Park Avenue may not instil a faster heart rate (cynics may offer the exact opposite to a defibrillator) but should be celebrated for being a living dinosaur. In today’s ultra fast, sportily aggressive age, this BPA offers the soothed brow, a healthy tonic, an encouraging prognosis.
Can I make an appointment, please?
Ninety seconds of first-gen BPA in snow. Cheesy music, beautiful surroundings and a now classic car.