One of the best-selling performance cars of the ’50s came from Buick. When Buick engineers stuffed the big Roadmaster V-8 into the small Special chassis, they created the ’54 Century and it galloped to the front of the horsepower race.
Prior to World War II, the Century nameplate had been synonymous with performance and the formula was the same: big eight in a small chassis. The ’54 model swapped the traditional straight eight for an overhead-valve V-8 and came in two versions: 195 hp with stick shift, and 200 hp with Dynaflow Drive.
That was a beginning, but the 1955 models took a big, power-packed jump up the power curve and delivered 236 hp from 322 cubes. That was the same number of ponies found under the hoods of the bigger and much heavier Super and Roadmaster models.
Motor Life magazine reported the Dynaflow-equipped Century Riviera Coupe could fly from 0-to-60 mph in 10.9 seconds. The only faster car the magazine tested that year was the diminutive two-seat T-Bird, which did 60 mph in 10.75 seconds.
Dynaflow–often dismissed as “Dynaflush”—wasn’t known as a performance-type automatic transmission, but for 1955 the $193 option was reworked with a new Variable-Pitch Twin-Turbine setup and did a much better job in transferring power to the rear wheels.
Stock-car drivers and even drag racers noticed the Century in 1955 and it logged a pair of checkered flags in Grand National contests. Karl Kiekaefer’s famed Mercury Outboard racing team had a few Buicks in its fleet, too. While not a dominator, the ’55 Century was a worthy footnote in racing history because Buick’s next win didn’t come until 1981 (with Chevy power).
The ’55 selling season was a high-water mark for the American automobile industry and Buick as well. The brand moved into third place in the national sales rankings and the Century drew 158,796 buyers, darn near twice as many as the year before.
The most popular Century was the two-door Riviera hardtop that listed for $2,601 and attracted 80,338 buyers. The convertible is worth the most today. It listed for $2,991 and only 5,588 were made. A Riviera sedan (America’s first four-door hardtop) was added as a midyear model. With a base price of $2,733, it sold well and 55,088 were built.
The rarest model in the ’55 Century series was the specially built two-door sedan. It was made exclusively for the California Highway Patrol, which ordered 270 cars, half with stick shift.
The Century series continued in the Buick lineup through 1958, but sales never matched 1955. Later, the name reappeared on a variety of different types of Buicks.