When did Buick become a car for the elderly? It’s really hard to say. For most of the early post-war era, Buick more or less espoused the belief in more subtle, less ostentatious luxury, in comparison to GM cousin brand Cadillac. During that same period, there were extensions downward to price categories just above Chevrolet, and attempts at re-cementing their reputation as Banker’s Hot Rods as well.
Another belief was offering a whole lotta car for a minimum of a premium. As the Special nameplate drifted out of sight to re-appear as a luxury compact in the fall of 1960, the least dear Buick for your pocketbook became the LeSabre. Perhaps being a perennial customer favorite with people starting in 1959 lead to something of a reputation.
The LeSabre was in its 14th Season anchoring the bottom of the big Buick line by 1972. It had seen the Electra 225 fib about its true length a few of those seasons while outliving the Invicta and Wildcat nameplates. It had grown to what would be its largest suit the previous season, while implementing a base standard of luxury.
All LeSabres, til there were no more LeSabres, would come with power front disc brakes, power steering, and an automatic transmission. As since 1968, that transmission was the Turbo-Hydramatic 400 backing either the Buick designed 350 V8 or an optional 455 cube unit.
Signs of the times revealed truth about the LeSabre however. New SAE Gross horsepower ratings showed the base 2 barrel 350 was good for a marginal 160 horsepower as lower compression ratios and new emissions equipment started to make performance that had long been adequate more syrupy.
The available 455 V8 still packed a pretty healthy 250 horse punch in ’72. However the cost continued long after purchase as it was rare for that big block to deliver gas mileage beyond 10mpg in highway cruising.
Most customer found the happy medium with either of the 350 engines. With some normally costly basics baked into the base price, more buyers expanded their reach into the other luxuries on offer. Air Conditioning, AM/FM radios with 8 tracks and power seats were popular options added to various LeSabres.
Compared to the stylish yet Spartan traits of LeSabres of the early 60’s, by the early 70’s they started to reflect the increasing wealth of the loyal returning buyers. These folks, coming back every 4-7 years for a fresh dose of familiarity they had found in the last LeSabre they had found little to no surprises, and less incentive to move up to the extra bulk and ostentation that was the Electra 225, or the ersatz attempt to continue a reputation of performance that the Centurion represented.
In this process, as the LeSabre continued to be a solid choice with middle class buyers after 15 years on the market, it’s easy to see as repeat buyers aged, the reputation of the LeSabre as a ‘old person’s car’ continued to grow. Buyers just matured with the product they came to rely on.
The LeSabre, in its run, found itself less in an identity crisis or in flaws of designed in faults like a number of American cars, or even B-body chassis siblings like the Oldsmobile Eighty Eight. Buick largely escaped the in-house diesel disaster in the late 70’s as they weren’t as vigorous marketers of the Oldsmobile grown oil-burners. Instead Buick lobbied for the future being in their turbocharged V6 engines.
When that proved to be equally a passing phase for the mainstream family sedan as the diesel V8, the LeSabre’s reputation was far less damaged. The buyers continued to age alongside the LeSabre however, as many loyal pre-baby boomer customers started to die, Buick itself decided to retire the long lasting nameplate in 2005. For a short window in the early 70’s however, the LeSabre represented a mature choice for those hitting the prime of their lives.