When Better Buicks are Built, Opel Will Engineer Them (2024)

When the 1963 Buick Riviera appeared, I went nuts.

By David E. Davis Jr.
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From the December 2010 Issue of Car and Driver

My wife’s nephew Harvey Briggs has been very publicly shopping for a new car via his own blog and, by extension, the “Laughing Man” e-mail alerts. Harvey is both a car and motorcycle enthusiast, and one of the best automotive-advertising guys in the country. He’s been listing cars he’s considering, as well as those he refuses to consider. Buick comes up loud and clear as an “Absolutely Will Not Consider,” because, he says, he doesn’t wear hats and he never drives for miles with the turn signal on. Had he spent the last week with me, putting almost 700 miles on a new Opel-based Buick Regal, he might be forced to eat one of those hats he never wears. This new Regal is a Buick that harks back to a time when Buicks had dash and style and were available in performance versions that took a back seat to nobody.

An acquaintance who was both a neighbor and a high-school classmate in the late ’40s drove a series of spectacularly cool cars, and he would occasionally drive me to school when Michigan froze solid in January. First there was a jewel-box–perfect 1932 Chevy two-door: black and pearl gray two-tone with red wire wheels, twin fender-mounted spare tires, and chrome doors on the sides of the hood, just like the ’32 ­Cadillacs. Then there was a lovely 1938 Buick Century Sport Coupe—the smaller, lighter Buick Special platform with the biggest and best Buick straight-eight engine. It was metallic green with fender skirts. It was immaculate, and overwhelmingly desirable, and it ran through the nighttime Midwest countryside like an express train.

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One summer day, he cruised past me in a 1938 Buick Century Convertible Phaeton: black with a white canvas top, red-leather upholstery, and the then-new ’48 Cadillac deep-dish, full-coverage wheel covers. It became the going-to-the-beach car for a half-dozen pals during my senior summer.

It was about 20 years later that I encountered him at a concours d’élégance and learned that he’d stolen all of those cars and accessories—and wound up doing some serious time inside for the theft of a black Jaguar XK120 fixed-head coupe.

Well,” as my mother might have said, “I never!”

When Better Buicks are Built, Opel Will Engineer Them (3)

Buicks were hot stuff. The 1941 Century fastback two-door (sedanette) remains a particular favorite. When the 1963 Buick Riviera appeared, I went nuts. Some time later, after my pal Joe Parkhurst made a bunch of money publishing karting and motorcycle magazines, he bought one of those lovely Rivieras and had a complete restoration done on it. I hope he still had it when he died.

The Buick Gran Sport was, in many ways, the nicest of the muscle cars—a damned good muscle car with Buick manners and Buick self-assurance. It shared a special corner of that market with another performance paragon, the Olds 442.

When the Buick Grand National came out in 1986, we at Automobile Magazine put P.J. O’Rourke into the driver’s seat and turned him loose. He broke the laws of several states, counties, and local municipalities and very nearly took out 30 or 40 yards of fence (with posts) when it turned out that the road would not be wide enough for him to complete the maneuver he had in mind. Mind you, all this in a car supposedly designed for geriatrics.

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The new Buick Regal is comfortable and quite handsome. The 2.4-liter, twin-cam Ecotec four-cylinder engine is mated to a very likable six-speed automatic transmission with the currently fashionable manumatic shift option, which this driver sternly ignored. Really, if they’ve gone to all that trouble to engineer a world-class automatic transmission, why screw it up by doing your own shifting? If you want a manual gearbox, order your Regal with a manual gearbox, which will soon be available on the turbo model. Many readers, like my wife’s nephew, will snicker at the notion of Buick ownership, but this is a Buick that makes serious drivers grin like the Cheshire cat.

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As our own Mr. Mark Gillies pointed out on C/D’s website, the Regal was slated to be a Saturn until Saturn died from the same blight that killed all the elm trees. This was good news indeed for Buick, which was doing fine in China but steadily becoming more and more beside the point here in God’s Own U.S. of A. The Regal has a better future as a Buick than it could ever have ­realized as a Saturn (GM’s redheaded stepchild). These German-engineered Buicks may well be just what the doctor ordered for General Motors as it snorts and wheezes and limps back into the limelight. Gillies pointed out that the Regal is quite comfortable as a head-to-head competitor for a variety of Audis and Acuras. And with a sticker price of $31,225 with options, I would add that it’s an absolute standout in a field of contemporary American sedans.

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When Better Buicks are Built, Opel Will Engineer Them (2024)
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