Buick Needs To Go Nuts. Here's Why and How.
Between Ford and General Motors, you have the two automotive firms with the most leverage on the direction of future automobile trends in North America. Both have shown that, not only do they want a piece of the world car market (Cruze, Focus), but they are dead serious about making the best cars that we have ever seen (C7 Corvette, Ford GT, etc.).
And why do I think Ford currently has the edge on GM? Because they’re not afraid to go batshit crazy.
Let me explain. Yes, you can joke all you want about how Ford is making pickup trucks out of pop cans. But that’s not the only Hail Mary they’ve thrown. They’ve put a 1000 cc 3-cylinder in a Focus designed for the American market. They’ve put a flat-plane crank V8 in a Mustang. And they’ve put buttons on Mustangs and Focus RSes to make them easier to do burnouts and donuts, respectively.
And what has General Motors done? Well, not much. They’ve been acting rationally, perhaps a little bit too much so. I mean, yes, it’s not like the 650 horsepower Corvette Z06 is exactly an exercise of restraint, but it’s a player in a well-established market that Chevrolet has been comfortable in for over 60 years.
So what could General Motors do to stoke the fire within the heart of enthusiasts? Well, some spy shots of the new Opel Insignia Grand Sport Tourer have given me an idea. And if that sounds like too many words to describe a station wagon, I’ve got a perfect way to simplify the name for us North Americans.
Now, that name might conjure up images of Howard Hughes’ daily driver. Or it might remind you of those V8-powered, unnecessarily massive, vinyl-wood-emblazoned station wagons driven by one of two groups of people: Grandma and Grandpa; or that long-haired, chain-smoking, jean jacket-wearing burnout that you wouldn’t trust with your children. I’m not saying Buick necessarily needs to bring THAT back with the Insignia wagon, but it’s a good way to start building the mood room with which to build the perfect way to bring Buick back out of the doldrums.
Yes, Buick’s been dying faster than their fan base. I get why General Motors let them live instead of Pontiac: Buick sells fairly well in China, the Enclave (and its predecessors, the Rendezvous and Rainier) were smash hits amongst the moderately wealthy, and their “traditional” customers that haven’t yet kicked the bucket are about as loyal a customer base as a carmaker could dream to have. But despite throwing short-block V8s into LaCrosses and reviving the Regal GS, there’s nothing in their product lines that grabs a petrolhead by the heart and makes them think “damn, I want a Buick!”
It might be hard for some of the modern generation to believe, but Buick has some serious pedigree in making kick-ass cars. The Gran Sport trim line has always been associated with sport-luxury. In my own personal opinion, the Buick Skylark GSX is one of the most badass muscle cars of all time. With a Buick 455 C.I. V8, there would be no shame in getting smoked in a drag race with a GSX. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, a Buick with a GS badge on it had a huge V8 in it, no questions asked. And it would be quick. The Gran National trim line kicked things up a notch in the ‘80s, tying both the LeSabre and the Regal to some legitimate NASCAR pedigree. And, of course, there’s the ultimate sleeper of the 1980s: the turbocharged Buick GNX.
So, really, Buick’s “lame” history seems to be nothing more than a perpetuation of Buick’s recent product line. It’s been lacking a bit of joie de vivre, in spite of the reintroduction of the latest-gen Regal GS. But there wasn’t really anything particularly sporty about that car (other than a stiff suspension and a 6-speed manual transmission that was offered for one year only). It wasn’t a performance car.
And that’s what Buick desperately needs. But, why not go into full lunatic mode and make a rubber-burning station wagon that can do 0-60 mph in under 5 seconds?
If you think that this would be a tall order, I’d beg to differ. First of all, GM has access to some pretty powerful engines. I’m not saying they need to shoehorn an LS V8 under the hood, as much as we would love them to. But making the twin-turbocharged 3.6-litre V6 from the Cadillac CTS V-Sport work in a Buick Regal probably wouldn’t be too much to ask of GM engineers. In fact, subtract two turbos, and you are basically left with the same engine that was going into the Regal anyway. Of course, a manual gearbox would have my inner fanboy screaming, but if we had to live with an automatic, GM’s excellent 8-speed torque converter would be just fine with me.
Now take this formula, and put it in the Regal (Insignia sedan) with an all-wheel drive transaxle, and you’ll have what enthusiasts truly wanted the last Regal GS. Make a wagon version of this same car, and call it the Roadmaster GS (because Regal Wagon sounds pithy). Hell, lift the wagon up a few inches and put some plastic bumper cladding on it a la Volvo XC70 and call it the Off-Roadmaster. A terrible name like that ought to suggest that Buick has gone off the deep end, which would definitely grab people’s attention.
Now, the naysayers of the world would probably have you believe that this will never happen because Buick would start undercutting Cadillac sales. Well, here’s news for you: Escalade notwithstanding, Cadillac is being beaten in the sales department by *Lincoln*. You know, that upscale Ford trim level? Forget trying to be the new BMW, Cadillac. Nobody’s playing ball. Let Buick have some insanity, and maybe GM will actually get a sales boost. Besides, even if they could afford the markup, what enthusiast would want to buy a CTS V-Sport over a Regal GS? How many enthusiasts want to feel like they are getting a factory outlet version of a performance Cadillac, when they could get a bona fide performance Buick for a lot less money?
Don’t forget who your potential market is, GM. Those enthusiasts are the ones that will drum up the hype. Remember that Avista concept you didn’t want to build? People wanted that. People want a fast Buick.
Really, this whole ‘insanity plan’, if you will, is nothing more than Buick getting back to its drag-strip roots. All the old fogies who still think Buick is the best car brand in the world do so because they HAD something back then. People wanted to have a Buick, in past tense because this hasn’t been true for the past 20 years. The millenials of the world probably think that Buick really does stand for Butt-Ugly Imitation Chrome King.
Well, all the millenials except myself. And probably a few others. I haven’t forgotten Buick’s history. And I know that there’s potential to relive it. We know that you can make wanton objects of desire, Buick. And, with a 420-horsepower wagon being so easy to make, it’s an opportunity that General Motors can’t really afford to squander.