Once Buick engineered their Nailhead V8, they weren’t happy with letting their competitors in-house and beyond have the performance crown. Buicks were once known as Banker’s Hot Rods. Returning for 1954 was the quicksilver Century, ready to snatch trophies from in house cousin the Oldsmobile 88, among others.
Along with accessible performance came a new beefier body, and a desire to capture even more sales. On the backs of the B-Body Special and Century, Buick wanted more than the delinquents in suits, it wanted to rob the whole medium price sales bank. In a number of ways they did.
The mostly new 1954 Buicks gained new bodies to go alongside their newfound brawn. Boxier, stiffer and with wraparound windshields borrowed from the specialty convertibles GM fielded for 1953, they set styling trends that all of Detroit and beyond would soon follow. Buick further highlighted sporting pretensions with full radius rear wheel cut outs that affected a more aggressive arch to their now traditional sweep spear on coupes and convertibles. That whimsical bit of detailing would spread to everything in the line up, including wagons, by 1957. The evolution of Buick styling started with a relatively clean slate for 1954. Chrome was more sparingly applied for 1954, as the “Million Dollar Grin” in use since 1949 saw its curtain call this season.
With the improved Twin-Turbine Dynaflow and 195 horsepower on tap, the Century could really move. 0-60 times comparable with the Oldsmobile Super 88 in the mid 10 second range put the B-Body brethren in heated competition as each sought to break the 10 second barrier in the horsepower races.
Granted, maximum performance for the Dynaflow equipped Century still meant manually shifting the transmission into low for maximum performance, then shifting to “Drive” above 65 or so, putting a heavy amount of wear and tear on the drivetrain. More help to spur the Century past its namesake mark would come along with the Variable Pitch Twin-Turbine Dynaflow the next season. It decidedly sent a bit of a mixed message upon the Century’s reintroduction. Was peerless performance the emphasis, or a stylish sophistication to swing with new performance giants most important?
The mission seemed a bit cloudy as the performance orientated Century lagged behind the Bigger-is-Better Super in sales for 1954. Buick heartily sold more 2 Door Hardtops than any other body style they offered that year. This befit the style leading luxury image that Buick wanted to foster, and it comes as a bit of a surprise to modern eyes that so many customers chose such a stylish way of being.
However, the most popular of the premium prince coupes was the bargain beast Super, with a lower spec 177 horsepower version of the Century’s V8. The Century found itself in 3rd place with just over 45,000 copies finding customers ready to pick stoplight fights in 1954.
Buick would struggle with the purpose of its Banker’s Hot Rods for the next 20 years in Century, Invicta, Wildcat and Centurion forms before throwing in the towel in 1974. Perhaps, in general, the image of Buicks: the epitome of vehicular Speak softly but carry a big stick hindered the appeal of its more forthright performance models. Those with money don’t necessarily want to attract the authorities to their shenanigans, so why go for the fastest and flashiest Buick possible?
The 1954 Century stands as the returning rebellious Black Sheep of the Buick tribe that inspired a many unruly kid from the Flint brand. In a way, the Century returning in ’54 paved the way for the wild GNX 40 years later, and the current Regal Grand Sport of today. You may think of Buicks as being perpetually boring barges your grandmother drove. Don’t be surprised that some of them hold a very special surprise.