By on September 11, 2017

1984 Buick Century wagon in California wrecking yard, RH front view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
The Chrysler K-platform-based minivans debuted for the 1984 model year, marking the beginning of the end of the station wagon’s mainstream appeal in the United States; not many years later, SUVs would snare most of the potential wagon buyers who didn’t get minivans.

Here’s a Buick Century wagon from that decisive year, spotted in a San Francisco Bay Area self-service wrecking yard.

1984 Buick Century wagon in California wrecking yard, rear quarter emblem - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
Buick was a major wagon player in 1984, with three different models available that year. There was the big Electra Estate, based on the same B-Body platform as the Chevy Caprice and Pontiac Bonneville. Economy-minded Buick wagon shoppers could get the Skyhawk Wagon, a member of the J-Body family that included the Chevy Cavalier. Right in the middle, the Century Estate offered a luxed-up Chevy Celebrity wagon for medium-sized families.

1984 Buick Century wagon in California wrecking yard, faux wood - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
I can’t find evidence of 1984 Skyhawk wagons with the classic 1980s decal-based “wood” siding, but most Electra Estates and Century Estates seemed to be so equipped.

1984 Buick Century wagon in California wrecking yard, engine - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
Under the hood, the rare 3.0-liter version of the Buick V6, good for 110 horsepower. The optional 3.8-liter V6 made 125 hp, and that’s what most Century Estate buyers got; the base engine in this car was the rattly 2.5-liter Iron Duke I4, but you won’t find many Duked Centuries.

1984 Buick Century wagon in California wrecking yard, 1984 Olympics sticker - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
Buick sponsored the US Olympic Team in a big way during the 1980s and 1990s, and the 1984 Century sedan was available as an Olympiad Edition (examples of which show up in wrecking yards from time to time). Everything Buick sold for 1984 had this window sticker.

1984 Buick Century wagon in California wrecking yard, speedometer - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
1981 was the last year the United States government mandated 85 mph speedometers, but GM stuck with these speedos for a few additional years. With 110 horses in a boxy wagon, Century Estate speeds over 85 didn’t happen often, anyway.

Perhaps this car was moved off the lot as a result of this Southern California Buick dealership ad.

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44 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1984 Buick Century Estate Limited Woodie Wagon...”

  • avatar

    Love the tag line in the ad video about trading your car on before the model year change.

    “This makes sense!

  • avatar

    I never thought about it before, but I have never encountered a Skyhawk woodie wagon either, and there is no evidence of one based on a quick Google search. It seems odd that Buick wouldn’t have offered this. The similar Oldsmobile Firenza wagon was definitely offered as a woodie.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I dated a girl in high school whose parents had on of these, of course I don’t know what year theirs was since they were mostly indistinguishable over about a 15 year model run. Every time I see one I think of their license plate. She was one of 4 kids and the plate read “6 OF US.”

    GM quality was so-so in this time period – at best. But I have always been impressed by how well the wood treatment on the cars held up over the years. We had it on out 87 Custom Cruiser and the paint was cracked and rotting away but the wood still looked presentable. It didn’t peel or fade too badly. Cars still running around today still have presentable wood decals.

    • 0 avatar

      The only problem that I remember with the decal esthetics was fading. My dad’s business car that had door damage looked a bit off after the new decal didn’t match. But over time this wasn’t really an issue.

      The 75 Malibu wagon was later my brother’s then my wife’s and finally mine. On Super Bowl Sunday 1986 a guy in a Bronco decided he could go through a flashing red smacking a Citation that then slid into my wagon. I couldn’t justify the repair to the rear door and rear quarter so sold it to a guy whose wife was subsequently my wife’s co-worker. He said it was a great car that he took on family vacations. He sold it to his neighbor and its final resting place before the junk yard was the neighbor’s lawn.


  • avatar

    “but you won’t find many Duked Centuries”

    That may have been true when new but I think almost every one of these I see still on road is a 2.5. Go figure. Always clapped out but still running. Maybe the cheaper models make it into the hands of their third plus owner a lot faster and the nicer ones tend to more likely go to the yard after the second one runs up the miles?

    • 0 avatar

      No, it’s because the Iron Duke was basically indestructible, but the 3.0L was, well…..not.

      My first car was an ’82 Century Limited sedan with the 3.0L. Same color interior as this wagon, so I’m getting a hell of a nostalgia rush looking at it (though I didn’t have power windows & locks.) It was actually a pretty good car, especially for the time, but the “3.0-Litre” developed a nasty case of rod knock after a year or two and finally threw one through the block at 115K. Dad paid for a junkyard motor swap, and I drove the car until I traded it two years later, but apparently my experience was not unique and that engine was not known for long term durability.

      The best part is that I got it really, really cheap, as in roughly 1/3 of the going rate for them at the time. The dealer (a decent-sized place that sold new Oldsmobiles and Chevys) advertised it as having transaxle problems, but when Dad and I went there to drive it, it drove perfectly. The dealership honored the price anyway. These cars used the THM125C with the torque converter clutch. The basic THM125 is a bulletproof transaxle, but early versions with the TCC often experienced solenoid failure. But for 1982, it was possible to disable the TCC and operate the transaxle as an ordinary 3-speed, and that’s how I drove it for four years. The service department at the dealer had done this after the ad had gone up and without telling the salesman. So good deal for me.

      • 0 avatar

        My parents had an ’83 Century T-type sedan with the 3.0L, engine #1 got the car to only 80,000 miles & #2 was starting to have issues already when the car was parked with 130,000ish miles. IIRC engine #1 wore out the camshaft lobes.

      • 0 avatar
        Middle-Aged Miata Man

        My family briefly owned an ’87 Century Limited sedan that also had this same interior, but in dark blue. It was positively limo-like to me at the tender age of 13, and I can still remember how those seats felt.

        Our car was pretty basic otherwise (power locks and windows, cruise, manual bench seat, and the Iron Duke underhood.) I’m pretty sure Buick had dropped the Temp and Volt gauges by then, too.

        EDIT: This was intended as a reply to SaulTigh’s post below.

      • 0 avatar

        The carbureted 3.0 Buick V6 was not a long lasting engine. The port injected 3.8’s were another story.

  • avatar

    Love those interior shots. Takes my back to my grandmother’s ’86 Century sedan, which was totally duked up by the way.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    So many of these Junkyard Finds could be used as advertising/endorsements for the companies that supplied velour interiors to GM and Ford.

    How many bonded leather/vinyl interiors would hold up as well, over 30+ years?

  • avatar

    Isn’t it remarkable that all Detroit could do with a 3.8 gas guzzler was 125 HP? No wonder we got caught with our pants down in the efficiency race.

    • 0 avatar

      American’s talk horsepower but drive torque.

      Do not dare defame our Lord and Savior, 3800 V6.

      • 0 avatar

        “American’s talk horsepower but drive torque.”

        This. I don’t care about peak speed or output for a daily driver. I care about the low end getting me where I need to be in traffic as quickly and as effortlessly as possible. Anything above 45 or 50 mph, I’m probably using the cruise control anyway, if possible.

        The 3.8 V6 was very good at this job.

        • 0 avatar

          My first company car was an 85 Cutlass Ciera Brougham. It was very well equipped and had the 3.0 carbureted V6. It was a nice car but not powerful. My next one was an 88 Ciera Brougham with the 3.8 and FE2 suspension. There was quite a noticeable difference in performance. My last one was a 90 Cutlass Ciera with the 3.3. It was a good car and got great gas mileage for the time, but was not the powerhouse as was the 3.8.

    • 0 avatar

      One of my company cars was a 1984? Chevy Celebrity with the 2.8L V6 and the 3 speed autobox. The car was not happy in the hills of Western Pennsylvania. Nor did it last long. After that I got a Chevy Impala, which was a great car, even with the 305. But then, I was given a 1987 or 88 Chevy Celebrity with the fuel injected Iron Duke; that thing was a beast compared to the 84 Celebrity. One of my co-workers had the injected 2.8L Celebrity, it was decently quick. But my personal car back then was a 5.0L Mercury Capri, so they really didn’t do anything for me.

    • 0 avatar

      The 3.8 was not a gas guzzler. In these cars and the downsized Park Aves and Lesabres they could easily pull 30 plus highway MPG on a road trip which was impossible on any of the older style RWD V8 cars. Second 125 HP was for 1984 and 85 only. That number shot up to 150 for 1986 and 165 by 1988 with refinements such as coils replacing the old distributor, SFI and roller lifter drivetrain. Even with only 125 HP the 3.8’s moved these cars well enough and the 195-210 LBS Ft of torque was what you actually felt. Also keep in mind that many small V8 engines were only pumping out 100-115 HP just a few years behind this car so 125 was reasonable for a V6 at the time.

  • avatar

    Back 20 years ago there was a pristine one of these that lived in my neighborhood which I lusted after. It was painted a subdued yellow with the woodgrain trim, sported wire wheel covers, and had a tan interior. It just looked right to me and I thought it would be the perfect running-around car for me. Alas, I could never snag it.

  • avatar

    These were best with either the 3300 (overachieving Son of 3800) or the 3800 itself.

  • avatar

    I think these were GM’s “A-body”?

    It was actually a decent platform at the time in that it was exactly what GM buyers wanted. A smaller vehicle that rode like a big comfortable sedan. It was smooth, quiet, affordable luxurious and got decent gas mileage.

    Still, if I was set on a Buick wagon, how do pass up the Electra Estate?

  • avatar

    I’m assuming the cause of death must have been blown motor or trans? The rest looks so solid. How about a 3800 supercharged / 4T65 swap?

    • 0 avatar

      It probably couldn’t pass smog, and the original owner’s kids didn’t want to deal with it.

      Too bad, it’s so clean inside and out. It looks like it was well cared for.

  • avatar

    For 1986, the middle engine choice was the last year of the Chevy 2.8 V6 in carbureted form. Despite my pleas at 16 yoa for my Dad to attempt to obtain a 3.8-powered example, he chose an end-of-MY ’86 Limited off the lot, with standard GM options for a stock vehicle: power steering, brakes, windows, locks, delay wipers, air/cruise/tilt (steering), wire wheels, standard Delco ETR cassette stereo (no equalizer, Concert Sound, etc.).

    Car also had a genuinely dangerous hesitation when cold, which was remedied, as discovered in the mid-’90s or so, by a TSB. But by 1990 or so, my Dad had thrown hundreds of dollars at the problem, and when he tried to contact the President of the Bruick Motor Division for some sort of help on that, he was rebuffed. (The flunkie on the phone couldn’t give him a reason to choose another Bruick over a Honda Accord!)

    Five Accords later, he’s a Honda fan for life.

    The Light Briar Brown (which I always called “champagne,”) still looks reasonable on this example, but even with normal care, still faded; I tried to keep my ’84 Sunbird’s paint reasonable, to no avail. (The $500 head-gasket repair to that car’s 1.8 OHC 4-pot on my college commuter budget was the straw that ensured my Dad would go Honda, beyond his problems with his Century.)

  • avatar

    My sister had one of these, and was driven off the road into a ditch, with her two kids under 10 in the car. The seat belts worked, nobody got hurt, and the car ran well for another two years with minimal insurance-paid repair. She wanted something smaller, and her husband picked up a VW Rabbit. It was then she started reminiscing about the Buick.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    I had an 85 Celebrity Wagon with the 2.8 six that I bought off lease form GE Capital for about 1/3 of the sticker in early 1988. It was green and had a green interior similar to this one. It was a very serviceable car for my wife and two kids.
    It had about 80k mostly trouble free miles on it when I totaled it in 1991. That was the last accident I was involved in. For all the well deserved flack GM received in the 80s, I thought I got a very good deal. Even the insurance pay off was for more than I was going to sell it for when the next lease deal was coming up in six months after the accident.

  • avatar

    oooooh! Right below the steering wheel… the CROTCH AC VENT! This is a feature that I wish was still found on cars these days. I suppose with vented seats, this isn’t as necessary in the modern age.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, a lot of older Japanese cars had this as well (my ’96 4Runner and ’96 ES300 and my brother’s ’89 MPV), no idea why it went by the wayside. Simple cost cutting? Detrimental to crash test standards to have extra vent routing there?

  • avatar

    I try to not look at these posts because inevitably they come up with a car that would be perfectly serviceable in Western Michigan, rotting in a junkyard some where out West because a solenoid failed. But, I looked at the post anyway and now I have developed these fantasy plans about going out and rescuing this old longroof. It’s probably already a Chinese refrigerator by now but, the possibilities were endless…

  • avatar

    General Motors was then and still is our Leyland Motors.

    Pure, unadulterated sh!t then and now.

    It’s a fukking national embarrassment is what it is.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny then that we still see so many A-bodies still on the road dating back to even the mid 1980’s. Last year I took a trip to Hershey PA and counted no less than 55 in one day. Didn’t see nearly as many FWD equivalent Chrysler products like the Dynasty or Spirit in these years.

      • 0 avatar

        Long-lived sh!t is still sh!t. It just means you get to have a sh!tty experience longer. Yeah, sign me up for that. Seeing 55 in a day doesn’t impress me when back in the day you could have walked across any parking lot in the country without touching the ground across these cars. They sold a million a year, and there are effectively NONE left. A race between rot and mechanical destruction.

        Though I disagree with Deadwieght on current GM products. I generally think they are class competitive (assuming appropriately discounted pricing, i.e. Cadillac MSRPs are crazy), just generally not to my taste. Too “car by the pound” which makes them good value, but not appealing to me.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    A fair number of the Cutlass Ciera Cruisers had the optional woodgrain. Though most of the Olds models did also have the 3.0 for the 3.8. Late in the model cycle it was just the 2.2 four with only the optional 3.3 and 3.1 offered. I once saw a fully loaded woodgrain 83-4 Ciera wagon with the 4.3 Diesel at a dealer in the early 90’s. It even had a trailer hitch which bemused me.

    If you wanted to attend the Church of 3800 you had to move up to the W-Body Cutlass Supreme.
    By the late 90’s wagon sales were declining and the Silhouette minivan was outselling the now dated Ciera wagon.

    • 0 avatar

      I got to hoon..DRIVE..a friend’s 1985 example of one of these with the 3.8 Bruick V6 once, and that put the aforementioned 2.8 in my Dad’s Century Sedan to shame. (Buried the speedo needle quite far, as I recall, and the vibrations at that speed, on an almost deserted country road during the night, weren’t THAT alarming; however, I’m sure the BRAKES might have elicited a sphincter-tightening if I would have had to drop the anchor quickly!)

      IIRC, the best attribute of the drive in these cars was steering that, while pinky-light and devoid of road feel, snapped back to center quickly, and stayed on-center with almost no see-saw motions required to keep the car going straight; perhaps I was just used to the recirculating-ball setups in the A/G-Bodies in which I learned to drive, even though the J-Bodies, like my 1984 Sunbird hatch, didn’t have that nice sel-centering. As with all things GM, with good comes bad, in this case, the problem with the steering racks in the A-and-J-Bodies where the power-steering fluid would blow-by until the internal bits warmed up. (The infamous “morning sickness!”) Dad’s Century never exhibited this problem, but my Sunbird sure did!

  • avatar

    The W-body Cutlass Supreme never got the 3800, only the 3.1 and the DOHC Chevy 3.4. You would find the 3800 in the 88 and 98. And then the 1992 to 1994 Silhouette, which got the 3.4 (enlarged 3.1 ) in 1995.
    The 1991 Silhouette sold quite well. I started selling Oldsmobiles on August 3, 1990, the day Iraq invaded Kuwait…

  • avatar

    GM was still using 85 mph speedos into the ’90s!

  • avatar

    Any of those Ciera’s in tan with Tru-coat?

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    ^^ Great movie reference
    We had the likely the rarest of the Woodies .My parents , bought new , an 81 Corolla wagnon , red woodie, “the Tamale”, all 3 of us learned how to drive with it, and surprisingly the vinyl wrap looked good even towards the end of its life, as the red paint hAD long since faded. No real rust issues either. My parents donated it approx. 2000.
    Someone dented the right rear quarter panel later in its life and Dad used bumper stickers to secure the side molding, one was a yellow “Save our Troops” , which confused a lot of people. In retrospect he wasn’t making a political statement, but just didn’t have any tape. One time it failed inspection because the power steering pump was missing, my dad had it removed after it failed. His response was classic Cheech and Chong, “it’s still in the car, it’s in the back of the car” (hatch).
    Every now and then I’ll see an early 80s corolla and text a pic to my sibs for nostalgia’s sake.

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