How will you have those eggs, mister?
To the European autophile, American cars often lose their flavour should (or if) they land on soil at least three thousand miles from home. As a 1980s wet behind the ears teenager, all American cars were big, loud, had screeching tyres and could fly (dependent upon TV show) yet possessed an otherworldly draw for this spotty oik.
No-one, not even the deep archives that DTW has become can know everything car. Thus, when even our American brethren are in the main unsure of this particular recipe, one can rest assured that we have stumbled upon a car whose character fits perfectly upon these pages, forty years late.
By the late 1970s, Buick sat as high as 5th place in homegrown sales. Money flowed, tastes melded whilst the perennial conservatism was occasionally allowed some holiday time. Had enough LaSabres or Riviera’s? Why not try the new for 1979 Century Turbo Coupé, sir? Sir?
Styling big sellers were Buick’s recipe until this European flavoured (of sorts) aeroback pole-axed opinion. At a time when Buick’s badge grew wings, for your $5,268, a four door Sport Coupé could be had. A three speed manual gearbox was tied together to a (very short lived) 3.2 litre. Sporting in nature? As soup is to salad. Looks wise? These ingredients make not the soufflé; some prefer their eggs done differently.
The four door coupé left the scene almost as quickly as the old engine leaving the range as a three door only. Hatchback-esque in shape, the be-spoilered boot, sorry, trunk horrified potential purchasers who refused to see past this remarkable car’s attributes. That spoiler reduced drag by eighteen percent.
Lloyd Reuss was the catalyst in seeking a fresher, more youthful approach to the Buick recipe. Orchestrating designs that shied away from almost anything else manufactured at that time, the Century Turbo Coupé proved an expensive, devoid of sales anomaly. Project Engineer Bruce Robinson explained in the June 1979 issue of Car and Driver that money, or more pertinently, the lack of, was the deciding factor. “Anything spent on a new model or a new version of one existing you have to figure you can recover in sales.” That year witnessed 1,653 CTC sales and just 1,047 for the cars final year, 1980. Consider in the same timeframe, almost 22,000 of Buick’s own, less outré Regal Turbo Sport Coupé were had at similar, if not lower prices. What was Robinson thinking?
“We wanted to go all out. Make the CTC like no other Buick in every regard.” In that respect, the recipe was an undivided success. In sound, the car’s V6 turbo took on a V8 sounding burble by having no mufflers, a single catalytic converter and twin exhausts.
A “delightful by-product” of less back pressure being ten more horses. Underneath, known as the FE1 handling package, brought in wider wheels, stiffer suspension (independent, coil springs front, rigid axle with four trailing link to the rear) and altered steering geometry. Reviews mention Buick-like ride but also steering numbness, a lack of frisson.
Which is where the shape of the car comes into its own. Ignoring the rabble, decrying Flint’s flash in the frying pan, as to the two thousand seven hundred who actually bought an example, one applauds, loudly. Two score years has leaned favourably to the shape. Light on its tyres, commendably thin A and C pillars with the striking emphasis on the B. The best angles of view are probably the three quarter front or rear. The coupé’s DRG may approximate a slab of cheese aiming for the grater but why the devil not? Nothing wrong with a cheese omelette.
Side on gives the viewer our first appreciation of that kamm tailed, isogonic angled rear end. Sure, the overhang appears heavy, drawn to the kitchen floor, maybe but to these eyes, this is the béarnaise sauce to the remaining Benedict. Oozing solidity, function and form, this area is the talking point.
Some might say rotten eggs (or maybe throw some) but compared with the sober saloons, elongated estates or traditional coupés (even from Buick) that abounded then, the essence of sport and perhaps more importantly, a sense of fun lies within the CTC. This is the General wearing his Dodin Bouffant and cookin’ up something, if not exactly good then at least tasty.
Ignore the fact that sales were an unmitigated disaster. The Century had few backers but since when did the popular majority mean anything? The ‘79 engine was fitted with a carburettor; often recalcitrant, fuel injection arrived the year after. One could read the car had verve when accelerating, leading to a 111mph top speed. Perfectly fine now, never mind back in 1979.
Compact dimensions, light and airy feel with its large greenhouse, the CTC would suit modern day conditions rather better than today’s overwrought aggression-mobiles – sporting doesn’t have to be angry. I’d rather drive an omelette than aspire to a wedge of overloaded unctuous quiche.
Distance combined with a lack of understanding have shoved to this car to the rear of the cupboard. One doubts any would have made it to Blighty (or European shores) and it’s clear that American buyers’ tastes lay elsewhere, which is a shame. Here, Buick were daring with the whisk, stirring up the establishment, but maintaining agitation is hard work.
One proud owner was O.D. Smith who had a silver bodied light grey interior example. Gently encouraged to avoid the old man’s 1978 Turbo Regal and wait a year for the CTC to arrive, O.D. observed the sanguine advice, flying out to Michigan from California to pick up his new stamped steel wheels, aged 69. That advice stemmed from insider information; O.D.’s son, Gary, worked in the Buick studio and believed (correctly) his father and the CTC would bond. Finally, O.D.S had a car he could outdo his brother Harry, a Pontiac man.
For obvious reasons, car makers rarely indulge in obscure recipes but at least Buick tried. Is it beyond wishful thinking maybe one day the Century Turbo Coupé may inspire a successor? Service, please!
 Regarding the ‘79 Century’s styling, an internal struggle with rooflines occurred. Chevrolet and Pontiac received fastbacks with Buick and Oldsmobile, notchbacks. During development, this swopped over. The fastbacks were then to have hatchback openings, scrapped due to cost.
Data sources: Curbside Classic, Deans Garage