Buick entered the burgeoning personal-luxury/sporty-car market with the upscale Wildcat in the spring of 1962. Ford’s Thunderbird had prospered in that niche since 1958 when it was reinvented as a four-seater. Chrysler had offered its 300 since 1955, and for 1962 a non-letter 300 was introduced as a lower-cost alternative to the 300-H. Oldsmobile had jumped in for 1961 with the Starfire convertible, followed with the addition of a hardtop for 1962, and Pontiac took the plunge that same model year with the Grand Prix hardtop.
A sampling from the additional models that were in the personal-luxury/sporty bucket-seat brigade for 1962 includes the Ford Galaxie 500/XL, Mercury Monterey S-Fifty-Five, Chevrolet Impala SS, Dodge Polara 500, Plymouth Sport Fury, and Studebaker GT Hawk.
Though the Impala SS debuted partway through 1961, it didn’t get bucket seats until the following model year. Buick also listed bucket seats with a storage console between them as standard for the Invicta Custom two-door sport coupe and Invicta Custom convertible in the 1962 dealer brochure.
“The new full-size sports-style car,” is how Buick described the Invicta-based Wildcat, which featured a lengthy list of standard equipment. Motivation came from the 325-hp 401 four-barrel, dual exhaust, Wildcat 445 engine (meaning 445 lb-ft of torque) backed by a Turbine Drive automatic transmission. Inside were foam-padded, Seville-grain vinyl bucket seats; an instrument-panel pad; a console that housed the shifter, tachometer, and rear-floor courtesy lamp; Deluxe steering wheel; clock; heater/defroster; foam-rubber headliner and sun visors with chrome-plated roof bows; full carpeting; and an automatic trunk lamp. The exterior was decorated with bright body trim; Wildcat medallions and lettering; black or white “vinyl sheath” for its sport coupe (hardtop) roof; Electra taillamps; a license-plate frame; and 15-inch wheels and tires with Wildcat wheel covers. Finned aluminum front brake drums were also included.
Popular Science magazine tested the 1962 Wildcat, a 300-H convertible, and a Thunderbird convertible. Drop-tops generally cost more than hardtops, and the Ford was also described as being heavily optioned. Accordingly, the T-Bird cost $6,141, the 300-H $5,461, and the Wildcat hardtop was considerably less at $4,357, despite its added options that included A/C.
The Buick had the longest wheelbase at 123 inches versus 122 for the 300-H and 113 inches for the T-Bird, yet the 300-H was the longest car at 215.3 inches versus 214 inches for the Wildcat and 205 inches for the Ford. The Chrysler was also the widest at 79.4 inches followed by the Buick at 78 inches and the T-Bird at 76 inches. Coincidentally, weights were close, with the T-Bird the heaviest at 4,400 pounds and the Wildcat and 300-H separated by a mere four pounds at 4,328 and 4,324 respectively.
You may have noticed that the Buick is considerably larger than the Thunderbird. GM didn’t have like-sized models to go head-to-head with the Ford at this point, so its divisions used full-size cars. The arrival of the 1963 Riviera provided Buick with a Thunderbird challenger that was closer in size with a 117-inch wheelbase, 208-inch length, and 76.6-inch width.
A 380-hp 413-cu.in. engine with two four-barrel carburetors was in the 300-H, and the Buick featured the 325-hp 401 four-barrel engine. The Ford was listed in the article as having a “340-hp” 390. However, the 340-hp rating was for the optional 10.5:1 compression-ratio 390 with three two-barrel carburetors. No underhood photos were in the article to help verify the engine, but since it was also listed having the 9.6:1 compression ratio and four-barrel carburetor, both specs of the standard 300-hp 390 engine, it was likely the 300-hp version.
All of the cars had automatic transmissions, and the rear gear ratios were 3.23 (300-H), 3.42 (Wildcat), and 3.00 (T-Bird). The Chrysler and Buick were equipped with 7.60 x 15 tires and the Ford 8.00 x 14 tires.
Three different drivers piloted the cars for a 1,012-mile road trip through various types of terrain and weather in New York and Canada. Each driver took multiple shifts behind the wheel of each car.
In the driver’s individual subjective driving impressions, the Buick was praised for its comfort, ride, acceleration, and smooth shifting transmission. It was derided for its “idiot lights” on the dashboard, but was also said to be the best compromise of the three cars. Despite giving high praise to the acceleration, handling, and seating of the 300-H, two of the three drivers said that they preferred the Wildcat over the rest, and the third preferred the T-Bird.
Instrumented tests were also performed; 0 to 60 mph was attained in 7.7 seconds for the 300-H, 8.7 seconds for the Buick, and 9.8 seconds for the Thunderbird. Passing times from 40 to 70 mph were 6 seconds for the Wildcat, and 300-H and 8.2 seconds for the T-Bird. Surprisingly close were the fuel mileage figures, with the 300-H posting 13.1 mpg, the T-Bird 13.3 mpg, and Wildcat 12.3 mpg.
Using a points system to rate many performance, comfort, safety, efficiency, and operational aspects of the three cars, the Wildcat bested its competitors in ride, assembly, visibility, convenience of controls and their function, and price. It tied for the top score in passing performance, ease of entry and exit, and noise level. A mid-pack ranking was earned in handling, seating and interior roominess, and instrumentation. It trailed the others in fuel economy, braking, and parking ease. When all the points were totaled, the Buick attained highest overall score. The 300-H came next, followed by the Thunderbird.
While doing research for this article, I also located a television ad for the 1962 Wildcat on YouTube that provides vague references to its luxury and performance, but doesn’t offer many specifics. It doesn’t even state what engine it comes with or its power rating. Instead it boasts, “This Wildcat has more horses than you’ll ever need.” It does appear that Buick was one of the first automakers to include ferocious felines in its ads, however. Pontiac would famously use tigers in its advertising not long after and Mercury would employ a Cougar for its namesake model when it debuted for 1967.
It has been reported by various sources over the years that approximately 2,000 Wildcats were built for 1962, but some enthusiasts have questioned that figure as being too low.
Following its abbreviated introductory model year, the Wildcat became its own series for 1963, consisting of a two-door sport coupe (hardtop), a convertible, and a four-door hardtop. The nameplate continued through 1970.
How have the values of the road test vehicles held up over the decades that followed it? Using Hagerty’s Valuation Tools at www.hagerty.com, a #3 (good condition) Wildcat is currently valued at $9,300. The rare 300-H convertible is $61,000, and the 1962 Thunderbird convertible with the 300-hp engine is $27,800, both also in #3 condition.
You may be thinking that the convertibles likely have a higher value than a hardtop, and since the 1962 Wildcat was only offered as a sport coupe (hardtop), the comparison to the convertible 300-H and Thunderbird is an apple-to-oranges one. To that end, the 300-H hardtop in #3 condition is valued at $26,800 at the Hagerty site, and the Thunderbird hardtop is $8,400.
The 1962 Buick Wildcat was undoubtedly a worthy competitor for the Thunderbird and 300-H according to the Popular Science road test. Given the values stated at the Hagerty website, it appears that 55 years later, the Wildcat would be a satisfying and affordable vintage cruiser.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Thomas A DeMauro.