1978 Buick LeSabre Custom: When Coupes Ruled
Back in the 1970s, the Big Three’s primary product was: cars. Yes, cars. Coupes, sedans, station wagons, and convertibles. Sure, they made trucks and vans and sport utilities like Blazers, Broncos, Trail Dusters, and Scouts, but most vehicles were—I repeat—cars. And coupes were especially popular in the mid to late ’70s, with personal luxury coupe mania in full swing. Everyone wanted a Cordoba, Thunderbird, Elite, or Monte Carlo Landau. It was a better time.
Today everyone wants combovers. Whoops, I mean crossovers, which describes a truck-like passenger vehicle with poorer performance, a higher center of gravity, and around 20 percent higher MSRP than the compact or midsize sedan it was based on—when the sedan version was still in existence, anyway. If you’ve guessed I don’t care for them and their baked-potato styling and handling, you would be correct. But I’ve digressed enough as it is. Let’s talk about full-size late-’70s Buicks!
Nineteen seventy-eight was the second year of downsized GM fullsize cars, which included the B-body Impala/Caprice, Catalina/Bonneville, Delta 88, and LeSabre, as well as the flossier C-body Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight, Buick Electra/Park Avenue, and Cadillac de Ville/Fleetwood.
As you’d expect, one year after a complete and very expensive redesign, only minor trim differences separated the 1977s from the ’78s, visually. On Buick LeSabres, which at the time was the favorite of middle- and upper-middle class families all over America, that meant a new grille, taillights, and minor interior and paint/trim changes.
It was a big deal for Buick, as 1978 was the marque’s 75th anniversary. In the showroom brochure, vintage Buicks and Buick advertising were shown along with the new models.
As the deluxe showroom catalog confided, “You’ll notice that science and magic is nothing new to Buick. For 75 years, science has gone into making Buick a leader in engineering. And for just as long, the qualities of comfort and luxury that comprise Buick’s magic have been part of this tradition as well.”
The lowest price of entry for a new ’78 LeSabre was the base coupe, at $5451 ($25,362 today) before options. The base sedan was $5536 ($25,758). Production was 8265 and 23,354, respectively. Like all LeSabres and the related Estate Wagon, it rode a 115.9-inch wheelbase. Overall length was 218.2 inches for sedans and coupes (the Estate Wagon was 216.7 inches long). The 231-cubic-inch V-6 was standard equipment (except for the Estate Wagon, which got the 350 V-8 as base power), but if one was so inclined, you could order 301, 350, and 403 V-8s, with appropriate power increases, depending on your choice.
However, the fancier LeSabre Customs were far more popular amongst Buick buyers. The $6045 ($28,126) Custom sedan sold 86,638 copies, while the $5727 ($26,646) Custom coupe saw 53,675 examples produced for the model year. Extras on Customs included nicer upholstery and door panels and a “notchback” front bench seat.
While the personal luxury coupes like the Regal and Monte Carlo sold like dollar beer at a baseball game, when it came to full-size versions like the LeSabre, the four-door versions typically had the edge. LeSabre coupe production was still pretty good though. And the LeSabre coupe itself would last as a regular production model all the way to 1991. The redesigned ’92 LeSabre was sedan only for the first time since the nameplate debuted in 1959.
The most expensive two-door LeSabre in 1978 was the brand-new Sport Coupe—sporting a turbocharged 231-cu-in (3.8 liter) V-6 engine. Its base price was $6394 ($29,750).
It and the Regal Sport Coupe were both available with the turbo V-6 starting that year; few are seen these days, at least outside of Buick Club of America meets.
Today’s immaculate featured example is owned by Robert Reed, a friend of mine from California, who previously owned the triple white ’85 Fleetwood Brougham coupe featured here a couple of years ago. The Caddy has since been sold. Robert loved the car’s looks and remarkable condition, but as he told me, “That was a beautiful car, but to be honest with you, I didn’t enjoy driving it because it had the 4100 engine. It always acted like it was working its ass off to get it up to speed. I did enjoy fixing a cocktail and staring at it because it was pretty!”
Anyway, at some point in early 2022, I saw that he’d posted a few pictures of the Buick at a car show. I was immediately smitten and messaged him, demanding more pictures so I could write it up. He was happy to oblige.
“I bought it from the nephew of the original owner,” he wrote. “This was a special-order car to replace their ’74 LeSabre Coupe.
“Oddly loaded for a LeSabre: 403 V-8, power windows, locks, six-way power bench, 8-track, rear defogger, electric trunk release, quartz clock, speedalert speedometer, delay wipers, sport mirrors, passenger remote mirror control, bumper guards, premium Buick Road Wheels (available on the sport coupes, Custom Coupes with 403 V-8 option, and Estate Wagons).”
It’s a gorgeous conveyance, especially these days, when the rare lucky individual spies it amongst the gray, black, and white Equinoxes, Highlanders, and Cherokees. In 1978, the Great American Road did belong to Buick!