Twenty-plus years into my insurance career, I’m accustomed to dressing the part when needed for face-to-face interactions with my business colleagues, both internal and external. This wasn’t always the case. Fresh out of college in my early twenties, I was still working at the local golf course as both a greenskeeper and landscaper. What had started out as a source of income as I set out to finish my degree after a yearlong hiatus had morphed into a full-time job, which seemed completely okay in some respects, as I really enjoyed the work even if the pay wasn’t that great.
My main post-graduation question to myself, though, was that now that I had this degree, shouldn’t I have been actively looking for a job (or career) in my field of studies? Or, at least something in an office? A bachelor’s degree in psychology, by itself, was pretty useless then (it still is, over twenty years later), and it was all I could do just to focus and graduate at all in that stage of my life. All this is to say that I had a substantial amount of trepidation when I started my first office job (which ultimately led to my career), as my head was still solidly in a slightly anti-bourgeois, blue collar mentality that also reveled in getting dirty and doing actual work with my hands.
It’s not like I had never worn a suit or a sportcoat with nice trousers before. As a teenager, I had been used to dressing in what could be considered “preppy” attire, which included nice clothes to church, funerals, weddings, and other formal and semi-formal events. After I left for college and in terms of what I was wearing, a whole lot of… let’s call it “alternative angst” had replaced most of my previous attempts to dress in a current style. There was one point at which the only item of clothing I owned that didn’t come from a thrift or vintage store was my leather bomber jacket I had saved from high school. Needless to say, entering the white collar work force (through a temp agency, I’m not ashamed to say) took a lot of adjustment. One of the first lessons I learned was that shoes require attention.
My parents had gifted me with a new suit from Men’s Wearhouse upon my commencement in December of 1997. They were typically frugal people, but were probably so relieved that their chances of my returning home to live with them were much, much slimmer now that I had actually completed my four-year degree that they bought me that suit and also took my ’88 Mustang in trade to get me a newer used car in the ’94 Ford Probe I’ve written about here before. That suit was a nice one that lasted me for a long time. However, it took a friend’s brutal honesty to bring my attention to one minor detail: the pair of “dress shoes” I was initially wearing with that suit looked fifty kinds of busted.
Think back to a time when you had purchased a really nice or cool pair of shoes that seemed much better than the kind of thing you would normally buy for yourself. Remember the way that wearing those shoes had made you feel. Remember the pains you took not to accidentally bump them into doors, scuff them on stairs, carelessly cross your feet while seated, or risk getting other wear-marks on them. That was me with one particular pair of favorite shoes, except for that they had probably stopped looking nice for months prior to my graduation. Those Kiwi shoe-polish kits found at neighborhood drug stores can restore a raggedly, old pair of shoes only so much, even if those shoes were rugged and of good leather.
When dressed up in my new suit and with my ’90s-style goatee and Duke hair pomade up top for extra shine and control, I cleaned up very nicely and looked the part of a young business professional… but only down to my ankles, with those ratty shoes I was nursing through their ninth lives probably killing the illusion. I realize I’ve already written over four paragraphs about the way I used to dress more than half my life ago (more than members of my own nuclear family would probably have the patience to read) without any mention of our featured car. I will now address that.
It has been beaten into my head, both here at Curbside and by other sources, that the Sloanian ladder of brand hierarchy at General Motors had mostly become extinct by the 1960s. I needed to acknowledge this, if only in anticipation of a salty rebuttal or two of what I’m about to say. I was born in the mid-’70s, and to me, the Buick brand always seemed to have a considerable amount of prestige compared to other GM divisions, excepting Cadillac (and sometimes Oldsmobile – I’m sorry, but some Cutlass Supremes easily outclassed comparable Regals in my mind). Even the blatantly badge-engineered or platform-sharing models, like the first front-wheel-drive Skylark X-cars or even the little J-Body Skyhawk, seemed much nicer than their Chevrolet or Pontiac counterparts.
This ’66 LeSabre was a four-door hardtop, which was a desirable, fashionable body style for a sedan. It wasn’t even the cheapest LeSabre available that year. With a price starting at $3,081 ($24,600 in 2020), the four-door hardtop was $139 ($1,100) more than the pillared four-door sedan, which was the entry level model. Sitting on its 123″ wheelbase, the V-8 LeSabre cost $229 ($1,800 / 7.4%) more than its 119″-wheelbase Impala V8 counterpart over at Chevrolet. For a couple of rough, crosstown comparisons, prices for the ’66 Mercury Monterey hardtop sedan started at $2,990, and Dodge was asking $2,948 for its Polara in the same bodystyle.
My question is still this, though: Who let this LeSabre out of the house wearing these dog-dishes on steelies, looking like the automotive equivalent of orthopedic oxfords?? I know that Buick seems to be synonymous with sensibility and conservatism, but these truly underwhelming hubcaps take these concepts almost to the point of asceticism. What, then, was the point of the tri-shield hood ornament, or any of the other chrome trim? This skinflint from Flint is probably the closest thing to a Buick “Bel Air” I have ever seen. I also fully believe that the wheels on this car were not a latter-day swap-in. I think someone ordered this car, new, this way because why would someone otherwise do this on purpose?
Underhood, its 340-cubic inch V8 with 220 horsepower moved its two tons smoothly and adequately enough, and there was certainly enough room inside for a family of five plus Grandma. The exterior styling is pleasing enough, in a dignified and restrained sort of way. Especially appealing to me were the hamburger-shaped taillamp clusters, and if I squint just a little bit, I can see how perhaps the frontal styling of the full-size Chevrolets for 1970 (see above) may have been inspired by what we see here. I’m still stuck on the wheels, though, and try as I have, I’m having a hard time imagining what kind of first owner would have ordered this LeSabre. Maybe all the extra-cost goodies are on the inside. I got these pictures while trying to beat the clock to board an approaching bus, so I didn’t have time to press my camera against the window glass and get a few shots of the cabin.
Circling back to manner of dress, I’m not sure if my attention to shoes would be less acute if my friend hadn’t (admittedly justifiably) brought my attention to my own, beat-up kicks. At that point in my life, however, I considered it a triumph to need to be wearing a suit at all. I suppose the same basic sense of having made it applies to this LeSabre hardtop sedan, which is still rocking its clean, unbent, original lines and roaming the streets of salty Chicago in overall shape that could be much, much worse.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, February 9, 2020.