1971 Buick LeSabre: Upper middle class, ’71-style
Remember Buick? For years, nay, decades, they made attractive, powerful, and large cars. Stylish, comfortable. If you showed a businessman from 1971 a picture of Buick’s 2021 fleet I don’t believe he would recognize them. Buick always meant plush, stately sedans, coupes, and station wagons. Roadmasters. Specials. Rivieras, Skylarks, Electras! My aunt’s last car was a 1986 Electra Park Avenue sedan, light metallic blue with a navy full-vinyl roof and extremely cushy navy velour seats. When she got it in the late 1990s, I drove it several times and enjoyed it thoroughly. Smooth, quiet, and comfortable. And that was the downsized, front-wheel-drive version with the 3.8-liter V-6. Yet it still conveyed Buick’s purpose in life.
Today, with the deaths of the last Buick sedans (at least in the Land of the Free), we have … combover city. Small, medium, and large combovers—excuse me, CUVs. Though the Enclave does, even now, convey a modicum of the style and room of the vaunted and long-gone wood-sided Estate Wagons of yore. The last real Buick sedan, the Regal, disappeared after 2020. I miss them.
I’ve always preferred sedans over SUVs, CUVs, and their ilk. Or station wagons—I had a 2006 Volvo V50, and it was a great little hauler. Try finding a 2021 station wagon today! There are a few, but you can probably count those available in the U.S. on one hand. I only recently traded in my Town Car Cartier on a Lincoln MKZ because I wanted a late model Lincoln sedan while there was a decent selection of them on my favorite dealer’s lot. But back in 1971, Buick was all-car, all the time. No trucks, no utility vehicles, and most of the line was extra large and in charge. And the bread and butter LeSabre line was very popular in suburban middle class driveways.
That year was a big one for Buick. All full-size models were completely redesigned and bigger than ever. The Buick roster started with the LeSabre, followed by the LeSabre Custom, Centurion (replacing the Wildcat), and luxury Electra. Topping the line was the personal luxury Riviera, now with a striking boattail treatment that would last through 1973.
But today we’re here to talk about LeSabres, though I do have some nice photo sets of 1971–73 Rivieras and Electras, so stay tuned. The base LeSabre came in three models: $3992 sedan, $4061 hardtop coupe, and $4119 hardtop sedan. For around $90 more, you could upgrade to a LeSabre Custom, which had a fancier interior amid other refinements. The Custom series also contained the lone LeSabre convertible, to the tune of $4342.
Though the LeSabre was the least expensive Buick, it was still a Buick and was a cut above a Chevy Biscayne or Pontiac Catalina, equipment-wise. Standard features included Full-Flo ventilation, heater/defroster, Magic-Mirror exterior finish, door-activated courtesy lights, glovebox light, armrests, inside hood release, variable ratio power steering, and power front disc/rear drum brakes. All LeSabres had an overall length of 220.7 inches and rode a 124-inch wheelbase.
A two-barrel 350-cubic-inch V-8 and three-speed manual transmission were standard, but odds are the majority of LeSabre buyers ordered the bulletproof Turbo Hydra-matic automatic transmission. Anyone ever seen a ’71 GM B body with a manual transmission? A four-barrel 350 and four-barrel 455 V-8 were optional. And naturally the expected roster of options was extensive: tilt wheel, air conditioning, cornering lamps, rear window defogger, AM/FM stereo, 8-track player, and six-way power seats.
Today’s featured car is a LeSabre four-door hardtop, finished in Rosewood with a Sandalwood interior and matching top. I spied it at the Buffalo Days annual car show held in the small river town of Buffalo, Iowa, in July 2021. It’s a nice show, far enough away that I usually see different cars than at shows in the city. This one was my favorite, but there was also a super nice navy blue 1974 Camaro, turquoise 1959 Studebaker Lark, showroom-new light brown 1983 Olds Delta 88, and other intriguing finds—some of which I may write up as well. I’m always drawn to these land yachts, but I was especially impressed with the condition of this one, and the great color combination.