Three blocks long and two lanes wide
Daddy had a Buick and Momma loved to ride
—Robert Earl Keen
“Imagine the trips to get ice cream! Cruising among the vineyards when it’s harvest time! Or heading out, you know, just because!” I blurted this stream of exclamations while telling my wife that my aunt had called to ask if I wanted her 1973 Buick Centurion. This was no sales effort on my part—my aunt offered me the car as a gift— the child-brain that comes out when I’m excited evidently decided that activities were the best way to describe the behemoth of a convertible that would soon drop anchor in our barn.
Taking ownership of my aunt’s big Buick puts me in a large and growing category of collector car owners—those who have received or inherited cars from family members. We at Insider expect this group to grow in the coming years as Baby Boomers, who own more collector cars than other generations, look to pass along their rides to younger loved ones. We’ve even published a primer on it. Although there’s probably no better gift than an old car, there’s often a lot more to getting one on the road than fresh gas, a tune-up, and some new tires. I’ll be working through those issues and sharing them here in the weeks and months ahead.
My friends probably wouldn’t pick out a full-size Buick as their first choice for me. I tend to gravitate toward vehicles with more sporting intent, and the cars in my small accumulation reflect that. My enthusiasm for adding this yacht to our fleet doesn’t owe to its rarity—Buick made 10,296 Centurion convertibles from 1971-1973, and 110,539 Centurions in total. The Hagerty Price Guide pegs a driver-condition 455 convertible like mine around $10,500—an immensely generous gift, but far from why a car guy like me would be excited to have it. Rather, the Buick fits a totally different need from my other cars. “The perfect summer cruiser,” Hagerty Media site director Jack Baruth succinctly put it when I shared the news with him. Indeed, I’d be hard pressed to think of a better wafting, relaxed, take-it-all-in country road experience.
Pushing nearly 2.5 tons and extending a tape-measure-stretching 18.5 feet long, this mid-70s parade float is heavier than and about as long as the biggest Chevy Colorado you can buy. It’s powered by a 455-cubic inch V-8 breathing through a four barrel carburetor and single exhaust, and while this Buick’s no high-compression Stage II monster from a few years prior, it doesn’t need to be.
My aunt bought the Centurion new at Stone Bowers Buick in Bedford, Ohio in 1973, and used it as a second car till the early ’90s. Incidentally, for part of that same period, she also had a Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet. While not officially the largest and smallest convertibles made, the Centurion/Cabriolet pairing certainly made for excellent fair weather touring options. After she moved abroad, the Centurion sat in non-climate-controlled storage for the better part of 30 years, emerging this past April.
Pock-marked paint and surface rust in the engine compartment evidence decades of humidity, but my plans are for back roads—not concours lawns. The interior and top, though, are in excellent shape, so we’ll ride in comfort and hopefully stay dry if we get caught in a sudden summer shower. Other projects have kept me from a more detailed examination, but in the coming weeks I’ll dive in to more thoroughly understand what’s before me. Even though I’ve spent some time under older metal, my sweet spot covers more modern, OBD-II cars, so I welcome any pointers if you’ve worked on these.
Whether it was model cars at Christmas when I was a kid or a little gas money before heading off for each year of college, my aunt has always helped facilitate my love of cars. This gift didn’t come with any strings—she knows I’ll give the Buick the love it deserves, and she’s clear-eyed that surprise gifts also bring surprise obligations, so I’m not bound to keep it in the family forever.
Here’s the first project on the list: my aunt is still looking for the title. That was initially a significant concern, but through some follow-up with the BMV as well as talking internally with some colleagues who work on challenges like this, I think we have a plan of attack. Title issues can be a pretty common occurrence with collector cars given barn finds, estates, and, you know, relatives calling to make your day. Keep your eyes peeled for updates and stories, starting with a how-to on navigating state paperwork based on this Buick’s trials and tribulations.
I have the twin to this car! Just got mine in March. Congrats! It’s a wonderful summer cruiser I know you’ll enjoy.
Good Luck that should be a fun ride! And you won’t believe the smooth ride! If you can’t find the title your Aunt could probably file with the DMV for a lost title, though if you find it, make copies of it. Be cool to add that to the cars paper teail!!
Gotta love those road beasts….a fraternity buddy had a ’73 Centurion 4 door when we were in college in the mid-80’s…..good vehicle for the supply run for the kegger party! Lot’s of trunk space and pillar-less hardtop! I love a GM B-Body car and have restored a ’70 Delta Royale coupe with factory buckets and tons of options, just like the one I had in the mid-80’s as a Winter beater to run to college in. I’d post a picture, but don’t see that capability in this comment area.
Nice score. FYI, there was no such thing as “Buick Stage III.” Stage 1 was the high performance variant of the Buick 455. Stage 2 parts were available over the counter, but not factory installed.
It is a wonderful car and you are putting it to exactly the perfect use. You will be riding in Buick style and looking forward to seeing more updates.
Thanks all, I appreciate the memories and comments! We are data-oriented here but want to bring a little bit of the collector experience over, too, and a big part of that is hearing your stories.
@Bradley Clark, thank you, fixed—I misremembered the yellow GSX that always used to come to the Diner on Friday nights when I was a kid. As you can tell, I have some Buick knowledge to brush up on!
I took driver’s ed at a Chicago high school in the fall of 1972 . Guess what we drove? Yup! Brand new 1973 Buicks! They were donated for the class from a local Buick dealer located on Western Avenue, Chicago’s auto row at the time, on the south side of Chicago. If memory serves correctly we had 4 LeSabres and 4 “small” cars-Century’s. Our neighbor had just purchased a 1973 Centurion in a goldenrod color with a white interior and a white vinyl top and it was the envy of the neighborhood.
On a side note, it may sound macabre but on one of my “behind the wheel” outings with the instructor we drove past the sight of the then recent crash of United Air Lines Flight 553 which crashed on approach to Midway Airport. The homes it destroyed had not yet been torn down. Hard to believe it was almost 50 years ago.
Years back, early-mid 1980s, we had a red 1971 Centurion convertible with white top and interior. In addition to all of the normal old car club functions, a Christmas Eve tradition upriver from New Orleans is that of the Bonfires on the levee, lighting the way for Papa Noel. My wife and I, as well as our two young children and two Dalmatians all shared the front seat of the big Buick, driving River Road – convertible top down and either A/C (but some years the heater) running full blast, and local parodies of Christmas tunes wafting from the (aftermarket under-dash tape player. Then onward to a famous chef’s place for dessert and hot chocolate before returning home in the huge convertible which was later replaced by a trio of 1970, 1954, and 1941 Cadillac convertibles which join our collection of classic and antique cars.
Drove a 1973 Electra 225 with the 455 would literally do brake stands with touching brakes so heavy and powerful. Biggest brake pedal I ever seen in a car also. It needed it.
Congratulations! You have inherited a very special and extraordinary car. I Currently own a 1974 Electra LTD 2 door and of course a 1972 Centurion convertible with the W Code (Stage I) 455. Give your car the car that it deserves and you will find out what an incredible keepsake it is and how much fun it is to drive on a perfect summer day