By on April 20, 2012


Imagine a luxury car that could out-Cadillac a Cadillac back in the day.

No, we’re not talking about a BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar, Volvo, Lexus, Acura, Infiniti, a Chrysler 300M or a Toyota Avalon. We’re talking Buick. The great American roadcar that would soon be the envy of all upwardly mobile car buyers… in China.

Back in 2001, a Buick Park Avenue Ultra would sell for close to $38,000 once you factored in the GM discount and tossed back the ensuing taxes and bogus fees. For that you got all-American luxury along with  a 240 horsepower supercharged 3.8 liter engine that put Cadillac’s Northstar to shame. At least when it came to repairs down the road.

There were a lot of other big plusses as well. Big cushy seats for the exceedingly rotund. Thin vinyl covering the thick plastics on the door panels. A ride that turned any straight road into an easy listening experience.

The Park Avenue Ultra was a gold standard for American luxury at a time when the value of the dollar was declining and gold was on it’s way back up. This particularly one I bought for $685. A steal for those strictly seeking comfort and convenience from A to B. The anti-enthusiast car if you will.

Should I…

Rent: I have a torrid love affair with full-sized GM models with the 3800 engine. The powertrains on these vehicles are always good for over 200k with proper care, and with 137k on this one I should have a long and healthy future for it as a rental. A rate of $20 to $25 a day should yield about $140 to $175 a week. It looks like a quick and easy decision.

But not just yet. This is a supercharged version which requires a bit more maintenance. I would also have to scuff and paint the vehicle which would add about $300 to the price. Yes, the price is still low. So adding it to the rental fleet is still a prime consideration.

Lease: $500 down and $55 a week for 24 months. Again, a nice profit if everything works out. Most of the vehicles I finance these days have around $2500 to $3500 tied up in them. This Park Avenue would be a very nice departure from waiting anywhere between eight months to a year to get my money back on a typical finance deal.

Sell: With a good paint job, I’m probably looking at about $2995 plus, tax, tag and title costs.

A near $2000 lick for a low end vehicle is a rarity these days. It hasn’t always been that way. Before the financial crisis you could get $500 to $700 cars that would retail for around $1995, and $1000 to $1500 cars that could go as high as $3500. Then again, you could also get a $25,000 luxury car and sell it for an even higher profit than a low end car.

I still hit both of these price points on a regular basis. But the profits just aren’t anywhere near what they used to be. The very same cheap car of four years ago now cost me nearly double what it did back when beaters were not used as finance fodder for financially strapped Americans.


Keep: I have always been in love with the idea of the free car. A vehicle that you perhaps rent for a while and then just drive on a regular once you retrieve your costs.  My problem with the Park Avenue is that my gas costs would more than double vs. driving a first generation Honda Insight. That margin would be reduced by the $4000 spread in value between the two vehicles.  But I’m not forecasting a deep decline in the value of the Insight. Besides I’m knee-deep in all the innovations coming from Insight Central these days.

I love those big cushy Buick seats. Should I rent those seats, and the rest of the car, to a long contingent of rental car customers? Finance it to one customer who will hopefully pay off on the note? Sell it for the quick buck and let the future determine the car’s course without my involvement? Or keep it with the knowledge that the great American road may belong to Buick, but is financed and underwritten by China.

What says you?


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33 Comments on “Rent, Lease, Sell or Keep: 2001 Buick Park Avenue Ultra...”

  • avatar

    Owner upgrades (’01 with an ’03+ grille)? Sounds like someone may have cared about it.

    For me, an obvious keeper. I wanted to keep an ’04 Ultra I picked up off a Cadillac store with 140k on it. Gorgeous White Diamond Tricoat Ultra with 12-disc stacker AND the elusive center console package. Alas, it was a Northern car and half eaten away.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    On a tenuously related note, I hope Mr. Lang buys a nice Olds Aurora at auction some day. I’d love to hear what he says about that car, being that I own a second-generation Aurora.

    • 0 avatar

      There was a second generation? Guess I wasn’t paying close-enough attention, I thought both Aurora and its sibling, Riviera, were one gen rides…

      • 0 avatar

        Yup, although the second-gen Aurora was originally supposed to be named the Antares and serve as a replacement for the 88. Of course, on it was obvious that Olds was a dead brand walking, they merged the two lines into one car. Nice car, although it doesn’t have quite the swagger of the first generation Aurora.

    • 0 avatar

      I always had a soft spot for that first gen Aurora too. Very cool looking car.

  • avatar

    Just curious — where can you get a $300 paint job that will look halfway decent and last longer than three months before it starts peeling?

  • avatar

    how is your hemi dodge truck doing Mr Lang?

  • avatar

    I looked at a ’93 two days ago parked on a front yard. 60k or so; the base 3800 engine, and he wants $8,500. A dealer had a ’95 a couple of months ago with 99k on it for $6950. I see Lucernes at dealers with the 3800 III for mid-teen prices with mileage from under 50k to 80k or so. I’ve come close to getting one of the Park Avenues, but lately I’m leaning more to the Lucerne. A little better safety with the Lucerne from the curtain air bag angle. Hard to spend money on something I have absolutely no need for. A good stock is an investment vs. a daily money loser.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well, the seat cushion leather looks a little rough on the driver’s side. Not sure how well that would wear as a rental. Might be a good lease car. I’m not sure how intelligently the market would value this car.

    I’ve always thought the Park Avenue’s were the absolute best iteration of the American Luxury Car, FWD notwithstanding . . . moreso even than the contemporaneous versions of the Cadillac or Lincoln. And, the icing on the cake is that the Buick is more reliable than either and probably uses a bit less fuel.

    What’s not to like, if that kind of car is what you’re buying?

  • avatar

    Keep it and drive the wheels off it. Will make a great highway cruiser with decent mileage.

  • avatar
    Joshua Johnson

    For many of the reasons espoused in Steve’s articles, I purchased a 2001 PA ultra one year ago to keep the miles off my fun car. These cars are loaded for the price. Heated leather seats, dual climate control (albeit primitive), 10 way seats, just about power everything, HUD, 12 Disc CD changer, fairly decent center console (if you get lucky and find one). I know I probably paid more than I could have, but in a few more months the car will have paid for itself with the mileage savings on my other car (along with depreciation, repairs, maintenance).

    I wouldn’t exactly call this car anti-enthusiast – reserving that title for vanilla Toyondas – as this car shares many of the same driving dynamics of the Pontiac Gran Prix GTP. Though being FWD does dampen one’s enthusiasm for this car, the supercharged 3800 provides adequate grunt to make the car move, and the torque band is pretty wide. Reliability, as noted above, is incredible. In the year I’ve owned the car, all I have put into it besides normal upkeep is a new battery and tie rod ends (I am not kind to FWD cars and their tie rod ends, so that is my own fault).

    With all that said, looking at the example above, I would sell it. It doesn’t have the center console (which is worth waiting for), the leather is in poor condition (my car is the same vintage/mileage and the driver’s seat doesn’t look that bad), and from the photos, it doesn’t appear that the car has the HUD either (another feature that one misses once in a different car).

    I would wait for a 2003-2005 PAU in white diamond tricoat with the nicer center console. While other cars may achieve better fuel economy (though I regularly get 30+ with cruise set), when one drives many miles in a year, there is nothing like the care free driving, pothole absorbing solitude and anonymity that comes with the Buick.

    • 0 avatar

      I have an ’03 LeSabre and have had a similar experience – going on two years now, and the only maintenance has been wear-related stuff, most expensive being a front wheel bearing. Runs great, and I’m with Steven on the seats – they’re fab. Now I’m kinda hankering for a Park Avenue.

      Check the classifieds, though – these cars aren’t cheap, particularly if they’re well cared for (which mine was).

  • avatar

    Well my family owns a 1998 Ultra. Car’s tranny recently crapped out so its been beached in the driveway for a month now. The car reached 303,000 kms before dying. Car was fairly reliable but living in a cold climat ruined 2/4 door handles. Very common according to other boards and posters there in cold climates. Supercharged needed replacing once too.

    My family is actually at a crossroads right now. We don’t know what to do with the car seeing how my sister gave up on tranny replacement and purchased a cheap 87 Volvo 740 Turbo for her commute. My dad has his own A6 and I have alreayd a Protege5.

  • avatar

    At a price that cheap, you shouldn’t have any problem unloading it.

    I have my 1995 LeSabre Limited up for sale (don’t want to, but I have medical bills), 109k, garage kept, loaded, and like-new leather. Have it listed for $4900 and can’t give it away. I paid $5200 for it a year ago and would like to at least pay off the loan on it.

    Anyone looking for a nice Buick up north??? :)

    • 0 avatar

      It sounds like you got jacked on that purchase. If it was a park avenue ultra it’d be one thing but I don’t think the LeSabre fetches nearly as much.

      • 0 avatar

        Of all the cars I looked at in that price range, this was by far the nicest one I found, and seeing how it was in such nice condition, and a loaded, 3800 equipped LeSabre, I figured it was worth a little more. Like I said, I intended to keep it, but I have been terribly sick and amassed a huge hospital bill and I have to find a way to pay for it somehow…

  • avatar

    $685 for a supercharged 3800? Wowee! That’s one heckuva deal.

    What is the added maintenance of the supercharger? I know on the SSC T-Birds the supercharger had an oil chamber on one end for lubrication and when the rotor shaft seals go bad, all of this fluid goes away (my neighbor had this problem with his). Not sure if this is also true on the 3800 one.

    I’d polish the headlights on this thing, change the fluids, and rent it. You’ll make money on this car for the next several years. The supercharged 3800 doesn’t have the plastic intake manifold issues like the normally-aspirated ones either.

    The downside is that this car has extra-sucky window regulators so if you do end up keeping it you can plan on changing out one or more of those.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    If the seats were in nicer shape I’d say give it a new paint job and keep it but that interior is a little rough for me.

  • avatar

    For a $685 initial outlay, I’d polish the headlights, replace the fluids, add a hood ornament, sand off all the paint, remove the rear seats, take off the remaining three wheel hubs, heavily modify the motor, and drag race it until it blows up.

    But there isn’t a good ROI in any of that.

  • avatar
    C. Alan

    I personally would not rent out a car with a supercharger, simply because of the maintenance issues, but if you are comfortable with potential maintenance costs, then rent it.

  • avatar

    Lease for sure. Preferably to an old person who will take good care of it.

  • avatar

    I dunno where you managed to score one of these for $685 but that’s an unbelievable deal even given the rather rough condition of those seats. Assuming all the neat features actually still work (these things had auto-sensing wipers, heated seats, etc.) I’d probably keep it for highway cruising-this thing had more than enough power to do high speed passes in ultimate cushy comfort.

  • avatar

    I sold that same supercharger on eBay for 114 dollars.

  • avatar

    Nice–that same supercharged 3.8 L “L67” Series II 3800 V6 engine is in my favorite GM vehicle of all time, the 1996-1999 Buick Riviera (1995 models shared the body, but had some older OBD-I electronics and the Series I 3800 V6…)

  • avatar

    How does the supercharged 3800 run on 87 octane? That’s be the main reason I wouldn’t want to rent it out.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Lease it to some older person who appreciates it for what it is.

    GM interiors of this era were lowest-bidder crap, and the average renter will quickly turn it into a candidate for Who-Trashed-This-Car?

    Selling it would seem a good choice, but GM made piles of these to keep the factories running, and their clientele keeps dying and flooding the market with cherry examples.

    Keep it, for what? The Insight gets better mileage on a dragstrip than this gets idling down the interstate at 20 under the speed limit.

  • avatar

    My grandparents owned one of these, my mother owned a non-supercharged Park Avenue, but she now owns a Le Sabre, and I own an older Le Sabre (1991). Before I owned the Le Sabre, I owned a 1997 Delta 88. The H body was probably the best FWD car GM has made (when it comes to reliability and low cost of ownership) it’s a shame to see them end with the death of the Lucerne. I would either keep it as a personal vehicle, or recondition it with the paint job, a good detailing, doing something about the drivers seat, and then reselling it. If you sell it, you’ll get the return out of it right away and not have to worry about the burden that comes from renting/leasing it out. You can take that money and put it towards the next vehicle and repeat.

  • avatar

    Keep It. You got a steal of a deal. The last of the great American blvd. cruisers. Drive it as a weekend car. Shopping, dining out etc. Use another car for traveling long distance.

  • avatar

    I remember my grandmother walked into the Buick dealership with a copy of good house keeping and said I want this car, not sure of year (champaign pink of course), the dealer stuck every possible option available into it, once a week I would have to fill her tank because she couldn’t figure out how to open the cap, or operate anything electric in it, set the seat, the mirrors, etc. But it was a nice car, always thought it was better than my principle’s STS northstar caddy. There was an Aurora that just sat in front of a building next to mine, needed a paint job, always meant to walk over and make a offer, always thought it was one of the most beautiful cars of its time (first generation) and then it was gone one day.

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