Remember, not many years ago, when American car shoppers could choose among dozens of new Detroit sedans? For the 2006 model year alone, General Motors offered 12 different four-door sedans, and that’s ignoring sub-models plus the sedans bearing the badges of (GM-owned) Saab and Suzuki. Today, there are three new GM sedans available here, and both of the Cadillacs are built on the same platform as the Camaro. The Buick Division got out of the US-market sedan game when the final 2020 Regal rolled off Opel’s line in Rüsselsheim, but the very last proper full-sized Buick sedan was Hamtramck’s own Lucerne. I found this Northstar-equipped first-year Lucurne in a Colorado Springs yard last month.
Apparently because all the cool place names in Spain and Italy had been taken for other car models, Buick selected a Swiss city for this car’s namesake. The closest relative of the Lucerne was the Cadillac DTS.
Not only was the Lucerne the last of the big Buick sedans, it was one of the very last GM vehicles to get the Northstar V8 engine. This one was rated at 275 horsepower.
The Northstar was a smooth and powerful DOHC engine, high-tech stuff when it debuted in the 1993 Cadillac Allanté, but it proved nearly impossible to do a head gasket job on one. The Northstar was standard equipment in the top-trim-level CXS and optional in the mid-grade CXL for 2006. Lesser Lucernes got the good old “gallon” Buick 3.8-liter V6, a pushrod engine with a complex ancestry stretching back to the early 1960s and rated at 197 horses in the ’06 Lucerne. For the 2009-2011 model years, the El Cheapo engine in the Lucerne became the 3.9-liter LZ9 V6 (still a pushrod engine but making a respectable 227 horsepower). All Lucernes had four-speed automatic transmissions, period.
It’s a safe bet that today’s Junkyard Find met its fate due to a failed head gasket. As we’ve learned with Northstars in the 24 Hours of Lemons, Head Gasket In a Can™ doesn’t work so well under racing conditions.
In a nod to Lucerne owners’ grandchildren bearing iPods and Zunes, the ’06 Lucerne CXS came with an eight-speaker sound system with an AUX input jack. As someone who regularly scours junkyards for AUX-equipped factory head units to use in car-parts boomboxes, I can tell you that very few vehicles had such jacks prior to the late-2000s smartphone boom (though you could buy Mitsubishis in the middle 1990s with 3.5mm stereo input jacks, because of the minidisc craze in Japan at the time).
If you want to be really picky about it, the last true octogenarian-grade big Buick was the 1996 Roadmaster, because the 1949 Buick had rear-wheel-drive and that’s that. At least the ’49 Roadmaster, the ’96 Roadmaster, and the ’06 Lucerne were all built in Michigan (albeit in different plants). I keep trying to peel off one of these Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly stickers for my junkyard toolbox, but they never come off in one piece (strangely, stickers from cars built at Wilmington and Orion are easily removed from junkyard cars).
It appears that one of this car’s final trips may have been to the grandbaby’s prom, and I hope the head gasket didn’t pop on the way to the venue. I also drove a big GM luxury sedan to my prom, though it was a mere Pontiac.
You can tell the V6 Lucernes from the V8 versions by counting the VentiPort holes on the front fenders. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the VentiPorts on the hood and decklid for Buicks with transverse-mounted engines, so they could line up with the cylinder banks?
Americans want trucks now, or at least truck-shaped tall hatchbacks, and so the Lucerne got the axe after the 2011 model year. At least it outlasted the Oldsmobile, Saturn, and Pontiac Divisions, while earning a tie with Saab.
The press went crazy for it… or at least its lease terms.
OnStar will ensure that you don’t get lost in the hedge maze. Well, until 3G gets shut down, anyway.
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