I Say We All Sit Down and Discuss This, Shall We?

Here’s a taste of the late Clinton years and most of the Bush Junior years, the 1997-2007 Buick Park Avenue.

1997-2005 Buick Park Avenue, Savannah, Georgia.

I have to say I jumped a small jump of joy when I sighted this car last autumn on a short sojourn in Savannah, Georgia. The lighting is terrible but this was one of very few older Buicks I saw during my stay and I had to document it and, indeed, risk my health and well-being by deciding to hover around it and look really closely at the details.

It’s very much the high point of later Buick styling and overall credibility and competence, even when painted bird-dropping white. I will be the first to agree Buick very evidently spent a long time dwelling on the outpourings of Brown’s Lane when conceiving of this car. The coke-bottle form over the rear axle is Jaguar XJ as is the crest on the rear wing which you can see in the images below.

Second generation Buick Electra. Don’t touch.

At the front, you might see some Jaguar in the grille or at least concede it could look plausible on a large Jaguar saloon from another, slightly different world.

1997-2005 Buick Park Avenue.

The full width lamps are throw back to 1980s Buicks (the 1984 Century had this feature).

1997 Buick Park Avenue. Notice the section of the wing as it meets the boot lid. I have sketched them in red transverse lines. This is very Jaguar.

So what is a Buick Park Avenue. It is an example of General Motor’s slippery way of handling trim/model names. The name first appeared in 1975 as an ‘appearance package’ on the Electra 225. That means, I think, exterior trim additions. In 1978 it became a trim-level (putting it into an official hierarchy and not an additional buyer-option). In 1991 the name gained new employment as a model in its own right. The hallowed Electra name bowed out in 1990. Here is the 1975 car:

1975 Buick Electra 225 Park Avenue (source).

And this is the 1990 Buick Electra (with as much certainty as I can manage):

1990 Buick Electra: source. We covered the car here.

The second generation car was built on the G-platform which served Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Pontiac. For Buick it underpinned the last Riviera and also the cheaper LeSabre. There was not much choice on the engine front: a 3.8 litre V6 with or without supercharging. And if you wanted a 4-speed automatic transmission then, good. That was all they offered.

Edmunds gave the car 4.5 stars: “Spacious and comfortable interior, strong V6 engine, solid safety scores, good value” but didn’t like the standard suspension due to its floatiness. But if you’ve driven on the appalling road surfaces of the US with the ever-present hazard of militarised road-traffic policing, then the floaty ride is actually exactly the right ride for this class of car. The users seem to love the car — but there are not enough of them which is why this class of car is extinct and Buick, as of today, when I just looked don’t sell a single saloon. This is curious as many other manufacturers do still four door cars and estates. GM just isn’t trying hard enough.

This is the state of the art in China, where Buick is still a relevant brand:

2002 Buick Glate-Century (source)

And for some hyperbole, what Buick USA calls the “first ever” Envista:

2024 Buick Envista. “The first ever” (source).

Car & Driver say this: “With sheetmetal that looks as stylish and expertly tailored as the clothes in Stanley Tucci’s closet, the 2024 Buick Envista looks a cut above its surprisingly affordable $23,495 starting price. It’s also pretty roomy: its 106.3-inch wheelbase and overall length of 182.6 inches mean the Envista packs 4.1 inches more space between its wheel centers and casts an 11.2-inch-longer shadow than the squarer (and $3400 pricier) Encore GX.”  Which translates into Buick being now very close to Chevrolet in pricing terms rather than being a more modest but still comfy alternative to Cadillac.

Author: richard herriott

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

35 thoughts on “I Say We All Sit Down and Discuss This, Shall We?”

  1. You must humor me here as my American is showing, but you should have seen the vitriol and incredulity on the news sites when the Envista was announced with the 1.2L turbo 3. To be fair, 136 hp in a 1400 kg car makes for a fairly poor power-to-weight ratio in a country where the best seller is a two-ton pickup making 290 hp in base trim (noting that the humble Corsa can’t come anywhere close to that in any spec). The supposition is that the target demographic (read: the elderly) won’t mind as they just want to sit up high and drive to church, but it begs the question of what future Buick is meant to have as a brand in America. Certainly the intent is for them to offer elegance beyond that of a Chevy, but when the interior is this similar to the platform-mate Trax it’s hard to see the point.

    I guess the Chevy is ‘sporty’ and the Buick is ‘luxe’. And for the price of an entry Envista or a high-spec Trax, you could have a mid-spec version of the smaller Trailblazer! And the smaller Encore GX (related to the Trailblazer) starts $3k higher than the larger Envista! Has GM ever tried to make it make sense?

    1. That is a drastic repositioning of Buick, isn´t it? Once there was the wastelands of Pontiac, Saturn, and Oldsmobile to get through before you reached Buick´s price points. Now it´s a matter of trim variation and superficial body-work changes. The interiors: different but very much out of the same mould. The semantic differences are very watered down, like those between wrist watch brands.

    2. Does GM have much credibility left in America these days, Alexander?
      For you to say you guess Chevy is ‘sporty’ and Buick is ‘luxe’ suggests to me they still haven’t got things figured out yet; if an enthusisat can’t figure it out, what hope does Joe Average have? Perhaps they need to take an axe to the fifty shades of management between shop floor and top floor so some clear decision-making can be done.
      It makes me wonder whether there will still be a GM in twenty years time.

    3. I’m probably the wrong person to ask, Peter. Having grown up in the California Bay Area and now living in Tucson, I have a very poor bearing on how the average ‘Heartland’ American perceives of GM these days. In both the Bay Area and Tucson Japanese and Korean brands are very much preferred over the American mainstream, and it should be no surprise that Tesla rules the sales charts in Silicon Valley. My supposition is that in small towns where there are only Ford or GM dealerships the idea is that the upper middle class ‘man’ of the house drives a GMC while the ‘housewife’ gets a Buick, and if you’re blue collar then Chevy is the brand for you. These are of course gross generalizations based on what I assume to be the marketing intent behind each brand because as we’ve discussed, the actual differences between them are so negligible.

      The big thing that GM has going for it nowadays is its ‘Ultium’ EV platform which is actually quite sophisticated; even Honda are rolling out a new model in collaboration with GM to take advantage of the platform. It almost seems like their plan is to become a purveyor of IP and EV architecture (like ARM is to processors). Outside of EVs the cash cow for GM is still pickups and the Chinese market.

    4. I grew up in California, too(the LA area), and also had a poor understanding of the “flyover” states’ automotive buying habits. As a teenager it surprised me that the Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Lumina tilted at the bestseller crown against the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, as I never saw any that weren’t rental cars. Now that I live in central NY(which is socio politically more akin to Ohio than to NYC and its suburbs) I’m beginning to get a better grasp on it. In my opinion, modern Buicks are meant to be America’s answer to old Lexus: refined, not shouty, good value, easy to own, and appealing more to women.

  2. GM first used the “Park Avenue” appellation on short-deck versions of the Cadillac Sedan de Ville in the early 1960s, which were intended to be easier to parallel-park in cities like New York.

  3. The mustard colored car is a 1976.

    The front fender pressing is identical to the 1975, but with an extra part blended with a lead-loaded fillet.

    The rear was designed on another planet (also run by Bill Mitchell) where no expense was spared on the elaborate fully integrated rear bumper framed by soft urethane end caps. The reversing lamps had red bulbs inside which lit up at night (a throwback to the 1969 model).

  4. Good morning Richard. There is certainly something of the ‘alternate reality Jaguar XJ’ about the 1997 Park Avenue. Here’s an example in rather better condition than the one you encountered in Savannah:

    The Jaguar influence even extends to the dashboard with its sweeping top-roll:

    I wonder if it was deliberate on the designer’s part, to offer something that would appeal to more mature Americans who hankered after a ‘Jag-war’?

    1. My view is that GM were positioning their brands in relation to other brands and saw Buick as an American analogue to Jaguar. Saturn was a low-cost import-fighter; Olds got pushed into the role of attracting customers who were buying Toyota, Nissan and Honda. Where did that leave Chevrolet and Cadillac. For Buick this meant echoing Jaguar though in my view doing a nice job of it. The interior is probably not as Rolls-Roycey as a Jaguar but still very pleasing. There´s a bit too much bland looking plastic over the wooden strip. It looks in the photo to be of lower quality than what you´d find on a B-class European car. GM: quality spread thin. But the suspension is probably excellent and the engine quite durable.

    2. I was once told the designer of the Park Avenue drove a Jag as his personal car. I’m unsure if there is any truth to that, but there is indeed XJ-ness in the Buick. One of my fathers friends had a Park Avenue in burgundy, I think it was a ’95 car. Unfortunately I never got to drive it.

    3. I understand the references to the Jaguar XJ and can see them, but I have to say that overall, the Buick and the contemporary Jaguar give me very different vibes:

      It may be just the wheels and the track width resulting in a different stance.

      That’s not to suggest either is better by the way: I rather like the Buick for its understated and nicely resolved design, particularly the four-light DLO. It also comes across as non-aggressive, which was rare even then.

    4. Is that sweeping top-roll of the dashboard a typical Jaguar thing? It was already there in the 1989 Buick Park Avenue Concept of 1989. Other cars like the 1992 Seville STS had it too.

      The second edition of the Park Avenue was introduced before the X308 too. It looks like Jaguar is copying Buick in this particular instance instead of the other way round.

  5. Oh, the Park Avenue, good memories from when I lived in the US in precisely the Clinton/GW Bush era. I used to be fully indoctrinated in the car magazine dogmas of sporty handling, Euro-sedans, etc. so it was always an internal struggle for me to admit I actually liked this generation of the big old Buick. I never drove one, but I did drive its smaller sibling, the Century, and its cousin, the Chevrolet Impala so I imagined the Park Avenue would be more of that, only better. By that I mean a quiet, air conditioned cocoon in which to devour vast extensions of Midwest interstate land in spacious, mushy and non restrictive seats (car magazines would say “…unsupportive and lacking in lateral bolstering”); the car-seat equivalent to comfy Dockers with elastic waists (to keep those US of A references).

    One quick anecdote: Cincinnati had an auto show every year for which I reserved an entire day to wander around (almost all cars were open and free to sit in and fiddle on the controls). This was taxing to my feet after a few hours, so whenever I got tired and aching feet I’d look for the Buick stand and sit in the back of a Park Avenue for a quiet few minutes, knowing that not many people would come to check it out.

  6. The 71-76 Electra seems to be a perfect example of the idea that old-school US cars were just too much metal for one person to draw on their own. One of the many stylists involved produced that crease running from the horizontal leading edge of the bonnet to the vertical trailing edge of the rear wing. As a sketch it must have looked incredibly elegant and it almost remains so when you divorce it from the rest of the car. But on the earlier models another (I assume) stylist had added their mark by incorporating a tacky parody of the 4 portholes into the line, breaking it up and completely negating its effect (on the later models shown above this was removed).

    And then there’s the rest of the car which makes no attempt to echo the grace of that crease. Someone with more knowledge of the minutiae of 70s regulations may point out why not, but surely the side marker lights could have been integrated with the chrome side strip. And were the crimes around the rear door to pillar shutlines of some variants unavoidable? Looking at the entire car in one sitting tires me out (I have the same problem with many recent designs too). There is just too much happening. All that work (especially at the rear as gooddog points out) to such diminishing returns.

  7. I think it is worth mentioning the 1st gen Park Avenue which was an extremely pleasant and neat looking car, especially compared to that bloated melted piece of typical 90s non-styling from the article.

    1. I used to really like the first generation. These days I see to much strain in the way the main surfaces blend. What would really have helped was to have no height difference between the base of the DLO and base of the windscreen. It´s still a nice enough car – I would be happy to own and drive one. The 3.8 litre engine is a sticking point for Danish driving conditions though.

  8. I agree, the way the windscreen wraps over the A pillar, almost hiding it, is a sophisticated piece of design. But to me the 2nd gen has a more solid look that I also like. That platform, by the way, shared with the Buick Riviera and Oldsmobile Aurora was among the stiffest at the time.

  9. What an attractive car. It clearly belongs to that shortest era, say 12-15 years, where American cars stopped looking like “American cars” but before SUV became the answer to every single question. It’s style is “Organic” and inherently international but it’s has it’s own identity; you wouldn’t confuse this with a big JDM luxury saloon like a Toyota Century.

    I see it on nodding terms with an XJ but it’s not a rip-off or a pastiche (There’s as much Rover 600 in there, no?). A car pitched at people who want something like a Jaguar but for whom Jaguars have never quite fitted the bill.

    The grille is closer to Giugiaro’s Jaguar Kensington concept- a car that for me could easily have been an alternative Lancia Kappa proposal- than any XJ but presumably has some Buick “DNA”. Interesting how it looks to have a plunging C pillar. That’s an unusual solution, which I’ve not seen on any other car. Or was it meant to have a capping strip (Like the XJ40)? It does look like this particular Park Avenue has lost some trim pieces along the way. The tapered ridges along the “Trunk” are a lovely XJesque detail. Something for owner’s who’d take pleasure in washing their own cars I think.

    It definitely has something of the Rover 600 around the nose and front bumper, where the lights almost touch the grill. Oddly the only jarring feature is how big the headlamps look. In the photo’s they look bigger at the sides than the front. Odd that.

  10. I like Buick, as they are (were) very ‘wholesome’, somehow. They also dared to have some slightly wacky detailing – to me there’s a bit of a Rover P5B feeling to them. I love the blue and white car in gooddog’s post above, for instance. They’re plush, but not overtly posh, without being cheap and tacky. It’s a delicate balancing act.

    The Park Avenue does have Jaguar vibes and it reminded me a bit of the S-Type. The ‘Essence’ prototype looks a bit like some of the Jaguar concepts of the time, too, as Richard says, above. It’s ironic that GM nearly bought Jaguar before Ford stepped in. It makes one wonder if they would actually have understood the Jaguar brand pretty well.


    1. They are certainly better looking than an ‘S’-Type, everything is much better resolved, but there is a softness, a lack of tension that leads to a certain blobby-ness. The exemplar of this style of ‘modern Jaguarness’ is, to me, Mazda’s 929/Sentia/ɛ̃fini MS-9 (HD; 1991–1996)

    2. Yes David, that Mazda would be quite credible as a Jaguar, to look at. Maybe not to drive so much, the bar would be pretty high.
      It shows where the Buick design (nice as it is, surprisingly so for an American car) falls down – around the C-pillar. The Mazda’s DLO is rounded, an organic whole; the Buick carries the glass further back, for better head access I’d guess, which results in an unsatisfyingly trianguloid C-pillar shape with a particularly jarring right angle at the bottom rear corner. Ouch! But then you have that same curve-to-right-angle motif on the headlights too…..

    3. From the team that bought us the last RX7 and the MX5/Miata, one would expect a high standard of ride/handling, specially after using RWD with 4 wheel steering and front mounted engine behind the front wheels to give 50/50 weight distribution. They are a nicer drive than, certainly, than an early ‘S’-Type. Like a real Jaguar, users had to suffer for those svelte looks, your comments on door clearance being appropriate, but they were ‘fixed’ in the worst way possible on the next model, on which the suspension was softened to Japanese brougham standards and the rear roof raised. ‘The swan becomes an ugly duckling.’ was how Curbside Classic put it. https://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/cc-capsule/curbside-capsule-1996-97-mazda-929-the-swan-becomes-an-ugly-duckling/

    4. Jaguar dodged a bullet when GM missed out on buying the company. Look at Saturn, Saab, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Geo for a long list of destroyed value. Buick is a Chevrolet alternative and Cadillac is still broadly irrelevant outside USA despite at least three relaunch efforts in three decades.

    5. David: thanks for posting the 929s. Can I say I like them both? But the aubergine one is strikingly attractive without having anything extreme about it. Delightful and probably more reliable than anything from the Midlands too.

    6. From a time when Ford owned Jaguar and controlled Mazda with a 35% share-holding, it is a little ironic. How they came up with the S-Type instead of something more like the 929 is bewildering, specially if you look back at what Jaguar designers were looking at.

    7. If the 929/Sentia/MS-9 is a better, alternative reality S-Type, then surely the Xedos 6 is the equivalent for the X-Type.

    8. Exactly. Though the assembly quality of the Xedos is much higher- specially the paint finish using a patented process that everyone else adopted.

    9. As a serial Mazda owner I loved that HD 929 when it came out, but wasn’t in a position to buy one at the time, and with two young children it may not have been appropriate anyway, being rather more luxurious than we needed. Its successor made me like the HD even more.
      I saw a really nice Xedos 6/Eunos 500 when I’d gone used car shopping for my son, but again couldn’t justify the purchase (we did find the Lancer he wanted though). Mazda certainly built some lovely cars then; perhaps the most consistently stylish of the Japanese brands. Between the regular Mazda 323, the Astina in hardtop sedan and hatch and the Eunos all on the Australian market, the choices were rather confusing.

    10. All from the time of the Japanese bubble economy, when the value of Tokyo real estate, aggregated exceeded the value of all California real estate, aggregated, and all things seemed possible. Toyota had Lexus, Mazda was to have, Amati, Efini, Eunos, and Xedos. The range topper was to be a range topping 4 litre V12 under the Amati brand. Alas it all came to nought, (well nearly).
      Talk about another Buick.

  11. How adorable that dappled sunlight and time can unlock such enigmatic beauty. The Park Avenue could fit easily into my world of saloon heaven, given the opportunity. The headline picture shows something careworn yet still alive; Richard’s snaps really emulate an emotion that rarely appears in today’s overwrought and often offensive nonsense. Your Savanna trip was indeed successful in this respect and thank you for sharing your experience.

    Regarding the “first ever” Envista, although not being a crossover fan, i can see the potential. I see that Bird Dropping White is no longer an option whereas Summit White is as bland as can be. However, daub the thing in Ocean Blue Metallic or Cinnabar Red and the attraction levels grow. There’s a similarity to Billancort’s Arkana – no bad thing – and if it keeps the Tri-Shield alive in their original homeland, then so be it.

    Goodness, this tea, with the spoon standing in it, is strong.

    1. Thanks for the nice comment. There is one more Savannah postcard on the way. I have to root out the photos. About the first ever Envista, I am unable to fully share your enthusiasm. Buick has ended up a little like Lancia in its most recent “final” phase, when it was a range made up utterly unLancia models with a badge slapped on it. You could quite easily take the Tri-Shield off and nobody would be alarmed. Like Lancia, Buick could have better been trimmed down to a few core models. This range of 4 CUVs is ludicrous. You could even sell them unbranded with just a model name: GM CUV1, GM CUV2 etc. What Buick needs to survive is an intelligent marketing stategy and some cars that are Buicks and stand for Buickness. If that means a single model selling steadily for nine years, fine. Whatever happened to specialist manufacturers? Jaguar got by for decades with three models, ditto Mercedes and BMW. Porsche is still a specialist (though less to than before – can we expect a VW Golf-esque Porsche some day soon?)

    2. I guess manufacturers have traditionally had 2 options: diversify and expand their ranges to fill a wide range of market niches, or be a small manufacturer and be bought by a larger manufacturer (SAAB, Jaguar, etc).

      In addition, apart from companies such as Morgan and other specialist makers, the opportunities to differentiate at a sensible price point are less than they once were due to market expectations and the nature of the product – just look at how sophisticated even bottom of the range Dacias are. The days of Fords being one thing, Audis another and Jaguars yet another have gone – all cars are made to a pretty similar standard.

      That said, it appears that the larger manufacturers are in the process of pruning their ranges, as EVs are introduced. Personally, I find some of the current ranges bewildering and there seems to be quite a bit of duplication, too, so that’s a positive step.

      On a less positive note, some of those slimmed-down ranges will consist mostly of electric SUVs – for a while, at least.

      On the Porsche question, I guess that a Macan’s pretty much Porsche’s Golf (price differences aside).

  12. “can we expect a VW Golf-esque Porsche some day soon?”

    God, I hope not!

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