GM’s midsizers once had a wide array of models. Today, all that’s left is the lone Malibu (for now), surrounded by myriad potato-shaped combovers. Sad. But the once-common GM W-body, first appearing in 1988, lasted all the way through 2012 as a retail option, and a couple years beyond as a fleet vehicle. A lot of the usual, good ol’ GM-hatin’ suspects, love to mock, maim and otherwise expel carbon dioxide on these cars. Or at least they did back when they were common; I rarely see them anymore, other than the odd mint-condition survivor or ragged yet still running example. This particular one I spied about a dozen years ago at a local used car lot.
The W-body Regal had a somewhat uncommon gestation period. A lot of this had to do with Buick playing musical chairs with their car lines in the ’80s. In 1982 the rear wheel drive Century sedan and wagon were folded into the Regal line, the Regal having been a coupe-only model since 1978 (In its introductory year it was only a coupe, but from 1974-77 there was a Regal sedan). This was short-lived, however.
The wagon disappeared after 1983 (replaced with the new FWD A-body Century wagon) and the sedan was last offered in 1984. This may have been due to the success of the A-body Century sedans, and Buick was just trying to eliminate overlapping models. Also, the upcoming FWD C-body ’85 Electra and H-body ’86 LeSabre would have been very close in size, if not in packaging, to the A/G-body Regal lineup.
The ’81 Regal coupe avoided all the confusion the sedans and station wagons had, and remained pretty much the same through the 1987 model year. In 1988, it was replaced with a new FWD Regal on the W-body platform, shared with the Chevy Lumina, Pontiac Grand Prix, and Olds Cutlass Supreme. Just like the 1985-87 Regal, it came only as a coupe.
The coupe-only strategy didn’t last long. The coupe market was beginning to shrink, and more and more folks were getting interested in mid-sized sedans. So for 1990, the Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick W-body coupes got four door companions. The Luminas did not debut with their corporate siblings in ’88, so they had two and four door models from their introduction as 1990 models – plus the distinctive Lumina APV “dust buster” minivan.
The W-body Oldsmobile sedans looked somewhat like a giant Saturn thanks to their roofline, although the Cutlass Supreme coupes were sharp. The Pontiacs, despite their heavy cladding, were also attractive, but my personal favorite is the Buick version. Actually, my most favorite is the Regal coupe (give me a ’92-’93 Limited with leather interior; dark green, navy blue or burgundy, please!) , but we’re talking about the sedans today, aren’t we?
I do believe the Regal sedan was the best looking four door W. The roofline was subtle, but elegant – just right for a Buick. I also think those turbine-spoke Buick alloys were one of the nicest looking 1990s GM wheels. They remind me of the Sabre wheels on 1950s Cadillacs–likely intentional. The engine lineup started with a 3.1 liter V6 with 140 hp. This engine, along with Buick’s supple DynaRide suspension, came standard in Customs and Limiteds, while Gran Sports came with the 170-hp 3800 V6 and Gran Touring suspension, for a less-than-traditional Buick experience.
Interiors were appropriate for a Buick, with lots of woodgrain trim and chrome accents. The analog gauges shown here were standard on the Regal Limited and Gran Sport, while entry-level Customs got a digital dash. Remember this interior, for drastic changes were coming, and not for the better.
Regal sedans got a new grille for 1993, among other minor changes. As before, sedans rode a 107.5″ wheelbase – same as Regal coupes – but were one inch longer, at 194.6 inches. The same model lineup of Custom, Limited and GS continued.
With the optional turbine alloys, Limiteds like this one looked an awful lot like a Gran Sport, but GS sedans sported two tone paintwork and slightly more aggressive ground effects. The nice chrome moldings really said Buick, and helped it look like its big brother, the Park Avenue. But they would disappear after 1994, along with many other trim bits. A big de-contenting was in the works for 1995.
Which brings us to the featured ’96 Regal Limited. Now, it doesn’t look drastically different from a 93-94. New grille, restyled bumpers and side trim, “retro” cursive Regal scripts on the front doors, and new taillights. But that’s just the outside.
While there is no major difference between 1995 and 1996 Regals, I am fairly certain that this one is a 1996 because it is an Olympic Edition. Buick was a sponsor of the ’96 Olympics, and special edition models like this one were offered. It included gold accents on the wheels and side trim and special Olympic badges on the front fenders and trunklid. I am not sure if this was a factory option or dealer installed.
Remember that instrument panel I mentioned? The elegant, squared off version that the ’88-’94 Regals sported may have been a little old fashioned, but it did look like it belonged in a Buick. It said luxury car. Now what do we have?
A plastic fantastic dash! No fake wood, no chrome air conditioning vents, nothing! Just acres of plastic and the same basic radio as Chevys and Pontiacs. This does not look like a Buick interior, it looks like a 1995 Chevy Biscayne, if such a thing had existed. The Brougham content in my blood is getting low just looking at it!
There was no relief from the monotone plastic, even on the door panels and console. Is that a Cavalier center console in the ’95 interior shown on the right? At least you could still get the nice leather seats. The Regal coupes had color-keyed door pulls in a woodgrained surround (shown above left), while sedans had woodgrained door pulls set in a woodgrained garnish panel – perfect for a Buick. At least, they had them until 1995.
Where are those woodgrained door pulls? I want my woodgrained door pulls, dammit! This particular car does have one saving grace – two, actually. First, it is tan, and not black or gray. Second, it does have the optional leather seating. But I’d take a ’92 over a ’96, thank you very much. They went from Bergner’s to Dollar Tree in one fell swoop.
Our featured car was spotted at a used car lot in Silvis, Illinois, back in 2011-12. What impressed me was how nice it was. No scratches, door dings, wheel rash, or anything else. The leather was perfect too – even the driver’s seat. From all of this, we can deduce that this car belonged to a little old lady or a little old man until very recently. It could have just rolled off the transporter truck; it was that nice.
As for the Regal itself, it morphed into a bar of soap for the 1998 model year. It was essentially a new-for-1997 Century with a different grille and trim. There was a new supercharged version (does anybody else remember the “Supercharged Family” Regal commercials of the late ’90s?), but it never really took off, and most Regals sold were the more bread-and-butter LS model, which itself was barely discenable from the Century. It lasted through 2004 with only slight changes.
The Regal did return in 2008, at which point it was basically an Opel with a Buick appearance package. They were nice looking, though. The nameplate lasted all the way to 2020, by which point it was essentially a five door hatchback and not a sedan, though it retained sedan-like proportions.
And then we come to the present day, where Buick no longer makes actual cars, because they’re morons. Oh, oops! Never mind, I usually just think that in silent frustration. Anyway, once upon a time, Buick made cars: sedans, hardtops, coupes, convertibles. And now they don’t.