The basic formula for the 1936 to 1942 Century was established by mating shorter wheelbase Buick Special bodies to Buick's most powerful eight-cylinder engine. While the Special was powered by Buick's 233in³ was rated 93hp at 3200rpm, Centuries produced between 1936 to 1942 were powered by Buick's inline 320.2in³ at 120hp, making them the fastest Buicks of the era and capable of sustained speeds of 95mph plus, earning the Century the nickname "the banker's hot rod."
The Century was discontinued at the end of the abbreviated 1942 model year, during which total model production only accounted for about ten percent of Buick's total output.
In 1954, Buick reintroduced the Century using the same formula of mating the smaller, lighter Buick Special body to its largest and most powerful 322 cubic inch V8 engine with the intent of giving Buick a performance vehicle. Included in the model lineup during this period was a station wagon model, a body style that had been unavailable during the Century's first production period of 1936 to 1942.
In 1955, the California Highway Patrol placed a large fleet order for Century 2-door sedans, a body style unavailable to the general public. It combined the Special 2-door sedan body shell with Century powertrain and trim. Broderick Crawford was shown driving a 2-door Century sedan during the first season of his popular syndicated TV series "Highway Patrol". (In later seasons he'd drive a four-door Century, like his real life counterparts in the California Highway Patrol.)
The Century remained Buick's performance line, with engine power rising from 200 (SAE gross) in 1954, to 236 in 1955, to 255 in 1956, and topping out at 300 from a bored-out 364 cubic inch engine in 1957-58, the last model years for the full sized Century line.
Because the Century was considered the senior "small Buick", the model received GM's only hardtop station wagon, the Century Caballero, from 1957 through 1958. The Caballero's expensive tooling, plus its limited sales appeal, caused GM to abandon the hardtop station wagon body style going into its planned 1959 divisional-wide new design program.