The model name Century came about when Buick was designing its first production automobile capable of reaching a speed of 100 mph. The division needed to come up with a name. One of the Buick executives had returned from a recent trip to the British isles and told the other executives that the British referred to going 100 mph as "doing the century". The executives liked the Century name and it stuck.
he Century was sold as the Buick Regal in Japan, as Toyota owns the right to the name Century.
Buick renamed its entire model lineup for the 1936 model year to celebrate the engineering improvements and design advancements over their 1935 models. Buick's Series 40 model range became the Special, the Series 80 became the Roadmaster and the Series 90—Buick's largest and most luxurious vehicles, became the Limited. The Century took the place of the Series 60.
The basic formula for the 1936 to 1942 Century was established by mating shorter wheelbase Buick Special bodies to Buick's most powerful eight-cylinder engine. While the Special was powered by Buick's 233 in³ was rated 93 hp (69 kW) at 3200 rpm, Centuries produced between 1936 to 1942 were powered by Buick's 320 cu in inline-8 at 165 hp, making them the fastest Buicks of the era and capable of sustained speeds of 95 mph plus, earning the Century the nickname "the banker's hot rod." The Century was discontinued at the end of the abbreviated 1942 model year, during which total model production only accounted for about ten percent of Buick's total output.
In 1954, Buick reintroduced the Century using the same formula of mating the smaller, lighter Buick Special body to its largest and most powerful 322 cubic inch V8 engine with the intent of giving Buick a performance vehicle. Included in the model lineup during this period was a station wagon model, a body style that had been unavailable during the Century's first production period of 1936 to 1942. In 1955, the California Highway Patrol placed a large fleet order for Century 2-door sedans, a body style unavailable to the general public.
It combined the Special 2-door sedan body shell with Century powertrain and trim. Broderick Crawford was shown driving a 2-door Century sedan during the first season of his popular syndicated TV series "Highway Patrol". (In later seasons he'd drive a four-door Century, like his real life counterparts in the California Highway Patrol.)
The Century remained Buick's performance line, with engine power rising from 200 (SAE gross) in 1954, to 236 in 1955, to 255 in 1956, and topping out at 300 from a bored-out 364 cu in (6.0 L) engine in 1957-58, the last model years for the full sized Century line.
Because the Century was considered the senior "small Buick", the model received GM's only hardtop station wagon, the Century Caballero, from 1957 through 1958. The Caballero's expensive tooling, plus its limited sales appeal, caused GM to abandon the hardtop station wagon body style going into its planned 1959 divisional-wide new design program.
For 1959, Buick renamed the Century the Invicta.
The Buick Century nameplate returned the rear-wheel drive intermediate A-body, shared with siblings like the Pontiac Grand Prix, Pontiac LeMans, Pontiac GTO, Pontiac Can Am, Pontiac Grand Am, and Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. When all of GM's intermediate models were redesigned in 1973, the Century name replaced Skylark on Buick's mid-size sedans and wagons and some coupes. Beginning at this point, Century was a mainstay of Buick's smaller line, along with the new upmarket Regal coupe. It was available with two- and four-barrel versions of the Buick 350, putting out 150 and 175 horsepower (130 kW) respectively. The 250 hp 455 was also an option.
With the vanishing of the Skylark coupe after 1972, the Century inherited the potent Gran Sport performance option. While the Stage I 455 in³ (7.5 L) V8 was somewhat diminished from its performance heyday due to emission controls, the Century GS coupes of 1973 to 1975 remained strong performers by the standards of the time. At the other end of the power spectrum, to meet fuel economy regulations, some later models of this generation were equipped with 231 in³ (3.8 L) V6s.
In 1973 and 1974, the Luxus high-end trim level was offered for the Century, but for 1975 that line was renamed the Century Custom. Also beginning in 1975, the new 110 hp (82 kW) 231 V6 was installed as standard equipment, and the optional big-block 455 was now exclusive to the station wagon. After the 455's demise, the Oldsmobile 403 was available on 1977 Century wagons. GM intermediates got a facelift for 1976, giving the Century quad rectangular headlamps and a taller, flatter grille.
Between 1975 and 1977, a Buick Special coupe was marketed as part of the Century model lineup as an entry level vehicle. Called the "Century Special" in Buick literature, the coupe was based on the 2-door fastback body style but had a special landau roof that covered most of the quarter glass, giving it the appearance of the higher-lever formal roof cars. 1976 and 1977 models had a unique body-color header panel.
It should also be noted that, like in "Highway Patrol" before it, several of this generation Century appeared in "Kojak", driven by Telly Savalas and other squadroom members.
In 1978, a downsized, redesigned Century appeared in the form of a fastback coupe ("aeroback") and sedan (the body was shared with the Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon), as well as a more traditionally styled station wagon. The car was over a foot shorter, several inches narrower, and several hundred pounds lighter than its predecessor. V6 engines were still standard due to fuel economy regulations. The base engine was Buick's new 196, introduced specifically for the Century and Regal. The 231 and the Chevrolet 305 were options. The Pontiac 265 and 301 replaced the Chevrolet engine for 1979.
One of the more rare models of this time was the 1979 to 1980 Century Turbo Coupe, powered by a turbocharged version of the 3.8 L V6, which offered V8-like performance with more reasonable fuel consumption. The Turbo Coupe was not nearly as popular as the similar Regal Turbo Sport Coupe of the time, and total production is estimated to be less than 2,500.
The fastback sedan also did not sell well (in common with the similar Cutlass Salon sedan) and it was revamped as a more conventional notchback in 1980. The "Limited" coupe was also dropped this year. For 1981, the fastback coupe was dropped. With the introduction of the new front wheel drive Century in 1982 (see below), the existing notchback sedan and wagon models were transferred to the Regal line.
In 1981, another downsized Century arrived, this time on the front wheel drive A platform, in coupe and sedan form. In 1984, a station wagon was added to the lineup to replace the departed Regal wagon. 1984 also saw an Olympic version of the Buick Century, commemorating the 1984 games in Los Angeles, California. In 1986, all versions were "freshened" with a new, more angular front fascia. Wheelbase was 104.9 in (2664 mm), with 189 in (4800mm) overall length. Both four-cylinder and diesel V6 engines were offered in this generation, although neither became popular. Performance versions of several Buick models, including the Century coupe, were offered in the mid 1980s under the T-Type name. With Buick's 181 in³ (3.0 L) V6 producing 110 hp (82 kW), the Century T-Type's performance was modest, but the 3.8 SFI engine, producing 140-150 hp (105-112 kW), offered spirited performance in this relatively lightweight vehicle.
In 1985 and 1986, Hess & Eisenhardt/Car Craft of Lima, Ohio converted 124 finished Buick Century Coupes into coachbuilt convertibles. Although these convertibles were sold as new cars through Buick dealerships, these convertible conversions were not factory authorized. In the Japanese market Buick could not use the "Century" name, as that was already in use for the Toyota Century, so it was marketed as the "Buick Luxus" instead.