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.
Cleanup driver for Team Black Metal V8olvo.
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