Life Lessons From a LeSabre: Part 1

The 1978 Buick LeSabre Custom, when you really want a great story to tell for years to come.

Sooner or later we're going to make a mistake. We're given every opportunity to make an informed choice or an impulse decision, and we'll go with the impulse. For my Pops & me, it was a Sunday night in October of 1995 in a parking lot at 85th and Wallace in Chicago, and the impulse decision was the purchase of one triple burgundy 1978 Buick LeSabre Custom Landau Coupe. 

As a 16-year-old male with a newly-minted license, my Pops indulged my obsession with full-sized General Motors cars. We pulled several ads from the local classifieds section, called the numbers and went to check out several 'bargain rides'. After all, a 16 year-old needs a car to crash. The large GM cars always appealed to me, especially the Buicks and Oldsmobiles. The long wheelbase, indestructible engines and comfortable interiors were light years better than the typical Ford Escort or Nissan Sentra that many of my friends wound up tooling around in throughout high school. These cars still had style, and were affordable luxury in 1995. 

With our sights set on a cheap set of wheels that even I couldn't destroy, we drove to Kenosha to look at a blue '79 Buick LeSabre coupe with a 3.8 V-6 and leaky valve cover gaskets that smoked like it was on fire when the car drove down the street and needed a complete exhaust system. But hey, it was only $500!

"Safety hazard, no thanks." said Dad.

We looked at a red 1978 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale that had more rust than paint on it. The Olds 350 ran great, but smelled like farts and looked awful. But hey, it was only $800!

"No dice." said Dad. 

We even looked at a '69 Chevy Impala Sport Sedan that had been involved in a front end collision of sorts. The rest of the car was solid, and the 327 V-8 ran well. But it was an eyesore that would have needed a bit more money to fix up than we wanted to spend. The neighbors would have reported an abandoned vehicle and had it towed if it sat outside, but it was only $400!

"Ahhhh, no" said Dad.

Then one day in the Tradin' Times screamed an ad for the car that would alter the course of my Junior year of high school.

A phone call was made, a rendezvous was set, and Dad & I plotted a course to a sketchy neighborhood in Chicago right off of the Dan Ryan Expressway late on a school night. I should also add that we did this without permission of Mom. That's important to note. 

When we arrived at our destination, which I believe was a Ben Franklin parking lot, we were greeted by a man named Michael Jefferson, who was the owner of a fairly clean burgundy 1978 Buick LeSabre Custom Landau Coupe. The car had the half-vinyl roof with a Pontiac-built 301 V8 engine, a cloth interior, no hubcaps, and a sagging headliner. But it was clean, mostly original, and smelled of Pine-Sol. We took it for a test drive, and Michael sat in the back seat. There was awkward silence for a few minutes before Michael finally chimed in. 

"Does your girlfriend like burgundy?" he asked.

"Um. Yeah" I answered, nervously. This was a lie, I had no clue if she liked the color. 

"Yeah, alriiiiiiiight." he replied in an Issac Hayes sort of way.

More awkward conversation took place where Mr. Jefferson described how he came into possession of such a fine automobile. It apparently was owned by an older gentleman who babied it, (we've all heard that yarn), until his passing. His widow eventually sold him the car after it sat outside for a few years. He was going to trick it out when a cleaner 1981 Olds 98 Regency came up for sale and he liked it better, so he was letting the Buick go to help fund that project. 

As the miles rolled quickly by, Dad & I took the car onto the freeway and brought it up to highway speed, and it ran as smooth and quiet as you'd expect a full-sized car to. While on the exit ramp, we noticed the car leaned quite a bit, but otherwise drove straight. Dad and I both took a turn behind the wheel and it seemed like one of the better cars we'd looked at.

We swung the LeSabre back to the parking lot we started at, and went over some other small things before chatting. With a little elbow grease we knew the Buick could look much better, but we agreed it was a solid foundation for a young guy's first car. As long as my grades kept up and I didn't abuse the privilege, it was mine. Dad plunked down some cash, and I got a set of keys and that was that! We set off on the Dan Ryan a little before 10pm and the road was bathed in the orange glow of city light. The gauge cluster showed a full tank of gas and plenty of power laid just under my right foot. I turned on the aftermarket Kraco AM/FM stereo cassette player and the stereo was set on B96 FM, where Janet Jackson's "Escapade" had just started playing. With no traffic on the expressway and a land yacht all to myself, I cranked the volume up and rolled the window down and enjoyed how fitting the lyrics were.

"My mind's tired, I've worked so hard all week
Cashed my check, I'm ready to go
I promise you, I'll show you such a good time
Come on baby, let's get away
Let's save your troubles for another day
Come go with me, we've got it made
Let me take you on an escapade
Let's go..."

The drive to Northern Lake County was quite a relaxing one...driving the LeSabre felt like you were floating on a pillow on top of a cloud. There was little excitement as I pulled into the driveway first, killed the headlights & headed into the garage. Dad followed me, and as soon as we turned the cars off, Mom appeared in the garage with that look. We've all seen it. Its that same look you got as a child when you did something you weren't supposed to do and were about to get a-whooping. Something you shouldn't have done...such as purchase a car without telling her.

As you can imagine, Dad & I got our butts kicked...but that's only half of the story. The LeSabre would also soon deliver a few swift kicks of its own.

Stay tuned for part two.



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