You may have heard the term “Malaise Era” referring to the dark ages of the automobile, like from when they went from cool to POS thanks to government regulations and the automakers’ lack of ability of staying ahead of that curve. Journalist Murilee Martin coined the phrase to represent any vehicle—primarily American, though pretty much the whole automotive world was sucky at the time—from model years 1973-83.
Maybe we should start developing an appreciation society for a bay full of rubber vacuum tubes and awkward passive restraints because there are still many cars to embrace from the era. There is perhaps no better vehicle to spearhead that role than the 1976 Buick Century Indy Pace Car, which is why it’s ClassicCars.com’s Pick of the Day. This vehicle is listed for listed by a dealer on consignment in Morgantown, Pennsylvania. (Click the link to view the listing)
The Century debuted for the 1973 model year as the replacement for the Skylark. As one of General Motors’ redesigned mid-size “Colonnade” cars, the Century (and its sister models from Chevrolet, Pontiac and Oldsmobile) were slick designs marred by front bumper regulations that began in 1973—in many ways, it is the epitome of why the Malaise Era begins in 1973. Trim levels were Century, Century Luxus, and Century Regal, with a Gran Sport package available for the standard Century. By 1976, the Century series evolved into the Century Special, Century, Century Custom and Regal, the latter having shed its Century trappings.
The 1975 Century was chosen to pace the races for the Indy 500 and, interestingly, it was chosen for the same duties for 1976. However, Buick took a new approach with the second edition by engineering a turbocharged 231ci V6 to pace the races. Street versions of the pace car were powered by a naturally aspirated V6 or one of two Buick 350 engines. All were silver with flamboyant orange and black decals all over—quite stylish considering some struggle to use that word for anything during the era. Note the integrated rear spoiler too, which looks like it was born there. A brushed aluminum bar wraps from B-pillar to B-pillar, covering the opera window that was on stock Century Custom coupes. None of the replicas had the front air dam or blistered hood of the real pace cars, plus the real pace cars featured more extensive graphics on the front fenders. As a package, if you didn’t know that what was under the hood would make you cry, you’d think this was a spectacular car.
Which it is. Resources seem to disagree with each other, but a little over 1,200 pace cars were built in 1976. This example features the lesser of the two V8s, which featured a two-barrel carburetor and 140 horsepower. The wheels are color-keyed 15-inch mags running on Goodyear Eagle GTII white-letter tires. Interior is basic Century, though this particular example was originally ordered with front vinyl and black buckets plus optional console, with quasi-buckets out back. Other notable options, as specified by the dealer invoice, include special instrumentation, Rallye steering wheel with tilt, power windows, air conditioning, AM/FM radio and electric window defogger, among others.
Underneath, the seller admits there is “some slight surface rust … throughout,” including the gas tank, frame, and floorboards, though “all remains structurally sound.” Despite the choked engine, which has 29,668 per the odometer, the “fairly rust-free Glass Pack-style” exhausts can make you think it’s 1970 all over again. “Upon closer inspection, the thermostat housing is also corroded and will need replacing.” All these things can be improved with a minimal amount of effort for the seasoned collector.
This 1976 Buick Century Pace Car is available for $28,900, and you can view it in detail in all its glory in ClassicCars.com’s Pick of the Day.