This was so not what I was looking for.
After selling the HHR and planning on driving the Mystique (recent My CC here) (and we all know how that turned out), I was yet again in need of a set of wheels. Sure, I could afford something newer, but I decided that this time around I was going to be thrifty and look for a cheap econobox. As long as it had cold AC, cruise and a radio, and didn’t cost more than $6k I didn’t much care what it was. Or so I thought.
I had narrowed my search down to a rusty Ford Escort wagon for $2200, or a Chrysler PT Cruiser for $8000. Neither car was doing it for me. Out of frustration I decided to stop in at a large Chevrolet-Toyota dealer in Saginaw, MI. Turns out they had a “budget” lot out back. The salesman asked me what I was looking for. I replied, “I’m looking for a good travel car that’s cheap…” He then turned and pointed and said, “This is the best car I have on the lot for that.”
And there it was, a beautiful, one owner (little old lady, documentation proved it) LeSabre. My first thought was “I don’t need a car that big and fancy”, but after sitting in that lavish interior that really is a throwback to the Great Brougham Epoch, and taking it for a ride, I was hooked! $4700 and she was mine!
A little about GM’s H-car program…
After GM’s first round of downsizing in the 1970’s, it was time for round two, because CAFE was mandating higher MPG numbers by 1985, and the only way it seemed at the time was to keep downsizing. The H-body is just a slightly shorter C-body, much in the same way the old B-body was a shorter version of the old C. At first, the 1986 H-bodies were quite a shock on the buying public. How could something this small be considered full-size and upscale? The car was marked as new and contemporary yet the interiors seemed to come from right out of 1979. Concerning the exterior, the proportions seemed off, as the designers concentrated mainly on maximizing interior space and cutting down on unnecessary bulk. Kind of like how Honda once did business…
In true GM fashion, the first couple of years were stinkers from a quality standpoint, but by 1989, GM seemed to finally wake up and the H-bodies, in particular the LeSabre and Eighty-Eight, were scooping up quality awards.
By 1992 it was time for round two for the H-body. Rounder sheet metal and somewhat better proportions came into the mix, and for once, a first year GM car did not have to be avoided, they got it right from the start. The 3.8 V6 that all these cars came with was fast becoming a benchmark for reliability, it’s not at all uncommon to see these cars with well over 200k on the clocks and still run well.
Sadly, the H-body bowed out after 1999, replaced by the G-body, which the Olds Aurora came from. That in and of itself was not a bad thing by any means, but the H-body versions helped to cause many people to hold the LeSabre in the same high regard as some Honda and Toyota models.
But back to my car.
First of all, I am thirty-six years old, single and have no kids. A car like this seems like the last thing I would pick to suit my transportation needs. But every time I slip in behind the wheel, and settle in to the rather high quality leather seats, a smile comes to my face. The car runs like new.
All the electrical doo dads work like they are supposed to. It easily hits 30 mpg on the highway. Everyone that has ridden in it, from teenagers to my grandfather, has given it their approval. But right now the one thing that makes me happiest is knowing that my father LOVES this car!!!
When I told him I had bought an old Buick, at first he wasn’t sure I had made a wise choice, but then he said, “well, Buicks are good cars, I’ve always liked them”. When I got it, he wanted to drive it, so I let him. He couldn’t say enough good things about it.
This was just a couple of months ago. My father has been ill for some time, and was just last week officially diagnosed as having advanced Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and his health is fading fast. Over the years he and I never really saw eye to eye on a lot, but when we did, it was a wonderful thing.
I’m so thankful that he and I have grown a lot closer this past year. And I’m thankful that after twenty years and eleven different cars, I finally brought one home that my dad approved of. He says he’s proud of me.
What more could I ask for???
I have always kind of liked these. Like you said, the proportions were right. I remember that when these came out, Buick was in a bit of a boomlet. Maybe it was all of their traditional buyers buying one last car, but there were sure a lot of these around – still are.
In central Indiana I have noticed that these have a tendency towards rust holes in the rocker panels, but not really anywhere else. If you live around Saginaw, I am sure that you see this more than I do.
Isn’t the car-buying process funny? About 3 years ago, I was looking (instead of having one find me) for a used car. I had decided that I wanted either a Town Car or a Miata. (Seriously). I ended up with a first generation Honda Odyssey because it was the first thing I could find that wasn’t crap or close to it (I will admit that my standards are too high, even for a cheap car) at a reasonable price. With my thing for re-purposed old-guy cruisers, I have always wondered if I would end up with one of these someday. Great car, enjoy it!
Sad to say, I do see a lot of these cars with some nasty rust up this way-the winters can be brutal up here.
What has saved this car is that it was not driven all that much over the years, I think I figured about 6000 miles or so annually.
Unfortunately Grandma (yes I call my car Grandma) does have some rust starting over the rear wheel wells. You have to get really close to see it. I got the estimate to fix it the other day, $1043.65. I guess I better start saving…
And thank you, I find something more to love about it every day!
I. Love. Your. Car. To the horror of my friend that owns a dealership, I am in love with the H body. Back in Feburary of 1990, Mom bought a new Eighty Eight Royal Brougham with the upgraded FE-2 suspension and alloys. White with blue velour. Mom is still cussing to this day for trading it in on a 1998 Grand Prix GTP. That thing was crap, and she even misses it while driving her cheapo 2006 Malibu LTZ. Talk about a poorly made car (the ‘Bu).
I learned how to drive on the Eighty Eight, and had it during my formative years. So, I have very fond memories of that Olds. It was a dang good car. It got great gas mileage, had zero problems with it, looked good (IMHO), and had good ride quality. Not too firm and not too soft.
What can we say, we have good taste!!!
That Eighty Eight was a good looking car.
A little history, the 1991 Eighty Eight Royale Brougham was the last Olds to use the Brougham nameplate.
And, it was the least Brougham-y Brougham you ever saw. At first glance it didn’t look that luxurious, but it was very comfortable.
Sorry to hear about your Dad, I wish you both the best.
But I too have a Dad, H body story…
In 1988 I was living in Chicago and one visit home, the rental was an Olds Delta 88. This car left an impression that I remember today…it was tight, comfortable, and FAST. I had long given up on anything by the big 3 and was driving a rwd ’84 Celica GTS at the time, but I remember being impressed by the cavernous space inside the Olds with the fwd platform. I don’t know what engine it contained, probably the 3.6 but the torque was positively Nissan-esque; tap the accelerator and off you went, even faster than you’d want.
In any case, while visiting we took a day trip somewhere and Dad saw how I was enjoying this Olds and wanted to take a turn at the wheel. He dug it. At the time he had given up on GM having had about 5-6 Buicks each experience worse than the previous, the last being a craptastic ’83 Regal that self destructed in 4 short years. (one time in the middle of the night, the horn started to sound on it’s own, waking the neighbors…that was it).
Like many retired men of his generation he had moved on to the Mercury Grand Marquis, which in comparison to this H Body was a numb, wallowing pillow.
He liked the Olds, but he currently on his 3rd and probably final Grand Marquis.
Old habits die hard, no matter how superior was the H body, he would not give up on the rwd panther.
Good piece on an important car. Important because GM was really starting to feel the effects of a quarter century of bad management by the time these cars were built and needed the money that they brought in badly. The margins on these were really high because by this point , there was really no direct competitor among domestic makes and the Japanese and Germans just don’t build ’em this way. They pulled in the ‘ol cabbage that kept things together during that period when the SUV craze was just getting critical mass.
Your dad is in our thoughts and prayers.
Thank you, I appreciate that.
That car is extremely clean, I bet it’s running 10 years from now.
She only has 106k, so she’s just now broke in and really hitting her stride 🙂
Excellent choice! I have seen many of these around here, lots of elderly owned, low mileage, perfect condition Buicks and Oldsmobiles from this generation. And they are great bargains in the used car market usually.
first generation Honda Odyssey
I wish they still made them….a perfectly sized car with a great little engine….
I agree – it became a favorite of mine right up until it was smashed to smithereens. I have some pictures of its twin and have it on my list of future CCs to do.
Beautiful write up of some of the best General Motors cars in the last 30 years. They epitomized what was once great about General Motors cars: Stylish, Quality appointed, and Silent confident performers. If I remember the H-Body trio where the only GM cars that ever got Best Buy recommendations from consumer guide for a number of years.
It’s not to be forgotten that the Bonneville SE of this platform landed on Car & Driver’s 10 Best List for at least 2 years, and as mentioned the LeSabre consistently brought in J.D. Power & Associate Awards for 4 or 5 straight years starting around 1990 for initial and long term quality. The sad thing is that General Motors let the platform die after 1995 or so. Although I don’t think they were cost cut as much as some products in the late 1990s, the Series II 3800 gasket fiasco makes a stack of maintenance records a requirement for the 1995 and up cars to make sure that was fixed. Fixing that they are the closest Detroit in recent years have produced to something able to achieve the legendary longevity of a Volvo 240 or Diesel W123. And they’re a lot more modern and (with the right suspension package) quite fun to drive.
If anyone sees a 1993 Eighty Eight Royale LS with the LSS package (the rarest of the LSS series cars) and an Astroroof, let me know. That’s my absolute favorite of them all.
Funny JD powers, or wards had a top 100 engines of the last 100 years back in 200 I believe, and the 3800 was in the top ten.
Now it’s well known that these cars were way off my radar when they were new, but we did walk over to the fairgrounds one day for a little car show put on by the dealers, and I looked at one just like this, and the dealer’s asking price was like $21k, and I thought to myself: “that’s really quite a good deal; a lot of comfortable, well-proven metal for the money”. Coming from me in Eugene at the time, that’s quite a compliment indeed!
Of this generation H body, I probably like the Olds Ninety Eight Touring Sedan best. Console shift and fender skirts, baby! I think you could even get it with the blower. Talk about sleepers!
Yup, at least through 1995, you could get them with the Supercharged V6. I know an LSS Supercharged could blitz to 60 in 6.6 seconds, so I doubt a Ninety Eight Touring would be too far behind.
This looks a nice car tradgedy its not RWD but that seems unpopular in the US those 3800s are pretty bullet proof over here.
I didn’t know you all got the 3800 over there!
Everyone I have talked to about my cars that knows cars have said, without reservation, that this car will see another 100,000 miles easily.
It’s definitely one of the few cars from Detroit that get’s spoken of as fondly as Camcords when it comes to having a good reputation.
Holden 3800 V6 since 88 untill the new alloy V6 they been good engines its the base Commodore motor Supercharging was available outa da box
That is a really gorgeous high-option example. So many of these seem to have rental-grade cloth interiors.
Nice find. REALLY glad you didn’t settle for a PT Loser.
Thanks! I’m glad I went with this one too. The PT was okay, but after having had an HHR, it just wasn’t doing it for me. I’m sorry, but of the two, the HHR was the better car I felt.
And the leather in my Buick seems to be of very high quality. No cracks or drying anywhere.
The HHR is definitely better than the PT. It’s got some real cargo capacity and maybe the best way to think of it is it’s a Cobalt wagon with a retro-Suburban body shell. I still wish it would have been one size bigger and with room under the hood for at least two more cylinders.
Very nice and I have a soft spot for these cars, though I have to admit that I’d love a 1991 (still square) LeSabre because of the whole “roughly the size of my old Celebrity+Buick interior+3800V6=WIN!”
Sorry to hear about your father Richard.
My dad still wants a Park Avenue Ultra, next time I see him I’m going to tell him he ought to go out and buy the cleanest, lowest mile one he can find.
Thanks Dan, I appreciate it.
You know, if the interior wasn’t still so nice in my car, I would have considered doing a Park Ave Ultra interior conversion on mine!
And he won’t regret getting one of his own. I seriously find more reasons to love mine every day 🙂
I do a little detailing, and car jockey work,for a few small dealers. An almost rust free 95 is a rare find here in Southern Ont. What few there is, get scooped up very fast.
Sounds like a nice car that you found. However, if your thinking of doing a complete paint and body,buy new panels and spray oil everywhere.
Sorry about your Dad. I’m sure that it gives him pleasure,that the two of you have found some common ground. Old cars can do that.
Thanks Mikey, I appreciate that.
I’m thinking I don’t want to re-do the whole car, because as you can see in the pics the paint it still in really good shape. I really don’t want to have to replace any of it, but, well, stuff happens I guess 😛
The small town I live in has lot of older residents — maybe retired farmers who moved into town. Anyway, there are a lot of Buicks like this one. I had no idea they were discontinued that long ago. The examples around here must be babied.
Buick quit making the LeSabre after 2005, replaced by the base model Lucerne, which wasn’t completely a bad thing, the Lucerne has all the wholesome goodness under the skin that the LeSabre had. In other words, I’d drive one…
@Richard: I’m sorry to hear about your father – take some time to spend with him, you’ll never regret it.
As for the Buick, these things are super sleepers as these are usually well kept and rarely abused. When I was selling, used big Buicks were great sellers. I’ve got a 58 year-old brother who keeps dorking around with very-used Fords and Hondas. (not really a knock on those cars, he can’t pick an used car to save his life…)(nor will he maintain them properly…)
Although his old Chevy Celebrity held up exceptionally well, I keep telling him to look at used Buicks. I think he thinks they’re old men’s cars, and maybe he’s right, but for the aforementioned reasons, they’re great cars.
A note: The Series I and III 3.8’s seem to be trouble free, the Series IIs have the gasket issues.
Another poster mentioned the Bonneville SE of this generation, my sister had one for 13 years and 300K. She loved that car! I have a neighbor around the corner who has a LSS 88, but I don’t think it’s supercharged. Too bad, I bet it’s a helluva ride!
Thanks so much. Dad and I are trying to spend as much time together as we can.
If I may take a moment here…
I want you all to know how much I have appreciated the kind words you have sent my way, for my cars and stories, and especially concerning my dad.
For the past several years I have been an avid reader of TTAC, and of course now here. And I have learned so much from so many of you. It truly feels like we are kind of a big crazy international family, and you all mean a lot to me.
Spending time on here helps get my mind of things when my dad is having a bad day and I don’t know what to do.
So to Paul and all the rest of you, I offer my sincerest thanks for letting me be a part of all this!!!
A Buick does indeed make a good value used car purchase.
Even as a young kid I thought Buicks were for the more Square, older, more republican neighbors.
That may generally still be true , I dunno. I know the Chinese like them.
My aunt in Hempstead Long Island has one. She picked me up at the train station in hers a few years ago, and the first thing that I noticed was that I could push the plasticky door panels in.
I had a Custom as my first car from fall of 02 until May of 06. Theory was a big, safe, reliable car for a new driver. Had few problems until the last six months when I had to do a intake manifold and a master cylinder. Ended up getting rid of it at 84k miles rather than keep fixing it. Probably should have kept it rather than get the 99 Cutlass I replaced it with.
I guess it’s time for an update.
My father lost his battle with Lou Gehrig’s at the end of August. To say that the loss hurts is like the understatement of the century. But, I keep reminding myself that my loss is Heaven’s gain.
Thank you all for the kind words and prayers.
In addition to all this, I have not been in the greatest of health, which is why I haven’t been contributing like I want to, and trust me, I have some nice cars waiting to be written about.
I’m at a point now where I have to decide if I should keep the Buick, or just let it go. I love the car, and it still means something to me that Daddy liked it so. His passing made it possible for me to be in a better financial position, so a newer car can be a possibility, and that thought appeals to me because I’m fast becoming unable to work on cars like I would like to.
Any of your thoughts and advice would be much appreciated.
So sorry to hear about your father. I lost mine a little over 10 years ago, so I have an idea of what you are going through. It is good that you got to spend some time with him.
As for the car, don’t do anything for awhile. It will take some time to get through your loss, and now is a bad time to make big decisions. Park it and winterize it, and let it sit until spring when you can make a decision about just a car, and not so much about something between you and your dad.
I’m sorry to hear it, too.
I say keep the car a while, just like JPC. Don’t do anything too hasty.
I am re-reading some of my old posts, and figured that I would offer one final “official” update to this story.
As it turned out, I was becoming deathly ill, and one year ago this week I was put in the hospital with double pneumonia, brought on by a terrible blood disease. The doctors said it was incurable, but I’m not so sure about that, as I have made a tremendous recovery and they said that as of my last visit that they are hard-pressed to find anything there!
Anyhow, I did leave the car in the garage all that winter. The hard part was that every time I walked past it, I would be reminded of how sick my dad was, and all the trips to the hospital, and then the funeral procession and the numerous trips to the cemetery in Ypsilanti. So last spring I sold it to a lovely older couple that I have known for a while. They took the car to Florida to their home there and now it enjoys a nice, comfortable life there, and for that I am grateful.