(first posted 10/23/2012) We’re rapidly approaching the end of Convertible Season here in the Bay Area. Just about a year ago, I profiled a Mercury Monterey Convertible and now, to commemorate the end of this year’s ragtop ragtime jazz, here’s the brand you (and I) would really rather have.
I’m going to lead off by saying it’s a heart-crushing shame that Buick–one of the few bright spots in the today’s U.S. automotive marketplace–doesn’t offer a halo model, a role frequently filled in the past by one of their many glorious convertibles. Few other American cars can evoke such a subtly powerful image as a Big Buick Convertible in the collective memory.
Maybe it was that unique color pallette. Or the quiet presence and massive size of most of them. Or that more often than not there was a Buick Convertible, from Special to Roadmaster, for every pocket and purpose, priced just slightly above the low-priced three. No matter how ridiculous other Buicks might become, you could always count on the convertibles to maintain their remarkable charm.
Of all the ridiculous Buick convertibles, the 1958 models are the elusive unicorns, which, unlike their Oldsmobile cousins, never returned from Buick Brigadoon. The reason is unclear, but might have to do with the fact that so many toasted their Triple Turbine Dynaflows.
In contrast, no surviving 1959 seems to be able to stay in the closet. There’s one at a nearby body shop awaiting its day in the sun (or more likely, its air conditioned garage). Most people point to the 1959 Cadillac as representing the zeitgeist of the 1950s, but these bold Buicks have a special place in my heart.
With that in mind, you can imagine my bemused smile upon encountering this handsome, bulked up 1960 LeSabre convertible. Something about being the most basic 1960 Buick Convertible actually does it a lot of favors. I find that the softening of all of the diagonal finnage, unburdened by all the extra trim on the costlier Invicta and Electra/Electra 225, simply works better than on the upscale models.
Although its interior lacks the beautiful fabrics of the closed models, or the genuine leather of the more expensive Buick ragtops, the most basic ’60 Buick leaves nothing to complain about in terms of fit and finish. One of its most delightful details is the Mirrormagic gauge cluster whose mirror allowed adjustment of the instrument cluster to your desired height.
The Triple Turbine Drive Dynaflow was gone by 1960, but still present were a lot of other Buick goodies. To power the boulevard ride that for decades had been Buick’s calling card, LeSabre buyers could choose their smaller, 364 cube version of the Nailhead V8 in various states of tune, from a gas-saving 235 hp version (perhaps too sleepy to push the 4,300 lb beast), to one that delivered a healthy 300 horsepower.
A LeSabre with the 300 hp engine probably wouldn’t have been too much sleepier than an Invicta, which could dash to 60 in under nine seconds. And with such ample power masking the slow, syrupy tendencies of the last iteration of the Dynaflow concept, a Buick was no longer a shrinking violet versus the Olds Super Eighty Eight or the Pontiac Catalina. In fact, it could confidently dust any Mercury Monterey of that year.
Underneath was possibly the second most-solid chassis in GM’s arsenal, now stiffened with a K-Brace like all ’60 Buicks, and aluminum brake drums that offered improved fade protection over the previous drums. While not the true future of braking, they gave this fighting face a bit more protection against overrunning the capabilities of the rest of the package.
But as we all know, the true spirit of any Buick is not to tackle a road-racing course; indeed, before the 1963 Riviera came along, the central intention of any Buick was for the driver to drive with one left finger on the power-assisted wheel and a right arm draped across the front bench seat…hopefully, around the attractive person sitting next to them, all at extralegal speeds on ever-expanding interstate highways.
Unfortunately, the dawn of the 1960s would prove sobering. A seemingly nonstop bevy of Big Three compacts shifted the market’s focus toward practicality. At the same time, Volkswagen was increasing its foothold in the United States, and the first wave of Japanese Toyopets came crashing into the L.A. Basin. One effect of all this was to push Buick all the way down to ninth place in the industry, with fewer than 254,000 units sold–their worst sales performance since 1905.
By 1962, the Buick renaissance was well underway, and it was cars like this brave, bold bargain beauty that had paved its way. Through some seriously dark days they carried forth the message, of quiet confidence and bodacious size enhanced abundantly with high quality, would always be the Buick trademark.
Dare I say it: We could use a little bit of the Camelot-era charisma this Buick oozes. So whaddya say, General Motors? We want to believe again.