By on June 7, 2019
  1. After our most recent Rare Rides post, your author perused The Big List of BDB Ideas and discovered a suggestion commenter Sgeffe made many moons ago. He suggested the most basic coupe A-bodies on offer in 1979. Feeling cheap? Let’s get weird.

Buick Century

Buick’s Century nameplate dated back to 1936, and the model entered its fourth generation in 1978. New that year, Buick applied the Century name to all its midsize offerings save for its standard-roof coupe, which was called Regal. The most basic engine was the 3.2-liter Buick V6 (196 cubic inches), paired with a three-speed manual. Basic Century customers longed for the Century Turbo Coupe, on offer only for 1979 and 1980. It was powered by a turbocharged Buick 3.8-liter V6.

Chevrolet Malibu

The Malibu was a brand new entry into the mid-size market for 1964, as it appeared as an upper-level trim of the Chevelle. Throughout the next two generations, until 1977, Malibu was constrained to a Chevelle trim. 1978 saw the name become a full-fledged model, as Chevelle was discontinued. Chevrolet held off on a fastback Malibu coupe, opting instead for a more traditional formal roof. Malibu saw the debut of a new family of 90° V6 Chevrolet engines, the most basic of which was the 3.3-liter, 200 cubic inch version. It sent 95 horsepower through the three-speed. The desirable coupe was the Classic trim, where the Chevrolet 350 V8 was available to complement the standard vinyl roof.

Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon

In production since 1961, the Cutlass Salon heralded the fifth generation of Cutlass, and it was the last instance where all Cutlass offerings were rear-drive in nature. General Motors placed much stock in the Oldsmobile A-body offerings, as evidenced by its variety of available body styles. The most basic engine available was the largest of our trio: a 3.8-liter (231 cubic inch) V6 from Buick. Base Salon customers stared across the showroom at the loaded Salon Brougham coupe with its waterfall grille and 5.0-liter (305) Chevy V8.

Three malaisey coupes with V6 power and few amenities. Which one gets a Buy?

[Images: General Motors]

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52 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: Ace of Base A-Bodies From 1979...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    A “base” car from 1979? Did this sh*t even have door handles and window glass?

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Buy and drive the Malibu. This model in 1981 became the Iraqi Taxi/Iraqibu. 25,000 manufactured in Oshawa to be shipped to Iraq for the Western world’s then ally Sadam Hussein to be used as taxis. A specially spec’ed base mode with a 3 speed MT (floor shift not on the tree), 229 v6, bench seats, A/C, heavy duty cooling, heavy duty suspension, AM/FM/cassette, and operational rear windows. No rear window defog/defrost. No other options.

    Iraq only took delivery/paid for about half of them. The rest sat in a parking lot for a few years, then were offered to Canadian car buyers for a price of $6,800 Cdn.

    One of my neighbours and 2 of my friends each purchased one.
    They were in great demand. And they were remarkably rugged beasts.

    An Iraqi Taxi/Iraqibu would qualify as a stellar example of an ‘Ace of Base’ family vehicle.

    As for the Olds & Buick, you can burn both.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Agreed on all three, and thanks for the historical background.

      Until now, I never realized how much the tail of the Century/Cutlass resembles the 81+ Citation/X-body hatchbacks. I like it better in the X-body.

    • 0 avatar
      formula m

      This seemed to work out better for Canada, doing business with Sadam Hussein rather than the current deal with Saudi Arabia. MBS not paying the billions owed for the armored vehicles Harper agreed to supply is pretty disgusting.

    • 0 avatar
      Jagboi

      One of my teachers in Jr high school had one of those. The dealer added a heater and block heater to it to make it usable for winter in Canada. Seemed to run well, he drove it for many years.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        I live in a state where vehicle safety inspection requires a functioning windshield defogger. IIRC, I’ve seen US market window stickers and build sheets from the ’60s with heaters listed as optional. I wonder when they became standard on US market domestic cars. I can see why they weren’t on the Iraqi Malibus, but I’d still want one in the desert because many is the heater core that has served as an auxiliary radiator of last resort.

  • avatar
    d4rksabre

    Man, these are pretty bad. I think I gotta take the Oldsmobile here though.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    “Turbo-Coupe”

    I love back in the day when cars listed all of their options somewhere on the car. Steering wheels with “Power Steering” etched in the hub, “Power Brakes” written on the peddle, even the type of transmission was written often across the back. Of course, no car would be complete without the size and type of engine written on the fender.

    I remember all of these cars new and they’re not good memories, so it’s “burn, burn, burn” all of the above

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Burn, burn, burn. Beat me to it. Those “P O W E R B R A K E S” on the brake pedal lasted into the eighties. I think they were just stuck with the tooling and kept making the parts. Such opulence! I mean, what didn’t have power brakes in the GM product line in 1979? The Chevette maybe? It’s a wonder they didn’t have equivalent, pointless signage for other wondrous technology such as turn signals that cancel themselves after you make a turn, or “radial tires,” or “seat belts.”

      P.S. It’s “pedal,” not “peddle” (or “petal”)! When a car nuts gets pedal-peddle mixed up, it’s as bad as when airplane people get hangar-hanger wrong. Now for your punishment, you have to choose: 50 lashes with a wet noodle or 50 miles in a 1979 Chevy Malibu. (The base version with no air conditioner and no roll-down rear windows- not the Iraqi Taxi version with the big air conditioner that Arthur Daily described.)

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        That POWERBRAKE label was a valuable warning to people coming out of cars with brakes you could modulate. My friend had a Buick Electra 225 with a brake pedal you just had to rest your foot on to knock your teeth out on the steering wheel, at least if your daily driver was a German car.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          I kind of guessed that back in the day some of these labels were more warning then anything else for those not used to “power” equipment, but the “Hydromatic” across the back? Perhaps it was letting the guy behind you know you probably wouldn’t roll back and hit him

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Lol, “pedal” then, my bad

      • 0 avatar
        Superdessucke

        I think Pontiac was still using the “Radial Tuned Suspension” badge in 1979. One would have hoped it was radial tuned, since radial tires had been standard for least 5 years by then I think.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          I drove a 1976 Pontiac LeMans Enforcer decommissioned police car on the range in driver’s education. Its dashboard had badges for Radial Tuned Suspension, Calibrated Speedometer, 455-4 V8, TurboHydra-matic, Variable Ratio Power Steering, and Power Disc Brakes. I might be forgetting some. It could do a mean burnout in reverse on the part of the range that couldn’t be seen from the tower.

    • 0 avatar
      Urlik

      Yeah, GM always slapped those names all over. I hated that stuff and fortunately they’ve seemed to have stopped doing it lately.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Anyway:
    Buy the Olds. The even-fire 231’s 115/190 ratings might keep me from wanting to bathe in cyanide.
    Drive the Malibu. It is at least attractive misery.
    Burn the Century. I’m bleeding from my soul.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I used to own a 305 powered / TH350 Chevy Malibu wagon. Brown! With the 2.2-something rear gears it was not fast by any stretch of the imagination but it was pretty reliable. Had to replace the starter once. And vacuum seal / sensor / whatever it was called between the transmission and the engine; engine was burning transmission fluid!

    So I would buy the Malibu, and uh – use the others for spare parts.

    • 0 avatar
      Mathias

      Had an 83 wagon with the 305. Maybe not one of our best cars but definitely one of my favorites.
      Sold it in 95 to get an 87 Audi 4000 (80 in other markets). Another favorite but gas lines rotted out, so we didn’t have it long…should have kept the ‘bu.

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    Buy and drive the Malibu, burn the rest. I am biased though because I have had several 78-81 Malibu coupes and one 78 wagon. A lot of these cars have been used up as drag strip and round track fodder. But they make great platforms for a street/hot-rod build. They will accept any small or big block engine and a variety of transmissions. The weakest link is the rear diff, which can be replaced by much stouter units from several aftermarket companies or the rare Grand National/Olds 442 8.5 inch rear. Actually, a stock version of these cars that hasn’t been used up is starting to bring good money.

    One thing I have encountered is different types of fasteners, especially on the 78 and 79 models. Bolts may either be a 7/16 as well as some metric versions like a 12 mm. This was around the time the US was thinking about switching to the metric system.

    Also, the Mexican version of these continued to use the 250 straight 6 instead of the junk V6 the US got stuck with. A straight 6 version was surely much more durable/dependable than the V6s.

    • 0 avatar
      Thetruthaboutclutches

      Your mention of mixed metric and standard fasteners brought back memories of trying to change a starter on a 1980 Chev van in the rain. If memory serves there seemed to be three bolts involved and one of them was metric. Couldn’t see any of them lol. Good times….

    • 0 avatar
      SirRaoulDuke

      This is my exact thinking. Buy the Malibu and build a beast.

  • avatar
    cbrworm

    They were all so bad. The ‘bu is the best option. So:

    Drive the Malibu
    Buy the Oldsmobile – just because I generally had a soft spot for Olds.
    Burn the Buick – other than the old Electra 225, I was not a fan of most Buicks.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    In a wealthier world I’d buy an early 80s Malibu coupe and put an LT1 drivetrain.Mild supension upgrade and rallye wheels. I’ve always liked the clean lines. I’d most definitely keep the Powerbrake pedal. It reminds of my dad’s 73 Le Sabre
    Great writeup.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Buy: Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon- The better looking of the Aerobacks. Just upgrade to the 260-8 5 speed from the 231-6

    Drive: Chevrolet Malibu-The notchback is attractive and the 229-6 is a while low powered a good motor. The 305-8 with two cylinders lopped off.

    Burn: Buick Century-The blandest of the three unless it’s the Turbo Coupe.

    Honorable mention: Pontiac LeMans Coupe-much better dashboard and nicer Rally II wheels.

    • 0 avatar

      Just 2500 Turbo Coupes were made!

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        “Just 2500 Turbo Coupes were made!”

        …which proves that God exists, and that He is a merciful deity.

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-X

        I almost bought a new Buick Turbo Coupe of this era. Despite the desperate GM times to get sales, GM didn’t finance me due to having no real credit. They wanted my father to co-sign, I said no, and I asked for my deposit back. Even though I could pay cash, or I could financing via my bank (already approved), I went to the Asian brands. I never regretted walking away from that thing; I’m sure now that it would have been an unreliable, expensive, GM turd.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      Agree. The Lemans was not much more $ than the Malibu yet the dash was so much more tasteful. Was the Malibu 4 door “fastback” referred to above just the slanted 6 window roof, or was there a version I’m not familiar with?

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        I’m referring to the coupe versions of all three since they were entry level.
        Far more Buick Regal Turbo coupes were built with the raised hood bulge.
        Interesting aside: Cadillac considered using this platform for the Seville.

  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    I like the idea of a Turbo, but being as these were carbureted, it’s a lot less appealing. A 79 slopeyback with an 87 GN drivetrain would be welcomed.

    As for stone stock examples, I would just take whichever offered the largest engine. If that was the Olds with 305, fine, but if one offered a 350 then gimme that one.

  • avatar
    ajla

    For those interested in the Century Turbo, here’s a drag race of an allegedly stock example against an allegedly stock ’64 Studebaker.

    youtu.be/vla2tCSumYM

    TL;DW- the Buick could run in the low 16s.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Personally, I’d burn them all and opt for the LeMans coupe, which was actually a pretty handsome piece.

    https://www.lov2xlr8.no/brochures/pontiac/78lem/78lem.html

  • avatar
    rpol35

    “(a fastback Malibu sedan was available)”

    I don’t think that’s the case, I don’t remember it and have seen no examples nor can I find a reference for it.

    I believe there were three body styles only, two door coupe with a formal roof-line, four door sedan (with a relaxed formal roof- line) and a station wagon. I guess you could say there were four if you want to include the El Camino.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    I’d take an Iraqibu…probably one of the most robust cars ever made. But why, why, did GM not give the Iraqis a FOUR speed? Typical cheapness….

    I’d take a Malibu, 2 or 4-dr, or even wagon, with a 305 V8. The LeMans did look better, and had a POTENTIALLY better dashboard (the up-level one, with a tach…or even a clock. The base one reminds you how CHEAP Detroit was, with a big empty round guage and idiot lights on the other smaller gauges), but it came with a Pontiac 301. The Chevy 305 is noticeably better.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    This is just before my time.

    What a bunch of trash. Jeez. I can’t believe people had to drive this stuff.

    Brings back some very little kid memories however. Cars not starting in the winter. Flooded carbs. Pumping gas pedal. Swiss cheese body rot. My uncle had an early 80s century. I remember not being impressed. He had to buy GM as their firm was some sort of big supplier to GM. To this day he says he hated that car. Though it did keep running after seemingly endless small accidents. I just remember even as a little kid our VWs just seemed so much better.

    Seriously. I feel for folks buying cars between say 1970 and the late 80s when things seemed to start getting better.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Widespread EFI really was a major game changer.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      Most of the GM stuff from the 70’s to the mid 80’s with Dualjet or Quadra-jet carbs most always ran better than the competition from Ford and Chrysler where it was considered normal for 2-3 stalls on my 1979 Fairmont before it would stay idling or any of my buddies 70’s Slant six Dusters or Volare’s. I have owned many A/G body Cutlass/Grand Prix/Regal and running behavior and drive-ability were always strong points. Performance however was another issue and that varied from adequate to severely underpowered on the highway

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        A few Chryslers had a Quadrajet during this period… I just don’t remember which ones, maybe the 318 in the years that it was offered with a 4bbl. There was definitely a section on it in the 1975 factory shop manuals, which I still have… somewhere…

        Otherwise the 318 usually got a Carter BBD (I think).

        The Slant 6 got either a Holley 1945 or Carter BBS. IMHO, there is a special place in Hell for whoever designed the 1945 and whoever decided to put it on the Slant 6. The “Super 6” was offered for a few years in the late 1970s with a 2bbl BBD. There weren’t a lot of them around though- I found one ever in a junkyard in the early 1990s.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Can I walk instead?

    Fine.

    Buy the Malibu, when I was a kid I remember my sister got one as a college graduation present – I want to say a 1981 but don’t hold me to that. I know she got a lot years out of it.

    Since I can’t store the other two to sell for $10K each in 2019, burn them.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    As an aside, there was an Oldsmobile “Salon” in the beginning of Repo Man.
    https://www.imcdb.org/vehicle_93857-Oldsmobile-Cutlass-Salon-1978.html

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    There were some good cars in the 70’s. My 73 Chevelle DeLuxe sedan with a 350 V8 2 barrel was an excellent running car and very reliable. A misnomer to say every car made in the 70’s was bad.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Well, I had a 1980 Buick, but it was a Regal. It had the “3800” V6, automatic, power steering and brakes, and air conditioning, and Buick seats. If I had to make a choice, I’d take the Century, but only if it had genuine Buick seats.

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    Good grief, I miss checking up on TTAC for a couple days…! (I’ve got a good excuse, my new Accord showed up at my dealer earlier this week!) :-D

    Since I floated the suggestion for this, I’ll bend the rules a bit: buy all three! My dream garage would have my 1978..whoops! OK, I’ll go by the year, so a nicely-optioned Cutlass Salon (in Brougham trim), an ace-of-base ‘Bu with A/C, AM radio, tinted glass and defogger (like my Dad’s company cars, and my ‘78 Salon, were equipped), a Century Coupe with every box checked (which would probably be rarest of them all), and for pure fun, a ‘Bu drag car with a bored and stroked 350, beefed up THM whatever with high-stall torque converter, and full internal cage, but with a set of normal street tires for running around to shows occasionally! But switch to drag slicks, just to have fun vaporizing them in acrid clouds of smoke! Paint it matte black, please! THE way to live life a quarter-mile at a time, A-Body style! (Darth Vader’s personal transport, the GNX, would not come around for seven years, so he could make do with that fire-breathing ‘Bu until then; he would have only needed a car when the TIE-fighter was in the shop, anyway!)

    This is a dream garage, so cost is no object, especially tires for the Darth Dragsta-Bu!

  • avatar
    RHD

    [Meant to be a reply to Jerome10.]
    Agreed. I was a teenager then, and one of my neighbors had one just like the blue Century fastback pictured at the top of the article. It wasn’t memorable for anything except being not very good at anything.
    They didn’t keep it very long.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Buy- Chevy Malibu coupe. You can stuff anything from a 229 V6 to a 500 Cid Cadillac engine under that hood and it will have the most value on the collector car circuit.

    Drive- Century turbo coupe if anything because it would have had the most power available that year combined with a sport suspension

    Burn the Ugly Cutlass Salon


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