Curbside Classic: 1973 Buick LeSabre Custom – A Safe Bet


(first posted 5/1/2014)     To a certain degree, every new car purchase is a bit of a gamble.  You put down your money and you make your choice.  Sometimes you pick a real winner, and sometimes not.  


My parents’ new 1964 Cutlass hardtop turned out to be one of the best cars ever in our family.  Or, sometimes you pick a stinker, like my father’s 1970 Continental Mark III that in the space of two years suffered all manner of problems and finally ended life with its first owner on the wrong end of a tow truck.

Sometimes these bets take longer to go either well or badly.  A new Honda Odyssey certainly seemed like a sure bet in 1999, but for the many owners who eventually experienced virtually unfixable transmission woes, things did not turn out so well.  Or, for the real gamblers who braved the long odds and bought a 1970s Chrysler product that resided in the high end of the bell curve, they could be richly rewarded.


Then there is this car.  In the fall of 1972, there were probably few safer bets than a Buick.  Buicks had developed a good reputation over many years, and there was no better way than to identify yourself as a card-carrying member of President Nixon’s “Silent Majority” than to be a Buick owner.  In truth, after the new 1971 B body was introduced, the first owner of this car may have been a little disappointed in the quality of the interior trim or in the way the doors sounded as they slammed shut.  However, the car retained all of Buick’s now-traditional pieces like the 350 V8 and Turbo-Hydramatic transmission, making it a fairly low-maintenance proposition.


I was in my early teens when these came out, and from that time on, this car has topped my list of most boring automotive experiences known to mankind.  Just what was interesting about this car?  Egads, even that dreary beige exterior (Bamboo Cream, if you must know) or that awful blah brown vinyl that is neither light nor dark (a color that Buick called “Saddle”) take an uninteresting car into new dimensions of dull.   Had I known anything about insomnia at the age of thirteen, I would have told all who would listen that a sure cure was at their neighborhood Buick dealer.


Even now, I experience residual pangs of anxiety in response to tedium which attacks me each time I look at this LeSabre.  An Electra or a Centurion is at least a little interesting.  But a LeSabre?  By 1972, that blade was in dire need of a sharpening.  I wondered how its makers had been able to resist trim level names like Insipid or Vanilla instead of Custom.  Just how many cars had I been in by then with those same boring keys that slid into that same ignition collar, or rolled down windows with that same window crank or pushed down on that same door lock post?  Oh, just in every stupid GM-built car after about 1968 (which was seemingly every car owned in my circle of family and friends), that’s how many.  I guess the fender-mounted lamp monitors make this one at least a little interesting.  Must have slipped past Buick quality control.


I have been holding out on my fellow CC editors.  The day before we got together for our Midwest Meetup last spring in Iowa City, Mrs. JPC and I did a little sightseeing in the area.  Because the Mrs. always likes an occasional visit to a casino, we had to go visit one when she learned that one was in the area.  I’m not exactly sure why, because it seems to me that once you have seen one big windowless, smoky building where sad-looking people gamble away their monthly disability checks, you have seen them all.  But Mrs. JPC would not be dissuaded from the chance to blow twenty dollars in fifteen cent-at-a-time increments.  Wait, did I just say blow?  I meant spend twenty dollars for enjoyment which lasted for the rest of the trip.


How many people can boast of tire sidewalls that are color keyed to their car?

I suppose that the Mrs. knew something that I didn’t, which was that a casino parking lot can be a prime spot for Curbside Classics such as this old LeSabre.  This car has all of the earmarks of a long-term, elderly owner.  I mean, who else would have stuck with this behemoth through at least three fuel price spikes over its four decades that made it an unaffordable luxury for anyone who drove any annual distance at all?  Luxury, you say?  I had no idea how much luxury until I looked at a ’73 Buick brochure online.  Who would have guessed that Buick would give the lucky LeSabre buyer both Oxen grain and Madrid grain vinyl, all in the same bench seat?  Certainly not me.


So, why have I been sitting on this gem for nearly a year after spotting it?  Perhaps because it has taken this long for me to bring my interest level up to the place where I can squeeze 1,000 words out of a soul that has been dried out by staring at pictures of this lifeless sedan over the past year.  Or maybe because spring is the season for cleaning, and I felt the need to move this out of my burgeoning photo collection.  So anyhow, here we are.


Speaking of lifeless sedans, has anyone else here ever been bothered by the look of the four door sedan version of this bodystyle?  For years, upper level GM sedans had these nice, cleanly styled door uppers that were clad with bright metal and which neatly covered the sedan’s center pillar.  But starting in 1971, it was as though GM stylists began an internal competition to see who could create a sedan greenhouse cluttered with the most seams and lines.  If there were ever a reason to pop for a four door hardtop, the sedan version of the GM B body of these years would have been it.  Another question – is the brown paint on the upper doors a factory treatment?  If so, I don’t believe I have ever seen another like it.  Perhaps its owner agreed with me on the door uppers and had them painted to blend in with the dark vinyl roof.


Honestly, I keep trying to like this car but repeatedly find myself slipping into one rant after another, so I suppose the adult thing to do is to make a positive observation about the car, and to bring this piece to a close.  So, here goes.  This generation of Buick may have lacked some of the stature of its predecessor of twenty years earlier, (OK, damn near all of it) but it would have given its first buyer a first-rate piece of automotive hardware.  In that way, this Buick was certainly a much better bet than any wager that its owner could be placing in that casino last spring.  This LeSabre may not have been not the most exciting thing on four wheels, but it has done its job for over forty years.  In this Buick, and over its many decades, some careful buyer most certainly hit the jackpot.


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