1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra: Unapologetic American Luxury
Remember American luxury? It used to be a thing, before people decided they no longer wanted elegant conveyances and decided to start buying SUVs and crossovers en masse.
And what a time it was. So many stately sedans: Lincoln Town Cars, Cadillac Sedan de Villes, Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency Elites. And the 1991–96 Buick Park Avenue.
As showroom literature proclaimed, “Park Avenue and Park Avenue Ultra enjoy a balance of automotive virtues that is shared by few, if any, of their competitors.
“Park Avenue’s standard 205-horsepower, 3800 V-6 performs with a singular blend of efficiency, smoothness, and strength, while Ultra’s Supercharged V-6—revised for even greater power for 1996—helps make it a performance benchmark in its class.”
Oh, yes, I neglected to mention the Ultra yet. It was unique in that it offered the combination of a full-size American luxury sedan with a supercharged version of GM’s venerable—and bulletproof—3.8-liter V-6. Said supercharger bumped horsepower to 240, along with 280 lb-ft of torque, in 1996.
Budding Park Avenue collectors (are there any out there?) take note: This is the only year you could get the 3800 Series II Supercharged V-6 in the elegant 1991–96 body.
Another interesting tidbit that my friend Jeremy Shiffer shared around the time I spotted this car: “It has the seldom-seen base 15-inch Ultra wheels. Neat fact: If you ordered an Ultra with the Luxury or Prestige package, and then you ordered the Gran Touring package to get the more common 16-inch wheels, you got a rebate of $294!” I personally love the color-keyed stock alloys, however!
Although the Ninety-Eight Touring Sedan also offered the supercharged 3800, but only briefly in 1992–93. I actually saw one of these, in silver with burgundy leather, running around town in 2011–13, though it has since disappeared.
But my friend and frequent column photo contributor Jayson Coombes saw this supercharged ’93 last year at the Olds Nationals. Let us all take a moment and bask in its glorious lines.
And yes, you could also get the supercharged 3800 on the Eighty Eight LSS and Bonneville SSEi, but I consider those slightly below the Ninety-Eight and Park Avenue, at least as far as the traditional GM hierarchy is concerned—though those were excellent cars as well! I remember a white SSEi in bright white with saddle tan leather sitting in the showroom of Key Buick-Dodge-Pontiac when my parents went down to pick up their brand new ’92 Grand Caravan ES—with all-wheel drive!
I see I’m digressing again; now where was I? These Park Avenues were very well regarded when they debuted and were pretty slinky looking for a Buick. They were also extremely popular in my Midwestern city. One of the higher ups at Illinois Casualty ordered a silver one with dove gray cloth interior; later on, her husband got a navy blue one with wire wheel covers.
And they were frequently seen pretty much everywhere until maybe the mid 2000s, when age and wear and tear and their third, fourth and fifth owners started coming into play.
I still see them now and then, though more frequently in banged-up, worn condition than showroom new. And almost always, they’re the regular Park Avenue, not the flossier Ultra.
In fact, even when they were new, I didn’t see Ultras very often. Maybe because they couldn’t be had with the Broughamier velour or cloth trim and optional wire caps? Such items were still popular with a large portion of Buick buyers, though even then, things were changing. At any rate, Park Avenues were very well equipped, as you’d expect. Standard features included ABS, automatic transmission, aluminum wheels, keyless entry, dual zone climate control, cruise control, tilt wheel, and an AM/FM stereo with cassette player—a CD player was optional.
These front-wheel-drive sedans were tough, comfortable, and durable. And at 205.9 inches long and with a 119.8-inch wheelbase, they had plenty of room, even if they weren’t quite as large and traditional as the B-body Roadmaster sedans and Estate Wagons they shared showrooms with. Our featured example is finished in Light Driftwood, which was VERY popular with Buick customers. Even now, probably 60 percent of surviving Centurys, Park Avenues, and LeSabres here in the Quad Cities are sporting this color.
And while the final 1997–2005 Park Avenues were also fine cars—my friend John Gianulus had a white one with beige leather—they weren’t quite as pretty in my opinion.
Which brings us to the present. A mere week ago our company had a family night at the local baseball stadium. I had about an hour to kill before heading over there and happened to pass our featured example sitting at Lindle Auto Sales, a long-lived and very old-school car lot in downtown Davenport, Iowa.
As I passed it, I realized that in was in remarkably nice condition, and that it was an Ultra to boot! I immediately pulled over, parked, and ran back to it.
It really was in wonderful shape. And it was so attractively cheap! Ooh! If I didn’t already have my Town Car as a summer/Sunday cruiser, odds are I would have written a check for it on the spot!
But just seeing one so nice made my day. If GM ever brings back a new Park Avenue sedan, I may be persuaded to ditch my MKZ. I truly miss cars like this.