Home » I Bought A 29-Year Old Buick With 68,000 Miles On It To Prove The Haters Wrong

I Bought A 29-Year Old Buick With 68,000 Miles On It To Prove The Haters Wrong

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Oh, that fancypants Matt Hardigree. Whilst living his best life and making solid used car decisions, he picked up what is admittedly a fantastic score of a manual BMW 5 Series. I mean, Matt has been working in automotive media since the late ’70s, so it makes sense that he has this down to a science by now. He bought it from what appears to be the World’s Nicest Millennial Male Model, also. Everything about that transaction was just good-looking, clean, and smart. It was almost like those Big Pharma commercials where you see scenes of perfect-looking people doing lively, fun things, minus the narrator discussing truly horrifying side effects in the voice-over. The cleanness, the success of it all felt so rare here in Autopia.     

Just to ensure the correct amount of mayhem is present around here and to provide a needed Beautiful Bayerische Motoren foil, I bought a car that is probably the most opposite iteration of the same body style (full size luxury sedan) and also in the opposite condition.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Fellow Autopians, I give you my new ‘94 Supercharged Buick Park Avenue Ultra.

Bought for $400 during the same week of Matt’s purchase, it’s the perfect counterweight to that ultra-sleek Bavarian sled. His is that beautiful silver gunmetal over gorgeous black leather. Mine is sun-baked rust & primer over molded/damp beige leather from a leaking moonroof. 

Are these two cars even comparable? They certainly don’t compete with each other, but if we looked at pricing from when each was sold, they’re not too far off. The original MSRP for a 1994 BMW 5 Series was $35,350. Meanwhile, my badass Buick started at $31,864. Now here’s the real jaw-dropper: The ‘03 Park Ave came in at $39,725 while Matt’s car started at $38,295. The Buick was more expensive! We’ll touch more on that in our upcoming comparo piece, but for now, let’s look at this sweet score of an automotive treasure that I stumbled across last week.

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The Beauty Of The <$1800 Daily Shitbox Search

I mean, its beauty really does speak for itself. Cheap is good ‘round these parts. Not that I’m trying to be a cheap-ass, but it’s just that usually cars in this bottom-of-the-barrel market position require a lot. The less you get them for, the more room you have to make some moves. This thing cost $400 with lost keys (and the best well-wishes.) 

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You gotta love the 90s throwback charms. I plan on selling this to a Gen Z hipster.

There was a title and a big ass stack of repairs included though! They listed a bevy of repairs that made me feel deeply sorry for the previous owner and also even more perturbed towards Roger Smith than Michael Moore probably still is.

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Sifting through them, I found that this top-of-the-line Buick (that was a retirement purchase for an elderly couple) has needed the below dealer repairs in its 68,000 miles traveled (total) on this Earth:

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  • Crank sensor $276
  • Trans solenoid $414
  • Purge canister & solenoid $193
  • Supercharger failure/replacement $1,394
  • Rear wheel cylinders leaking $185
  • Harmonic balancer $248
  • Failed PCM $355
  • Failed Traction Control Module (EBTCM) $881

That’s right, the elderly couple spent $3,946 on repairs in the first 68,000 miles. And that was in late 90s money. Those same repairs would cost $7,084.76 in 2023 dollars. The General certainly does not deserve a salute for that. Well, maybe a certain type of salute. It really shows you how far modern GM has come. Just imagine 68,000-mile 2018-2019 GM models costing that much for repairs in the first handful of years. Luckily for them, on a clear day, you can still see General Motors.

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No Rilo Kiley on this dash, sadly.

Hopefully, the mega-bummer that this thing has been so far in its abbreviated life is in the past and stays there. It’s a new day, a new beginning and a new century. And also, this car isn’t a Century.

A Green Car Greenhouse

After getting the title earlier in the week, the next step was to get the keys made. The previous owners have both passed on and the car has sat in their backyard for a hot minute as their next-of-kin and estate is settled by those that have survived them. And I mean a hot minute. 

This is exactly the type of situation for the classic Gossin Motors Backyard Shitbox Auto Rescue.

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The real-world “Last of Us” fungus pandemic is probably in there.

All four tires are flat and the wheels are sinking into the Carolina dirt. As mentioned above, the moonroof drains clogged and water was then diverted into the headliner (again, excellent contingency planning, GM.) At least three inches of standing putrid brown water sits on the left-rear foot well (look closely in the picture).

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Look right behind the driver’s seat.

There is mold and mildew over every inch of the interior of the car; every electronic component and switch has been soaked in greenhouse heat and moisture for the past few years. Enough so, that the steel bars that form the backbone pivot point for the sun visors each rusted straight through and snapped.

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Guess how great this smells.

Makin’ Moves

GM dealers no longer keep the VIN-indexed key codes for cars of this age, so only licensed locksmiths that pay have access to the Old GM Key Vault. Not sure about every dealer, so don’t take that as gospel, but that’s what the locksmith told me. $40 for the GM key codes and $120  for the blanks and the cuts later, I had a sweet set of new keys. The square for the ignition, the circle for the doors and the deck lid.

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Things are progressing! A quick trip to the local Pick n’ Pull yielded me a $40 side-post used battery and my portable air tank proved that three out of four tires (holdin’ air) ain’t bad.

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Check out the rear drum once I removed that bad tire.

I tossed in the battery and decided to give it a twist to ensure that the starter engaged and to also see if (by a miracle) the fuel pump would hum after rotting in watery corn-gas for years. That turned out to be a big “nope!” and “nope!” Not surprised.

I Have To Have This Thing Ready For Moab…er Matt’s Comparison Piece

So that’s where we currently are with this supercharged, green leviathan. Does it run? Hard no. Will it run soon? Probably not. Will it ever run again? Possibly not. Will trying to make it run be totally worth it? Abso-frickin-lutely.

I’ll be towing it to The Evil Wrenching Lair (under that volcano in Wilmington, NC) this weekend and the fuel tank will be out of the car for the first time since it was installed in Wentzville, Missouri in ’93.

Buicks are famously known for being the “Doctor’s Car”, although I believe that I’ll probably need a doctor after spending any more time inhaling whatever is growing in the petri dish, er uh,  interior. Both Matt and I were able to find adventure and find something to make us each smile this week. Think of this as our way of paying it forward as a motivational push to have you do the same.

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Look at that glorious corkscrew blower on that 3800.

Less than 1% of all cars sold in North America are green. I’m not sure how many, on average, are supercharged, but I can bet that it’s not a lot (Thomas Hundal would probably know – I should ask him). If I looked on my local sales platforms for that exact criteria, I don’t think I’d be able to find even one anywhere near me at any price point.  This car is special, at least to me. It’s an Unholy Gossin Grail, if you will. Out of 118 cars I’ve had, this is the only one that I’ve found that is both green and supercharged

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And that’s gotta count for something.

All Photos: Stephen Walter Gossin

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Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
1 year ago

Wow man. I love these Buicks. Truly I do. That interior though, I don’t know if there’s any fixing that!

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
1 year ago

Tyvek suit, full face respirator and Godspeed.

That all needs to be gutted to bare metal. Every scrap of porous material needs to be deep cleaned. And the body wiring harnesses, oof. IIRC new headliners are available. Or do the DIY Berber carpet headliner.

Clark B
Clark B
1 year ago

Yep, mold can and will return if you don’t kill every single particle of it. I’d be concerned that it got into the seat foam/padding, or behind the dashboard where you can’t effectively clean.

TheCrank
TheCrank
1 year ago

This is how Last of Us starts , isn’t it?

Ultradrive
Ultradrive
1 year ago

“Luckily for them, on a clear day, you can still see General Motors.”

Excellent reference and a fascinating read.

Parsko
Parsko
1 year ago

If this were a house, I would consider it a “full gut”.

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
1 year ago
Reply to  Parsko

Arson isn’t always a bad choice.

Kyree
Kyree
1 year ago

Ooh, lord; I hope you like OBD 1.5.

Curtis Loew
Curtis Loew
1 year ago

Scrap is about $175 a ton now. You should be able to get $350 for it.

ChrisGT
ChrisGT
1 year ago

No Rilo Kiley on this dash, sadly.

Bummer. Hoping this would become a thing.

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
1 year ago

I don’t think there is any way around that interior coming out, being throughly cleaned not once, not twice, but thrice, and dried on a hot sunny day.

Checknout AMMO NYC on YouTube — he’s cleaned up some nasty stuff over the years and it always seems to come out OK.

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
1 year ago
Reply to  Rollin Hand

Of course I do have an irrational love of these Buicks, but moreso the next generation.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
1 year ago
Reply to  Rollin Hand

Elon Musk to the rescue. Not with a tesla–with a flamethrower

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 year ago

My shitty math indicates you are about $600 (excluding effort) into this venture when you add up car, keys and battery. I would strip it for every part you can resell without contravening international bio-warfare treaties. You might extract about $950 and make a small profit. This would, of course depend on the remaining carcass/organism and how you dispose of it. It could be costly or it could be controlled burn, depending on your respect for the planet.

But let’s say arguably you end up $30 ahead. I’m go out on a limb here and say I cannot picture Matt ending up $30 ahead on his venture, so you’ve pretty much won.

Lokki
Lokki
1 year ago

“Out of 118 cars I’ve had, this is the only one that I’ve found that is both mold green and supercharged </strike< a potential superfund site. I almost said rolling superfund site but that presumes a state not supported by available evidence.

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
1 year ago
Reply to  Lokki

I like how the missing close formatting tag carries through to the thumbs up!

????

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
1 year ago

If I had owned it I would have given you $400 to drag it away. I once rented a Park Avenue of that vintage. I believe it was the most dangerous car I had ever driven. It rolled, it bounced, it swayed all to hell and back. Every turn made the tires squeal. Braking made the front end squat and the rear end rise. After I turned it in I even wrote a letter to GM begging them to reconsider the set up on that car. Never even received a “thanks for your input” reply. I hope you have better luck with the “Gran Touring Suspension.” Have fun!

B3n
B3n
1 year ago

Well it might be a mold-infested disaster at this current state, but I’d still rather deal with this than rust.
Body looks straight, it even has rockers with no holes!
You could do a power wash before-after picture.
Put on a mask, rubber gloves and rip out the moldy interior.
Replace it with something else. Like rubber liner floors, yoga mats, foam headliner, anything goes, does it really matter?
This is why I love southern cars, mechanically they can almost always be brought back to life unlike the rustbuckets of the north.

Jblues
Jblues
1 year ago
Reply to  B3n

One weekend in a hazmat suit, and this thing will be cherry!

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
1 year ago
Reply to  Jblues

The seats and carpet will likely clean up fine, maybe source a better lid to the center arm rest, but that headliner needs to be incinerated

RootWyrm
RootWyrm
1 year ago

Look. That BMW was ‘entry level at best.’ The Park Avenue Ultra, when new, was one of the nicest interiors you could buy period. It was an overstuffed couch on wheels that would do 0 to 60 in a very, very respectable 8 seconds with a lot of wheel spin. It had big V8 levels of torque, glided over everything, and would do it at 100MPH till you ran out of gas. Especially with the Gran Touring suspension package.

This Park Avenue? You truly, truly have no idea just what hell you are in for. “Failed supercharger” and “elderly owner” invariably is ‘they ignored a leaking intake manifold gasket, and couldn’t afford proper repairs, so the mechanic just torqued it down.’ Saw that regularly. EBTCM, even I don’t have the extremely mandatory tooling for. I also don’t have the needed Teves I DLC that you need to bleed the brakes. And that amount of water plus ECM failure? Moonroof cassette failed long ago and was ignored.

I fucking love Park Avenue Ultras, almost as much as W-body Regals. Doubly so Medium Green or Majestic Teal Metallic over light tan. (Unless I could get Aubergine or Dark Mulberry over brown.)
And even on somebody else’s dime with unlimited budget, I’d have kept right on looking. This thing makes David Tracy’s picks look downright mint.

Kyree
Kyree
1 year ago
Reply to  RootWyrm

I agree with your take (and I actually have a fleet of German cars, including an E39, a 2000 528i 5MT).

But I have a lot of love for these large GM FWD-mobiles, my favorite of which is the 1995-1999 Riviera Supercharged. The exception is the W-bodies. The only one of those I liked was the Intrigue.

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
1 year ago

Awesome choice! I picked up a ’93 Ultra in 2010 for $900 and it was one of the better cars I’ve owned. It was in very nice condition, but I got it cheap because of an engine noise the owner was told was a failing supercharger. I gambled on it and discovered the noise was actually a bad harmonic balancer. $60 and a Saturday afternoon later and that was solved. It ended up as our family car for a few years, then as a loaner to two different people while I did some rust on their cars. Then I sold to a renter for $2500 and it was their family car for a few years. Some bad suspension components and a rusty brake line side-lined it for them, and they told me I could have it back if I got it out of their driveway. $500 worth of parts later and it was back on the road. I drove it for another six months and sold it to a different renter for $1,000. He used it for about a year and then the transmission started slipping, so he gave it to his brother (yet another guy renting from me) who drove it for a few more months before the tranny let go completely. It still ran great, so he sold it for $500 to a guy who wanted the 3800 with a supercharger. I originally purchased it with 94,000 miles, and it was just shy of 200,000 when it was finally sold off for parts. Not a bad run – hopefully you have similar luck with yours!

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
1 year ago

This rig is seriously dirt-bag level.
I’m thinking a 2 grand one that actually runs (even with 200,000 miles) would be cheaper in the long run.

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
1 year ago

Holy crap, I hope you have a respirator and disposable coveralls… I don’t think those came from the factory with black, semi-glossy headliners…

That interior is nightmare fuel

Outofstep
Outofstep
1 year ago

When I saw the headliner I gasped. I’m sure Mercedes and co can have given him some pointers on how to deal with the “patient zero” car. At the very least he (hopefully) won’t get trenchfoot like our dear David did.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 year ago

TBH between the two deals i would be far more likely to by the Buick at $400 as opposed to whatever he paid for the BMW. If you get it running it will outlast the Beemer.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
1 year ago

I left North Carolina to get out of the Deadly Spore Zone.

Chronometric
Chronometric
1 year ago

That’s not a Buick, it’s a SuperFund Site.

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
1 year ago
Reply to  Chronometric

You can’t say SuperFund without Super Fun!

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 year ago

I have to say my favorite part so far is how the modern replacement keys for a nearly 30 year old car aren’t just any old generic ones, but *exactly* replicate GM’s style at the time – square black plastic covered ignition key, round metal only door/trunk key.

I can visualize my old GM keys vividly right now. Funny how little things like distinctive keys can stick in our memories long after the car/experience is gone.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
1 year ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

American manufacturers were slow to adopt 1-key setups. I think they had a deal with the Lock Cartel.

Sarah Bell
Sarah Bell
1 year ago

My guess is that GM saved $0.03 per car by sourcing the ignition cylinders from a different vendor than the doors and not bothering to have them synced up, then marketed it as a feature.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
1 year ago

I guess Buick learned from this car the family beater 2003 LeSabre has 213,000 miles and since #1 son bought it in 2017 after it outlived its first two owners we have done mostly wear items. The big jobs were a front cylinder head from a salvage yard to fix low compression on #3 cylinder new control arms to resolve worn ball joints a brake job and an axle. Apart from an occasional oil leak and crappy GM plastics it’s stone reliable

Chris Moore
Chris Moore
1 year ago

3800 SC – forged internals on a pretty indestructible engine. If it’s been well maintained once it’s wiring and vacuum system is gone through, the fuel system replumbed…it’s gonna fire right up.

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
1 year ago

Of the two cars this is, by a new-Hummer-sized margin, the one I’m rooting for. Where a failure in that BMW will be ‘well obviously’ I feel anything in this car will be more of a ‘wow, ok’.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
1 year ago

The year that they had Bentley as the marquee at the Monterey historics, there was a line of blower Bentleys, and you know what, they were all green! So I’m not taking your blown green car stats too seriously.

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