Home Car Stories One Family 1972 BUICK CENTURION Convertible 455 Hi Performance- Kerry
1972 BUICK CENTURION Convertible 455 Hi Performance- Kerry PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Wednesday, 15 May 2013 18:18

1972 BUICK CENTURION Convertible 455 Hi Performance- Kerry


Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

72 buick centurian conv kerry logo

In the Roman Infantry, Centurions were leaders who led the men into battle and fought at the front ranks. They had a strong reputation for valor. Buick shows the head dress that indicates Centurion rank in their choice of logo for the car seen below. Aside from imparting some of that aggressive power to the car, the name also evokes the 'Century' name which has a long history applied to high end Buick cars.

72 centurion conv kerry roman badge

When I was a kid I didn't know much about Roman history but I knew a hot car when I saw one. I recall wincing at the sound of the next door neighbor's wife taking out the side of their Buick Wildcat on the garage door edge. That was a great looking car until the nicely sculpted sides were gouged out. It was also a huge car which explains the lack of clearance issues it caused in a standard sized garage.

72 buick centurion conv kerry front

The Buick Wildcat was an 'Executive Hot Rod' which means a full sized car with the hottest engine dropped in it. This formula began with the Buick Century and was carried forth with the 1962 introduction of the Wildcat. It was a cool concept which never got a chance to flourish. Soon after the Wildcat was launched Buick trumped itself in 1963 with one of the best looking cars of the decade: the Buick Riviera. The Wildcat was lost in the backwash of the explosive popularity of the Buick Riviera. It's too bad because the Wildcat became a very good looking car with surprisingly good performance.

Eventually Buick decided to let the Wildcat nameplate die off in peace. It was no longer the 1960s and animal names were 'out' at General Motors. Pontiac had been forced by GM head office to abandon their very successful 'Tiger' theme for the 1967 model year. When the Chevrolet 'Panther' was released it was renamed the Camaro. By the start of the 1970s the musclecar mania was being killed off through insurance rates, gasoline prices and government regulations that reduced the actual and perceived (net HP rating) performance of musclecars. The concept of a 'gentleman's musclecar wasn't quite dead though. Buick kept the Wildcat concept alive by naming it the Buick Centurion. The Centurion lasted through model years 1971, 1972 and 1973.

Back in 1972 in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada a red convertible version of the Buick 'gentleman's hotrod' was about to dazzle a woman named Christine. Before discovering the Centurion, Christine owned a succession of used cars, the most recent being a red Fiat. The family also owned a red Pontiac Parisienne convertible at one time. Red convertibles and red cars in general were a well established tradition in Christine's household. In summer of 1972 Christine was driving past Royal Pontiac Buick Ltd in West Vancouver with her mother. Right alongside the street sat a red 1972 Buick Centurion convertible with the top down.

The photo below shows the Centurian parked in front of a high rise building constructed upon the original site of the Royal Pontiac Buick dealership.

72 BUICK CENTURION Convertible- Kerry dealer location

Royal Pontiac Buick displayed their hottest new cars right along the edge of the dealership adjacent to the sidewalk of Marine Drive. This section of Marine Drive leads to the Lion's Gate Bridge and is frequently backed up with cars attempting to merge down into one or two lanes when crossing the bridge. Sitting stuck in traffic, drivers had plenty of time to study the cars offered for sale at Royal Pontiac Buick. It sure worked wonders in this case. For Christine it was love at first sight.

"That's my car!"

After consultation with Kerry's father, they made the trip together to Royal Pontiac Buick to buy the Centurion. As well as sharing a similar name to the very famous Ace Wilson's Royal Pontiac dealership in Royal Oak, Michigan, Royal Pontiac Buick in West Vancouver also has a performance background. Royal Pontiac Buick took over Conroy Pontiac Buick, located at 680 Marine Drive on leased land in West Vancouver, BC. Conroy's rare supercar "Cheetahs" were similar to US musclecar dealer conversions such as the Yenko and Baldwin-Motion. See the story on Conroy and Royal Pontiac Buick in the DEALERSHIPS section of this website filed under BC/ WEST VANCOUVER. The spirit of the muscle era was kept alive in the configuration of this Centurion which was ordered by Royal with the top high performance 455 available from Buick.

72 buick centurion conv kerry styled steel wheels

The Centurion VIN prefix 4P67W2X decodes:

4= Buick

P= Centurion

67= Convertible

W= High Performance 455- 4 barrel engine

2= 1972 Model year

X= Fairfax, Kansas final assembly plant

The final 6 digits of the VIN are not shown in order to protect owner privacy. The door sticker is dated April, 1972. The cowl tag date code is 04B which is a second week of April build date.

The engines available for the Centurion in 1972 were 455-4bbl single exhaust (VIN code T), 455-4bbl dual exhaust (VIN code U) and the top dog High Performance 455- 4 barrel dual exhaust engine with the new optional transistorized ignition (VIN code W).

This Centurion was loaded for the time period. Not only a convertible with the High Performance 455 and automatic transmission, it also came with styled steel wheels and many options.

72 buick centurion conv kerry power seats

The power seat buttons shown above allow for pretty exact manuevering of seating position. Note the seat belt buckle. The second hole in the seatbelt buckle allows attachment of a shoulder belt optionally. The Buick also has power remote trunk release, a radio with 8 track player, power steering, and power brakes. Shown below are the controls in the driver's door panel for power windows, and power door locks.

72 buick centurion conv kerry power windows locks

Kerry recalls looking out into the driveway of their North Vancouver house to see her mother's first new car. Christine claimed the deep freight train blast given by the horn was a dominant 7th. Kerry didn't know for sure on that score, nor did she know the difference between a Wildcat and a Centurion in 1972. Kerry did know a nice looking car when she saw one and when she laid eyes on that Centurion she knew it was a keeper.

72 buick centurion conv kerry and christine w van 1970s

The picture above shows the Centurion with Christine behind the wheel and Kerry in the passenger seat at their home in West Vancouver, BC. The picture below shows the car 40 years later in the same driveway.

72 buick centurion conv kerry w van 2013

The Centurion actually had a few miles on it at time of purchase. It had been used with dealer plates as the personal driver of the owner of Royal Pontiac Buick for the time between April, 1972 when it was manufactured in the Fairfax, Kansas final assembly plant for shipment to West Vancouver, BC and the subsequent sale to Christine in summer of 1972.

Christine and her husband owned a garage named West End Shell at Burrard and Davie in downtown Vancouver, B.C. The Buick received top care right from the start. Any little noise and Christine had one of the mechanics at the garage take a look at it. She parked at the furthest corner of shopping malls to avoid dings from careless drivers, but the determined door bashers will always get you in the end no matter how careful you are. Within a year, exasperation with the door bashers inspired Christine to have a protective side molding installed on the car following the Buick downwards curving spear indentation along the sides of the car.

72 buick centurion kerry rear bumper

The Centurion is the last of the thin bumper cars where the bumper was styled to fit in with the bodywork. In 1973 new bumper standards necessitated the use of the so called 'railway tie' bumpers that adhered to the new 5 MPH Federal impact standards. The Centurion is not immune to government regulation however: the 455 engine in this car has a low 8.5:1 compression ratio and hardened valve seats in anticipation of new unleaded gasoline. Emissions standards also make their presence known with PCV valve and leaner settings. Despite hauling an enormous car, the 455 in this Centurion has so much torque it is unaffected much by compression drop and emissions changes.

The convertible was an endangered species by 1972. The final year for intermediate convertibles was 1972. See the story on a 1972 Buick Skylark purchased specifically in response to the end of the convertible line in the ONE OWNER section of CAR STORIES on this site.

The Centurion line consisted of 19,852 of the 4 door hardtops, 14,187 of the 2 door sport coupe and a mere 2,396 of the convertible coupe. That is about 6.9 % of the Centurion production.

This particular convertible has a feature usually only found on high end cars: the parade boot. A body colored cover fits over the folded convertible top created a cleaner look to the car.

72 buick centurion conv kerry parade boot

The Centurion is not the largest Buick available for 1972 but by today's standards it is a gigantic car. The owner's manual list of full size Buick specifications is shown below.

72 centurion conv kerry specs owner manual

With a 123.4 inch wheelbase the Centurion is slightly longer than the Riviera but less than the Electra 225 and Estate Wagon which use a whopping 127 inch wheelbase. Overall length of 221.9 inches long makes the Centurion one of the biggest cars on the road even back in 1972. Even the Cadillac Eldorado was only 2 inches longer. All the 1972 full size Buicks share an 80 inch width.

72 buick centurion conv kerry empty space at grille

Some of the length of the full size cars was size for the sake of size. The Monte Carlo was one of the more blatant examples of this trend where several inches were added to the front nose of the car. A huge barrel type fan shroud was created to bridge the gap between fan and radiator. See the story of a 1970 Monte Carlo in this ONE FAMILY section. The Chevrolet Impala was enlarged in 1971 with useless space waste that was so pronounced that magazine testers felt impelled to discuss it. The Centurion is not innocent on this count either. Note the gigantic gap between the front bumper and the radiator.

Once 5 MPH bumpers were tacked onto these cars for the 1973 model year all these 1972 designed large cars became positively huge. Ironically, for the 1973 model year the standard engine in the Centurion was demoted to a 175 net HP 350-4 barrel just at a time when the car was gaining more weight (those 5 MPH bumpers are heavy). The 1972 was the last year for integrated bumper design and the 455 as a standard engine.

72 buick Centurion Conv Kerry-r driver side

Kerry has many fond memories of growing up with the Centurion. Christine took the kids to a family doctor in Vancouver. The commute to and fro turned a doctor's appointment into an all day affair. Kerry is probably the only kid in history who savored her doctor's appointments! Christine picked her up at school which meant that Kerry got the day off school. The real fun began on the ride to the doctors. Cruising in the convertible over the Lion's Gate bridge on a sunny day with the top down made the doctor's appointment worthwhile. Below is a picture of the car today in North Vancouver with the Lion's Gate Bridge in the background.

72 buick centurian conv kerry at lion's gate bridge

Kerry recalls the songs on a 'Greatest Hits' 8 track tape Christine received as a gift in the 1970's. Kerry and her mum sang along to it while she drove: "Hooked on a Feeling", Neil Diamond's "Song Sung Blue", and "Good Morning Starshine". Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets" presented a real challenge with the undecipherable lyrics. Singing along they simply substituted made up lyrics for the mystery words: 'Mohair Suit'.

Kerry recalls Christine's "cheeky moods". At a stoplight just before it flipped to green, she'd smile at Kerry and say,

"Watch this".

That was Kerry's cue to brace for a rocket launch from the 455 as they blew the doors off the car in the lane beside them. In 1972 the diffusion of GM engines into one 'corporate' engine had not yet happened. This 455 Buick engine retains a strong division identity. The red painted engine and red painted finned valve covers with front mounted distributor tell us this is a Buick engine. Note the unusual configuration of the distributor cap. The Pontiac 455 HO and Buick 455 were available with a precursor to the modern electronic ignition system. Two struts are added to convertibles to aid body rigidity. The 80 inch wide car provides plenty of room to access spark plugs even with the monster 455.

72 Buicks centurion conv kerry 455 engine

After Kerry's parents sold the garage business, Christine got a regular job. Her first job was downtown. She later commuted to an office close to Central Park in Burnaby, BC which is a bit of a long haul and put on some mileage. During this period of serious use the car was as always maintained and any small items attended to immediately.

72 buick centurion conv kerry inner trunk lid labels

Christine had the car repainted to deal with fading paint. The body was rust and dent free. Inside the trunk lid the original factory decal is on one side and the body shop paint information on the other.

72 buick centurion conv kerry steering wheel

By September of 1992 the Centurion had logged 107,000 miles of use in 20 years, which works out to 5,350 miles per year.

72 buick centurion conv kerry driver seat

Despite crossing 100,000 miles the Buick white seats are still in good condition. The pedals show minimal wear, too. This is due to the car traveling a mere 5,000 miles in the last 15 years of its life.

72 buick centurion conv kerry pedals

The original Buick mats show some wear on the driver's mat and marginal on the rest. Considering that the car passed 100,000 miles the mats have held up quite well.

72 buick centurion conv kerry floor mats

The Centurion is essentially a car that has been driven 27 years. The last 15 years of its life it hasn't seen much action.

Christine suffered a stroke in 1999 which relegated the Buick to seasonal pleasure use only. The slowdown in mileage accumulation is notable after this date. From this period forward it was driven only 6 months a year. In fact the latest new top has never been rained on.

72 buick centurion conv kerry speedometer

Below you can see the incremental increase in mileage as reported to the lower mainland Aircare inspection station. Some of the figures don't make sense. This is typical at Aircare where rushed technicians glance at the odometer or else mishear the owner's declaration of mileage. The majority of the readings follow a logical progression.

(Yr-Mo-Day) Mileage

2013-04-16 140,000
2006-04-26 140,000 
2004-08-03 140,000 
2003-08-19  39,000
2002-08-30  59,000
2001-09-13 139,000
2001-08-27 220,000
2000-08-18 137,000
1999-09-01  35,000
1999-08-30 135,000 
1998-09-29 121,000
1997-09-18 129,000
1996-09-10  25,000
1995-09-13 119,000
1994-09-23 114,000
1993-09-03 109,000 
1992-09-26 107,000

In 2006 knowing the end was near, Christine transferred her beloved Buick into daughter Kerry's name. The Centurion had been a one owner car for 34 years. In 2007 Christine died. Kerry was unable to enjoy the Buick much due to the necessity of storing it in a cramped condo. As many collectors will tell you, the thirty minute process of extricating a huge car from a modern condo parkade can be a feat so colossal and stressful it renders the short ride later on not worth the effort and sweat inducing narrow misses with cement posts. Then the nerve wracking process is reversed upon return.

The Centurion sat in storage with a cover over it and a new battery before it was stored. The tank was filled up and fuel stabilizer was added. It hadn't been started for a few years until Kerry was able to clear some time to get the car out on the road again in spring of 2013.

72 buick centurion conv kerry trunk

The car proved to be remarkably simple to get going again. The Vancouver, BC garage Hemrich Brothers replaced the battery, cleaned and serviced the battery cables and removed the spark plugs to squirt some oil down the cylinder walls. The Centurion started right up and ran well. After a lube oil and filter, brake cleaning and adjustment (75% left on rear, 50% on front) the Buick was ready to hit the road.

Still running on the old gas left in the tank with 15 minutes of driving time, Kerry decided to see what would happen with Aircare inspection. Getting any 455 through Aircare is a miracle, but even more incredible in this case considering that this car sat for years. It passed easily with old gasoline. The fuel stabilizer probably helped a great deal with this issue and the High Performance 455's early version of electronic ignition may have tipped the balance.

72 buick centurion conv kerry manuals

The garage inspection uncovered a few minor points. The new top needs to sit out in the sun a bit before it can soften up enough in the heat to stretch far enough down to be clamped onto the front windshield mounting points. The windshield wiper motor was not working all the time, which in GM cars is often related to some corrosion or looseness where the wiring harness plugs into the motor. The frame "horns" have some rust although the rest of the car is rust free. The aftermarket molding strip that Christine had mounted on the sides of the car in 1973 to prevent door dings slightly lowers the value of the car which is otherwise totally stock.

Because of the extreme hassle involved in trying to take the car out for a drive when living in a condo, Kerry is looking for a new home for the Centurion. The car is for sale as of summer, 2013.

72 buick centurion conv kerry rear end

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 10 February 2015 15:27 )