(first posted 4/26/2017) During the 1980s, Consumer Guide’s Auto Test Series offered consistent, clear and comprehensive evaluations of new cars, testing a broad array of models and providing “real world” guidance to buyers. For 1987, CG provided ample coverage of GM’s fwd E- and H-Body cars, including two coupes from Buick: a LeSabre and a Riviera. Interestingly, both were equipped with the T-Type package, Buick’s attempt to appeal to “younger” and “sportier” buyers who might otherwise have been tempted by an import. So, did CG feel that Buick succeeded in their mission?
Consumer Guide was certainly positioned to be a fair arbiter of strengths and weaknesses for typical buyers (as compared to car enthusiasts). Based in Skokie, Illinois—a Chicago suburb—CG didn’t demonstrate much Detroit myopia nor the coastal import elitism. Rather, they looked at the merits of the cars in everyday use. Cars were subjected to city and highway driving in all weather conditions, including commuting, running errands, hauling people and cargo—not screaming around a test track on a sunny day. Also, Consumer Guide typically acquired their test cars directly from dealers, not automaker PR fleets, so there was no special prepping involved—CG got exactly what a consumer would have, for better or worse. Therefore, Consumer Guide’s assessments were often more grounded, if less sexy and dramatic, than conclusions from the enthusiast magazines. Plus, unlike the buff books, CG accepted no advertising, so there was no way for any manufacturer to “buy” a more favorable review.
Thus, General Motor’s massive advertising budget would have been unable to sway the Consumer Guide’s editors as they tested the Buick T-Types. Though GM had certainly spent marketing dollars on the T-Types through the years, trying once again to create a “performance” halo for the Buick brand, after earlier “Sport Coupe” and S-Type models had fallen flat. The T-Type name first appeared on LeSabre and Riviera coupes in 1981, though the LeSabre T-Type initially lasted for only one model year. In 1983, Buick went “big” with the T-Type sub-brand, offering it across a broad array of product lines, including the Skyhawk, Skylark, Century, Regal and Riviera—and in subsequent years the Somerset and Electra as well (plus the LeSabre again).
Unclear, however, was what exactly the “T” in “T-Type” represented. It wasn’t necessarily “Turbo”—most years, “blown” engines were offered only on certain T-Types: Regal and the ’81 – ‘85 Riviera came with the 3.8 V6 Turbo standard, while ’84 – ’86 Skyhawk T-Types were available with an optional 1.8 4-cylinder Turbo. Perhaps “T” was for “Touring,” since that term connotes a blend of ride and improved handling that could be realized (if done right) with enhanced suspension tuning. Arguably, the most accurate use of “T” was for “Trim Package,” since that was the primary distinction of the T-Type cars—they featured blackout exterior moldings, upgraded wheels and tires, along with unique interior trim components.
Oddly, for 1987, Buick started offering a “Touring” option but dropped all of its smaller standalone T-Type models—the Skyhawk, Somerset and Century “Ts” had “Tanked.” That didn’t prevent the brand from keeping the T-Type models for the larger Regal, Electra 4-door and (shrunken) Riviera, plus answering the question that no one was asking by reintroducing the T-Type for the LeSabre Coupe.
At least the Buick (and Olds) FWD H-Body coupes offered an attractive roofline—finally the tyranny of GM’s “formal look” with the vertical rear window had been broken. But these were still seen as benign family cars, and the market for large 2-doors of this type was plunging, even if they were better looking than the sedans. In addition to blackout trim and sport wheels and tires, adding the T-Type package brought a rear spoiler (!) and aggressive front air-dam (!) to the full-sized LeSabre Coupe (!!). The net effect was akin to dressing formally for a black-tie wedding but then wearing a baseball cap and high tops—the look was jarringly incongruous.
In terms of the competitive set, Consumer Guide saw the LeSabre as targeting buyers of domestic family sedans. Hardly a sporting bunch of cars. So maybe that’s why the T-Type LeSabre tested offered “mushy” brakes and over-assisted power steering. Granted, the handling was far better than the standard LeSabre fare, but was that what the market for big family coupes really wanted? GM’s ubiquitous 3.8L V6 was praised for offering strong performance (though mileage was little better than the previous V8 B-Bodies), but the T-Type didn’t get any engine enhancements and the exact same powertrain could be had in any number of GM cars. The fact that the test car’s motor “died” several times during CG’s evaluation period was hardly a ringing endorsement for Buick’s quality.
Inside, the LeSabre T-Type offered the same rectilinear instrument panel—seemingly inspired by the 1966 full-sized Buick design—as all other FWD LeSabre and Electra models. “Sportiness” was provided by cramming full instrumentation into the thin horizontal opening designed for nothing more than an old-fashioned strip speedometer and gas gauge. Oh, and there were “bucket” seats (really just a bench sliced in two) and a partial center console that did not fully extend under the dashboard.
Roominess in the LeSabre T-Type Coupe was good, but the large, awkward doors with difficult rear seat access were a drawback—little wonder full-size two door sales were dropping like a stone. Workmanship and quality on the T-Type were nothing to brag about either—glitches and chintzy materials were noticeable, as was the aforementioned engine stalling. Good paint couldn’t make up for the faults… And nothing could make up for the ride quality, which was thoroughly criticized for harshness and lack of absorbency—ironic, given that the reason so many Americans loved full-sized cars was the comfort-oriented suspension tuning.
That, in a nutshell, was the problem with Buick’s LeSabre T-Type approach. The package seemed like an afterthought add-on at odds with the fundamental characteristics of the car. Buick simply couldn’t figure out a reasonable middle ground combining sharper handling with a compliant ride. Pricing was also an issue, since at almost $17,000 as equipped ($36,455 adjusted), the LeSabre T-Type was pushed into competition with far more integrated, accomplished and fashionable cars. Little wonder that the T-Type was the slowest selling of all LeSabre models—at 4,123 units it represented a mere 3% of the 154,331 LeSabres built for 1987 (137,432 sedans and just 16,899 coupes).
Surely for Buick’s flagship Riviera Coupe, all the niggling details would be sorted out on the T-Type package to create a world class Personal Luxury coupe. Oh right, this was GM in the 1980s—we know how that turned out. The stunted, cheap looking Riviera redesign that bowed for 1986, with the horrible Graphic Control Center that replaced most controls with a “Tron-like” computer screen, had been an unmitigated disaster. 1987 didn’t bring much in the way of improvements, but Consumer Guide tested a new Riviera T-Type anyway.
So was the T-Type package better in the Riviera? Well, the 4-wheel disc brakes worked better than the LeSabre’s disc/drum set-up. Like the LeSabre T-Type, the Riviera T-Type offered improved handling, but it wasn’t a refined experience (bumps could jar the car off course) and ride quality suffered. The Riviera featured the same GM 3.8 V6 as the LeSabre, with the same propensity to die unexpectedly. World class it wasn’t.
Inside the Riviera was a mess. Seats were set low and were not especially comfortable. The ride, with the T-Type package, was jarring. The worst offender was the Graphic Control Center (GCC), which made simple operations complex, all in the name of technological “progress.” Sadly, Buick was simply a very early pioneer in terrible electronic ergonomics that are inferior to traditional buttons. The critique of Buick’s GCC—with listed faults including distracting, hard-to-activate “virtual” buttons and complicated menus—could easily be applied to many 2017 vehicles.
Ultimately, Consumer Guide damned the Riviera T-Type with faint praise, calling it “decent,” which was the kiss-of-death in the exclusive, expensive Personal Luxury category. Plus, the Buick did not represent good value—the Riviera T-Type base price before options was $22,221 ($47,651 adjusted). There were many other cars at those prices that were far better options for buyers seeking style, performance, handling and comfort. Little wonder that only 15,233 Rivieras were sold for 1987 (a drop of 31% from the dismal 1986 results), including just 2,587 T-Types.
It was almost shocking how badly Buick lost touch with evolving buyer tastes in the 1980s. For most of its offerings, the division clung to ultra-traditional buyers with square, old-school styling inside and out, festooned with chrome, vinyl and wire wheels, replete with soggy handling. Perfect, perhaps, for older, conservative customers, but dangerous for an upscale brand seeking a desirable brand image with a broader cross section of affluent shoppers. Then to compensate, in a lame attempt to attract “younger” buyers, Buick went overboard with the “sporty” T-Types, which were too firm and harsh riding, with a forced “performance” look at odds with the staid, old-fashioned interior and exterior designs.
What Buick really needed in the 1980s, but failed to deliver, was a blend of high quality style and cutting-edge engineering, combining traditional ride comfort with improved agility and handling feel—benefits increasingly on offer from imported brands. Little wonder that by 1987 Buick had lost 7.5 percentage points market share compared to 1983–a stunning 53% drop that coincided with the T-Type years. Plus, this came during a time when the American economy was recovering nicely from a brutal recession, car sales were up 11% and average transaction prices for new cars had increased 11% (even after being adjusted for inflation). These were the years that conspicuous consumption came into vogue (Madonna released “Material Girl” in 1985)–in other words, this was a good time to be selling premium products. Sadly, the brand that had once been a mainstay for affluent Americans seeking a “nice” car was losing ground fast as the 1980s wound to a close. So perhaps the “T” in “T-Type” was for “Trouble.”
COAL: 1988 Buick LeSabre T-Type – A Young Man Buys An Old Man’s Car by Jim Klein
I believe that the Consumer Reports Auto test division has always been in Connecticut.
This is Consumer Guide, not Consumer Reports. Two different organizations.
I had no idea this test existed, thanks for posting it. I had a 1988 LeSabre T-Type and on the whole enjoyed it.
As the lead picture shows I was certainly of a younger demographic than the average, especially in California. However I did purchase it slightly used so Buick got nothing out of that. And I sold it to a woman in her 70’s so there’s that.
The best parts of the car were A) its engine – smooth, felt way more powerful than the figures suggest today and B) its exterior styling – it simply looked “the business” and this is coming from someone who replaced a 1986 GTI with it.
The worst part of the car was its interior styling. Certainly roomy and comfortable but very drap and boring looking with rectilinear styling that Volvo really seemed to pull off in its cars but Buick did not.
Thanks Jim. I’ve also added your link above under additional reading. It is a great post, and a surprising choice for a 20-something at the time.
Interestingly, the site in Menlo Park where Stanford Cadillac once stood recently got the green light for a huge mixed-use development project.
Thanks, I believe I was or 24 or 25 or so when I got it. And it wasn’t my last Buick either…
That location was prime real estate but not great for a dealership anymore. This seems to be a much better use of the land but I’m pretty sure when Stanford Cadillac was established the El Camino was the main route down the peninsula before the 101 Freeway was built.
Bay Area native here. Menlo Park, California used to have several motor vehicle dealers on that stretch of El Camino Real. These included Stanford Lincoln Mercury, Lutz Ford, Mucci Buick, and Shepard Cadillac (later Penske Cadillac and/or Stanford Cadillac). They’re all gone now. I think the Tesla showroom isn’t there anymore (they moved down the street to Palo Alto).
So yes, rising real estate values have pretty much pushed out MP’s Auto Row.
When you said “The El Camino”, Jim, it made me think of that scene from Mickey Blue Eyes.
“My father runs a restaurant, The La Trattoria”
“You mean… ‘La Trattoria’?”
“No, it’s ‘The La Trattoria'”
“But that means ‘The The Trattoria'”
[sighs] “I know…”
Haha, I aim to please. One day I’ll hopefully get to drive the Ferrari La Ferrari…I’ll get it from the Ferrari-Maserati dealer on the El Camino in Redwood City. I’ll pick you up at the airport, we’ll cross the Bay Bridge and go to lunch. Perhaps at the La Trattoria in the El Cerrito downtown area…
Parents last car was a 4 door seventh generation ’93 LeSabre 3.8 170 HP and didn’t seem to be at all underpowered.
Nice driving car, got mid to high ’20’s MPG on long trips. Transmission and AC system both failed and required replacement around the 100-120k mile mark, though.
The Le Sabre of this generation was a decent looking car, the Riviera looked like a soggy, swollen mess.
Interesting, that Ford/Mercury dropped the 2 door body style in 1987, while Buick (and Oldsmobile?) included the 2 door when they re-styled/downsized the Le Sabre (and Delta 88) for 1986. It would be such a slow selling body style, you have to wonder how much money could have been saved by GM over the 5 years it was offered.
I think the idea of the T-Type “sub-brand” being used on cars with turbocharged engines sounds pretty good, too bad whoever was in charge at GM and/or Buick couldn’t get a clear “handle” on what a performance car should be.
Well, Ford did still have the Thunderbird which I always viewed as a competitor to this LeSabre T-Type Coupe.
Well the Crown Vic coupe stuck around until 88ish if that counts. GM just had way too many cars in the lineup.
I’m not sure the LeSabre Coupes could have been all that slow selling based on my observations, they were very common around here when I was growing up. It was the Electra/98s were the rare as hen’s teeth H body coupes.
1987, which also appears to be the year most full-size coupes disappeared from every make.
Of all the C/H-body coupes, the LeSabre (T-type or no) appears to have been the most common. After that, it may have been 88, Electra, and 98 as the least common.
I always liked the looks of the LeSabre T-Type coupe. It is too bad the the execution of the rest of the car did not come off as well as the exterior styling.
I am on record as disliking the 1st generation H-body cars.
However (deep breath) I would love a Lesabre T-type. It is so good looking on the exterior I find it very desirable. There was ONE black Lesabre T-type still plying the streets of Defiance, OH when I was in college (1995-1999). I always did a double take when I saw it in traffic.
The other day I did some shopping for a Bluetooth equipped stereo head unit and a new set of speakers to replace the factory installed Infinity system in my ’99 300M (brittle speaker cones and the fact that FM radio is complete wasteland have motivated this). I was blown away at how reasonable I found the pricing to be, as I haven’t shopped for car audio equipment since the early ’00s. Just looking over the standard and optional equipment and pricing list for the LeSabre T-type I got stuck on the fact that in 1987 Buick still listed an AM radio as standard equipment. Note that the credit for “AM Delete” is only a $56 credit, but the retail price of the Delco/GM Bose system is a whopping $1127. Wow.
These were the cars of my high school years in the Midwest. Not many T-Types around, but the LeSabre was wildly popular (more so after 1988, when GM finally fixed the car’s quality woes.)
I actually had Consumer Guide used auto books from 1988 and 1993. They put out terrific reviews and were great for car shopping.
Thank you for posting this! I’ve seen old issues of various Consumer Guide publications for sale at various Carlisle events. I should buy one just for nostalgia’s sake, as I remember buying them when they were new.
(A side note – isn’t this the same outfit that continues to publish Collectible Automobile?)
These tests provide vivid proof as to why GM’s market share declined catastrophically in the 1980s. It was releasing too many core products in half-baked form. The front-wheel-drive X-cars were bad enough, but these two cars were critical entries in segments – highly profitable segments – that GM had dominated for years.
Reading these tests also makes it easy to see why Ford’s Panther cars experienced a sales renaissance in the mid-1980s.
“(A side note – isn’t this the same outfit that continues to publish Collectible Automobile?)”
Yes, Publications International in Skokie IL. Although with print media declining, they have cut workers and products. Online they are Auto Guide.
Family members worked there and I would get free Collectible Automobile mags. I got a tour of their facility and they have big collection of old car pics.
Collectible Automobile is probably still around because it is one of the few entirely subscriber supported magazines in the segment.
Cook’s Illustrated and Consumer Reports are the only other ones that come to mind.
A coworker bought a new 1986 Riviera and it was a dog right from the start – poor assembly quality, electrical problems, and the dreaded GCC never seemed to work quite right. However, I liked the looks of the LeSabre T-type, especially in black. Darth Buick.
I think there was even a Grand National “Darth Black” LeSabre too, with an insert in the rear quarter window that made the remaining window look like the one in the Regal. Nothing like the Regal GN’s power though.
You’re right, though I think that window insert is awful.
I does look like some “cobbled together”, add on.
I had a Riviera of this generation, a 1989 example. By then, they’d done the slight refresh on the body, which made the car look worlds better and, to my eyes, reasonably attractive-the ’86-’88s looked like the designers had forgotten to finish the rear of the car and just grafted something on at the last moment. But, mine still had the GCC and square dash. I personally found the front seats quite comfortable, and I really liked the leather with suede insert channel treatment very attractive (especially in the midnight blue mine was). Overall, the car still felt reasonably solid inside, despite 16-17 years of use, but the dash and the wood-look sticker over metal inserts looked cheap on what otherwise looked much more expensive.
I imagine when it came out it felt like a sci-fi car. The GCC was, absolutely, a pain in the rear to use. Fortunately (at least by ’89) they had the most frequently used controls on one screen. Unfortunately for me, I got my car in 2005, and shortly thereafter the display died. It was actually a two-piece affair. There was a Zenith TV tube that made the picture, along with a touch-sensitive translucent unit in front of the screen that accepted the inputs. So, when the TV tube died, at least the controls still worked, but then you had to know where on a blank black panel to push. I ultimately, after being unable to fix mine, just resorted to memorizing where the radio buttons were, as well as learning that it was 7 pushes up to get the climate set to 72 auto.
Also annoying was the automatic headlights that weren’t clever enough to turn themselves on in the rain. The only indication inside that the headlights were on at all was a bit of easily-ignored font the same green as the rest of the digital dash that said “Halogen Lights On.” This led to me investing in a good set of jumper cables that got a fair amount of use because I’d leave the lights on every time it rained because I had to turn them on myself and the dinger long-since had stopped dinging.
That car was, even with 200,000 miles, good for 29-31 mpg on the open highway (and 21 around Metro Detroit), and mine ran and shifted smoothly and easily. All that being said, mine was not the T-Type. But then, mine was so worn out that the handling was already pretty sketchy. By the end, I actually refused to let others ride in it because I was so scared of how bad it was. It was a blessing in disguise when, after 207,000 miles, the fuel pump died on a quiet residential street pulling away from a friend’s house. That fuel pump would have been more to replace than I’d paid for the whole car, and given the state the rest of it was in I elected to junk it (well, donated it to charity and let them scrap it).
But, I can also understand how these failed as a market proposition (even though the ’89 refresh jumped sales back up to roughly 1986 numbers). The doors were big and heavy and awkward in parking lots. The nose was big, and driving it the car drove a lot bigger than it seemed (it was actually a bigger car, but it didn’t seem like it until you drove it). And at the point you’re going to spend that kind of money, there were a lot of sportier, bigger, more luxed-up, more powerful, less compromised choices out there.
At the time, mine was a $400 car that helped get me out of a very very very bad time in my life, and it felt like it had gone a big Gray Gardens-a once beautiful great thing that time and neglect had turned into ruin. Looking back, it was what I describe as “classic GM”-it was good at a lot of things, but great at very few.
Definitely neat to see a contemporaneous take on it, though!
Xequar, I’d love to read a COAL on your experience. Don’t think we’ve had a Riv COAL on here, certainly not one with the touchscreen.
I kind of, sort of like the ’86 Toronado for its interior and its styling details. But then you look at the proportions of the exterior and they’re just all wrong. These aren’t tiny cars and yet somehow, the styling makes them shrink. The ’86 Riv was worse. You’re absolutely right, it’s like they just gave up towards the back. The ’86 Eldorado was completely forgettable and still looked dinky after the rushed ’88 revision.
But the revised Toro and Riv, I want to like but they are poorly proportioned in a new way. Frankly, their butts are too big. They clearly don’t look like they were designed that way.
This is off-topic but that picture of the pre-Gran Sport black Regal T-type has what seems like a severely out-of-place hood ornament.
Does anyone know if there are any vehicles left that have a hood ornament and, if not, what was the last one? Seems like Dodge trucks might still be using the silly chrome ram on the hood but I don’t know. At least the question is somewhat timely considering the recent article on the king of aftermarket hood ornaments, JC Whitney.
Rolls-Royce still boasts a hood ornament, but I can’t think of another company that uses one off the top of my head.
…and Bentley still uses one, apparently. Your options in hood-ornament-equipped vehicles seem somewhat pricey.
The outgoing Equus did:
Thanks for the link. I’m guessing that there’s at least one new Mercedes left that has a stand-up, three-pointed star on the hood.
As to the Rolls-Royce, isn’t that the hood ornament that actually disappears into the hood when the car is turned off to keep it from being stolen? Don’t know about the Bentley.
Yes, both the Bentley and Rolls-Royce hood ornaments sink into the front grille housing when the car is turned off. I think they can also be manually deployed or hidden.
As for Mercedes-Benz, they’ve gone for the sport-look on most of their cars (horizontal bars only; big Mercedes-Benz star in the middle of the grille); however, I believe that even the new C, E and S-Class models offer the formal look, which retains the bisected, logo-less grille and hood ornament. See 2017 E-Class below:
GN, I always love your write-ups and subject material, and this one was no exception.
I’ll agree with some of the others (Jim Klein, J.P. Cavanaugh and PrincipalDan) in that I give the looks of the T-Type LeSabre a free pass. It did visual athleticism very effectively to these eyes (its add-on pieces and monochrome treatment didn’t look out of place to me), and I think it did so perhaps better than the somewhat overwrought Bonneville SSE – which, though a sedan, was still a Pontiac.
The LeSabre T-Type always struck me as having just the right amount of “sport” about it, along with a kind of Q-ship mystique, being somewhat understated as it was.
Thanks Joe! I was looking forward to getting your take on these T-Types 🙂
My main issue with the LeSabre T-Type exterior was the front chin spoiler and the rear deck lid spoiler–they seemed extraneous and out-of-character to me. Otherwise, though, the car was handsome, especially with the black out and body-colored trim and minimal chrome. If they had just left off there, without the spoilers, it would have looked far better to me. I agree with you on the Bonneville SSE–it looked silly and over-the-top–I preferred the plainer SE. “Just right” seemed to be a concept GM struggled with in the 1980s…
Inside was all wrong though, which probably hurt the LeSabre T-Type more than anything–it was old-time “brougham” masquerading as “sport.” This was one area where Pontiac did have the advantage–I think the Bonneville interior, especially the instrument panel, was far nicer than the other H-Bodies.
“The LeSabre T-Type always struck me as having just the right amount of “sport” about it, along with a kind of Q-ship mystique, being somewhat understated as it was.”
Count me as another who likes the looks of the LeSabre T-Type. But that interior is drab. I know they were going for the monochromatic Euro look but it looks very antiseptic. Even the Bonneville SSE had some wood trim, as tacky as it was.
On that note, the Bonne’s interior design was much more contemporary. And the Bonne tapped into what the market wanted a lot more than the T-Type which, being coupe-only, felt like a retread of past sporty Buick full-sizers. Even the Electra came as a T-Type sedan, which was much more “European”.
That being said, I loathe the color-keyed wheels of the first Bonneville SSE. But it was the ’80s…
The Buick LeSabre T-Type was a cool car. The Riviera T-Type of this vintage was not.
trying once again to create a “performance” halo for the Buick brand, after earlier “Sport Coupe” and S-Type models had fallen flat.
Don’t forget Gran Sport, or GS used in the 60s and 70s. That’s essentially what the T-Type package is equal to as an across the lineup “performance” package, but with a new name to seem cutting edge…
I think the LeSabre T-type is one of the best looking coupes of the 80s, damn shame they didn’t get the kind of attention the Grand National/GNX did under the pretty skin.
The Riviera I never even knew came in T-Type form, and I’d never know by looking at it either. I have to admit, the original 4 light front end styling isn’t bad, providing a graceful evolution from the 85s, but from the front wheels back it looks like an N-Body.
I always preferred the composite lights, along with the sloping longer rear from ’89 onward. Felt like the square light version was a placeholder until they got the approvals to put composite lights in. I’m sure that wasn’t the case, but that’s how it always looked to me.
My dad and I took a close look at the LeSabre T-type back in ’88. We liked the looks and style, but the door – mounted seatbelts were absolutely not acceptable. It was well – known that was a cynical work-around for the air-bag laws and produced belts that were less safe and less effective than conventional belts.
We were not impressed by the cramped instrument panel, with a gauge package that was crammed into a mail slot.
Instead we bought an ’88 Bonneville SE, with all the fine handling and V-6 goodness of the Buick, but in a more functional package, $1500 cheaper – and no door-mount seat belts!
I would have made the same call. The LeSabre coupe looked nice but I’ll take a sedan every time if I’m not going to lose out on any performance.
My ’88 Bonneville SE had door-mounted belts. Perhaps they switched mid-year. I must be one of the few people who liked them because they kept the belt off my collarbone, unlike all seat- and many B pillar-mounted ones. I unlatched them when exiting.
Wasn’t the flat spoiler on the LeSabre supposed to look like the NASCAR versions? Especially the speedway cars? Bobby Allison and others were doing a bang-up job in these cars “back in the day”.
Always wanted to get all the t types lol was there an Olds equivalent trim line?
Once in a while, Oldsmobile would slap an International Series badge on a car.
I’ve never seen the circular badge before. And when, exactly, did Oldsmobile start using that Century Gothic typeface? Must’ve been sometime in the late eighties. I know our 1992 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight still had it.
This got me curious so I did some google image searching- the first reference to the sans-serif Olds logo I can find is on the grills and trunks of the 1977 models.
Nice to read CG’s write-up on these cars.
One thing I just learned from scanning the options list was that bucket seats were an option on the LeSabre Custom coupe. I had always thought they were exclusive to the T-Type. I don’t recall ever seeing any other H-body coupes with buckets….
For all their flaws, I gotta say these H body T Type coupes really strike a chord with me. I think its the clean blacked out style. To the untrained eye, its just another large coupe but look closer and the blacked out trim hints at something more sporty…or ominous. A worked up supercharged 3800 V6 from a Grand Prix GTP and some Bullit wheels off a Mustang (Ive seen those wheels on these cars before!) would make for one helluva fun sleeper. Maybe that’s it: This bodystyle is unassuming enough to qualify for sleeper status but not so dorky that its an embarrassment until you actually smoke someone with it.
I’m surprised Olds didn’t do an 88 International Series. I wonder what that would have looked like!
As the owner of a 1987 Century with the ‘T’ package, I can easily see what GM was trying to do with these sporty edition cars – cheaply transform them into something else that may sell well to another group of buyers. Where they failed somewhat was that instead of investing money to improve/modify the suspension, they simply threw in heavy duty parts. sway bars, wide Eagle GT tires and alloys to make these cars look and feel sportier. In all honesty, the Eagle GT’s were very hard riding to begin with. When I changed mine to a set of Kelly’s the ride changed considerably without losing much in the handling department. The Eagles were much too aggressive for a mid-sized sedan. They did handle crisply, but were way too much tire for that car. In fact, the original owner that I bought it from told me he always let some air out of them because his wife said it rode too hard and that fixed the problem! Overall, I really enjoyed that car. There was a nice blend of luxury and sportiness, and when said Eagle GT’s were replaced it actually rode great, was quieter and still handled very well. It was by far my favorite American car that I have owned, and there have been quite a few.
As far as the featured cars are concerned, I was never a fan of the baby Riviera whatsoever. My Mom was looking to replace her totaled ’79 Riviera in December of 1985 and was shocked when we were presented the new ’86 to look at as a replacement. She ended up going foreign and never went back to an American car after that.
On the contrary, I have always loved the LeSabre coupes. The one to find is the ultra-rare Grand National made in December ’85 for early 1986 release, sold exclusively in the south. I believe the production numbers were roughly around 110-115, IIRC. Even though they were not turbocharged, they had a very distinctive look to them. The rear window had a different looking treatment, they had dual exhaust, sport suspension, front spoiler and blacked-out trim among other upgrades.
The Century seems to have pulled off the T-Type setup better than the others, and iirc was more popular in that form than the LeSabre. Maybe being offered as a sedan was what did it? Which makes me wonder why they didn’t seem to learn that lesson and apply it to the LeSabre T-Type (or the GM10 launch schedule…)
A lot of GM’s sporty models in the 1980s were criticized for overly firm rides, and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. They were parts-bin specials, for the most part, with seemingly no extra care put into finessing the ride/handling balance. The only exceptions seem to be the 6000 STE and Seville STS. I remember reading reviews of the Lumina Z34 where critics said they were surprised at how good the ride was and how capable the car handled, as in the past GM cars could do one or the other but not both.
The reason for the crappy rides on their “sporty” models is this: GM’s idea of ‘sporty” was a high skid-pad number or fast slalom time, strictly to look good in the car magazine tests. So they made springs extra firm, but little to nothing else, except maybe a rear sway bar.
They missed the boat, because all of the European companies back then made their reputation for having relatively soft, long-throw suspensions, but with excellent damping and sophisticated geometry, so that they would still hang on in brisk driving. But their goal was NOT an over “sporty” (hard/flat) cornering attitude.
This was a huge problem affecting the domestic industry for years. We have not put enough attention on suspension development when talking about the increasingly uncompetitive US industry. Their suspensions were designed for a soft ride, and then to make it give good numbers on tests, they just crudely made them too hard.
The first American car to actually get it right, meaning a European-style blend of both a comfortable (but not overly soft) ride with good control was the Taurus. No need for a ‘sports suspension option’, it was decent in its base form, and would hang in there under pressure. Maybe not the same skid pad numbers or slalom as a GM with sports suspension, but a much better all-round compromise.
It took GM way too long to figure out that there was more to life than either marshmallow-soft or rock-hard.
That was mostly true as far as the Corvettes, F-bodies and certain Pontiacs were concerned but for the most part an upgraded suspended A/G/B/E and H body car didn’t have an overly hard “crappy” ride with a suspension and tire upgrade during the 80’s. At least not any of the ones i have owned or driven. My 1987 Cutlass with the top FE3 suspension and upgraded 205 tires rides very well, feels much tighter around turns and loses much of the float that plagued the base models. Consumer Guide Auto 1985 and 1986 gave very high marks to a similar FE3 equipped V8 Cutlass Brougham coupe, several Caprice Classics and several other cars like the 6000 STE.
Now there were other examples of there cars that didn’t fare as well like certain Bonneville SSE’s and the 6000 SE with AWD if memory serves. For the most part CG and the magazines at the time recommended a suspension upgrade and it didn’t kill the ride quality.
The STE had the FE2 suspension package and air shocks in the rear – I had an 86, and it rode very nicely even coming from a floaty barge like 76 Chevelle. The only road surface that it didn’t do well with was gravel, as the stiff rear sway bar tended to make the rear follow the ruts. It was a good high speed car as well, pretty composed even at 120mph (redline limited!)
It still had a nose-heavy feel in a hard turn and there wasn’t a whole lot of downward travel so it bottomed pretty quickly and hard.
Not familiar with the Riviera T-Type. However I do own an 87 LeSabre T-Type and find it a competent handler and still gets approving looks. The 87 was the only year that offered the Black and gray “GN” style interior. And also, 87 MY BLTs dis not feature the deck lid spoiler until late in the model run. My 87 does not and never did have one. I do agree on the Dash. though. Not quite right. Other than that. I enjoy it as an occasional driver and as for rareness. less than 16K were buiult over the 3 years of 87.88.and 89 The only one I have yat seen here in Phoenix and environs is the one I own. I does get noticed at shows, like the pavilions in Scottsdale, etc.
C/D had an ’86 Riviera T -type which failed to compete its 30K mile test and had to be returned to Buick because of repeated breakdowns. This was I believe, the first vehicle in the history of C/D’s long term testing which just failed to complete a long term test.
I honestly think Buick and GM’s sales decline was less due to changing buyer tastes than the fact that when Joe across the street has an Accord, which is getting plushier and fancier and is no longer a tin can lined with cheap plastics, and makes it 100K miles with minimal maintenance, buyers shift away from a Buick that dies on a test drive. The vast majority of people I know do not care very much what the interior looks like or what the car drives like they just want the thing not to break. Camrys and Corollas, despite not being the class leaders in dynamics or interiors, still sell like gangbusters based on the – 300K miles with only oil changes reputation.
Ford also had the new Taurus so buyers who didn’t look at Ford before had a more credible crosstown rival.
I remember that. On the cover they referred to this car as the Buick Riviera TV-Type. (LOL)
The ’86 Riv just had an undescribably toylike quality to it. Moving from the ’79-’85 to the ’86 was like moving from a late-’60s Mustang to a ’74 Mustang II, another car that looked toylike and malproportioned.
The Regal was really the only car in which the T-Type treatment worked.
You do realise that this sort of thing happened back in the 70’s and 80’s. I have a 1983 edition of Consumer Guide that has about 4-5 consumer write ups of cars that they put highly on their lists and had nothing but problems and complaints with them. Most were Japanese cars.
“The engine died several times” is pretty much an unforgivable sin for GM, I’d say. Trim bits can break, parts can squeak, bumper fillers can rot, sure, but when the buyer can’t trust the car to get them down the road, your company’s in serious trouble. “Don’t strand the customer in the path of an oncoming semi” should be the absolute minimum goal, GM.
Yeah, I’ve had some rides that didn’t enjoy the best reputations for reliability over the years but there have been extremely (surprisingly?) few instances where any of them either failed to start or stopped running for an unpredictable reason.
If a car does it once it’d get a closer eye on it assuming it’s not just a dead battery etc., twice I’d start to look around and three times? Forget it, there are better choices out there, I don’t need the aggravation.
Not one of my 1980’s cars ever suffered from stalling or engine dying several times and I suspect these were pre-production slapped together mules or some random early build cars with an issue. During the 70’s and eraly 80’s it was very very common to have this sort of thing happen on a Chrysler lean burn carbureted engine and CR has numerous articles stating engine stalls when cold and stalling. My 1979 Fairmont was notorious for this. Start it up and stall. Start up again and then hesitation/stall. Start up a third time rev up engine a minute and it would finally catch. And this was with a low mileage well cared for example. Grandpa’s 1980 Fairmont wagon was exactly the same.
One reason Consumer Guide is an interesting source is that they mostly tested production cars acquired from dealers, not the manufacturers. They always were careful to note when a car was driven at a press preview or was supplied by the PR department. In the case of these stalling T-Types, there’s no reason to believe that they didn’t come from a Chicago area dealer. As for being early build units, both the LeSabre and Riviera went into production for the 1986 model year, so by the ’87 model year any bugs with the transverse V6 should have long since been worked out. I’m afraid these cars were genuinely representative of real world customer experiences.
I have to disagree on several levels. I never owned a Riviera T-Type, however my uncle did and he loved it. I do however, have lots of experience with the LeSabres. I put over 60k on a Garnett Red ’88 T-Type and loved every second. I bought it in 1992 with a bit over 120k on the clock. The instrument panel was a bit disjointed, but the remainder of the interior was well thought out. I currently have an ’86 LeSabre Grand National that has turned over 225k and is still going strong. They look great, handle great and run forever. What’s not to like!
It’s a product of General Motors. General Motors in their darkest hour. That’s what’s not to like about these insipid, tasteless clunkers.
I have owned my white 1989 LeSabre T-Type since 1994. I was 25 years old when I bought it and it replaced my wrecked 1990 Beretta. It now has 213k miles on it and has only needed minor work done to it over those 23 years. I just pulled the timing cover off and the chain is barely worn! I have driven this car all over the country; one time over the Big Horn mountains in Wyoming while towing a 2,000 lb trailer. Yeah it’s that strong and reliable. I changed the oil religiously but these engines are tough as anything. This car is my favorite I have ever owned – it’s hard to explain until one drives it. It blows away my 2006 Buick LaCrosse in fit, finish and reliability. The seats are comfy, the gages tell you everything you need to know, the acceleration is awesome and feels more like 200hp. It is a fun luxury sport coupe. I believe by 1989 the T-Type LeSabre was on the verge of being perfected. If only they would have kept building them…. Oh, and I can change the spark plugs in 5 minutes.
I absolutely love these Consumer Guide auto editions.
While my collection is surely nowhere near as large as yours, GN, I’ve now got 6 of them with another 7 on the way. And my online shopping has revealed they didn’t just do an annual auto one, but also road test collections and (sometimes?) a “best cars of the year” editions.
They seem to be very fair and even-handed and they’re great for research because of the facts and figures and prices.
As someone who once had the misfortune of buying a new ’78 Buick Regal Sport Coupe with that turbocharged 3.8 V6, and owned it for 3 years, I read about the warmed-up engines dying, low-quality assembly, etc., and realized not much had changed in the decade that passed.
Back in the day, us car guys always goofed on the T Types. We said they were called T Types because they couldn`t be called Model T s. Ford would be pissed. I`m sure they could have come up with a better name for them.
When I was 10 years old my parents were in the market for a new car to replace their 1980 Chevy Monte Carlo. My dad expressed interest in the new 1986 Riviera. Once my mother caught a glimpse of the new Riviera in the dealers’ lot my mother said sternly, “Not in my driveway!”
My father’s interest in the car tanked when he sat inside a new Riviera and the power window rocker switch broke in his hand. The salesman was red faced indeed! I can remember looking at other Buick models in the showroom and my parents being really turned off at what they saw.
Across the street, and 1/4 mile up the street from the Buick dealer, was a Honda dealer. Out front were the all new Accords. My parents immediately liked the Accord’s looks. I thought new Accords were really futuristic looking.
They took a short test drive and we’re sold. My dad was really impressed with the Accords driving dynamics and quality; my mother was equally impressed.
Mom and dad have owned nothing but Hondas ever since their 1986 Accord and currently love their 2015 Accord.
I missed this thread at first, so I’m late to the party, but wow Skokie..
A Northern suburb (just) that still has CTA rail access directly from Chicago via the Yellow line, I’d honestly say it’s kind of a depressing place.
The famed Old Orchard Mall is located there. They even have a Tesla dealer. And it’s a very sad state of affairs there. The well known higher end clothing retailer I work for sent me and another gentleman there to close that location down January 2015 (inventory and ship the merchandise out. Yes they stayed open during this period. Never again). Old Orchard was bought out by a new management company that insisted upon doubling rent; last I heard they now have 65% occupancy. What a lovely place to buy a Tesla…
As worth noticing here, the design of the FWD H-Bodied 1986 Buick LeSabre had similar design elements as the RWD X-Bodied 1978 Buick Skylark for both the Two Door Coupe and Four Door Sedan Models. However just for the sake of the featured article, I will post both body style versions for both cars starting with the Two Door Coupe first. Fundamentally different in all other aspects, the 1986 Buick LeSabre and the 1978 Buick Skylark were almost identical in physical sizes including wheelbase 110.8″ for the LeSabre vs. 111.0″ for the Skylark. Their Curb Weights between 3200-3300 pounds matched up as well.
Here are their Four Door Sedan counterparts of those cars as well.
Acura didn’t offer a sub-brand Legend with bench seat, wire wheels, whitewalls, and vinyl roof. GM should have taken note. Ideally, for ’87, there should have been one LeSabre and one Electra, both occupying a middle ground. Not de-chromed, not overly chromed. Blackwalls standard- no wire wheel option, or vinyl top. Since at least the early 60s, GM has offered a firm ride and handling package. This should have been the standard suspension for all ’87 Buicks. This would not have been a bridge too far. My father was no hot rodder, yet he had been ordering this handling package on all his Buicks, starting with his 1962
Invicta wagon. These performance sub-brands really showed how clueless GM was, foolishly trying to cover all bases, when the answer was staring them in the face.
“What Buick really needed in the 1980s, but failed to deliver, was a blend of high quality style and cutting-edge engineering, combining traditional ride comfort with improved agility and handling feel—benefits increasingly on offer from imported brands.”
Exactly what Oldsmobile was supposed to be.
Timely post as we unfortunately saw the passing of Lloyd Reuss this week.
As proud as he was of the GN and GNX, I’m sure he was disappointed with these cars, as they had the typical “cheap-out” stamp of GM cars from this decade.
For those that may not know (I didn’t), he had quite a career post GM supporting various charities and serving his community. .
What I remember about this era’s GM cars were their horrible cheap interiors. Many had attractive styles, but the quality of materials, and the comfort was cheesy and cheap. You had to get leather for a decent seating surface, but the seats were not good. Even Cadillac had a cheap interior. Attractive, but cheap. The seat belts were inexcusable. Shame on GM and the Feds for permitting stupid door mounted belts. If the doors opened during a collision, those belts opened too. GM actually presented those crappy belts over a decade earlier. As presented, the belts STAYED BUCKLED, and swing out with the doors. You were expected to figure out how to get your legs around the lap belt, as you climbed in. Realistically, it didn’t work. What owners did was treat these belts like old fashioned belts and just leave them on the door and manually buckle them. There was nothing AUTOMATIC about those crappy belts.
I’ve seen plenty of Lesabre T Types. Sharp looking cars. Actually I think the H coupes looked sharper and sleeker than the sedans, but of course for practicality the sedan wins. It’s too bad they never built a Bonneville coupe of that era. Especially a SSE with body color wheels would have looked amazing. I think the Pontiac would have been the best selling of the 3 coupes had they built it, as a hot sporty car and family hauler wasn’t used together as often. I mean they didn’t make a T Type Lesabre sedan to my knowledge.
About the door mounted belts, the A bodies introduced them for 1990 and I had one. Like the others, I never once used them as intended. I simply used them as regular seatbelts. And in either case, if the door popped open in a crash, out you went.