Czech It Out: 1965 Buick LeSabre 400

Jonny Lieberman
by Jonny Lieberman
czech it out 1965 buick lesabre 400

Pop quiz, hot shot: What's longer than a Ford Excursion, older than the Beatles' Revolver, blacker than midnight, totally devoid of seatbelts and soon heading to the Czech Republic? The pictures don't lie: a 1965 Buick LeSabre 400. Yes, the lure of a small finder's fee and my irrational obsession for anything with four wheels has once again seen me purchase a hunk of Detroit iron for a mysterious man somewhere north of Prague. Who am I to resist?

Luckily this Buick was being held behind the Orange Curtain, which is only a 30-mile jaunt from my hilly compound near Downtown Los Angeles. As fate would have it, I still have the 1981 C3 Corvette. Cashier's check in glove box, a friend and I decided to set off to retrieve the LeSabre.

First, we decided that he should test out the 'Vette to make sure my driving companion was comfortable with the ‘Vette's thirteen inches of clutch travel and tractor-like controls. He wasn't. So we hopped into the WRX.

Thirty minutes later we were in Irvine staring at nineteen and a half feet of utter darkness, punctuated by chrome and brass. I've seen surf boards smaller than the bumpers. You could stash the entire Gambini family in the trunk. Talk about a back seat; the original wheels were passengers. All four of ‘em. With tires. It seems ludicrous that the LeSabre front seats accommodate as many as the four-door BMW X6-or is that the other way around?

Title in hand, I fired up the LeSabre and pointed it in the direction of a gas station. And then stalled. And stalled. And stalled. And stalled seven more times. The seller had warned me that the carburetor was "a little funny." Apparently, I needed to double pump the pedal to mix the fuel and air properly. Trouble is, the throttle is bottom hinged and the seat is so deep and far back that I kept messing up the mix. And stalling.

Finally, I removed my right shoe and got the big black beauty moving. Seventy-five dollars and at least a dozen stalls later, we're off.

Other than bored, alcoholic housewives who celebrate their uniqueness on reality TV, long, wide empty streets that cut straight through what used to be citrus groves are Orange County's defining feature. I pushed the Buick up to an indicated 50 mph and called my friend (who's worriedly following me) to ask how fast we're actually going. "50 mph." Well alright then, we're good to go. Or, as Farago would say, not.

You see, the aforementioned scenario occurred just before I learned that the Buick doesn't have brakes. Well, OK, there are four tired, 43-year-old Detroit drums, but they don't actually stop the car. All they do is ask nicely if the Buick LeSabre feels like slowing down. Sadly, the car's deaf.

So there I was, blissfully unaware of this mechanical deficit, about to make a 90-degree right hand turn. Long story short, apparently curves weren't a feature of American roads when the second generation LeSabre was penned. I now know what it's like to pilot a submarine. I made a mental note to increase braking distances by 1,000 percent and hopped on the freeway, heading towards Disneyland.

Traffic was light. The Buick's tweaked mill (Holley carb, Edelbrock headers) was shockingly capable of motivating nearly two tons of vintage metal up to and past freeway speeds. In fact, with the Super Turbine 400 slushbox in "D" and my foot off the gas, the LeSabre was happy to plod along at 30 mph. A light toe-tap summoned 70 mph; a decidedly comfy cruising speed.

Despite a complete lack of handling and the persistent feeling in my gut that I'm about to die, the Buick was fun. While only sporting two doors, the LeSabre has six window cranks (side quarter vents, window, rear window) and my favorite all time feature: kick-on brights. There was so much cavernous space that I could put my right arm across the back of the seat and not even get kinda close to the passenger door. And of course everybody was staring at me.

My biggest gripe was with the Buick's ride. Sure, the suspension's dropped (and shot), but the tackytastic, uber-low profile tires on massive donks make potholes feel like severe fender benders. I hit two patches of nastiness in a row and was certain I'd been rear-ended. But here's the good news. As soon as this baby hits continental Europe, my Czech benefactor will be ditching the ugly wheels and installing a disk brake kit.

Despite my rep as TTAC's resident treehugger cum racer (go figure), the LeSabre is my kind of car: a machine with genuine American style. Too bad our Ameri-Pesos are only worth seven swizzle sticks, ‘cause this baby's a keeper.

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  • C. Alan C. Alan on Apr 24, 2008

    I had a room mate in college who oned a 66' Ford Galaxy 4 door. That car was massive, and we called "The Star Destroyer". We pulled a joke on him once and advertised the trunk of car for rent as an apartment in the college paper. My own exposure to '60s cars has been limited to the '67 Mustang I am trying to restore. Driving that car with 4 wheel manual drum brakes is an adventure. You have to get used to really stomping on the brakes to get it to stop. There are not a lot of these cars left mainly due to rust. If it was not seen, chances are detroit did not bother to paint it at the factory. Replacing rusted out floor plans, and cowls are the first order of business when restoring alot of these cars.

  • PhilR PhilR on Aug 11, 2008

    Nice car! 1965 Buicks are my favourite cars. When I was 9 years old, the mother on one of my classmates had a LeSabre Custom hardtop coupe like this one (but without the "400" package) and with a black interior, faded green paint, surface rust on the roof, rust holes in the lower quarters and two remaining hubcaps, one on the driver side rear wheel and another on the passenger side front wheel! When I saw it, it instantly became my favourite car even if it wasn't in good condition! I was also impressed by the 6 window cranks in a two door (that was in 1986...) and the fact that there was no center post like there were in most cars of the eighties (except a few japanese and some MB models) really got my attention. Since then, pilarless hardtops became my favourite body styles and I still wonder why US automakers stopped making them in the late seventies. Buick was the first brand to introduce pilarless hardtops in '49 but it was soon followed by Cadillac and Olds and within a year, most brands from the big three had pilarless hardtops in their lineup. Hardtops disappeared almost as quickly in the seventies and the padded landau roofs and fixed side glass that replaced them were quite uncool! 210delray, as you said, these cars came equipped with lap belts in the front but in 1965, it was still possible to delete them and get a credit (for the last time!). Jonny I read your comments about the engine and I can tell you the engine pictured is not a Buick 350. The '65 LeSabre 400 had a 300-4 barrel and '66-67 LeSabre 400 models had 340-4 barrel engines which look the same as the '65 300. The exhaust manifolds shown on the picture indicates this engine is either a Buick 300 or a newer 340 but they would not fit a Buick 350. The 350 also has different valve covers. This car lightly modified from original. The engine was painted gold but it left the factory with light green paint. The tail panel is painted gold but it was originally the same color as the body (but it looks good like that!). Some parts of the interior were redone in black but they should be the same color as the rest of the interior (except the dashpad that should be brown). The original steering had two spokes that were curved down to allow reading the gauges. Shaker, the '65 Buicks could also be equipped with the cruise control. In that case, the black needle with a yellow dot in the speedometer would indicate the set speed and pushing on the set button would make the car accelerate quickly from still to to the set speed without having to touch the accelerator pedal. Once there or above that speed, the "cruise" light came on above the 60 MPH mark in the speedometer. (see the link to my page on CarDomain below for images of it). And '65 LeSabres had cast iron drums which were not so good (and the featured car lacks power assist, not common on these cars!) but models with the bigger engines like the Wildcat, Electra 225 and Riviera got aluminium brake drums which were the best drums on the market. I have a '67 Buick Riviera with disc brakes (and 4 piston calipers) and they are not much better than the aluminium drums in my '65 Wildcat. Andy, the floor dimmers didn't disappear in 1966, there were still used in the seventies. That's what I have in my '75 Buick Electra and newer cars have them too!

  • Make_light I drive a 2015 A4 and had one of these as a loaner once. It was a huge disappointment (and I would have considered purchasing one as my next car--I'm something of a small crossover apologist). The engine sounded insanely coarse and unrefined (to the point that I wasn't sure if it was poor insulation or there was something wrong with my loaner). The seats, interior materials, and NVH were a huge downgrade compared to my dated A4. I get that they are a completely different class of car, but the contrast struck me. The Q3 just didn't feel like a luxury vehicle at all. Friends of mine drive a Tiguan and I can't think of one way in which the Q3 feels worth the extra cost. My mom's CX-5 is better than either in every conceivable way.
  • Arthur Dailey Personally I prefer a 1970s velour interior to the leather interior. And also prefer the instrument panel and steering wheel introduced later in the Mark series to the ones in the photograph. I have never seen a Mark III or IV with a 'centre console'. Was that even an option for the Mark IV? Rather than bucket seats they had the exceptional and sorely missed 60/40 front seating. The most comfortable seats of all for a man of a 'certain size'. In retrospect this may mark the point when Cadillac lost it mojo. Through the early to mid/late 70's Lincoln surpassed Cadillac in 'prestige/pride of place'. Then the 'imports' took over in the 1980s with the rise of the 'yuppies'.
  • Arthur Dailey Really enjoying this series and the author's writing style. My love of PLC's is well known. And my dream stated many times would be to 'resto mod' a Pucci edition Mark IV. I did have a '78 T-Bird, acquired brand new. Preferred the looks of the T-Bird of this generation to the Cougar. Hideaway headlights, the T-Birds roof treatment and grille. Mine had the 400 cid engine. Please what is with the engine displacements listed in the article? I am Canada and still prefer using cubic inches when referencing any domestic vehicles manufactured in the 20th century. As for my T-Bird the engine and transmission were reliable. Not so much some of the other mechanical components. Alternator, starter, carburetor. The vehicle refused to start multiple times, usually during the coldest nights/days or in the most out of the way spots. My friends were sure that it was trying to kill me. Otherwise a really nice, quiet, 'floaty' ride, with easy 'one finger' steering and excellent 60/40 split front seat. One of these with modern mechanicals/components would be a most excellent highway cruiser.
  • FreedMike Maybe they should buy Twitter now.
  • FreedMike A lot of what people are calling "turbo lag" may actually be the transmission. In this case, Audi used a standard automatic in this application versus the DSG, and that makes a big difference. The pre-2022 VW Arteon had the same issue - plenty of HP, but the transmission held it back. If Audi had used the DSG, this would be a substantially quicker, more engaging car. In any case, I don't get these "entry lux" compact CUVs (think: Cadillac XT4, Lexus NX, BMW X1, etc). If you must have a compact CUV, I can think of far better options for a lot less money. And, no, the Tiguan isn't one of them - it has the Miller-cycle 2.0T, so it's a dog. But a Mazda CX-30 with the 2.5T would fit the bill.