1978 Buick Electra Limited Sedan 6.6 (403) V8 from North America
In the last 32 years I've owned the car, the following is what I recall (though there may be more I'm forgetting):
Alternator (May 1986, August 1993, May 2000).
Electric choke repair (January 1987).
A/C compressor clutch (May 1995).
A/C recharge and reconversion to R-134A (May 1995).
Valve cover gaskets (May 1998).
Interior light bulbs -- dome, speedometer, gear selector, fuel gauge (December 2017).
Left rear passenger door lock actuator (June 2008).
Muffler (November 1988, February 1994, June 2010).
Shocks (October 1997 and May 2016).
Tie rod ends (most recently, September 2016, but have replaced in the past... can't remember exact dates).
Transmission pan gasket (July 2017).
Clock (December 2017)... it actually broke nearly a year ago, but spent 11 months searching high and low for a flawless OEM replacement at a reasonable price. Only just found it.
Plug, wires, tune up (every few years).
Brakes (every few years).
Belts (every few years).
Batteries (about every 6 or 7 years).
Tires (approximately every five years, sometimes longer).
Light bulbs (all around, at one point in time or another).
A few overheating issues from time to time over the years, mostly in the 80s and 90s before lifetime coolants came into existence, but the dealer assured me this was a common problem with the 403 V8.
...basically, just regular maintenance. No major mechanical breakdowns (yet)...
A bit of history on this one... I bought the car from my aunt in April 1985 when I was in high school. She bought it brand new in late 1977 for $9500 from a Buick dealer in New York City that is still in existence today (I know because I still service it here myself). I was nine when she bought it, and now I'm 49, so I guess I've known this car nearly all my life.
It has all of the original literature, including the factory window sticker, build sheet and the 1978 dealer brochure. It also has the original keys and keychains (nothing copied; nothing aftermarket). I pride myself in having kept the car factory original and in mostly good shape. Nothing has been touched, removed or added, and it still has the old-fashioned AM/FM dial radio. For whatever reason, it wasn't ordered with the 8-track -- I guess I was cheated out of a true 70s experience.
The car is loaded, but I wouldn't say fully loaded. It has split bench, power seats, automatic climate control adjustable by a numbered dial, which is very old school, power windows, power locks, delay wipers, a large dial clock, which I love, power steering, power brakes, map lights, upgraded suspension, upgraded speakers and a power antenna. What it didn't come with, yet I'd have expected, is a rear defroster, seat recliners, and at minimum, an 8 track tape player to go with the upgraded stereo system. The option packages for this car were admittedly odd and random.
I'd argue it's in remarkable shape for a car that's 40 calendar years old, and while the tan velour interior is excellent from top to bottom, the paint job is dull and wearing thin. It has no rust at all, but I still I plan to respray/refresh the factory tan/cream beige exterior in the spring when the weather clears up.
I've truly had no real trouble with it. Maybe twice it left me stranded somewhere, once with an alternator issue when I was off on a trip somewhere and couldn't get to a mechanic in time; the other time was somewhere in the 80s in the dead of winter when my electric choke stopped working and the car just wouldn't start without shoving a pencil down inside the carburetor. Outside of these times, nothing significant that I can recall, though in 32 years, I've always (repeat, always) serviced it regularly; thus, my dealer catches nearly everything before anything has a chance to become a problem. In terms of service, oil changes and basic roadworthiness inspections every three months or 3,000 miles are what I do.
This car is still my daily driver, though admittedly I don't have to travel far and have, on average, put less than 10,000 miles/year on it. I no longer take it on significantly long road trips (never anything more than 1,000 miles round trip), but in the 80s and 90s I drove it annually from New York to Florida in the Winters and New York to California and back in the summers. I'd probably still do it today, but the cost of gas is substantially different now. It did its job, so I'm fine with keeping it as an around town car for the time being. On that note, I don't think you could ever find a better, more comfortable, quiet cruiser. The seats are soft, the suspension is floaty (which I love), yet it handles well. I love the size of the trunk, the leg room front and back is unparalleled. This was, and still is, great for loading up on long trips to the beach, or packing up to haul things around at Christmas. I'm also a big fan of the long hood as I think it not only looks elegant, but makes me feel safe.
The reliability is bar none, and I love the fact that it is a guaranteed runner that starts and performs each and every time. Admittedly though, I'm starting to find myself a bit nervous and worried as the car has reached 40 years of service and is pushing close to 300,000 miles. I'm paranoid at some point soon that something major is going to give out and I'll be stranded somewhere. The only problem I really seem to have now, and it's more of a nuisance than a problem, is that while the car can start and run just fine in brutal cold, or searing summer heat, with nothing more than one pump of the pedal and quick flick of the key, getting it restarted after it's been running off and on all day long is a challenge. Sitting overnight, the car starts immediately the next day with no effort at all. Running around town doing errands, I'll go to turn the key and it'll crank and crank like crazy, and at high speed, but doesn't seem to "catch" or run on its own unless I pump a few more times. This usually ends up flooding it. I've taken it to the dealer over and over in the past year and they've assured me there's nothing wrong (though I'm sure something is because this is a fairly new issue).
The car performs really well and has no misses or hesitation. It idles very smoothly and quietly. It's incredibly powerful, too; however, I don't think powerful necessarily equals fast. What it lacks in horsepower, it makes up for in torque. As such, I know I could yank out tree stumps with it if I wanted to, or lay tire tracks like nothing, but put me up against a lighter, more modern car in a race with higher horsepower or even the same horsepower (which I think is only 185), and I'd probably have to bury the pedal to the floor to keep up -- I could, indeed, but it wouldn't be easy as what my competition could do at half throttle, I could only do at full throttle. With that said, I believe the car was very fast for its day. I "think" I get from 0-60 in about nine seconds, which isn't horrible, but again, is less than a modern, light-weight, four cylinder economy car. I do know this -- in the 80s I could easily whoop a Camaro, Trans Am, Mustang, or even other large cars from Lincoln and Chrysler because engines back then were relatively gutless by nature, but my 403 was genuinely ahead of the pack. Not the case today, obviously, but 30 years or so ago, absolutely. I find the transmission is silky smooth. Shifts are imperceptible. I actually really like that it only has three gears, because there's hardly any shifting taking place and acceleration at any speed requires nothing of me and little of the car itself.
What's it like to drive an antique car as a daily driver? Meh... has its moments, but usually it's tiring as almost anywhere I go I have people stopping me to comment on it, ask questions, tell me stories about when they owned one just like it 40 years, ago, etc. And then, of course, I have people who look at me and probably pity me for driving an old, antiquated car, thinking I can't afford newer or better. This isn't the case, but I can see why people might think this. My family is extremely embarrassed by it. They weren't back in the day, but now they are. Most of my relatives laugh, make jokes, and won't even ride in it because it looks so incredibly old. In fact, even the aunt I bought it from who is now in her 70s and drives a sporty looking Lacrosse, just recently said she's appalled I still own it (who'd have thought she'd have said that?) and wouldn't be caught dead in it today LOL. The fact of the matter is, however, that none of this bothers me in the least. As I said, I've known the car nearly all my life, I've loved it from day one, I have no interest whatsoever in a new car, or an import, and even though few others I know think it's a classy car, I certainly do.
I do get asked pretty regularly if I'll sell it. The honest answer is "no, not at this time," but in a year, five years, ten years, possibly, yes. I know someday it's inevitable. I may just feel the time is right to move on, or maybe it'll stop working, or need a major repair that I won't want to make. Either way, someday I'll sell, but not today.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 21st December, 2017
21st Dec 2017, 21:40
Great review on a great car. Yes the Olds 403 did have hot coolant temps from time to time due to the cylinder bore being larger. A quick remedy for this is to take the guts out of the thermostat or change the radiator to a three core.
21st Dec 2017, 21:46
My grandmother gave my a 1966 dark blue Ambassador Station Wagon back in 1972. Always garaged and well maintained when she had it. I was embarrassed to drive it to school. Never had one issue and it was a V8. Funny thing is now I would like to have that wagon today. I like station wagons more today and was very thoughtful of her. Enjoy your car, it’s family history. Pretty cool story.
24th Dec 2017, 21:33
You may be able to bring back the luster on that paint job without having to pay someone to repaint the vehicle. There is an amazing amount that can be done these days with the right polishing tools, and you are fortunate to have a car that had multiple thick layers of paint and a thin layer of clearcoat. The clearcoat you probably need at this point, but you likely have plenty of paint left.
Your car is actually going up in value, and in ten years it may be worth more than three times what it is at present. Malaise era cars are incredibly light on the ground and yours is one of those precious few that wasn't a full blown out high-end luxury car. Cadillacs and Lincolns still abound, but your Buick is a far more rare breed.
If the costs bother you, it may be worth looking into having it used for local movie shoots. You don't have to actually show up (a movie company will haul it to and from your house) and I find that the revenue manages to pay for insurance along with a good chunk of your gas bill. Just Google/Facebook 'movie cars' or 'casting company' and add the nearest metro area to your search and you should find plenty.
All the best!
Steven Lang (yep... THAT Steven Lang)