A quick trip back to my hometown of Flint, Michigan last weekend reminded me of this sighting of a mid-run, sixth-generation Buick LeSabre I had seen after work about five years back. Looking at this photo again made me smile. I had taken Drivers’ Education in new examples of these in the summer of 1990, in the city where many of them were manufactured. Genesee County loved these cars (for good reasons), and they were positively everywhere in that place and time. After the veritable crap-fest that was much of GM’s product lineup in the ’80s (which led directly to loss of market share and, indirectly, to loss of factory jobs in Flint), in the LeSabre, we had a genuinely attractive, competitive, quality-built Buick, when that make was still headquartered in the Vehicle City.
The first front-wheel-drive LeSabre was like a hometown hero wearing a Tri-Shield, and Buick moved over 163,000 of them in 1990, the year I first drove one on the road. (For comparison among the LeSabre’s H-Body platform-mates, Olds moved about 117,000 Eighty-Eights, and Pontiac sold roughly 86,000 Bonnevilles that year.) This generation of LeSabre famously took home J.D. Power & Associates’ award for highest in initial quality in its class for a few years. This was a big source of pride for us Flintstones, and probably a bit of a shock to the rest of the automotive world when this accolade had first been announced. To see them being built at the Buick City factory on the north side was a thrill. The LeSabre seemed to give us all renewed reason to celebrate our area’s car-building legacy.
As far as my recollection of my teenage driving impressions of these cars was concerned, I remember thinking that, besides being decidedly much more conservative than anything I could have imagined even the future, forty-something year old me driving, it was big, roomy, cushy, responsive, and way, way nicer than anything in my parents’ driveway. Our ’84 Ford Tempo GL was slow and stalled often, and our ’88 Chevy Nova, while a nice, reliable car, was also slow, a bit on the small side, and an econobox devoid of any style – all in comparison to this palace on wheels called the LeSabre.
These Buicks all had big bench seats with velour for days and excellent visibility in all directions – the latter being one thing a new-driver student like me really appreciated. The solid, percussive “chunk” sound of closing the driver’s side door seemed almost musical. It certainly seemed magical to a young teenager who was learning to drive, along with that intoxicating smell of a new car’s interior.
I had gone into Drivers’ Ed at Flint Southwestern High School that summer, first being very disappointed that we would be learning to drive on these ultra-conservative, family man-mobiles. (I mean, if we needed to learn to drive in the presumed safety of bigger cars, where were the sportier Pontiac Bonnevilles?) In the end, though, the LeSabres all won me over – buttoned-down personality and everything. It was almost like a foretaste of learning to like wearing Dockers regularly in an office environment. I smile, to this day, whenever I see a running example of one of these cars on the street. Flint, here’s to you for a job well done.
Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013.