Buick Convertibles: A Look Back, and a View Forward.
In the early days of the automobile industry most, if not all, cars were sold without roofs or canopies. The convertible body car evolved from the open cars of this period.
Buick has a long and rich history designing, producing and selling some of the most elegantly-styled and sporty convertibles of all time. Here is a look at some of the most memorable convertibles made by Buick.
1936 Buick Century
The first generation full-size Century convertible arrived in 1936 when Buick renamed its entire model lineup to celebrate the engineering improvements and design advancements over their 1935 models. Buick's Series 40 models became the Special, the Series 80 became the Roadmaster and the Series 90, Buick's largest and most luxurious vehicles, became the Limited. The Century took the place of the Series 60.
The 1936 Buick Century is powered by an inline 8-cylinder engine with 120 bhp. This handsome yellow convertible signified the sporty elegance of the 1930’s that helped establish Buick as a premiere automobile.
The Century was assembled at Buick City in Flint, Michigan and at the South Gate Assembly facility in South Gate, California. Total production was 28,890.
1953 Buick Roadmaster Skylark
The 1953 Buick Skylark convertible was the centerpiece of Buick's 50th Anniversary. The Skylark came with standard equipment beyond anything previously offered by Buick. Based on the premium-series Buick Roadmaster chassis, the Skylark had a look all of its own. The Kelsey-Hayes 40-spoke chrome wheels are acknowledged by collectors as among the most beautiful wheels to ever grace a production car. Powered by Buick's first modern V8 engine, this car's performance matched its racy appearance. Sales in 1953 totaled just 1,640 units, making the Skylark a rare and collectible car.
Importantly, the new Skylark featured Buick's new 322 cubic inch (5.3 L) “Nailhead” V8 in place of the longstanding straight 8, and a 12 volt electrical system, both division firsts. It debuted full-cutout wheel openings, a styling cue that spread to the main 1954 Buick line. It also brought a new styling feature called a "Sweepspear" running almost the entire length of the vehicle, a styling cue that appeared in various forms on many Buick models over the years.
1959 Buick LeSabre
The LeSabre nameplate made its first appearance on the 1951 Le Sabre show car, which introduced the world to aircraft-inspired design elements such as the wrap-around windshield and tail fins. The new styling included slanted headlights in front along with a square chrome grille, rear "Delta-wing" fins and round taillights. The LeSabre was powered by a 364-cubic-inch V8 engine. Optionally available was a four-barrel version of the 364 rated at 300 horsepower. A three-speed manual transmission was standard on LeSabre but most cars were built with the optional two-speed Dynaflow automatic transmission. In 1959, LeSabre became the new name for what had previously been known as the Buick Special. In addition to being Buick's entry level vehicle, the LeSabre was consistently Buick's best-selling full-size car. Of the four nameplates introduced in 1959 (LeSabre, Invicta, Electra, Electra 225), the LeSabre nameplate had the longest production run.
The Buick LeSabre was assembled at Buick City, Flint, Michigan and at Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly, Detroit, Michigan.
The Buick Wildcat was produced from 1962 to 1970. It took its name from a fiberglass-bodied 1953 concept car. In 1962 the Wildcat was a Buick Invicta subseries, combining the Invicta's longer full-size two-door hardtop Buick body. It was powered by a 325 hp “Nailhead V8”, known as the Wildcat 445 for producing 445 lb·ft of torque. From 1963 to 1970 the Wildcat was its own series, no longer an Invicta subseries. The Wildcat was offered in Custom trim for its final year of 1970. It was superseded by the Buick Centurion for 1971.
1973 Centurion Convertible
The Buick Centurion replaced the Buick Wildcat in 1971 and was produced for just three years. The Centurion name was inspired by a Buick concept car.
The 1973 Centurion featured a larger 5 mph front bumper, a new vertical grille and updated taillights. The standard engine was a four-barrel 350 V8 rated at 175 net horsepower. A 250-horsepower 455 hp, four-barrel was optional. Total Centurion production was 110,539 units, including 10,296 convertibles. With only three years of production, the Centurion had one of the shortest model runs in modern Buick history.
The Centurion was Buick's only convertible offering in 1973. This would also be the final year for the Centurion series, which was replaced for 1974 by the new LeSabre Luxus, which included the convertible reinstated to that line for another two model years. GM would not see another Buick convertible until the Buick Riviera in 1982.
The name Riviera, Latin for coastline, was chosen to evoke the allure and affluence of the French Riviera. The Riviera name was used by Buick since the early 1950s for various prestige versions of existing models.
The 1982 model was the first Buick convertible since 1975. It was available in just two exterior colors; white or red fire-mist. Both were available with red leather interiors. The 6th generation Riviera debuted with front wheel drive and was built on a trimmer, 114 inch wheelbase, While most convertible Riviera’s had a V8 engine, a turbocharged Riviera convertible was chosen to be the pace car at the 1983 Indianapolis 500.
The Riviera was assembled at three locations; Doraville Assembly, Doraville, GA; Flint, Michigan and Linden Assembly, Linden, New Jersey.
The Riviera was a tremendous success in the 1980s with sales reaching 65,305 for the 1985 model year.
1990 Reatta Convertible
The Buick Reatta convertible was a popular two-seat touring sports car introduced in 1990. The Reatta was Buick's first two-seater and its first convertible since the 1985 Riviera. It featured a transverse-mounted, front-engine and front-wheel drive. It was marketed as a coupe from 1988 to 1991 and a convertible from 1990-1991. Both featured a 3.8 liter V6 engine and shortened version of the GM E platform, the same one that underpinned the Buick Riviera.
It came with a manually-operated top designed by ASC, available in vinyl or cloth with a glass rear window and electric defroster. When retracted, the top was protected by a rigid tonneau cover.
It was manufactured in a highly specialized assembly program at the Reatta Craft Center (later known as the Lansing Craft Center) in Lansing, Michigan—achieving production of over 21,000 units in four years.
With over 100 years of experience designing open air phaetons and convertibles, the view forward looks very interesting. With the introduction of the Cascada in 2016, Buick was back in the convertible market for the first time since the 1991 Reatta.
The Cascada luxury convertible is pure driving fun. It has a unique and sleek profile. Design elements include chrome accents, 20-inch aluminum wheels, and a stainless steel exhaust with bright tips. The innovative soft-top lets you go from a surprisingly quiet interior to the great outdoors in just 17 seconds.
The open road just got more inviting with the Cascada luxury convertible. Attention to detail and purposeful technologies elevate the open-air experience and let you enjoy the pure fun of driving.
Thoughtful features like luxurious perforated leather-appointed 8-way power-adjustable front seats, electronic front safety belt presenters and dual-zone automatic climate controls add comfort, convenience and even more joy to your joy rides.
Above all, the Cascada is pure Buick. It is a reflection of Buick’s tradition of dramatic styling combined with spirited performance, wrapped together in an open-air, fun to drive convertible.