(first posted 5/26/2015) We here at Curbside Classic have spent a few years now finding classics at the curbside (and elsewhere) to bring to you for your examination and enjoyment. But as edifying as it can be to read about the CCs owned by others, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to make one for yourself? Today is your lucky day, because we will tell you how.
Every publication worth a damn has the occasional “How-To” piece. We here at CC have fallen down on the job on this point, but see that we need to do better. Sure, most of you are satisfied to read about CCs that others have made and kept, but I just know that we have some moderately-skilled DIYers out there who are just itching for a project. All sorts of things can be done at home, from brewing and winemaking to cabinetry to butchering. Making your own Curbside Classic is something that anyone can do, so just sit back and see how it’s done.
First, you need to start with a new car. This may be the hardest part. Most of us want something special. A Challenger Hellcat or a Cadillac CTS-V will certainly set you apart from the other folks on your block, but they make poor CC material. This is because the best CCs are cars that nobody even sees on the dealer’s lot. I’m talking about cars that have a virtual invisibility cloak over them. The good news is that you can save quite a bit of money, because you are bartering for a commodity. “Meet my price on this gray one, or I go across the street and put money down on the white one. I really don’t care.” Trust me, this is liberating.
For our example, I will confess that I cheated a bit. Just like all of the cooking shows don’t make you wait for 45 minutes while the featured dish bakes in the oven, we have already partially pre-cooked this CC. This is actually my Mother’s 2006 Buick Lacrosse. That this is a perfect CC to make at home happened sort of by dumb luck, in her case. She has always had a thing for contests, and when GM was running its last “Hot Button” promotion, she randomly stopped into an Indiana Buick Dealership and won this one. So, this car has a little head-start in the “Every Car Has a Story” department. And it is, of course, best if you can get GM to provide you with raw material for a CC in its runup to bankruptcy. It’s too late for you to do this yourself in precisely this way, unless maybe you wait a few years and have really good luck and timing for next time. But I digress.
Mom got to choose the color and choose any options that she wanted to pay for, so perhaps this example is a little more snazzed-out than it could have been. The only two options on the car are the alloy wheels (a small price to pay to avoid the dreaded plastic wheelcovers) and the $1500 leather-wrapped steering wheel. OK, it wasn’t just the steering wheel, but another $1,300 worth of other stuff that GM force-fed her to get the leather-wrapped wheel that she had her heart set on. Otherwise, we have a completely stripped Lacrosse CX, which makes the perfect future CC.
The Lacrosse does the anonymity thing perfectly. How would anyone notice a car that is a blatant crib-job of the ovoid Ford Taurus? Not even I noticed this for the longest time, which shows just how successful the car’s styling is for our purposes. Originality in concept or design is anathema to the very best Curbside Classics. But a car made by the former undisputed leader of American automotive styling that copies a daring but unsuccessful design just in time for both of them to become completely vanilla is just brilliant. And I’m not talking Madagascar vanilla, but more like Scot-Lad vanilla.
Now that you have chosen your new car, take it home. The next step is very important. DO NOT, under any circumstances, treat it just like every other new car you have ever owned. The consequences will be disastrous, from a CC point of view. Before you know it, your ever-so-carefully chosen future CC will accumulate 150,000 miles and will then either require a repair completely out of proportion to the value of the car or will be so weathered, scraped and bent that you are thoroughly sick of it and will sell it for peanuts to the first kid with a black Megadeth or AC-DC T-shirt and $1,000 so that he can use up the remaining life of the sound system with his drug-addled friends.
Instead, you will want to take it home and park it in a suitable place. In this case, it was a garage, which will certainly keep the car the nicest. Those who like their CC with more patina can always leave it outside a couple of nights a week and drive it a little more. If you happen to live around Eugene, Oregon, the driver’s side door panel will eventually have to come off, so you may as well do this now. But we midwesterners prefer the door panels to stay in place for the more respectable look.
The early work was done by my retired mother, who kept this car in very nice shape and managed to keep mileage down to 23,000 over eight years. Her way of doing this has been by having not much need to drive a lot. I have had the car for the last seven months while Mom has been recovering from an illness, and my method has been a little different. I have kept my usage down to 1,000 miles over seven months because I Hate. This. $@#&%*. Car. So. Much.
Honestly, this reaction surprises me. I was quite impressed with it when she first got it, and Lord knows I have had good relationships with several cars sporting a AAA Plus sticker on the back bumper. But after a couple of months with it a few years ago and now my latest tour, there are things about this car that are like Chinese water torture. What sort of things you ask? First, when your main customer is likely a longtime AARP member, why make a car so hard to get in and out of? Between the high sill and low roof, compounded by a steering wheel too close and a center pillar that is as far forward as anything I have ever driven, entry and exit is like the hatch in the Lunar Module. But without the adventure after you get buckled in.
Then there’s the steering wheel. First, I thought it was just big. Then I realized that it is nowhere near round. The top half is a great big Buick-like steering wheel. The bottom half is a regular steering wheel. Sort of like that odd one Chrysler made in the early 60s, but without the personality.
Then there is the way it drives. Every single input is sloooooooowwwwww. The steering is slow. The accelleration is slow. This surprises me, as a 3.8 liter V6 ought to be plenty of engine for this car. And maybe it would be if the accelerator pedal did not have twelve inches of travel. “Engine room! All ahead slow! Ding Ding.”
Finally there is that one thing that GM has always been uniquely good it – the ablility to make every one of its cars feel as though it weighs 5,000 pounds. Don’t get me wrong, I really like 5,000 pound cars. But if I accept 5,000 pound car handling, I expect 5,000 pound car ride and comfort. The Lacrosse fails to deliver here. Give me a Honda Fit or a Mazda Miata. Or give me a ’78 Town Car or a ’64 Imperial. Either extreme is totally fine with me. It is just that the Lacrosse tries to combine the two extremes in the only way that complies with the laws of physics. You know there is a problem when you would *much* rather drive a Kia Sedona.
The good news is that the anvil-like drivetrain of the car will make sure that all of the other examples will have long and hard lives after their original retirees have moved on. This is good news for broke single mothers and pizza delivery guys, as these cars will make wonderful choices for the kinds of hard service that these folks will demand. Which makes our particular example easy to separate from the lower 95 % of the Bell Curve.
So – where were we? Oh yes, the final step. This may be the most important. The car must continue to receive loving maintenance for long after you will want to give it. “Sigh. Another oil change for the Buick. Didn’t I just do that six months ago?” But another ten or fifteen years under this program, and you will be richly rewarded, for you will have reached the payoff – a genuine Curbside Classic to call your own.
“Wow, have not seen one of those in forever.” “My grandma had one just like it, right down to the color.” “Beautiful car – how much do you want for it?” “I have never seen one of these with cloth seats and the dual-zone automatic temp system.” THIS is what owning a real, live Curbside Classic is all about. And now you have all the knowledge you need to make your very own. As for me, I sure hope that Mom has several more years of driving ahead of her to preserve this pristine Buick.
Because if the car comes to park in my driveway, the kid with the black AC-DC T-shirt could become an irresistible temptation.
I remember when this LaCrosse came out. It was during that brief but intense period between 2004 and 2006 when GM was releasing a giant wave of “New and Improved!” car lines across the board (Malibu, Cobalt, CTS/STS, Lucurne, etc) and I remember thinking this was the lamest of them.
It just didn’t seem new whatsoever. I remember thinking it looked like the ovid Taurus at the time, too, but the front more resembles the 1996 catfish model. It didn’t seem like a bad car, just hardly a step forward over the Century. Same W platform, same dull style, same old GM V6, same numb drive. The Lucerne at least tried to be upscale/luxurious in certain trims, the Lacrosse… no. It may as well have had a barcode on the side that read “BUICK SEDAN”.
Considering many of these have already racked up 150k and are quickly passing into beater territory, this senior owned, low mileage example looks like it has a decent shot at becoming a “survivor” years down the road. Perhaps it will be more interesting in 2032. At least she sprung for the nice red finish instead of that awful medicine blue 70% of the early models were sold in.
Looking at these photos, I was just reflecting on how vanilla this styling really is. Because it occurred to me that I haven’t *seen* one in forever. I’m sure they’re quite common, really. But the eye passes over them and stops to rest on more interesting things, like 2003 Civics, or white fleet-spec F-150s, or garbage trucks. They’re really Camry-grade boring, but in a larger size and with slightly lower prospects for reliability once the mileage gets deep into six-figure territory.
Now the Lacrosse Super, those are somewhat more interesting. The same 5.3 V8 as the Impala “SS” (I use that term loosely) or the Grand Prix GXP, plus a much bolder grille and I think perhaps some ventiports. They’re probably more interesting than a solid 33% of cars on the road. Nice job, Super. But they’re also legitimately uncommon, because I think my brain would register those.
The next (current) Lacrosse was less boring. But actually interesting? Sorry, no. Then again not ever car needs to be–just ask Toyota. I wonder how many people cross-shop the current Lacrosse and Avalon? Probably quite a lot.
I just traded my Buick lacross super a 2008 in for another car. I absolutely loved my black Buick lacross but it was 13 yrs old with 58,000 miles on it. V8 engine, CD player. It was a great car.
Around here we don’t get the privilege of seeing a LaCrosse in any other color than silver. Any slimmer of personality these cars have gets taken away by that color, it just turns into a senior citizen transportation capsule.
I completely get the allure of the first gen LaCrosse. Sure there’s ample room for five, but I truly feel that GM intended for one to derive maximum pleasure from this Buick when driving alone. A driving experience so moving and profound that it puts you in touch with yourself.
It’s dangerous to do that while driving.
That’s what the cops told me anyway.
Just put it in cruise beforehand. One less input to worry about
No pun intended (as in good choice of words)?!??
In Canada, the LaCrosse was renamed ‘Allure’ because it means to, ahem, ‘touch oneself’ as per Wikipedia: “This generation of LaCrosse was sold in Canada as the Buick Allure, as the verb crosser is a French Canadian vulgarity that can mean either “masturbation” or “scam”.”
JPC, this is probably your best post ever. Your disdain for this hapless automobile absolutely oozes through the entire piece without ever slapping the reader in the face.
And I never saw how this was a direct ripoff of the Taurus, either. Amazing. Why would Buick set it’s sights on Ford?
Finally, the other way to make your own CC is what I am doing with my Toyota Matrix XRS. I drove the living hell out of it right up to 150,000 miles, parking it outside 90% of the time. The finish has gone to hell. Cosmetic damage (a little hail, a minor rear-bumper bash, a mishap that removed the front ground effects) has gone unrepaired. But now I’m putting about 2,000 miles a year on it. The thing will probably last another 10 years that way, and it’s starting to look like a genuine Eugene-mobile. Except that there’s no way I’m removing the driver’s door panel.
Thanks, JG. Quite the compliment from a writer of your caliber.
I have followed your Matrix program with my prior home-brewed CC, the 93 Crown Vic. It has been allowed to age and mellow by doing DD duty for 3 kids. Teens are a very effective way to speed the aging process. Of the car, I mean.
I agree with Jim. I laughed and chuckled all the way through, and that doesn’t come easily to me 🙂
Decidedly more subtle than my approach when I rip on a GM DS, yet every bit as effective. A GM Deadly Subtlety.
I had nothing but disdain for these cars from the day they arrived: another GM Senior Citizen-mobile. It was cars like this that propelled them to their final destiny; GM and the seniors both.
Which really makes this a doubly Deadly Sin.
Haha, thanks. And you have no idea how it pains me to have absolutely zero desire to take over a gorgeous, like new Buick for what these are worth now. This is just not like me at all, because this is the category of car I have spent most of my adult life driving. But life is just too short for some things.
You raise a fascinating point. When these came out, I noticed several with older drivers. But not any more. Most of them are becoming beaters. (The cars, not the seniors.) It seems that the seniors didn’t like these very well either, because they have not held on to these like they did their LeSabres and Centurys.
As somebody who bought my first Buick (1988 Electra T-Type) 23 years ago, and still has a 2001 Lesabre and also maintains the MIL’s 2003 Century, I know exactly what you are saying.
I spent a few minutes doing a ‘Buick’ search on CL over the weekend, and there were very few specimens that I really would be interested in – a vast majority are in the ‘beater’ category now as mentioned already.
I’m still looking for my unicorn Buick: A 1980s RWD B-Body Lesabre-Electra-Park Avenue sedan, with blue velour interior and blue or white exterior. Those just don’t show up for sale any longer, even in the PNW where rust isn’t a concern.
I’m pretty sure that teens driving speeds up the aging of the parents, as well. I know it would have with mine, if they knew what all I was doing.. I’m sure that my son won’t be like that, though.. right?
In any case, thanks for a great article, nicely done.
My mother’s hair went from mostly-black with some gray to mostly-gray with some black the year I had my learner’s permit. 25 years later, she’s still not completely gray,
A Buick comes standard with plastic wheel covers?
Pardon me, but a BUICK?
I mean, that’s like, well, a prestige car – or it used to be back in my day. The thinking man’s Cadillac.
GM, what were you thinking?
In the fifth photo, I saw the driver’s door. What did I see? Vast expanses of PLASTIC. Not just plastic, but hard plastic (at least, that’s what it looks like), with no padding whatsoever, nothing to disrupt the appearance of a vast sea of hard plastic. Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?
This is serious. It raises the question of which car has the better interior, the Buick, or the Ford it looks to have been copied from. Do I feel a fundamental shift in the cosmos?
There is nothing new here. Buicks have been sporting plastic wheels covers for some time, unless you upgraded to the alloys. My MIL’s 2003 Century sitting in my driveway has them (and they still have all of their paint too – I just detailed the car yesterday, in memorial of my 1988 Buick T-Type).
The LaCrosse was badged as Allure in Canada. Identical except for the nameplates and metric speedometer head. Somebody told me French Canadians found the name LaCrosse offensive and GM changed it to Allure for Canadian vehicle sales.
I’m no expert of French Canadian slang, but apparently “LaCrosse” is a slang term for not being “The Master of Your Domain”.
I think this reply goes a little higher upthread.
I am a french Canadian, and yes “la crosse” or the verb “se crosser” means “to jerk off”. But there is a twist. I could also mean “to get ripped off” or some sort of scam. So in French Canadian Buick LaCrosse could be translated as Buick TheScam or Buick JerkingOff. Not the perfect car name indeed. The current generation however is called Buick LaCrosse here too.
“How would anyone notice a car that is a blatant crib-job of the ovoid Ford Taurus?”
Yeah, why DID they do that?
Funny about the long-travel accelerator. Is it that hard to fine-tune controls like this on a modern by-wire-mobile? Our family Fusion has the opposite problem – the pedal is soft and its response is twitchy. My parents’ Edge is similar; did some Ford Focus (Group) think this was a selling point? We’re lively! Youthful! Not like a Buick!
I’m hoping this is just foreshadowing of the day that JPC finds a mom-mobile with torsion bars, and a throttle courtesy of the fine folks at Carter.
That twitchy throttle must be a Ford thing. My 93 Vic has always been this way. Maybe for the illusion of power?
As for the torsion bar thing, believe me, there is something wrong with a world where there a guy can’t get a nice car with a teeth-up ignition key just by looking through the newspaper classifieds.
Clever way to write about a car that at current, not much interesting can be said about. It’s hard to find much about this car to get excited about. The Lucerne was at least an attractive design, but the first generation LaCrosse was just another “that’s good enough to hold us over for a few more years” sedan from General Motors.
I never noticed the LaCrosse’s uncanny resemblance to the 4th generation Taurus either! There’s a lot of similarities there.
The other thing I always thought was laughable was naming it “LaCrosse”. I remember around the time it came out, Buick’s reasoning was because the name had appeal to younger buyers. Believe me when I say that no Lax Bros were driving these, unless it was handed down to them by their grandmother a few years later.
These have always seemed like the Buick Impala or Chevrolet Lacrosse, a half-hearted attempt on the old W-body.
Jim Grey is right, this is likely your best post ever. You have managed to politely and effectively make your thoughts known.
“I Hate. This. $@#&%*. Car. So. Much.”
I’m still enjoying this part.
I keep coming back to your relationship with your Ford van, which I now understand. It is a strange sensation to hava a perfectly serviceable car that should score well on my personal grading scale but for some odd reasons completely fails the exam. Maybe we should trade. 🙂
And thanks for the kind words. I guess this was a better approach than my other idea, which was about what a miserable excuse for a human being that I am for failing to appreciate this piece of automotive perfection.
I will happily trade you a white Ford van for a red Buick Lacrosse. We can meet in Effingham; the title is already signed, it just needs to be dated.
Then, in six months, we can each post about how we hosed the other one with our trade.
Effingham: Where one always burns Easter dinner.
I need to chime in here, too. I have the same love/hate relationship with my kids’ (formerly my mother-in-laws’) Mercury Monterey minivan. Undeniably comfortable on long rides and extremely handy for moving things, but there are sooooooo many little things that just drive me nuts about the car.
It was gifted to my younger daughter by my MIL, but the kids flat out hate it. But, my now deceased FIL took immaculate care of the van; I keep telling them they should hang on to it, as any other car they purchase we’re just playing Russian Roulette with the previous owner’s maintenance habits. The kids want to sell it off, oddly, I want to buy it from them just because it’s so damned handy and we know the history of it from new…
“as any other car they purchase we’re just playing Russian Roulette with the previous owner’s maintenance habits.”
And that is why I still have the Crown Vic. I know its history, I know it hasn’t been abused, and I have no freaking clue what I’d be getting if I tried to sell it and buy something else, even if I brought money to the table.
Yes, that Monterey makes for a dilemma. I only wish that the Lacrosse was comfortable on long rides. Thing is, I just can’t get comfortable in it. And I’m the almost perfectly average proportioned guy who can buy a suit off the rack and wear it with no alterations. Most cars fit me fine, but not this one.
That has to be one of the least appealing styling exercises since the 1981 Toyota Crown, or the Mitsubishi Carisma. Just look at the front! It looks like a constipated platypus.
It’s sad that it’s a Buick. If I had no badges on it, I’d probably assume it was Korean.
Not a million miles from what Oldsmobile was doing in the 90s.
When the new Lacrosse was introduced in 2005, we had a special “Lacrosse unveiling” evening at the dealership. Buick sent several props for the event, the most memorable being a platter and cups decorated with what appeared to be dried coffee and donuts puke (sound deadener samples). The Lacrosse did not offend any current customers and did draw some conquest “traffic”…few conquest sales. A standard conquest traffic statement was “I’m glad to see that Buick makes great cars, does it come in AWD? Thanks for sharing that with us.” Most of the loyal Buick customers bought the Lacrosse despite (not because) of it’s design and features. The next year we had a Lucerne evening with similar results. These cars would have sold well if they came out 10 yrs earlier. I’m not saying say that their designs were outdated, rather the customer base was rapidly becoming extinct .
When Mom first got it, I was actually quite impressed with it in my 15 minutes behind the wheel. It seemed a solid step forward from the more recent GM stuff I had experienced. I recall being pleasantly surprised by the car’s solid, substantial feel. But what was a huge step up for GM was old news elsewhere. My 99 Town & Country was much nicer.
What surprised me the most was when she picked it up at her local dealer. She got all dressed up because the GM people had told her that there might be some local press there. But when we got there, the sales manager was all we got. The owner at Kendrick Buick in Lafayette was in his office, and never even came out to congratulate her on winning the car. No publicity photo, no nothing. I would have thought that having a local winner to their national contest would have been a great chance for some free publicity. But maybe 70-something lady winning a new Buick was not the kind of news they wanted. 🙂
Judging by the number of Terraza’s (ultimate future classics?)in the fourth and fifth photo’s background, the owner was probably in a funk after looking at his floorplan statement. When closing the dealership in 2008 I retailed the remaining new 2005-2006 Terraza’s and Montana SV6’s for about $8000 behind net invoice(several thousand more than auction would bring), not to mention approx $4500 squandered in wholesale finance charges per vehicle.
Terraza. Why did they name a minivan after a type of faux-stone flooring, anyway?
(Yes, I realize, the floor is spelled with an o, but what the hell else is a terrazza?)
Terraza, Spanish word for covered patio. It can also be used to refer to a terrace or a balcony. Take your pick.
Thanks, letg. That’s New Mexico covered then. One state down, 49 going “Huh?”
This was wonderful to read! Very creative approach… When I see articles like this, it makes me feel like my writing is too workmanlike. As for the car, I don’t know why the Lacrosse received this tacky, dated dash when they could have used some derivative of the Impala or Lucerne dashes which used switchgear shared with multiple GM cars and which looked a lot better!
The Super is a curious car that got very little press attention, although The Other Site was quite pleased with their tester.
I actually would like to try a Super. Gobs of excess power and torque can make a car’s faults a lot easier to live with. And as for the writing style, I feel the same way when I read some of Paul’s pieces. Besides, the ability to interact with the world in a completely normal way should not be lightly thrown aside. 🙂
We all have different writing styles, William. And to me that is one of the strengths of this site – enthusiasts who CAN write, and write differently.
This is a great article! I had never noticed the Taurus-twin thing, and must confess that I have always hated the look of the Taurus but kind of liked the look of the LaCrosse. This is going to cost me more money with my Therapist while I work out how this makes me feel.
The car seems to be a classic case of schizophrenia itself with that sporty exterior to lure younger buyers and antediluvian interior scheme to keep the oldsters happy. That steering wheel! I can see the discussion now:
Boss: “That steering wheel you drew is way too small – our customers are going to hate it. I’ve been doing Buick interiors for 30 years and Buicks never have a tiny thing like that”.
Young Underling: “Boss, there’s no room for people’s legs if we make the wheel bigger”.
Boss: “Say, I remember something Chrysler did back when I was first starting out! It was kind of a copy of a Citroen design. It’ll look very modern!”
My mother in law (now 94 and no longer driving) had one of these issued to her by her husband (standard procedure in the family, Fran drove whatever Frank decided to buy, female input on the purchase was completely unnecessary) about ten years ago, and absolutely hated the car. For many of the reasons listed in the article.
I drove the car quite often when Patti and went to Bangor to visit, especially after Frank died, so I’d see to it that it got its once a year oil change, service, etc. Like your mom, she was putting about 2-3k a year on the car, max.
It was a decent, unexciting car, the proper fruition of the kind of car that internet bloggers were convince was Buick’s stock in trade at the time – a perfect final car for a senior citizen, to be left to some younger family member who wouldn’t want to be caught dead driving it in public. I’ve got no animosity towards the car, and would have happily inherited it, except that two years after Frank’s death, Fran decided to trade it in and finally buy her first car that she actually wanted after 60+ years of marriage: A fully tricked out 2012 Ford Escape. We burned up the internet with my instructing her on the pitfalls of new car buying, and in the end she held her own pretty well on the deal. Yeah, I could nitpick a point or two, but she wasn’t taken six ways from Sunday like a lot of seniors are.
Unfortunately, by 2014 she’d come to the conclusion that maybe driving anymore wasn’t all that good an idea. Reflexes in one’s mid 90’s and all that. The Escape was given to my sister-in-law who’s using it happily and is learning to live with a automatic transmission.
I liked these, especially with the optional chrome package.
I remember when these cars came out. I was in high school and I had a slight obsession with the Taurus, so much that my ‘dream car’ was a 98-99 example. I used to tell everyone that the Lacrosse was a blatant rip off. The front end and greenhouse was cribbed from the 96 design and the far end was a copy of the ’00 refresh. I never had the opportunity to drive one but it seemed as if it was already a dated, forgettable design when new.
Thats not a Buick! Cue the disco music.
That’s what I told you!
Uh…………………..I don’t see a Buick…
Sounds like a plan. I’m working on creating C.C’s /Survivors, on both my cars. Its a little harder up here in “salt country”, but it can be done.
I’m changing my detailing routine. I prefer the “well scrubbed ” look to the Armour All Soaked effect. Even at 7 years old, I get lots of compliments on my Mustang.
I like the whole” daily driver/ survivor” look .
I’m working on a grow-your-own CC project as we speak. Step one in my case was that my parents had the foresight to buy a six-year-old Crown Vic that only had 33,000 miles on it in 2003. Step two was that it was used primarily by my mother, who hasn’t had a job since approximately 1999, so even though it pulled long trip duty, it still didn’t rack up the miles. Step three was that they gave it to me when they got a new(ish) Grand Marquis, and my work commute is short. The end result is an eighteen year old Panther with less than 110K on the clock. However, the time to maturation may not be achieved if either a)I get tired of it and trade it for a Volvo wagon, b)the transmission croaks, or c)my wife pushes it off a cliff. Any of these three things could happen, with the third being slightly less probable than either of the first two. (It helps that there are not a lot of cliffs in mostly flat central VA.) But she really does have a somewhat irrational hatred for that car.
Very nice piece, btw. The tone is absolutely perfect!
I can give you a 4th possiblity that will do your Crown Vic in – it will develop about 27 minor niggling failures, each of which is fixable, but because each fix will leave 26 other things still broken, you will never summon the fortitude to fix any of them because to fix all 27 will buy you a newer, nicer car. Ask me how I know. Perhaps I need to write a prequel, on the 93 Crown Vic that I bought from Mom when she got the Buick.
How did your mother like driving the Lacrosse? I remember when these came out it looked like GM was trying to evoke the look of a Lexus with the design of the headlamps. The front of a car is the first thing a customer sees on a sales lot and it’s been said that the first impression has a huge impact on their purchasing decision. This is typical of GM to use small bits of superficial “strategic quality” while cutting corners elsewhere. Still, here in Canada you see low mileage examples of these going for $6000- $9000 depending on the trim level.
She liked (and still likes) the car. However, she LOVED her two Crown Victorias, especially the triple navy blue 1985. She toyed with a new one, but was reluctant to spend that kind of money for a new car (remember, her last one stickered for somewhere in the high 19s). She sure liked having something new, as she came from that generation when anything that was 12 or 13 years old was bound to be trouble. And, she liked the Buick’s power characteristics, saying that she was afraid that she was getting too old for the kind of power the Vic had. 🙂
I just figured Buick was trying to disguise a Chevy Impala, never thought of it looking like a Taurus. I agree that Punks, Goths, Emos, or whatever they identify as seem to like Buicks, Olds, and sometimes an Avalon, at least in Central New York. Not sure what they drive in Portland, OR. If i had to own a Buick of this era I rather have a Terraza since at least it is less likely to be stolen and is more useful.
I work at a church in western Minnesota, so I see several of these still in use by the little old ladies who bought them. One lady here has a base CX with the cloth bench seats and the plastic wheelcovers. There are a lot more Lucernes than there are LaCrosses, and the Lucerne does look pretty good.
I never warmed up to the look of these, and that’s from someone who drives a 2005 Impala LS. I don’t see much of a quality difference between the two cars.
Gotta say, I love Buicks – I’ve always had a thing for GM’s dorky, uncool old people cars – and I always thought this era of LaCrosses were really nice looking cars. A guy down the street from me apparently shares this perverse love – he and his wife are in their 30s, of all things, and they have two of these, one for him and one for her.
There was a product placement for the LaCrosse in the tv series “Desperate Housewives”. Eve Langoria was working as a fashion model and a Buick dealer hired her to pose with the car for a commercial. Wonder how many Lacrosses it sold?
I never noticed how much these looked like a Taurus before. Or how poorly designed the interior was for its intended market. Nicely done.
Jim, you have reached your inner well of snark. I knew there was something I liked about you as soon as I met you at the meetup at the ACD.
Sounds like this car was born to be a beater right out of the box. A car that, while it loyally getting you where you want to go, you don’t enjoy it. Like my old Escort, with it’s shaking, throbbing engine, clueless automatic tranny and spongy suspension. It’s the kind of car that you can park outdoors, in the rain, snow, sleet and hail, and not care.
All the road tests I have read say the same about the Cobalt. Totally without anything to really make it interesting. Completely anonymous and disposable. The perfect car to be encrusted with Detroit road salt, without raising the slightest twinge of guilt. This is a primary reason the ‘balt is near the top of my beater shopping list.
For cars like this, being new and cared for by a first owner is just an interlude before meeting their true destiny.
You don’t want a ‘balt. Trust me. You’ll treat it like a rented mule and it’ll nickle and dime you to death before it hits 100,000. Absolutely the least inspiring car I’ve ever driven. Even having a 5 speed in mine didn’t help.
You don’t want a ‘balt. Trust me…. the least inspiring car I’ve ever driven.
Least inspiring is what I’m looking for. Being able to take the mechanic as a dependent on my income tax, not so much.
My other best candidate right now is this Astra. As soon as I saw it with the dishwater grey paint, grime, dents and broken plastic wheelcovers, it screamed “beater”. but, even without driving it, I spotted $1,000 worth of things it needs, and the dealer’s price is delusional for a ratty orphan.
Just buy a Japanese vehicle since it is a reliable beater, but Subarus tend to command a premium.
Ha ! An Opel Astra H !
Recently the Opel Astra K (picture below) has been introduced. There was no Opel Astra I (i) by the way. I’ve read several positive tests and reviews -for what it’s worth of course- about the new one.
Opel seems to be on its way back, after a long era of decline. Returning to their roots and old values. Good value for money for the people. A true Volkswagen, in a way…
I like their current models, especially the new Astra and the Insignia (aka Buick Regal). I recently checked Opel’s website. You can get a 250 hp 2.0 liter turbo Insignia (with a manual or automatic) without needing a first/second/thirth mortgage. Heck, most Euro-competitors don’t even offer a 2.0 liter anymore in this segment, with or without turbocharger.
Ha ! An Opel Astra H !
I kept thinking about that Astra for a while, and watching the Carfax report. After I initially looked at it, the dealer put on new brake pads and rotors all the way around. The tires already on it were nearly new. Then the dealer put some really cheap aftermarket wheel covers on it.
The dealer posted new photos of it on his web site after doing that work on it. Now the check engine light was on, which had not been on the day I looked at because I had specifically looked for a CEL. Most common CELs on the Astra seem to be the mass airflow sensor and the coil packs. Walk into a dealer for either and you will shell out $500, though Chinese knockoffs on Amazon are only $100.
And it was still overdue for transmission fluid and coolant change and due for a new timing belt. Too much money going into it for my taste.
I like their current models, especially the new Astra
I like the new Astra too, except it is going to the Asian styling with the very high beltline in the rear and tiny windows. My VW Jetta wagon (Golf wagon everywhere else) gives me much better visibility to the rear and rear quarters.
Yes, the VAG Group retains the more horizontal belt lines plus relatively big rear and rear side windows. On pretty much all their models.
Personally tiny rear side windows wouldn’t bother me, since 2000 my cars don’t have them at all. Got decent rectangular side mirrors though, without “optical illusion”. Perfect.
I had not seen the similarity between the Lacrosse and the Taurus until now. I’m not sure the Buick was a crib, so much as a product of its era. The wedge deck lid between taillights canted to the lid is so overused that I almost can’t stand it. The final Olds 88 was also very similar to this car.
The Lacrosse really started bothering me as a Buick when it became the flagship sedan due to the attrition of the Lucerne. As a Century successor it seemed okay from a distance ( I’ve never had up close time with one of these). But, as a flagship, the Lacrosse is a fraud.
Well, at least the price was right. Hope your mom get’s well soon. It is a nice color. That’s about all the defense I can give the car. I guess I messed up of the Jetta’s CC conversion, bought it five years old and took too good of care of it. At least it’s a car some people love to hate. The bought new base ’04 Titan has a cheap hard plastic interior, so there may be hope yet. Just need to find a place in the garage for the door panel. Guess I’ll park it outside in the shade and get a good moss crop started. Oh wait, I need to move to Eugene for that look. Guess I’m doing OK after all.
I’m finding the entry/exit thing very puzzling as this is the same basic W-body car as my Impala, a car that I can enter and exit much easier than the majority of today’s low slung sporty roof line sedans. I’m 5’11’ tall and on the large side too. I have sat in and driven loads of these cars and never had a problem entering or exiting the Buick version. My Impala is one of the more comfortable long distance cruisers I have driven in years and I have tested and rented many other examples both foreign and domestic. The Buick’s seats do seem a bit less comfortable but I never noticed them being uncomfortable over a long drive or never heard a complaint from any of our many LaCrosse customers.
I did however notice the long pedal travel and response under hood of the 3800 series III in these cars on 2005 examples. It seems like you have to really give it a hearty shove on the go pedal to get this car up to speed. Note that the Lacrosse used the newer design series III engine with drive by wire and a lower 2.86 axle ratio instead of the former 3.05 used in the former Regal/Century. The 2007-2009 LaCrosse switched to the 3.05 axle and the drive mapping was altered for more response so those year Lax’s are peppier.
From what customers have told me and my own observations the interiors on these cars are better and hold up longer than there 1997-2005 counterparts or any 1990’s to 2007 Taurus but the chrome strip across the dash is sometimes criticized for reflecting the sun in there eyes and the light tan interior color soils easily, a problem on many car’s from the 2000’s on up.
My biggest gripe is that the center pillar is so far forward. Maybe it is that I have driven so few GM cars, but with the seat mostly back, my resting elbow hits that pillar and not the door armrest. When getting out of the drivers seat, my left shoulder and elbow hit that pillar unless I make a conscious effort to avoid it. I do not have this problem in any of my 4 door cars (Honda Fit, Kia Sedona or Crown Vic). My law partner borrowed the car today for an errand and with no prompting from me, complained that the car is kind of hard to get out of. Maybe our years of driving different cars from each other have taught us different body mechanics for getting in and out. I tend to roll out of the seat to the left as I stand up. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. 🙂
What’s entry to and exit from the rear seat like then? Maybe that’s why the pillar’s so far forward – to sort of imply “That seat’s for the hired help. You belong back here.”
Kinda channelling the ghosts of Fisher Body’s past. 🙂
Now you have me really curious. I’ll have to compare the next LaCrosse we get in at the dealership to my 2013 Impala. Perhaps my car’s center pillar is set back a little more than the Buicks and I’m subconsciously avoiding it as you said. I do know that nobody has yet to complain about entry/exit on my W-body Impala to date, of various sizes and heights, so this really makes me want to compare the two as I assumed they were identical.
Certainly seems similar to the Taurus. Perhaps the 96-99 Taurus even more so than the 2004-2007 version pictured. At least with regards to the headlights. The grill is more like the 2000-2003 Taurus.
This article perfectly captures how Buicks had become rolling monuments to mediocrity by the mid-2000s. Well done, jpcavanaugh.
I never noticed the close resemblance to the Taurus, but this article makes it apparent. (How did I miss it?!)
When the LaCrosse debuted, my thought was that it reflected GM’s increasingly desperate condition. The General really needed clean-sheet entries in this segment, but it had to keep reworking the tired W-body because it was short on cash. This rehashing of the same old vehicle was something we would have expected from the 1970s Chrysler Corporation, but not from GM.
The failure of the dealership to effectively publicize your mother’s prize is also emblematic of GM’s troubles during these years. The LaCrosse debuted with a fair amount of hype (particularly from none other than Bob Lutz himself), but then quickly became rental car fodder, or the latest ride of Matlock fans. Undeterred, GM – and Bob Lutz – quickly moved on to the “next big thing.” With about the same results.
There was a fair amount of initial publicity surrounding GM’s “Hot Button” promotion, but we never heard much about any actual winners. This article explains why.
My inlaws have a 2008 CXS fully loaded except sunroof. Why would folks pushing 80 want a sunroof!! LOL I know what you mean about hard to get in and out of for a tall person. I am trying to talk them into trading for a Buick Encore.
After the late-Boomer kids Hate. That. $@#&%*. Car. So. Much, and there’s not a grandkid the right age who wouldn’t sooner bike to school than accept so many of the responsibilities and so few of the rewards of car ownership, the next stop for a lot of cars like this is usually the taxi stand. Independent cabbies in smaller cities where the cost/benefit of a hybrid doesn’t work out love these 3800s.
At least it’s better than the plastic-fantastic 2000-2005 LeSabres. I own a 1995 LeSabre that has 225k miles (I put on about 35k miles), and to this day, I still think that it’s styled better than the 2000 ones. These cars look like a nice successor to the 1990s LeSabres- less hard plastics, but still a fair amount. I would own one in a heartbeat. Of course, I may be the only younger male who is a Buick enthusiast….
Grow a CC? You have it all wrong. Start with an older car, and add love, love, money, and more love. It’s a simple formula. And, a whole lot cheaper!
I also am a LeSabre fan. And I wouldn’t say I’m “young” but I am younger than the typical aged driver of these cars.
I sold a 05 with 60 on the odometer and bought a 99 with 31. I like this one way better. Being that I’m 6’3″, it’s hard to find newer cars that have the room I like. And this has it. I’ve taken it to Florida and back twice from the midwest with zero issues.
I’m the exact opposite and much prefer the 00-05 LeSabre in most every way. The bodies are much stouter, they handle 10 times better, the interiors are more modern if a little on the plasticky side but better in some ways than the older full size B-bodies and Panthers of similar time era. Even the 3800 sounds better and more refined in the new car and somehow gets better real world MPG. Every 90’s LeSabre I have driven left me cold for there limp soggy handling, noisy thrashy 3800, weird old tech dash with pull knobs for headlights etc and there overall frumpiness. I owned a nice 00 medium blue LeSabre with touring suspension and my best friend at the time had the same year car in burgundy but with the base suspension. They were both excellent cars and even his base suspension was superior to any of the 90’s H-body versions. Styling is best left to the poster but both generation cars looked perfectly fine to our eyes and much preferred over the stranger looking Olds 88’s of the 90’s.
As the owner of a 2001 Lesabre, I wish you well. My car does drive and handle great (it has both the F41 and the other performance option code that escapes my memory now), but it is the least-reliable piece of GM parts I have ever owned (and I have had about a dozen GMs out of almost 30 cars).
At a little over 100K miles, here is what has failed so far:
– both front wheel bearings
– radio (sucked battery dead but still worked for months, then finally expired)
– dashboard light bulbs in everything (two weekends’ worth of disassembly and soldering)
– wiper motor (and replacement motor doesn’t park properly, so that job will have to get done again)
– HVAC blower motor (you will learn new cusswords getting it in and out)
– oil pressure sensor (haven’t fixed yet, but I figure that 128psi all of the time can’t possibly be corrrect)
– something yet undermined in evap control system
– THREE window regulators, even the back two which never get used
– intake manifold gaskets (of course; known issue)
Compared to 1988 Buick in 225K miles:
– one window regulator
– HVAC control head
– radiator and two heater cores, plus one water pump
– MAF sensor
– intake manifold gasket
My 1988 Buick I consider to be one of the best cars that I have ever owned. My 2001 Buick I would say is one of the worst, from a reliability standpoint – almost as bad as my 1997 Passat!
As much as it pains me to say it, I’m not really ever planning on buying another GM car, unless it is a classic. Our family’s daily drivers are Hondas now, with the Passat in weekly rotation, if it is roadworthy. The Buick is sitting in the driveway with half the dash removed (for radio repair) and the half-down window taped over. Oh, and I think that the RF brake caliper is now hanging as well, internally since I have already verified that the slider pins are fine. When the weather turns warmer I’ll get back to it.
Yeah, those Lacrosses were very un-Buick.
Nothing Brougham-like about that blob.
That car should be wearing Whirlpool or Maytag emblems, because that thing belongs in the appliance dept at Sears.
They were about as Buick-y as the 1982-2004 Century.
Excellent article JPC, I actually thought the car was a Taurus after my first glance at the opening picture. These cars were everywhere when I visited China two years ago. Along with Lucernes and Terrazas. Most have professional drivers who may not have much to compare them against. Or any choice.
Bob Lutz was on a ‘rename every car’ fad when he joined GM. The LaCrosse name was from a Buick concept car, [remember those?] at early 2000’s Auto Shows.
The ’05 LaX was meant to be a new Regal, but Lutz had to bring new name to say the car is ‘all new’.
My dad has same color ’06 CX, and it is slower than expected. You do have to hit the pedel to get it to move. I like its looks better than the 1998-04 Century, but the LaX drives the same as his ’03 Century, but at least not beige.
LaX? They actually called a car lax? Marketing suicide!
And with current names, I agree that Buick should have kept Lucerne for its top of the line car. Moving a name up one class is confusing. My family members get the older middie LaCrosse mixed up with new ‘flagships’.
Even Ford using Taurus on their full size car still has the ‘mid size’ image.
The ovoid Taurus and Mom’s Lacrosse are two great examples of why I call the 90s and 00s the true malaise era for cars. JCP is 100% right that both will be cherished CCs in a few years. The more hated now the more loved later.
Then after a slightly longer period of time the car may revert to your care? My father has a 2004 LeSabre which is a slightly darker metallic red than this car. His car just turned 40,000 miles and he is about to turn 90. Needless to say he is contemplating whether he wants to renew his license. It is an AZ license and he is now in CA so that means a DMV visit plus who knows what would be required.
He has said if he doesn’t renew then he is giving me the car. Granted it is nothing special in the handling department. I like my smaller cars much better but it is a great highway cruiser when we drove to AZ five years ago. In my hands it becomes car #10 and so will not see much driving around town. Unfortunately it will need to now be an outside car but I am a magician in keeping so cars looking new. Twenty years from now many will go wow what is that?
Wow, JP, that comment about Eugene ,Oregon cars losing their door panels really hurt. It’s true, but it still hurt………..
I have a 2010 Escape, and I can feel it slipping away from me. It does not get vacuumed inside as much, paint rash has broken out from mismatched touch up fluids, washing the exterior is much less frequent. I keep hoping to get just one more year out of the winter tires. I have not cleaned the interior glass in ages. However, this vehicle is not likely to ever achieve CC status, they are still ubiquitous around here. Nobody will ever see one of these and demonstrate affection for not having seen them in so long.
I have just over 200,000 klicks on it, so it should have lots of life left it yet despite some new squeaks and grumbles. But the loving maintenance component is a bit past me on this now.
I enjoyed reading this article and thought it a nice tribute to your Mom. I thought it was out of context until I looked up again and saw the date, when she was still ill. She may or may not have ever gotten behind the wheel of her beloved Buick after your post in 2015.
The CC community will be happy to know that the Buick is still doing daily front line service in the hands of one of my offspring. It recently made a round trip to St. Louis and is approaching 70k on the odometer. It sits outside all the time but has weathered that life quite well – so far. The car is now approaching sixteen years old (it was obtained very early in the model year) and still works quite well.
I occasionally wonder if I should have sucked up my distaste for this car and driven it myself after my mother stopped driving. But then I get ahold of myself and laugh that such a silly thought should occupy my brain for even a millisecond.
I live in a small town on a lake, so many of the houses are vacation homes. Just down the road from is is one very nice home that is only used on weekends. The owners employ an older couple to clean and generally look after the place, and most Fridays you will see their car in the drive. Guess what it is! Actually they are relatively common as for many years the only new car dealer in town was a Buick dealer, so there are a disproportionate number of old Buicks around.
To quote from the article, “these cars will make wonderful choices for the kinds of hard service that these folks will demand”.
I don’t know how I missed this when it was originally posted – probably thought it was about the Taurus?
Good writing and nicely acerbic. The car isn’t deserving, so it was like watching someone sell an ugly puppy. We all knew you’d keep it, love it, yet tell everyone that you didn’t want it. Joy.
Buick forgot how to craft pleasant surprises and exceed expectations with their cars – a death knell for any business.
” We all knew you’d keep it, love it, yet tell everyone that you didn’t want it. ”
I should clarify that the Buick (it’s name within the family, sufficient to keep from confusing it with other cars) has been for several years under the full ownership and control of offspring fully into adulthood, with a real job, his own place, and everything. He is old enough to understand that a fully functional older car beats a new car payment any day. I am (happily) just an onlooker. 😀
Hang onto any generic mainstream sedan for long enough and it’ll wind up being a “classic” eventually. Hell, the sedan is already nearly extinct, and ICEs are going the way of the dodo at rapid pace. In another couple decades this blandmobile will become an interesting curiosity. This long, low, ovoid looking thing with that “trunk” thing on the back and an “engine trunk” in the front will draw comments from onlookers everywhere it goes in 2041.
I’m late to the party, as usual. My MIL wanted a new car to replace her Pontiac coupe (maybe a late 80’s Grand Am?). “Get a Toyota Avalon”, I said.
She demanded it be a GM car. She immeidately nixed a Chevy, because only the lower classes drove Chevys. Cadillacs were far too flashy. But her late father had a 85-ish Park Avenue that he loved, so we ended up a the Buick dealer. She had acceded to a 4-door, but she required a bench seat for the grandkids. Quickly narrowed it down to the Lacrosse and the Lucerne. I drove both and the Lucerne was miles nicer. She wanted to buy the Lacrosse because of the price, but I talked he into the Lucerne as it was on a newer platform and had a LOT more room.
Now the Lucerne is my daily driver. Handles like a barge. Largest turning circle of any car I’ve ever owned. BUT…
It’s been very reliable. Gets out of its own way, and recently averaged 29 MPG at 75 MPH or so on a drive to Florida. Has a good sound system. The trunk is enormous. The HVAC is awesome. And the car is nearly silent on the road, especially compared to my wife’s Pilot. My two kids, both of whome are over 6′, can ride in the back seat and stretch out without having to move the seats forward. And the dual-zone seat heaters and heated steering wheel are sweet.
For what it was designed to do, which is eat up highway miles in quiet, air-conditioned comfort, it’s a dang nice car. It’s not trying to be what it isn’t (I’m looking at you, Cadillac); it’s unabashedly a big American sedan.
Next year I’ll probably buy her 2016 Lacrosse when she buys her last car. I’m going to try once again to get her into an Avalon…mostly, because I know who’s driveway it will end up in.
Why all the bad vibes about the Allure as it was called in Canada because or a rather unsavoury French Canadian slang term?
I waited almost three months for the engine to be replaced on my craptasitc Pontiac Wave (Chevrolet Aveo) and I had an Allure the whole time. I saw it as peak GM which it was in many ways. All the components had been in production for around twenty years and the 3800 Series III motor was simply fantastic. The drive train was what I always expected from a large GM car, meaning smooth and powerful, without spending the farm on fuel. The seats were not too soft and the whole car was very comfortable.
Downsides? The ride was a bit floaty and there was no ABS, kind of an oversight in a 2006 car. That in, in my opinion, is not a long list. I’d recommend one as a good used car to anyone asking. By this time the W-body financial disaster had passed and the interior materials were quite decent.
I have two car most Americans wont recognize straightaway one was sold there in the 60s one wasnt this century,
Surprisingly to some of you both are totally reliable and start everytime and drive well, I should write them up I guess especially the old one.
So the fish faced Taurus wasnt as out there as it appeared in its home country this Buick is very close on looks but for free I guess it was a good buy,
Buick seems to have forgotten the slogan ‘when better cars are built Buick will build them’, and plastic hubcaps ye gods how the mighty are fallen, A mate of mine had an old Buick years ago 1956 2 door hard top LHD is was ex US embassy black and had a nice ride and went quite well it handled like a ship at sea but the ride was comfy great cruiser, lazy V8 up front smooth slushy trans, what went wrong?
We bought one of these new in 2005 that was the same color or very close to it with the 3.8 V6, traded in our ’99 Expedition (which I loved) after we sold our camper and didn’t need a tow vehicle. It was mainly my wife’s car and we both liked it but I noticed within the first few months that it was burning oil. We had to take it to the dealer once a month to have the oil level checked and after 6 months GM told them that using a quart of oil every 1000 miles was normal! We didn’t wait too much longer to trade it after that.
That’s an exciting story! I’d love to hear more about how your mom felt when she found out she won a CAR! I hope she’s doing well.
When Dad was shopping for a new car in 2010-2011, he looked at these and the Lucerne to replace his 1995 Olds Cutlass Supreme. The Lacrosse had the same architecture as the Cutlass Supreme, same door openings and positionings and I think the seat was higher than the sit-on-the-floor Cutlass. It did feel hard to get in and out of, and the W body was never a paragon of space efficiency either. It felt ancient and not in an honest, Oldsmobile Ciera, Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino sort of way. The Ciera was old but wore its grizzled bones and styling well and said, I’m CHEAP and RELIABLE and pretty snazzy inside for the price, like an American Volvo. This was more Vivien Leigh in Streetcar Named Desire trying to cover up her age. It looked and felt just like the 95 Supreme, which was certainly reliable, but not really as great as it could have been back in 1990 and really stale by 2010. Dad bought a Charger, which he loves.
I have said this before; I know Bob Lutz is widely known as a car guy and has flipped an Opel and drives a jet fighter to get a haircut but the actual products he shepherded out the door weren’t very impressive. He obviously was responsible for Merkur, which . . . might have been a fine product but we aren’t buying Fords at BMW prices in an era when it was difficult to sell Fords at Ford prices; he was responsible for the Viper, and I have to this day never seen an actual Viper on the road, so it hasn’t displaced the Corvette as America’s Sports car; The LH and Neons were developed starting in Iacocca’s last days by Francois Castaing; then at GM, wasn’t he responsible for the Lacrosse, and Lucerne, but also the SSR and HHR and various Opel-Saturns and the GTO? None of them set the market on fire or even achieved the adequacy of the K car.