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Free Spirit: 1976 Buick Century Pace Car

1976 Buick Century Pace Car

Let me start by saying that I suspect this car is a replica of a replica. That is, there were 1,290 Buick Century Pace Car replicas made of the original, turbocharged and t-topped edition that led the field at the 1976 Indianapolis 500. The Pace Cars sold to the public shared some unique qualities that resembled the more powerful track-edition but still set them apart from a basic Century with a graphics kit. We’ll get into that down below, but for now, it’s a bit of a mystery as to how and why this particular car exists, but you can see it for yourself here on eBay in Texas, where there’s currently one bid for $3,000.

1976 Buick Century Interior

Pace cars have always grabbed my attention. At a young age, I really thought they were the rarest of the rare despite not usually being much more than some special features and colors. In my hometown, a guy at an auto parts store owned one of the yellow Chevy Beretta pace car replicas and I loved that thing. Even though it was an ordinary Beretta GTU underneath the screaming yellow paint job, I still had to resist staring at it every time I ran in to grab some shop rags or a bottle of wax. Of course, much like this Buick Century, the real Beretta pace car incorporated some unique features that didn’t make it into the mass production version, like a roll bar and convertible roof.

1976 Buick Century Engine

After reading up on the real-deal Buick Centuries that debuted at the Indianapolis 500, I found out that long before it became mainstream Buick experimented with turbocharging and made quite a powerful motor for performing the rigors of opening ceremonies. Although that engine wasn’t dropped into the cars sold to the public, some of the more interesting features did make the cut: Hurst Hatches T-tops, console-mounted shifter, color-keyed wheels and the obvious graphics package. But there’s a good amount of chatter online as to whether one of the 1,290 genuine replicas could be outfitted differently like this one, lacking the Hurst roof and console shifter and featuring an interior color scheme other than black.

1976 Buick Century FreeSpirit

So where does this one end up on the authenticity scale? It’s hard to be sure. The graphics were never produced on the aftermarket in any great quantity, so I doubt those are replicas – plus, they look naturally aged as opposed to freshly installed. The VIN number doesn’t really reveal anything on these cars, so you can’t use that to rule it out as a fake. But the column shifter and bright red interior – and the glaring lack of T-tops – could mean this wasn’t ordered as a Pace Car but simply tarted up by the dealer in the service bay and sold as the real-deal to a customer. Who knows, but I’d want some more history on a car like this before I signed on the dotted line. Which pace car is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.


  1. rik brandt

    Are those flag mounts on the rear deck? Perhaps a parade car but not a pace car?

    Like 1
    • brian p

      Those are dual CB Antenna mounts, forget their name, but ran them on several cars I owned.

      Like 0
  2. Mike D

    from a very quick research, the ” replica” released to the public was definetly not the same as what was on track .. as far as I looked, the replica did come with the T-Tops ” which leaked badly” was looking for different subtleties that this one does not have. with the exception of the T-tops.. this one has them… and… you can always put a Grand National engine in It .. They did make a “Free Spirit” Buick .. the graphics look to be original, and if not, they were put on shortly after purchase .. It would definetly be a looker redone

    Like 0
  3. john Newell

    If I was still a Buick man I’d consider this. It looks relatively rust-free and appears to be complete. Once I had it I’d do it up as close to the original pace car as possible and wouldn’t let the lack of T top discourage me. I prefer a solid non-leaking roof.

    Gone would be the bench seats, steering column and in would be the console and floor shifter.

    I think I’d go for at least a front rolled pan too and a colour keyed back bumper.

    Then the motor would be cleaned up. What I’d be going for would be a strong cross-country cruiser capable of sustaining high speeds for long periods of time.

    The stereo system would have to be upgraded since I’m mostly deaf.

    A paint job, and a new graphics kit and that would do it. If a good graphics kit could not be had, I’d do them myself like I did for the Rebel Machines.

    Like 3
  4. tom999p

    Hmm, that’s funny, I just looked at one of those for sale last week. A repair shop has it beside his garage in a row of old worn out cars for sale. It’s in about the same condition…

    Like 1
  5. john Newell

    Does it have the buckets and console?

    Like 1
  6. K Pretzer

    The seller is mistaking this for an Indy Pace car I’d say to hype the sale. From personal experience, In the late 70’s and early 80’s you could go down and order various ‘Models’ which added a luxury package and in this case graphics. Pontiac and Buick did it mostly to get people in the showroom floor. What we have here is a plain old Buick Free Spirit.

    Like 0
  7. Carl

    I bought a 77 century back in the mid 90’s for a dollar because it supposably had bad brakes. I bled the brakes and they were fine. I sold it for 300 to some couple that was hard on cash and needed a vehicle. I don’t know what happened to it after that. The previous owner used to call the car “booger” on account of it’s strange green color.

    Like 0
    • Steve

      Whahahah!! booger green!!! As I recall we had a an old Volvo that we called “Booger” because of its color. ( Volvo green, color 91 ) Sorry, but that made me laugh like a 15 year old! Feels good at 64.

      Like 1
      • Carl

        Steve I’m glad that I could make your day Lol. My younger brother was actually sad that I sold booger. He got a kick out of the name.

        Like 0
  8. jdsport

    It’s not a pace car. It was simply a marketing gimmick in recognition of the bicentennial year. I remember these at the dealer when I was a teen.

    Like 1
  9. Davew833

    I believe those are dual CB antenna mounts on the trunk.

    Like 0
    • St.Ramone de V8

      Yep, I agree those are CB whip antenna mounts. I also agree that this thing was pasted with “Free Spirit” stickers for your bicentennial. In Canada, we were offered these, as well as the Skyhawk Free Spirit cars. Not a lot of takers here, likely, but they were here. I know the Pace cars were T-tops, and bucket seat console cars. Can’t see real value in this car.

      Like 1
  10. Horse Radish

    what’s with the rust free truck (Ebay text quote).

    It was on the way out to the back 40 acres.
    Why not just set it free…..let it go….

    Like 1
    • Alan (Michigan)

      There are many typos, I suspect the intent was “rust free trunk”.

      Interesting to see this after the Mustang II last week. The 70’s = The time when US auto makers found out how to do large-scale graphics, and kind of went off the deep end.

      Like 1
    • Horse Radish

      I got that long ago: truck/trunk.
      What I don’t get, is that the ‘n’ is no-where near the ‘c’, so what gives.

      I have seen it multiple times which makes me wonder about the sellers…..

      Like 2
  11. erikj

    my favorite pace care was the dodge challenger convert 70 or 71 and the 69 Camaro

    Like 1
  12. Rancho Bella

    Lovely design………. :/
    Qualifies for a Mad Max movie

    Like 1
  13. racer3344

    My dad had a Buick dealership in Illinois during this period. There were replica pace cars which could be ordered by any dealer, and different options and interiors could be specified (but not the exterior color). The “targa band” was part of the package. It’s possible that there was a shortage of t-tops at the beginning of the run; which would account for the lack of them on this car. I remember these as not being popular with the dealers; snd that arm-twisting was required in many cases to convince the dealers to take one. There was a red white and blue Century pace car in 1975, and it was also a tough sell. The turbo V6 engine was not released for public consumption until the 1978 model year.

    Like 2
    • John H

      Yes The 1975 Buick free spirit that was red white & blue and only came with T-tops & Buckets. 1976 was silver and orange ? These Could Be Ordered With Out T-Tops Or Decals. They Were A Hard Sell. I owned one without T-Tops And There Was Anouther One Around N. Orleans Area I Seen Also With Out The Tops And Only Decal On It Was BUICK On Front This Was Around 1981 But No matter What Options 76 Spirits Had Roof Band And Spoiler….Wish I Had It Today Do Have 76 Regal S/R Pic.

      Like 1
      • Jeff 1111

        Nice Regal 👍

        Like 1
  14. moosie craig

    As far as I know the only G.M. pace cars with a different Vin.# from the others was a ’78 Corvette

    Like 1
  15. c casares

    Those buicks are neat looking all fixed up. Lifted back end and some wide quarter scraping radials with crager ss wheels and tin can thrush duel exhaust. And I forgot a mullet haircut..gotta love it!!

    Like 1
  16. Jeff 1111

    I am the new owner of this car and thought someone might like to see it back on the road. I had it documented by the Sloan Museum as a real pace car replica. Thanks.

    Like 5
    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      That’s great to hear Jeff! Please email us some photos so we can do a post and update everyone. mail@barn finds.com Thanks!

      Like 1
    • Jamey

      Congrats Jeff 1111. Are you the same Jeff that wrote the article above back on 2/4/15? Is the car you have pictured 5/31/14 the same one?

      Like 1
      • Jeff 1111

        I didn’t write the article. It is the same car just cleaned up with the pace car lettering added by me.
        Thanks !

        Like 1
  17. Mike D

    good going, Jeff! looks a hellova sight better cleaned up!! Keep us informed!

    Like 1
  18. Alan (Michigan )


    Always happy to read about a car finding a good home.

    Like 1
  19. Jamey

    Jeff 1111 thanks for your reply! I didn’t know that the real replicas came without the console & had the shifter on the steering column.?

    Like 0
  20. Jeff 1111

    I was unsure myself but went ahead and purchased the car. After sending off for the documentation I found that it was indeed real and does show Y1 on the cowl tag.
    I do wish it had been ordered with a few more options though, it’s fairly stripped down for a pace car replica. Black interior would have been better too! Thanks

    Like 0
  21. Jamey

    Wow interesting I was convinced it was a regular Century just made up to look like one. Thanks for replies & enjoy.

    Like 0
  22. Mike S

    March 17, 2023. I just saw one of these 1976 Buick Century “Free Spirit” non-Indy 500 pace car replica cars in Fayetteville NC. It looks exactly like the one in this article except it no longer has the blacked out rear trunk panel or Buick decal on the rear trunk lid. It does have a red bench seat and column shifter as well as the roof band and rear spoiler kit. Sadly it has aftermarket Keystone wheels on it. It’s a solid Condition 2 or less car.

    Like 0

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