By on July 24, 2018

As we were rustling up commentary in the last edition of Buy/Drive/Burn, conversation naturally turned to other front-drive sedans available that same year. The discussion sparked the idea for another General Motors same-body showdown, like we saw previously with the luxurious C-body.

Today we’re talking H-body 3800 fun from Oldsmobile, Buick, and Pontiac.

By 1999, the long-lived H-body had run its course. Underpinning larger sedans since the 1986 model year, General Motors was ready to wrap it up. What we have here are the final, ultimate versions of H-body sedans.

Oldsmobile LSS

We start off today with the least remembered of our trio. The 10th-generation Eighty Eight model debuted for the 1992 model year, in what would be its last iteration. Various trim shuffling happened throughout the years, as the Eighty Eight took over luxury duties for the Ninety Eight (which departed in 1996). The LSS maintained significance as the sporty Eighty Eight offering throughout the run. For the 1996 model year, the LSS switched to the supercharged Series II Buick 3800 V6, providing the sedan with 240 horsepower. LSS featured Aurora-inspired seating, shared similar wheels to the Aurora, and had a more modern overall interior look compared to the other trims. Unlike the luxury-oriented versions, the LSS had a center console. It was subtle sport from Oldsmobile.

Pontiac Bonneville SSEi

Pontiac’s long-lived Bonneville name entered its ninth generation with the other two H-bodies for the 1992 model year. Along with Buick’s LeSabre, it was granted a stay of execution, and would see its 10th generation fade from view after 2005. This ninth generation received more aggressive lower cladding, relocated fog lamps, and reshaped front and rear lighting for 1996. Like the LSS, the Series II 3800 was supercharged in the SSEi trim, and an option on the lower SSE version. The volume of buttons and the sculpted leather seats set the SSEi apart from any other H-body.

Buick LeSabre Limited

Last but not least, the least sporty of our H-body trio. Unlike the LSS, LeSabre would live on past its seventh generation, closing out the 2005 model year as Buick ushered in the Lucerne. The upscale Limited trim level netted buyers better alloys and a trunk pass-through from the rear seat. Like the other two, an engine upgrade for the ’96 model year switched the Buick 3800 from Series I to Series II. LeSabre gained 35 horsepower, for a new total of 210. No supercharger option on either LeSabre trim; Buick forced the upgrade to the larger, much more expensive Park Avenue Ultra. Subsequent cosmetic upgrades like a revised grille and gauge cluster waited until 1997. This is the H-body most likely seen in 2018, still puttering around town.

Firm, frantic, or floaty? Which final H-body sedan is for you?

[Images: GM]

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65 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: H-body Hotness in 1999 – the Final-year Showdown...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    You might as well ask me which puppy at the shelter should get euthanized. This is one of my favorite platforms ever, all equipped with my beloved engine.

    I must break the rules and choose “buy” on all three.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Buy the Pontiac, because it’s the coolest looking of the three
    Drive the Olds, because it’s not the Buick
    Burn the Buick, because where I live these are still strong with the 80 year old set and I just hope I’m never old enough to really rather have a Buick

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    We had two of these in our family at the time, the LSS and the Park Avenue Ultra. Both leased, the Olds came first. I do recall the dealer asking how we knew about the LSS. I read about it in a car mag and suggested it as a potential choice. And it was a good choice, except for one thing – the brakes absolutely sucked. The car was capable of a good amount of speed, and it handled better than I thought it had any right to. But bleeding off excess speed was scary.

    The Buick, on the other hand, rode really well, and, surprisingly, handled pretty well. Plenty of power, too. That is, until you reached the upper end of the tiny tachometer. The supercharged engine quickly ran out of breath up there. But all in all, both of these were good, if not inspiring cars. No reliability issues, but each only saw about 50K.

    For the era, these were good cars. I’d only suggest burning the Pontiac because of the buttionitis and excessive cladding.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Buy Lesabre, drive Bonnie, burn Olds.

    I will grouse incessantly however about the cheapened interior in all of these relative to a pre-’97 Lesabre.

  • avatar
    salmonmigration

    Buy the Buick.
    Drive the Buick.
    Burn the other two.

    It’s the most comfortable out of the three and let’s be honest – comfort is what these cars are for. Let’s dispense with the pretense that the extra 30hp is going to make much of a difference.

    • 0 avatar
      Joshua Johnson

      As someone who has owned both the N/A and the SC 3800, I respectfully disagree. The supercharger makes all of the difference in the world. More down low grunt off the line, better climbing at altitude, wonderful supercharger whine, and most importantly, the HD transmission.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    Buy Buick
    Drive Olds
    Burn Pontiac

  • avatar
    EquipmentJunkie

    Buy the Buick…I’ve actually shopped them as a DD.
    Drive the Olds since I’d rather be seen in its cleaner lines.
    Burn the Pontiac and its hideous cladding.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Buy the Pontiac
    Drive the Olds
    Burn the Buick

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Buy Buick/Drive Olds/Burn the Pontiac. Be careful though, the fumes from all of that plastic cladding can’t be good.

  • avatar
    doug-g

    Sad how GM had fallen by this time. But in the spirit of he post, I’d buy the Buick, drive the Pontiac and burn the Oldsmobile.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Buy: Buick
    Drive: Pontiac
    Brun: Olds

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    The Church officially condemns this heresy.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Gotta agree w Sub 600
    The buick is a let down compared to where it came from , the bean counters got thier way w it
    The olds has the best look and we had a delta 88 back in the day so why not
    My brother had this Bonnis, what a sad ending for a great name, it looked like a Tonka toy on the outside and way to many dials on the inside.

    I stayed in the rules but really this group makes it hard.
    How much more coin for the park Ave?

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Buy: The Pontiac, it looks the best and iirc it had wider wheels on it.
    Drive: The Olds, it has the nicer dash layout, and compared to the others its the most “honest”, no extra trim nor body cladding.
    Burn: The “Log in to reply” button.

    Actually, burn the Buick for two reasons. The rear pillars on the Olds and Pontiac got plastic trim on the inside, the Buick didnt, so the cloth lones to rip and peel there with age.

    Another reason? They’ve become popular donkers, since its just too ego shattering to be scene in your Grandmothers old car, but that car on huge rented rims with a sound system that makes the trunk unusable? Thats fine, even better with your favorite candy painted on the side.

    btw Was there any notable difference between the LeSabre and Park Avenue? Their dimensions weren’t far off and I’m sure much of the chassis was the same. You could get a supercharged Olds 88 in the way of the 98 (or was it 89?) and its covered rear wheels.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Aww, c’mon, it only took me 8 attempts to reply to you, lol.

      How’s the car search going? You know, a Bonnie or Olds H wouldn’t be a bad choice at all.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Took me 3, I’m feeling lucky!

        The search has changed a bit, I knocked the early Camry off since it had some old-people types dings on it, rust, parts scarcity, and it ultimately being more of a neat novelty than a DD’er. Still, its my favorite Camry generation.

        I did have a ’93 Volvo 244 I had been asking about too, but the owner claims “It was never in an accident” despite evidence, like a hood that wont shut correctly.

        At the moment these are the cars that interest me, a Saab that hopefully wont have oil sludge and my old Volvo (I hope the owner budges on the price):
        https://stlouis.craigslist.org/cto/d/1992-volvo-240-the-vintage/6648

        https://kansascity.craigslist.org/cto/d/2000-saab-9-3/6641199239.html707663.html

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          Some Swedish fruit tempts you, eh? Of course the Volvo is the reliable one, but I’m sure you know more about either of those cars than I do.

          I know I said my 1986 Camry LE was a pig, and it was, but I found myself tempted by an ’86 DX 5-speed for stupid cheap. It runs and drives, no factory A/C which is an issue here in the deep south, but honestly, I don’t mind it. I much prefer heat to winter cold, so as long as the heater worked, I’m good. I owned a 1999 Saturn with no factory A/C, the worst part is when it rains or when you’re stopped in traffic.

          Anyway, I did email them (only contact info), but they didn’t respond and now the ad is pulled, so I’m guessing someone jumped on it. I don’t “need” another car, but I do plan on doing some fairly extensive work to the Taurus (redoing the interior, including new carpet and the seats recovered) and so a beater to drive around is one way to not worry about rushing to get it done. It also has 242k miles and is over 20 years old, so I’m sure it’ll need some mechanical work sooner or later. Right now, its running and shifting great, but I’d be foolish in thinking it would last forever.

          I’m supposed to go on a job around August 20th, so I may make something happen then. The problem is, the used car market is ridiculous around here. You have a 1994 Legend with chipped paint, dents, 200k and needs a transmission for $2500. WTF? I actually found a dealer ad yesterday with a beat up 1999 Honda Civic DX, black with a white front bumper, misaligned headlights/grille, mis-matched wheels and around 200k that he wants 1500 DOWN on. That whore isn’t worth $1500 period! The audacity of these people.

          If that Zephyr I showed you before was around me, I’d take it in a heartbeat.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            Its kinda a crapshoot with any car that old. I used to own that paticular 240 (I added the front arm rest, dog dish caps, and the head rest cushions.

            That was 5 years ago with 120k on the odometer iirc. I only recall the SRS light (or some other) being on, and I had to fix the rusted exhaust. The AC always sucked on that car, and Im very wimpy to hot weather on a drive. I ended up regretting selling that car for a while when I got into some junkers.

            Your Taurus shocks me, I cant think of anyone as committed as you are. Sure, Ive seen plenty of people pore crazy money into imports to keep them going, but rarely a Taurus. I hope your new job works out

            Speaking of Fords im also looking at another cruiser like this one: https://stlouis.craigslist.org/cto/d/2006-police-interceptor-crown/6631921870.html
            My current P71s been great, but I prefer the later interiors, Id like to try out the later steering system too.

            Your Honda comments reflect my experience, theyre grossly overpriced and often in bad shape. Overated too imo.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            Buying back a former car is something I’ve wanted to do in many cases. My Zephyrs especially.

            Well, my Taurus has given me little reason to doubt it. ~6 years and ~60k miles since I rescued it (lol) and its yet to have a major issue or leave me stranded. Its been a gift from above, and I don’t mean that lightly. 242k and counting, it shows no sign of giving up. If/when something major does go bad, I will fix it. It’s the Taurus I’ve always wanted, and I aim to keep it. Even though I get/have gotten a lot of use out of it, it isn’t an “investment” in the sense that I plan to make money. Quite the contrary, I have no intentions of selling it, ever. Something major and unrepairable would have to happem, like flood, fire, catastrophic wreck, etc to make me give up on it.

            As I said, I’ve always wanted a Taurus of this body style. They were so plentiful for so long, I didn’t bother trying to find a nice low mileage example when they were easy to come by (especially where I lived in the PNW). Before I knew it, they were getting used up and abused by people who just wanted a cheap car and never bothered with pesky things like maintenance.

            Mine is also unique in the fact that it has the 3.0L engine and the AX4N trans. It was a very rare combination in 1994 and 1995. It also has the floor shift/console setup, which I really like.

            I never cared as much for the oval version (1996+) like I did the first and second generation. They were good cars, my family got 200k out of our 1997 Sable, but they were heavy and frankly not as good looking to me. I don’t necessarily find them ugly, but not as handsome as the second generation.

            The Honda examples were just to show the absurdity of car prices around me. It’s the same with Toyota or Nissan or even American cars. A 1999 Cavalier with horrible paint and a blown engine for $1200. I’d have a hard time paying $120.00 for it.

            Cars tend to get used up around here. People often live far away from their jobs, so it’s not unusual for cars to accumulate 200k in no time. My brother’s GMC is a prime example. Owned by a little old man before him, it was low mileage when he bought it (40k?). It now has 373k on it, and only got parked because the engine locked up due to lack of oil. His 2001 Altima has 283k on it, he finally replaced it when it started acting up with a 2015 Ford Fusion S that he is very happy with. I’m sure it’ll have 250k+ before its replaced.

            I’m supposed to get the Altima to repair and resell. I diagnosed it as needing s distributor, which I already bought. It was built back when Nissan made good, reliable cars, unlike the rental-car-specials they churn out now and sell based on their prior reputation.

            I can’t fault you for going with a Crown Vic P71, they’re durable cars. I just don’t like them personally. I don’t like how I sit in them, how they drive, etc. I’m much happier in a Taurus.

            My mom had a Grand Marquis, now she has a 2012 Taurus SEL she bought in 2012 that she loves (she actually told me that today, I went over and detailed it for her lol). It has more miles than the Grand Marquis did when I sold it, yet the leather is nicer, general wear and tear on the interior is far less than in the G.M., and the paint is holding up far better. It still has the factory brakes at over 100k, nary a shimmy when slowing down from high speeds. The Mercury shook like MC Hammer on crack at 50k miles. Its faster, drives much better, has had far fewer issues (the washer pump and a blendor motor, both cheap and easy) and gets better mileage. The ride is more controlled, the seats more supportive and the room in the footwells most especially is far more usable. You sit more upright, and some people are turned off by that, but I can get in it and drive it to Seattle (3k miles, and I’ve done it) and my back doesn’t hurt hardly at all, where as just one day driving the Mercury killed me. The floaty ride caused me to subconsciously tense up, the seats didn’t support me and the seating position itself put strain on my lower back.

            I get why there is “Panther love”, I just don’t share it, lol.

            As always, good luck with your search, and I’m enjoying our conversation.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            This isn’t exactly in my back yard, but its just an example:

            https://neworleans.craigslist.org/cto/d/toyota-camry-2009-motor/6653358878.html

            Needs an engine, should be asking no more than a grand. Ridiculous.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            That Duratec V6 in your Taurus is a great engine. I have the same engine in my Escape. Lots of power, smooth running and they just seem to go and go with little maintenance. The only reason I haven’t gotten a 3rd gen Escape is because I just don’t want to give-up my Duratec V6

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            Lie2me, you’re one year too early for the Duratec, mine has the Vulcan. It was that or the awful 3.8L (three point hate liter) in a 1995 non-SHO Taurus.

            I do like the Duratec, it certainly was a huge step up from the 3.8L it replaced. Tons more reliability, more power and better fuel mileage.

            I’ve had many Fords with the Vulcan, and I’ve found it to be a reliable, durable engine. I think the only vehicle I haven’t had that offered it was the Probe. And I’m just fine with keeping it that way.

            I had thought about putting one in a Pinto. Given the excellent fuel mileage I got out of my V-6 Tempo (with a 3 speed auto, no less), I would expect even better out of the Pinto with a 5 speed manual behind it.

            I’d have to build the engine for it using parts from a Ranger/Aerostar version, the coolant ran backwards in RWD configuration, and I’d need a bellhousing adaptor to hook it to a t-5 transmission (I would not go with the truck transmission used in the Ranger and Aerostar). I’d put a cam in it out of a later Taurus version for a bit more power (the same upgrade will go in my Taurus’ engine if it ever needs rebuilding).

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Sorry, did not know the year of your Taurus, the Vulcan is a very good engine as well

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Again… what was the question here – Which one of these to be burnt first?

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Buy: Pontiac- Even with the somewhat excessive cladding and button laden steering wheel and dash it’s the sportiest of the H-bodies.

    Drive: Oldsmobile-It showed the Lexus/ Infiniti direction of the division. Nice clean flowing dash. A non Northstar Aurora.

    Burn: Buick-As dull as the Golden Corral parking lot for the early bird special. If they only did not discontinue the T-type trim.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Buy: The Olds. Aged better than the others.
    Drive: The Pontiac, like a rented mule or a boy racer.
    Burn: The Buick, even though I now appreciate old style Buick ride comfort and quiet and if I had the disposable income and time would certainly appreciate one as a highway cruiser for the next few years.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh finally, someone says my pick. The Bonneville would look dated within just a couple of years, the LSS fared so much better.

      The Buick just goes because it doesn’t have anything outstanding about it.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Buy: Olds – give the soon to be “Dead Brand Walking” a vote with your dollars before it gets hit with the ax.

    Drive: Pontiac – of all the sedans I’ve ever driven still the best overall “road car” that I’ve every piloted. Did everything fairly well, steering, stopping, cruising.

    Burn (with deep regret): If I’m getting a Buick I’d rather have a Park Avenue ULTRA – therefore the LeSabre goes up in flames by default.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    After last week it’s going to sound like I am just making things up, but… my dad, who had 2 Seville STSes in a row made the switch to Cadillac from Pontiac from a ’92 or ’93 Bonneville SSEi. He leased, so the turnover was fairly regular.

    He never had a complaint about the Bonnie. I thought it was quite nice myself.

    So I’d buy the Bonneville.

    Drive the Buick, I always had a soft spot for them.

    And burn the Olds. I don’t have a valid reason other than it seems like the oldest old person car among the three and no one wants to be an old person!

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      Update:
      I just spoke to my dad and he corrected me. He didn’t really care for the SSEi when all was said and done. He said it didn’t hold up very well and he only had it for 3 years.

      I still kinda liked it though.

  • avatar
    mjg82

    Buy: Oldsmobile- It’s gorgeous and the design is timeless, imo. They still turn my head when I see one, and I search em on AutoTrader to this day. There’s usually one or two still around and if I needed a cheap beater I’d try hard to grab one of these.

    Drive: Pontiac. I’ve never driven one before and would just like to see how much sport they baked into it. If I’d driven one in the past I’d put this in the burn category, so I’m driving out of pure curiosity.

    Burn: Buick, with heavy heart. This is just by default because it’s not the Buick for me. I’m a huge Buick fan and have had a Regal, Allure and still have the Roadie. If the TourX was offered in Canada I would 100% buy one new in a couple years to replace the Optima Turbo I drive now. I mean it, this isn’t typical internet wagon lust. I’d consider the hatch Regal too but the lust for that body style isn’t enough for me to get rid of the Kia early. The Lesabre of this era never did anything for me. I’d go Park Ave if I had to get a non RMW from the 90’s.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Easy.

    Drive the Pontiac as the “driver’s choice” (as if)
    Buy the Buick
    Burn all Oldsmobiles

  • avatar
    DEVILLE88

    buy the Pontiac, drive the Olds and save the Buick. the Buick will outlive a cockroach!!!

  • avatar
    MartyToo

    Burn them all for burying the damn knock sensor behind the transmission.

    I owned a 95 LeSabre that had been gently driven by my older cousin. Within the first six months of ownership it started knocking. I was told by the dealer that the knock sensor was fine. I looked online to find a fix and came upon a “field fix only” reworked GM made ROM for the beast. It helped – but in reality the knock moved from the 35 mph daily driving (for me) range to a 60-70 mph problem.

    Fast forward to my 2000 SLE which developed the same damn symptom. The dealer that “fixed” that problem replaced coil packs, etc to get rid of most of the symptoms. It wasn’t until the solenoid for the lock-up torque converter went that the transmission specialist noticed that the knock sensor was bad. He was nice enough to install a new one without any charge for labor. The SLE then ran like a charm but the $1200 to replace a $100 solenoid was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. I bought a Honda and haven’t considered a GM since.

    Burn, burn burn!

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    It doesn’t matter, they’re exactly the same car, built in the same plant, with the same nuts & bolts. The only difference: at “old” GM, the divisions still had some control over production, and Buick spent a little more time and money on assembly and quality control than the others. That’s why there are LsSabres of this generation still running around all over the place, 20 years on. Hell, there’s one down the block from me.

  • avatar
    Joshua Johnson

    As a fan of the 3800, this is a tough decision.

    Buy: Olds LSS
    Drive: Pontiac Bonneville
    Burn: (and only because those are the rules) the Buick LeSabre.

    I still miss my Buick Park Ave Ultra and view that as the epitome of SC 3800 greatness. I had a 2008 Lucerne Special Edition immediately following the Park Ave, and it was not anywhere near as majestic. Sure, the interior was modern-ish and much better suited technologically, but the drive and ride were inferior. Plus the non-HD transmission somehow broke, whereas with the HD transmission in the SC version never gave me any problems over 100k hard miles (120k to 220k).

    To this day, I occasionally am on the lookout for another PAU that has been well taken care of that I can hold onto long-term. Learning about the LSS here, I now have another great car to be on the lookout for.

  • avatar
    backtees

    The key is the Buick is a Limited = Stiffer suspension.

    Burn the olds Drive the Pontiac Buy the LeSabre.

    Pops bought families first LeSabre after a steady stream of company Impalas until that year when Impala went REALLY fat and won car of the year – forget year. First one is not a limited and has “dynaride” and floats like a (keep it PC!!) scared bee. Was with him when we drive into the service lane and asks can I put new shocks on this. Service guy “well that will just mess up the dynaride” Pops “that’s exactly what I want to do!”

  • avatar
    KalapanaBlack7G

    I remember reading somewhere that only about 10% of LSS production was supercharged. But man, what an undercover screamer…

  • avatar
    Southern Perspective

    Buy: Buick because it is somewhat elegant-looking.
    Drive: Oldsmobile because I was born in Lansing.
    Burn: Pontiac because I had opportunity to take an extended drive in one of these once and the ride magically proved itself floaty and harsh at the same time.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Look at what just popped up on craigslist (I search a several hundred mile radius from me):

    https://jackson.craigslist.org/cto/d/1995-pontiac-bonneville/6655300042.html

    She’s so purdy. Someone needs to make her a member of the B&B’s fleet.

  • avatar
    Lesabrefire

    MRF 95 TBird T-Type indeed, had 3 LeSabre T’s, very impressive handling, great aerodynamics, 3.8 engine lacked power though and an unreliable transmission for the late eighties, it was, though, fairly easy to work on, seen a few with a 3800 SC swaps and one with a 4.9 Cadillac. Were only made for 3 years though.


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