For a good part of the 20th century, and into this century, you could buy a new Buick Century. You can't any more, but today's Nice Price or Crack Pipe Century is from the last century, and as it's a rare convertible edition, you might ask yourself, does its price make sense for me?
When the choice was posed as either spending $9,500 on an over-tired ‘92 Land Cruiser, or becoming a manwich for the recently deceased, 61% of you said ‘tuck in,' resulting in the slim likelihood that truck would ever rise from its grave. Today, however, we are disinterring a Buick from the past that looks a hell of a lot better than any cannibalistic coprolite, but which may prove to be just as slow.
Buick is currently a very popular make in China's burgeoning automotive market. That sparks the question; what do 1.3 billion Asians know that we don't? Well, probably they know that modern Buicks – reflecting more Opel influence than Old Milwaukee - are a far cry from Buicks of the last century. Today's 1985 Buick Century convertible however, is from that past century, meaning it might not be taking a slow boat to China any time this century.
In 1982, the driven wheels of GM's A-bodies made the transition from back to front, which in gay parlance, I have been led to believe, makes for a significant change in feel. I know that switch changes the feel in cars, although the Century's traditional customers likely cared less about over- verses under-steer than about whether their hair was sufficiently blue. Like hay bales, Waffle Houses, and abandoned factories, the Century, along with its Chevy Celebrity, Pontiac 6000, and Olds Gutless sisters, became innocuous background players in Middle America's kabuki, and they, in most guises, took on the mantle of milquetoast motoring at its finest.
But not this one.
This 1985 Century is a rare bird, being one of only 124 to have been converted into a ragtop by the noted coachbuilder, Hess and Eisenhardt, and sold through Buick dealers with full factory warranties. That Ohio firm has a storied history, going back to the founders buying an interest in their original employer - Sayers and Scovill Co. - in 1938. Sayers and Scovill built the nation's first gasoline engine ambulance, and – befitting the stereotypical image of ‘80s Buicks – they also built custom hearses. Hess and Eisenhardt eventually bought out S&S, carving a niche for themselves making limos and armored cars. The company had lots of experience with reinforcing convertibles, having created the infamous X-100 presidential limo that carried JFK on his fateful 1963 visit to Dallas.
Checking out the rockers, you'll noice a fairly substantial underbracing, and both the quality of the top and the movable side glass smack of this being a professional job, making it probably safe to open both doors at the same time. Of course the 110-bhp output of the 3-litre pushrod six isn't going to create the kind of structural strains that would tax the now less than unitarian unit body. Part of that handy built-in safety feature is its attached TH-125 3-speed - the transmission equivalent of public housing.
So its ring time could be gauged with a calendar, so what? That just gives you more opportunity to drop the top and take in the sights. The top, by the way, drops out of sight, and the seller says the Buick comes with a boot to cover it while down. The paint is still shiny, and appropriately beige, while the leather interior is a complementing brown and equally lacking of blemishes. There's a lot of plastic trees represented in there, and with 98,000 miles on the clock, the one that was fashioned into the inlay steering wheel has developed a gap at its top wide enough to make Madonna's dentist proud. That tiller is also skinnier than a supermodel's tapeworm and sits above an air vent that's handily aimed at your bait & tackle. Outside, factory alloy wheels and rectangular sealed beam headlights harken back to Centuries past, and make you wonder just how much longer lights like this will be available at your local Walmart.
Contrastingly, under the hood you'll find lots of stuff that's easily sourced at the megamart, although the engine is immediately identifiable as residing East of the Rockies as there's a copious amount of surface rust pretty much everywhere. It looks to be mostly surface, so it shouldn't be a problem, although giving it a quick glance, you could be excused for mistaking the front valve cover for a Mars rock wedged in between the radiator hose and the aircleaner. That being said, your typical Century driver probably never opens the hood of their car, nothing to see here, move along, move along, ooh has bingo started already?
Why were only 124 of these built? Well, possibly because at some point somebody noticed that, with the top up, the car looks like a giant Renault Alliance- not a good car to visually emulate. Or, it may have been that, by '85 –'86, when these were built, H&E was on its last legs, farming out its business to subcontractors, and eventually following its two founders into the grave. Whatever the reason, there were few to start with, and likely even fewer left in this century, especially in this nice of condition.
For this nice of condition, the seller of this singularly interesting Century is asking $4,750. For that you'd be getting a little sliver of American automotive history, as well as preferred parking at any Applebee's, nationwide. But what do you think, is that good deal to visit a past Century? Or, does that price make this a Century that not just time will forget?
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