Buick’s Wild One

B e it a compact, intermediate or full-sized domestic car, there was great pressure in the 1962 model year to have at least one model with bucket-type front seats and a console, so dealerships could claim membership in the “bucket brigade” and offer customers a sporty, performance-oriented set of wheels.

    In the medium-priced, full-sized field for 1962, Oldsmobile had its Starfire, Pontiac its Grand Prix, Mercury its mid-year S-55 and Chrysler its 300 (both H and non-letter). Not wanting to be left out, Buick became involved with its mid-year Wildcat two-door hardtop.

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In 1964, Buick added four-door sedans to the Wildcat line, an act that went against the original idea of the sporty machine. However, even four-door Wildcats could be built with four-speed manual transmissions and bucket seats. When most people thought of Wildcats, they pictured the sporty two-door hardtop, illustrated here, and its convertible counterpart.

    Following the formula of the period, the Wildcat, based on the mid-range Invicta, featured all-vinyl, front bucket-type seats, a console on which a tachometer was placed and a vinyl roof cover. It listed for $3,927, a $194 premium over the Invicta two-door hardtop.

    Buick called on its heritage for the name of the new entry. The “Wildcat” name was used on dream cars of 1953 and 1954 and, starting with the 1959 models, Buick V-8’s were tagged “Wildcats.”

    Indeed, the 1962-1/2 Wildcat came standard with the Wildcat 445 V-8, the same engine that was standard on the Invictas, bigger Electras and optional on lower-priced LeSabres.

    The 401-cid powerplant produced 325 horsepower, but the “445” came more or less honestly from the 445 lbs.-ft. torque rating.

    Also standard on the Wildcat was Turbine Drive automatic, making the tachometer more for entertainment than hard-core use. Buick was not alone in putting a tach in an automatic car, but it was enough to irritate sports car purists of the time. Today, tachometers and automatics go hand in hand on the majority of passenger cars, and are still mainly used for entertainment.

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Buick’s entry in the “bucket brigade” of 1962 was the mid-year Wildcat two-door hardtop. It featured standard front semi-bucket seats, a console, tachometer, vinyl roof and other goodies to add a sporting flair to the lineup.

    Full-sized Buicks for 1962 were facelifted and enlarged versions of the downsized 1961 models. Two-door hardtops received formal roof lines that looked like convertibles with the top up. There were still two sizes: the 123-inch-wheelbase LeSabre, Invicta and Wildcat, and the 126-inch-wheelbase Electra 225.

    An interesting and questionable feature of the 1962 full-sized Buicks was Advanced Thrust Design, which moved the engine 4 inches forward from the earlier models. Claimed advantages included increased front-seat passenger room and better handling.

    “Moving the engine forward makes a mighty contribution to Buick’s extraordinary ease of handling,” the sales literature bragged. Since big Buicks were far from great-handling cars to begin with, by moving the engine forward, it increased weight on the front wheels, making the nose-heavy design even worse.

    Nose-heavy or not, the 1962 big Buicks sold better than their 1961 counterparts, and when combined with the Special/Skylark compacts, moved Buick up to sixth place, past floundering Mercury. However, Buick still was a long way from its glory years in the 1950s when it was in third place behind Chevrolet and Ford.

    The Wildcat nameplate would be fairly long lived in Buick’s big cars, but it would no longer just be attached to a specialized model.  For 1963, Wildcat replaced Invicta as a full series, gaining a convertible and four-door hardtop. Buckets and console were standard in the two-doors. The Invicta name lived on only in station wagon form.  However, Wildcat faded into the shadows a bit as the new Riviera personal luxury hardtop garnered the spotlight.

    A four-door sedan added insult to the sporting roots of Wildcat for 1964, and buckets with a console became options for the series. However, Wildcat would go on to hold down its notch over LeSabre through the 1970 model year, and buckets could still be had in various forms.  

    The all-new 1971 full-sized Buicks put the Wildcat name to rest, replacing it with the Centurion title.

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