By on April 17, 2020

Today’s Rare Ride is just one of the many attempts General Motors made throughout the 1980s and ’90s to chase after those youthful customers who ate dinner after 5:15 p.m.

It’s an aggressive Buick LeSabre T-Type from 1988.

By the early part of the 1980s, BMW’s offerings had become the sports and prestige motorcar signal in America. High-interest loans were taken on cars of 3 and 5 Series varieties, and American manufacturers were green with envy. They had nothing to offer these people who desired European, international flavor in their cars.

General Motors’ first attempts to spice it up in the new decade brought us the T-Type Riviera and Eldorado Touring Coupe. Later in the ’80s, GM tried more refined ideas and released modern (less boaty) cars — like the International Series from Oldsmobile and this T-Type LeSabre from Buick.

The LeSabre was all-new and front-drive for the 1986 model year, built in the environmental paradise of Flint, Michigan. LeSabre maintained its coupe and sedan body styles, but lost the wagon with the move to front-wheel drive. New, slick styling accompanied the model’s downsizing, and now the hood was hinged at the front like a Bavarian car.

Three different engines were offered in the sixth-generation LeSabre. Basic power was provided by a 3.0-liter V6, but most models used the Buick 3800 in either 150-horsepower guise, or with 165 horses for 1988 to 1990. For the generation’s final year in 1991 GM added Tuned Port Injection, which upped the 3800’s power figure to 170.

At the beginning of the run, a very limited edition LeSabre wore Grand National badges. Available in 1986 only, around 112 were made. The following year, LeSabre’s sport coupe offering became the T-Type, borrowing some styling cues from the Regal Grand National and T-Type cars. It was by far the most affordable of the three.

Visual changes for T-Type started with a special two-tone black and grey interior color scheme. Around the exterior was blacked out trim, a unique grille and tail lamps (with amber indicator lenses, like European cars), an extended front air dam, a smattering of T-Type badging, and blacked out Buick logos that replaced the traditional hood ornament. The overall effect was considerably more sporty than the standard Early-bird Special LeSabre Coupe, and said sportiness was reinforced by a Gran Touring suspension.

Sales were never blazing hot for the T-Type LeSabre, but then again, the variant wasn’t given much time. On sale from 1987 to 1989, it was axed when Buick’s branding was adjusted for the 1990 model year. All T-Type offerings vanished at that time, as Buick relabeled itself as a premium maker rather than a sporty one.

And that strategy continues to work well today!

Today’s Rare Ride is a low-mileage example in New York state. In excellent condition, the T-Type asks $6,495.

[Images: seller]

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59 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1988 Buick LeSabre T-Type Coupe...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I always loved these. And amber turn signals should be the law.

    Too bad that GM would drunkenly lurch from “Buick is the European Brand” to “Oldsmobile is the European Brand”.

    I think if they had picked one of those brands and gone with it the could have made a little bit better traction.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      They are very handsome. Back when I was a starving grad, I used to walk past the local dealer and admire them.

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      Dan>
      1 Could not agree with you more. Amber rears should be law. (side repeaters too)
      2 I like this car a lot.
      3 Buick should be,,,, / Olds should be….. GM NEVER stays in the game for long. Ideas, themes are 2-3 year flash in the pan. So, brand image suffers.
      4. Buick City was a massive complex a la River Rouge open. I think it last 15 years and then bull dozed (1984-1999) . GM COULDNT MAKE IT WORK
      5. The NUMMI plant in SFO was a joint venture GM and Toyota. GM COULDNT MAKE THIS WORK LONG TERM. Really, with Toyota ????

      I Gave up on this firm long ago.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        Agree with the criticism of GM offered here as well as the qualified praise of this particular model. My 2¢ is that the ’88-’91* H-bodies were good cars relative to their era and price point, probably GM’s best effort at its FWD/wedge body recipe. (*The Buick V6 didn’t really mature into the 3800 until the ’88 model years, so I distinguish the ’88-’91s from the ’86-’87s.) And the touring suspension offerings really did wake up the responsiveness. (Family had a Bonneville SE, and we test drove the Bonneville in both spongier LE and firmer SE guise. Our lovely-when-it-was-working E28 provided a good baseline for comparison beyond “floaty Malaise boat.”)

        Re: Griffin Mill’s comment below, I’ve come to agree that the LeSabre T-Type coupe is the best looking of the bunch. This is a little surprising to me because pillared two-doors often DON’T look better than their pillared four-door siblings. (Recent Accord coupes? Sure, those look more stylish to me. Something like a Celebrity or a Cadillac ATS? The two-doors look little different from the four-doors and don’t seem to have been worth the effort. In the case of the Celebrity, the four-door actually looks nicer to me.)

        Also of note is that the H-bodies’ door-mounted front shoulder belts, which were GM’s way of adhering to the letter but not the spirit of a then-new passive restraint law, meant that ingress/egress to the back seat would have been easier than with a conventionally mounted front shoulder belt.

        If the dollars and garage space were right, this T-Type would be a fun Sunday driver.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Agreed. GM made so many short term changes to its marketing and strategy that most consumers got confused/lost. Combine the changes to its mainstream brands, the introduction of new, short lived brands (Geo, Passport, Asuna,even Saturn), the introduction and then withdrawal of ‘captive imports’ and who knew exactly what market they were aiming for?

      GM’s problems emanate from its executives and head office.

      As for this vehicle, wasn’t part of the ‘mystique’ of the Germans at that time based on having RWD vehicles and a manual transmission available?

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        I think a problem these GM FWD cars had when they were new is that they weren’t as lithe as the European options and lacked the mack-daddy presence of a past Cutlass Supreme or Thunderbird.

        They do hold up pretty good though.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        If they were shooting for cars that spoke German, not to mention the EuroSports, they were the complete opposite of 3 and 5-series.

        At the time, they looked sharp enough, but I couldn’t get past the FWD/auto, V6s and under. Of course on the inside, they looked straight out of ’78, disco fever all over again.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Yeah but this is the same company that thought stealing kidney grilles and the Hofmeister Kink from BMW would give Pontiac “Excitement”.

          This is the same company that thinks that making Cadillacs into “BMWs that swill IPA” will save the brand.

          • 0 avatar
            dukeisduke

            Well, Pontiac did have split grilles going all the way back to 1959 (they skipped a year with with the 1960 models).

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “Yeah but this is the same company that thought stealing kidney grilles and the Hofmeister Kink from BMW would give Pontiac “Excitement”.”

            don’t forget windowed headrests. Ah, the “brand management” era of Ron Zarrella.

      • 0 avatar
        redapple

        Arthur
        DEAD ON

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      I always got a kick out of the BMW-style hood.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I will no doubt be burned at the stake for suggesting this, but I think this would be hugely entertaining with a wholesale swap of the 3.6 DOHC DI/6-speed powertrain from a late W-Impala. Wire it to the stock dash and watch that tachometer spin to 7.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      That would be quite the project. I remember someone in New York put a manual transmission in one of these. It was a huge amount of work, and it was a really interesting process that he detailed methodically. He was justifiably proud of his work. Sadly, it was stolen. I wish I could find the page, but search engines just want to sell you stuff nowadays.
      :-(

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I won’t burn you (although I’d prefer you pick a 2.8L or 3.1L FWD), but if I was doing an engine swap like that I think you’d get more bang starting with a RWD B/G body and the 3.6L out of a Camaro/Cadillac.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        There are others around these parts who are very, very serious about the duties we all owe to 3800 engines.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Needs a supercharged 3800 out of a salvaged Park Avenue Ultra (say a 2005 model) – then it would some power to back up the good looks and stay “all Buick” in the power department.

        • 0 avatar
          dukeisduke

          The 3800 was pretty solid. The 3.6? Not so much.

          • 0 avatar
            statikboy

            But whoooo-ee, is that a 5200rpm redline I see? You can’t engineer in quality like that.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            what does red-line have to do with “quality?”

            I’m not sure I get why some people think a high-RPM screamer belongs in a dumpy sedan.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          GM could probably still put the 3800 in their vehicles today and customers would be fine with it, so long as the rest of the vehicle was good.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            The 3800 is legendary, I think most people would love to have one in any GM car it would fit

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            That certainly would have saved GM some millions in warranty claims on timing chain failures.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Nylon timing gear cost me an engine in an ’86 Toronado.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            The LN3 3800 engine, which this vehicle has, did away with nylon timing gear when it debuted in 1988.
            Your ’86 used an LG3 engine.

            There were several differences between the LN3 and LG3, here’s an entire video about it:

            youtube.com/watch?v=0batugOc0GM

            A good shot of the all-steel timing gear appears at 16:25.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Probably why I liked the LeSabre T-type better, too. Suggests that my T-type was newer than I remember when I bought it.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Premium or sporty was the choice? To answer a question with a question, why not both? It wasn’t as if Buick hadn’t done it before. In the 1960s, they had the Wildcat and the Electra 225, and even covered the lucrative “upscale economy” class with the Special.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I love it, but $6.5K buys a lot of Allante or Trofeo.

  • avatar
    Griffin Mill

    The LeSabre T-Type Coupe was the cleanest and best looking of the 80’s GM H Platform vehicles. It also looked quite good in white which is uncommon for a lot of cars. I do miss the large coupes that used to be so popular, but by the late 80’s they were dead cars walking.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    What a clean design, inside and out. A bit boring but not an anonymous slab.

    That instrument cluster is so clean by today’s standards. I wish in our world of TFT instrument clusters they had a “retro” option where you could just have clean gauges like this.

    The GM 3800 and the Ford Vulcan 3.0 V6 of this era were both long-lasting engines that bowed at the altar of torque. Coarse, raspy, low revving, but boat anchor reliable with just basic care.

    It is surprising to me how a number of GM designs from the 80s that were very boring for the period have aged well. Before you roast me – the Chevy Celebrity is a sold example of what I felt was a boring block of car for the era, but now has a Volvoesque clean looking design decades later.

    • 0 avatar

      Celebrity Eurosport VR is just fine.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Ah! The GM buzzword of the era: “Euro”. What was the Ford equivalent? “world class”, or something like that? I’m not sure Chrysler had a buzz word in it’s advertising. Lee Iacocca was doing the ads, and he couldn’t limit himself to one word.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Glancing at the lead photo before reading, I thought this car *was* a Chevy Celebrity.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        @bumpy ii

        From the side yes, but the Celebrity had a more squared off c-pillar and rear glass on the sedans and coupes. Not almost 90 degrees like the Mercury Cougar vs. Ford Thunderbird.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      @APaGtth, concur with your Volvo characterisation. I considered the A-bodies (esp. Celebrity and Ciera) to be the domestic Volvo 240’s of the era, while the H-bodies were the 700 series.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “What a clean design, inside and out. A bit boring but not an anonymous slab.”

      This is right about where GM was doing well in terms of styling and packaging. They didn’t quite go completely after the jellybean Taurus, but they smoothed out the lines and tightened up stuff like the window trim and glass integration.

      Their biggest problem was wasting money on dumb non-features like this car’s forward tilting hood, which added a ton of cost for… what? So they could say “the hood opens the same way as those quirky Swedish and French cars?”

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @JimZ: I found the forward-tilting hood far more accessible than rear-hinged hoods both because it made access to both sides of the engine significantly easier and you had no need for springs or a brace to hold the hood up while you were working on the engine. Sure, it looks different but to be quite honest the DIYer and mechanic worked far more often over the fenders than over the grille. Not having to worry about banging your head over that overhanging sheet metal made working on them far more comfortable.

  • avatar
    MeJ

    I think what this car needs is…
    More front overhang.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Handsome vehicle, but dear god, that dash. GM just had the most plasticky parts bin in the 80s. Extra points for making the speedo and tach look almost identical. Who uses two digits on a tach? And that spindly shifter…

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      I like these H-bodies, but agreed. My guess is that whoever designed the shape of the instrument panel intended for it to house GM’s typical 1970s-style broad-sweep speedometer and idiot lights. At some point downstream, a manager at GM must have said, “The scribes are calling for circular gauges! Make ’em fit!” Hence, what you see here. For comparison, here’s an ’89 Celebrity: https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/junkyard-find-1989-chevrolet-celebrity-eurosport-sedan/. Updated font notwithstanding, the broad-sweep speedometer was badly out of date by the late ’80s, but it fit the shape of the panel better.

      The Bonneville (’87) came out a year after the 88 and the LeSabre (’86), and I think the extra time was reflected in a better organized instrument panel.

      I don’t love the shifter, but the angle of that photo does it no favors. I suspect it’s more palatable in person. Bonnevilles got a slightly angled T-shaped handle that was nicer IMO.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Many GM ‘sweep’ speedometers eventually developed a ‘tick’. The needle would ‘tick’ back and forth on either side of the actual speed and sometimes when the car was stopped.

        We would actually ‘play’ with the accelerator to see how much of this we could create.

        Not sure of the reason.

        Does anybody else remember this?

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          I remember it. I was told it was due to wear on plastic gears attached to the cable.

          Playing with the accelerator is dangerous, but as much as what my sister’s college friends did with a 1962 Bug.

          The only gauge was the speedometer, and when it broke, the needle would spin around, relativ to the speed they were going.

          They would play roulette with it, coming to a stop in the road to see where the needle stopped.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I owned one of these in the Champagne Gold color… an ’87 model, I believe. I absolutely loved it; one of my favorite cars I ever owned. Both lively in handling and quick accelerating, it was a lot of fun to drive.

  • avatar
    CobraJet

    Full size Buicks of this era had the ugliest wheels.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The A-body Buick Century T-type came as both a 2 door and 4 door. There was also the very rare one year only 1986 Century GS coupe that had the 3.8 NA motor.

    http://1986buickcenturygransport.freehosting.net/

  • avatar
    DownUnder2014

    We never got these here but I do like the design of them. But GM’s strategy was truly weird so…

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Agree GM executives ruined GM and this is even more true today. A once great car maker that is not even a shadow of its former self.

  • avatar
    210delray

    One thing GM got right with the H-body coupes was to use a nicely sloping rear window and C-pillars, as opposed to the severely upright back windows of the H-body sedans, as well as the A, C, and N-body coupes and sedans.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    GM has the ability to make great vehicles and has done so in the past. Cost cutting to the extreme has not only hurt GM but Ford and FCA as well. Trying to compete with BMW and Mercedes has not worked for GM because those who want a BMW and Mercedes are going to buy one. The American car companies are known for big comfortable vehicles whether that be pickups, suvs, crossovers, or automobiles and that is their strength. Making expensive turbo canyon carvers is not something that American car companies excel at nor should they try.

  • avatar

    It looks nice even today. I actually like gauge cluster from picture at least. But seats look too soft for comfort.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Appearances can be deceiving. It was a very comfortable car to drive… not too soft, not too firm. And believe me, my back knows the difference. I could sit in the LeSabre for hours, I couldn’t say the same for an Electra 225 I drove about 20 years earlier.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Just look at those velour seats. Can’t find anything that nice at ANY price anymore.

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