The 1955 Buick Century was one of Harley Earl's personal favorite designs. Buick's ad campaign pointed out that the car was 'At the Forefront of Fashion - Thrill of the year,' and was it ever. With a sweeping side body line, strong face, and jet-age tail, it had embodied everything that made the Mid-50's GMs the pinnacle of American car design.
Like muscle cars of the mid- to late- 1960s, the 1955 Buick Century was built on the smallest Buick platform available for the year, but powered by the division's largest engine. This combination of light weight and high horsepower was appreciated by law enforcement agencies, many of whom used them for patrolling freeways and turnpikes where they were well suited for high speed pursuits. Of the 737,330 Buicks manufactured in 1955, a mere 268 were Century two-door sedans.
The name Buick Century was the model name utilized by the Buick division of GM for their line of full-size performance cars from 1936 until 1942, from 1954 until 158 and from 1973 until 2005 for a mid-size vehicle. For the 1936 model year Buick renamed its entire model lineup in celebration of the engineering modifications and design advancements over their 1935 models.
For this lineup, the Buick's Series 40 model range morphed into the Special, the Series 80 became the Roadmaster and the Series 90 which was Buick's largest and most lux became the Limited. The Buick Century took over the place of the Series 60.
From 1936 until 1942 the Buick Century was created by joining sorter wheelbase Buick Special bodies to Buick's strongest eight-cylinder engine. The Special was driven by Buick's 233in³ that was rated at 93hp at 3,200 rpm, while Buick Centuries that were produced from 1936 until 1942 were powered by Buick's inline 320.2in³ at 120 hp. Both of these capacities made them the fastest Buicks of the era and both were capable of producing speeds of 95 mph plus. They earned the Century nickname 'the banker's hot rod.' At the end of the 1942 model year the Century was discontinued and the total model production only ended up counting for 10% of Buick's entire output.
1954 rolled in, and with it the Century name once again being introduced, using the same formula of joining the smaller, lighter Buick Special body to the largest and most fierce 322 cubic inch V8 engine. This gave Buick a powerful performance vehicle. Also included in this period's lineup was a station wagon model, which was a body style that had been otherwise unavailable during the Century's original production run in 1936.
One year later the California Highway Patrol placed a huge fleet order for Century 2-door sedans. This body style was not available to the general public and was a special order only. The Century 2-door sedan combined the Special 2-door sedan body shell with Century power-train and trim. In the popular TV series 'Highway Patrol', Broderick Crawford was shown driving a 2-door Century sedan during the first season.
The Century continued to remain in Buick's performance lineup with the engine power rising from 200 in 1954 to 236 in 1955, jumping to 255 in 1956 and in 1957 and 1958 it topped out at 300 from a bored-out 364 cubic inch engine. These were the final model years for the full-sized Century line.
From 1957 until 1958 the Century received GM's only hardtop station wagon, the Century Caballero, and this was because the Century was considered the senior 'small Buick'. Unfortunately the Caballero was not very popular to consumer, and the tolling was too expensive, and this caused GM to drop the hardtop station wagon body style. It resumed it 1959 divisional-wide new design program. The Century was renamed the Invicta for 1959.
The Century nameplate couldn't stay down, and in 1973 it once again appeared on the rear-wheel drive intermediate A-body, the same body that was shared with Pontiac GTO, LeMans, Grand Prix, Can-Am, Grand Am and Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. In 1973 all of GM's intermediate models underwent a redesign and the Century name replaced Skylark on Buick's mid-size sedans, wagons, and some coupes.
From this point forward, the Century was Buick's bread and butter of their smaller line, alongside the new up-market Regal coupe. This version was available with two and four barrel versions of the Buick 350 that put out 150 and 175 hp respectively. An option on this version was 250hp 455.
Since the Skylark coupe disappeared following 1972, the Century received the elite Gran Sport Performance option. Due to emission controls the Stage 455in³ (7.5L) V8 was slightly diminished, the Century GS coupes of 1973 until 1975 continued to be strong performers by the standards of the time. To meet fuel economy regulations, several later models of this particular generation became equipped with 231in³ (3.8L) V6s.
For both 1973 and 174 the Century now offered the Luxus high-end trim level, but in 1975 the ‘high end' line was renamed the Century Custom. Also new this year was the all new 110 hp 231 V6 installed as standard equipment. The optional big-block 455 was now exclusive to the station wagon. The 455 was killed and the Oldsmobile 403 was available on 1977 Century wagons. For the 1976 model year, GM intermediates received a whole new facelift which gave the Century a taller and more flat grille along with quad rectangular headlamps.
The 'Century Special' was a Buick Special coupe was debuted from 1975 until 1977 and was marketed as part of the Century model lineup as an entry level car. The coupe was based on the 2-door fastback body style but the Century Special featured a special landau roof that covered most of the quarter glass. This gave it the appearance of the higher-lever formal roof vehicles. Both 1976 and 1977 models also featured a unique body-color header panel.
In 1978 a new design appeared on the scene, a downsized, redesigned Century in the form of a fastback coupe, or ‘aeroback' and also a sedan, along with a more traditionally styled station wagon. This new car was narrower, over a foot shorter and a few hundred pounds lighter than the car before it. Due to fuel economy regulations the V6 engines were still standard. Buick's new 196 was the base engine which was introduced specially for the Regal and the Century. Optional were the 231 and the Chevy 305. For 1979 the Pontiac 265 and 301 replaced the Chevy engine.
The Century Turbo Coupe was one of the more rare models from 1979 until 1980 and it was powered by a turbocharged variation of the 3.8L V6 which offered performance like V8 but more reasonable fuel consumption. Unfortunately the Turbo Coupe wasn't nearly as popular as the similar Regal Turbo Sport Coupe of the same era, the total production was estimated to be less than 2,500.
Unfortunately the fastback sedan also didn't fare well, sales-wise, and it was updated to be more like a conventional notchback in 1980 and the 'Limited' coupe was dropped. The following year the fastback coupe was deleted. In 1982 the new front wheel drive Century was debuted and the existing notchback sedan and wagon models were transferred to the Buick Regal line.
An all new downsized Century was debuted in 1981, this time on the front wheel drive A platform, in both coupe and sedan form. For 1984 a station wagon was added to the lineup and replaced the old Regal wagon. The Buick Century was debuted in an Olympic version in 1984 which commemorated the 1984 games in LA.
Two years later, all variations were updated with a new, much more angular front fascia. With 189 inches overall length, the wheelbase was 104.9 inches. This generation offered both four-cylinder and diesel V6 engines though neither were very popular models. In the mid 1980's performance versions of several Buick models, including the Century coupe were available under the T-Type name. The performance was modest for the Century T-Type with Buick's 181in³ (3.0L) V6 that produced 110 hp. The 3.8 SFI engine produced 140-150 hp which offered sprightly performance in this relatively lightweight vehicle.
Sold new at Buick dealerships, 124 Buick Century Coupes were transformed into convertibles by Hess & Eisenhardt / Car Craft in Lima, Ohio from 1985 until 1986. These were not factory authorized convertibles, not considered a coach convertible.
For 1989 the Century received a pretty modest updo that included a more-rounded roofline though it continued on the A-body platform. The rear quarter windows were replaced with black plastic inserts with the Buick tri-shield emblem. The stand-up hood ornament was now standard while the front end received flush headlamps with a rounded grille.
The sedan models were easily recognized by the public due to their flamboyant full-width taillights. This was considered to be a very flashy feature on a smaller sedan, but it was one that carried on a Buick tradition of large taillights. In 1991 the exterior was mildly updated. In 1993 the 2.5L I4 was replaced with an all new 115hp 2.2L. The following year the coupe model was dropped and all models received a standard driver's side airbag. Also new this year, the 160hp 3.3L Buick V6 was replaced with a 3.1L V6 with the same power rating while power on the 2.2L I4 was up to 120hp with the introduction of MFI. The vehicle continued to carry on with the original 1981 style dash while a round speedometer replaced the wide rectangular one.
Three years later, the Century was redesigned for the final time. The four-door sedan was the only body style available, and it continued to be a front-wheel drive V6-powered configuration. The Century moved to the W-body platform. Both the Regal and the Century were virtually the same vehicle, and were distinguished only by the trim and engine differences. The Buick Century was priced lower than the Regal though, but it was also the lower powered and the ‘plainer' of the two vehicles, and offered only a 3.1L V6 engine. The Century's reputation for quality remained the same though.
Once the Skylark was discontinued following 1998, the Century became Buick's entry-level vehicle for the first time and Buick attempted to position the Century as a lower-priced alternative to Honda's and Toyota's.
In 2005 the all new Buick LaCrosse replaced both the Buick Century and the Regal. For 2005 to mark the end of era, and a name with a rich history, a limited run of Centuries with special trim were produced. On October 25th, 2004, the final Buick Century rolled off the assembly line.By Jessica Donaldson