1978 Buick LeSabre Custom Coupe 350 V8 5.7 Liter from North America

Summary:

With a few modifications, this car screamed down the autobahn!!!

Faults:

The usual things for 30 year old cars still on the road:

Water pump.

Heater core.

Valve cover gaskets.

Oil pan gaskets.

Not much besides regular maintenance.

The following mods were made before I took the car with me to Germany:

Replaced the original TH350 transmission with a rebuilt 700r4 transmission from a mid 80's Chevy Suburban, and a specially fabricated driveshaft to fit.

Installed a heavy duty radiator and transmission cooler.

Installed heavy-duty front and rear stabilizer and sway bars.

Installed mildly lowered 2", firmer coil springs, and large, beefy, firmer riding shock absorbers.

Installed a 4 snorkel air cleaner, two intakes from the front and two from the ventiports on the fenders, I cut out the plastic ones and actually made the ventiports functional, K&N filters galore.

Wider wheels from a 1978 Le Sabre Sport Coupe.

Two small electric auxillary cooling fans, which sat on either side of the radiator, angled at the engine (Oldsmobile engines are so tough, I never even needed them, but sometimes used them at high speeds just as a precaution)

Performance intake, camshaft, heads, and 4-barrel carburetor from a 1970 Olds Cutlass W-30 or 31 (whatever the modified 350 was)

Heavy duty high-temp gaskets all around the motor.

Heavy-duty oil pump.

High-temp heater hoses.

Heavy duty fuel pump.

High performance dual cat-back exhaust with Flowmasters.

25 gallon fuel tank from 1985 Buick Le Sabre.

Heavy-duty 120 amp alternator and new voltage regulator.

Digital gauge strip on the interior that displays speed in kph (most American cars of this era only went to about 140, if they even displayed kph at all), water temp, oil temp, transmission temp, oil pressure, voltmeter, alternator charge indicator.

I'm not that mechanically inclined like the rest of my family, I can change oil, tires, spark plugs, sometimes brakes and that's about it. I'm glad someone did this all for me. The car dyno'd at over 300HP when it was all said and done, compared to about 175 stock.

Driving it was like driving a totally differnet car, It handled completely diffrant than your typical old boaty "Aunt Matilda" Buick.

General Comments:

This was my Great Grandfather's last car before he died, and his pride and joy. Black with deep red interior. Even at the age of 92, he would spend summer afternoons waxing and polishing it. He made sure the car never touched snow, mud or salt, or rain if he could help it. When he finally quit driving at the age of 98, yes, 98 he gave this car to my Grandpa at 52,000 miles, who is an avid Buick/Oldsmobile/Cadillac collector. Eventually my dad bought it from him. My father and his brothers and some cousins are deep into collecting late 60's/early 70's muscle cars, namely GM, but there are a few Fords and Mopars thrown in. Long story short, by the age of 15 I had my learner's permit and this was my first ride.

I enlisted in the army after high school for 4 years. My cousin was having lots of fun in Germany, and I made sure my enlistment papers got me to his unit. I graduated from basic and school by the spring of '97, and the modifications made to this car were waiting for me when I got done, as a suprise gift from my family for serving my country. I asked them why all the custom parts for a car that's barely even collectible, and they said it was because I was taking the car to Europe. I was shocked. I was also shocked to find that the Germans wouldn't put full coverage insurance on any car over 10 years old, for any price. There are many people who bring all kinds of classic cars over there and find out the hard way.

I took three months to finally get the car to Europe. The day I picked it up I was more than happy to dump my bucket '88 Opel Ascona (German Chevy Cavalier) in the junkyard. I pulled the car right into the garage where my cousin was working on a M-88 wrecker (a tank that tows broke down tanks). I blasted the horn at him and his jaw literally dropped. No one told him I was bringing the car over there.

This car was and still is a complete party on wheels. Believe it or not, when I took it to Europe it still ironically had the original Delco AM/FM stereo cassette, the old style with huge pushbuttons and the red needle. This was quickly replaced with a $500 booming sound system.

My dad kept the 2.65 axle ratio in there for a reason, high speed driving. You here all these guys talk about quick 0-60 and 1/4 mile with 4.10 gears, but what happens when your Rpm's max out at 95 MPH?

There were quite a few Europeans driving Fiats, Puegots, Citroens, and Opels surprised to see a 2 ton late 70's Hunk of Detroit iron to begin with, and on top of it whistle past them in the fast lane at 160 kph. I topped the car out once and once only at 230 kph, or about 142 MPH on a long, straight stretch. It sure was a rush to hear that smallblock scream and snarl like it was meant to. Even with all the mods, this car simply was not designed for that type of driving. I would usually cruise down the autobahn between 80 and 100 MPH, and the big BMWs and Mercedes with the V8's and V12s would blow my doors off. Let me stress the fact that this car came from the factory with an Oldsmobile 350 V8, much stronger and more reliable than the Chevy version and especially the Buick Version.

Gas was rationed to us over there at around $1.70 to $2.00 a gallon, compared to about $4.50 a gallon if you buy it straight from the Germans. We were alloted I think 400 liters a month. This car got around 22 MPG highway if you actually drove about 60 or 70 MPH, but the way I drove I usually got between 16 and 18 over there, comparable to a big mercedes or beamer. German summers are hot, but very dry, so I rarely ever used the A/C over there.

This car got looks and postive comments no matter where I went with it. Some of those same people driving 80K supercars would slow down and take a look just to see what the heck this car was. Lots of people wanted to buy, Germans and Americans alike, even a few businessmen from time to time, my reply was always the same: "sorry, not for sale".

I drove it to France, Denmark, Holland, Luxembourg, Austria, Italy, Even Poland and Czech Republic. Where there were border crossing and customs still it always raised suspicion. My cosuin and I, and sometimes a few other guys would roll to the club or diskothek as they call it around 11 at night, and come back to post at three in the morning with a car full of ladies.

One cop in Poland pulled me over and gave me an emissions test, and the car passed with flying colors. Grandpa told me Oldsmobile smallblocks even in the late 60's and early 70's were some of the only engines around that would pass emmissions of that era WITHOUT a catalytic converter, due to unique valve or cam design or something, but the government made them install them anyway.

I re-enlisted to stay in Germany until the fall of 2002, otherwise the army would make me do my last remaining year and a half stateside. I loved Europe, loved traveling and by the time I brought it home this car had over 110,000 miles on it. My grandpa was a little aggravated at that, but this car is so much fun I can't stay out of it. That's all folks!

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 13th April, 2007

14th Nov 2008, 16:48

Amazing story! I just got one of these myself, powder blue inside and out. In terrific shape and only 87K miles. A great piece of work to tinker with. I hope it will last me for a generation at least.

25th Jan 2009, 21:17

I still own my 1978 Buick LeSabre Custom Coupe, which I purchased back in 1987 as my first car. With 124,000 miles on it, it is original with the exception of a repaint back in 1987 due to fading. I now own a 1970 Cadillac Sedan DeVille, a 1978 Lincoln Town Coupe, a 1984 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham and just cannot part with my first car.

I had purchased it from the original owner with 95,000 miles on it. This car has never let me down and has only required gaskets. I drove it during the winter the first year I owned it and have stored it winters ever since 1988.

Powder blue, inside and out, with crushed velvet interior and Buick road wheels, this car turns heads.

I plan on doing a little interior restoration work to the headliner, new carpet and some mild driver's seat repair to bring it back to pristine condition.

You don't see many on the road anymore.

1978 Buick LeSabre Custom 403 cid (6.6 litre) from North America

Summary:

A comfortable big block Buick

Faults:

Master cylinder.

Brakes (numerous times)

A/C not working.

Rusty in some places.

Transmission.

Dents and scratches in many places.

General Comments:

The big block under the hood makes you forget that you in a two-and-a-half tonne boat. This Buick is a sleeper, looks slow, but isn't.

THE most comfortable car I've ever had a ride in. With almost every option, this car is as luxurious as it is fast.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 14th November, 2005

15th Nov 2005, 19:18

Nice review and good luck with your Buick, however, 1; the 403 V8 in your Buick is a small block not a big block, and 2; it's a Oldsmobile engine not a Buick engine. Also, next time you do a review, you might want to add more details into your review. Just a suggestion.

17th Nov 2005, 09:20

*ahem, http://theserviceadvisor.com/part/reman/buickbesttsagmc_403lb.html looks like a Buick 403, most likely just an Olds engine, but it does exist.

24th Aug 2006, 23:00

I have driven this this year & model car at least 450,000 miles. The car weighs 3770 pounds. This car is the first totally CAD auto built in the US. All were built in Linden, NJ. If any reader has problems with theirs call me at 610-564-8113. I promise I'll return call. Can diagnose over phone. Just bought 4th for $1000. 34K original miles. Have two definite MUSTS for all: 1) Next oil change use a chemical flush. Switch to total synthetic; 2) 90% of major problems are due to poorly designed catalytic converters. Exhaust flow restricted intentionally to increase torque. New LOW-RESTRICTION converter ASAP. Gas mileage goes from 8-10mpg to 14-17mphg. Over-heating? Change converter NOW! You may have 2,000 miles before you blow head gaskets. It has MAJOR collector potential. They all have the same problems. Don't ever want to drive anything else and am able to buy any type of car I want. I choose these. Bought 1st 8/11/77. 325,000 miles. It's as if they want to run forever.