1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra: Unapologetic American Luxury

Thomas Klockau

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.

1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra taillight
Thomas Klockau

“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.”

1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra badge
Thomas Klockau

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.

1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra dealer sticker
Thomas Klockau

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!

1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra front three quarter high angle
Thomas Klockau

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.

1993 Oldsmobile Touring Sedan front three quarter
Jayson Coombes
1993 Oldsmobile Touring Sedan interior
Jayson Coombes
1993 Oldsmobile Touring Sedan sticker
Jayson Coombes

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.

1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra interior
Thomas Klockau

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!

1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra interior rear seats
Thomas Klockau

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.

1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra wheel
Thomas Klockau

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.

1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra front end side view
Thomas Klockau

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.

1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra badging
Thomas Klockau

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.

1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra rear
Thomas Klockau

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.

1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra front
Thomas Klockau

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.

1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra rear three quarter
Thomas Klockau

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.

1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra interior seats power roof
Oh, yes, it also had a power Astroroof! Thomas Klockau

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.

1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra front three quarter
Thomas Klockau

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!

1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra rear three quarter
Thomas Klockau

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.



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    These things are still a common sight on the roads around the upper midwestern town where I live, most of them in this very metallic beige “sensible shoes” color.

    We junked our very loved 2001 Ultra that we had for 18 years about this time last year. Could you send a link for the dealer for this 96 if you have it? We’re not too far away..

    How can I tell if mine is an ultra it’s 2001 Park Avenue it has the 3800 V6, power everything , leather seats everything works and it’s in clean. Shape but how can I tell if it’s an ultra.

    In 96′ I can remember sitting in the showroom of the local Buick-Dodge-Mazda Dealer, while my Dad’s new Dodge Intrepid was in the service bay getting the transmission replaced. I always liked the looks of these Park Avenues’ clean styling that has really aged well. The coolest thing to me, though, was the headlight switch up on the driver’s side door panel with a very light touch it would illuminate and in an easy spot. Man that switch had a good feel to it.

    I remember my Dad coming to get me and asking me why I was sitting in the Park Avenue when they had a Dodge Viper in the showroom. I said “This seat was way more comfortable for the few hours we’ve been here!” In the end this era of Buick was much more reliable than our Dodge, and I really rather my Dad had bought a Buick.

    I got the last laugh, I bought a Buick LeSabre for a cheap commuter. It’s been a Buick reliable and comfortable while getting 30 mpg. My Dad has a second generation Fusion which has been a good car and I had thought about buying it from him when he wants to upgrade. He said and I quote “Remember when I had my Intreipd? I should have bought a Buick, keep yours.”

    Yes, the non-supercharged 3.8 Liter V-6 seemed a decent fit for the Buick Park Avenues, Buick Le Sabres, and similar Pontiac and Oldsmobile cars. Enough torque and power for average daily travel and highway use.

    The Le Sabre was the Ace here. Buick sold a ton of them and they had most of all that made the Park Ave great but at a lower price.

    My dod bought one and it was his favorite car of over 60 cars he owned over the years. He loved it as it rode and drove great. Got good mpg.

    I talked him into the touring suspension with the artillery wheels. He had that car till he passed away years later.

    We sold the car to hid buddy and he drove it till it was near 30 years old with 200,000 plus miles. Then he passed away. He also loved that car.

    This car was prime for the over 60 crowd.

    My wife and I had a SSEI. It was a good car for us for 5 years. I sold it with 100k miles to someone who came from Florida to buy it. It still runs in West Palm.

    These cars were durable, cheap and easy to repair and hot hood mpg. Just wish it was RWD.

    Forgot to mention I have had 6 roadmasters. The wagon is my daily driver with 133,000 miles. I have original sticker with price of $30,000

    I had a Buick Electra tea type front wheel drive I love the power in it it was a great car great gas mileage and I love front wheel drive that I’ve never driven any rear wheel drive car since I’m stuck with it

    The year I graduated college I worked at the GM Proving Grounds in Milford and remember sitting in a ’92 Park Avenue Ultra, black with red leather interior. I was completely smitten with that car. I then ended up a few years later up in Flint at Buick City and CLCD writing service manuals for the park ave/lesabre/88/98/riviera/aurora and El Dorado/STS Cadillacs. I loved all of them, but the El Dorado was probably my favorite. That Northstar sounded awesome.

    Not quite the same size but the Regal supercharged from the same time was a nice luxurious and sporty front driver. I liked them.

    We had a 92 Buick Park Avenue, normally aspirated 3.8 V6, as a company car in the 1990s. We beat it up for 150K miles and it was rock solid. It was much more durable than the 92 Camry that was also in the fleet.

    As a Pontiac lover, I had an 88′ Bonneville SE and later moved to an SSEi. Some of the best, trouble free cars I’ve had the pleasure of owning. If I ever own another Buick, (I just remembered, there is an 2019 Encore in the garage right now) I would prefer a Road Master Wagon. Regarding the Ultras, and the other GM units which shared this body type, this sticks with me about the 92 & newer versions. The first time I sat in a 92 SSEi, the “A” pillar seemed VERY intrusive. I stayed away from them just because of that one item.

    A while ago I worked as a service manager at a local Hyundai dealership. We took in a Park Ave Ultra on trade that my boss gave me a great deal on. I don’t remember what year it was but it was dark green with light green leather interior. Awesome car! Lots of extras, amazing engine, lots of power when called on and 30 mpg on the highway. Previous owners were typical Buick buyers, older couple who towed it behind their motorhome. Room for 6 and all their stuff ! Sold it when drivers power seat failed and the repair was big money. Probably should have fixed and kept it!

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