Buick LeSabre Generation 3

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Buick Le Sabre

Buick LeSabre Gen 3

1965 - 1970
345 bhp @ 5,800 rpm
2/3 spd. AT
Top Speed:
Number Built:
5 star
Buick LeSabre Gen 3
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5

1965 Buick LeSabre

LeSabre and other full-sized Buicks were completely restyled for the 1965 model year, featuring more rounded bodylines and Coke-bottle profiles with semi-fastback rooflines on two-door hardtop coupes. Wheelbases remained at 123 inches (3,100 mm), but a new perimeter frame shared with other GM B-body cars replaced the "X" frame used since 1961. Body styles were unchanged from 1964 except for the station wagon, which was dropped in favor of the stretched intermediate Special-based Buick Sport Wagon which featured a raised rear roof and glass skylight over the back seat similar to the Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser.

Starting in 1965, the LeSabre was available in two trim levels, the base LeSabre and the LeSabre Custom, which featured a more luxurious interior trim and also included the convertible body style not available in the base LeSabre line. Interiors were also new for 1965 with a revised instrument panel featuring two round dials for speedometer and other instruments much like the 1963 - 1964 models along with new heating/air conditioning controls.

Drivetrains were unchanged from 1964 with the 250-horsepower two-barrel carbureted 300-cubic-inch V8 the standard powerplant on all models with a standard three-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed manual or two-speed Super Turbine 300 automatic. Available at extra cost with the new LeSabre "400" package was the 250-horsepower 300-cubic-inch V8 with four-barrel carburetion and 10.25 to 1 compression which required premium fuel, compared to the standard two-barrel engine that used regular fuel. The 400 package also included the more desirable Super Turbine "400" three-speed automatic transmission also found in Buick's higher-priced Wildcat, Electra 225 and Riviera models.

Buick's engine-transmission practice was similar to that of GM's Chevrolet Division, which at that time only offered the two-speed Powerglide automatic with most of its engine offerings in full-sized vehicles, requiring buyers who preferred the similar three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic (basically the same transmission under a different name) to order one of the larger V8 engines. Both Pontiac and Oldsmobile offered the Turbo Hydra-Matic on all of their full-sized cars with any engine offering, and three-speed automatics were also the norm on big cars from GM's medium-priced competitors such as the Chrysler Newport and Mercury Monterey, which offered the TorqueFlite and Cruise-O-Matic transmissions, respectively.

1964 Buick LeSabre 400

Buick's LeSabre model presented something of an enigma to the middle class car buyer: It looked like the big Wildcat yet seems to have some of the characteristics of the smaller Special; in price, it was positioned exactly in between Special and Wildcat; and, in performance, it was stronger than the 6-cyl. Specials but weaker than both the V-8 Special and the far-bigger-engined Wildcat. So, what exactly did it offer the buyer? For one, it had all the luxury of appointment, interior space and boot space of the more expensive car. For another, it had the economy of operation of the less-costly car along with a lower initial price. Most of all, it offered the buyer the big Buick nameplate, prestige, ride and comfort.

But what were the drawbacks? The combination of a larger car and smaller engine would seem limiting to over-the-highway performance; in-traffic manoeuvring and parking ease suffered as they must with any big car; and, there were a lot of interesting competitors in this particular segment of the market - cars such as the Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Polara, Ford Galaxie, Mercury Monterey, Plymouth Fury and Pontiac Catalina, all with standard V-8s of similar or larger displacement. For 1965 the new sweep-back hardtop had dramatic styling, traditional Buick spaciousness, reasonable performance and some important plus factors inherited from its richer brothers: Wildcat, Electra and Riviera.

Largest plus features of the LeSabre series were its shared under structure and bodywork. These, of course, were common components with the Wildcat series and thus were designed to accept and withstand far greater loads than the lesser-powered LeSabre could impose. A typical example was in the braking system. In the early 1960s Buick boasted some of the better standard-equipment drum brakes of any then current U.S. car. These were 12-in. diameter drums with 2.25-in. wide shoes in front, 2.00-in. shoes in the rear, actuated by the familiar duo-servo technique. At 320.5 sq. in. swept area, they were not the largest in the industry. However, finned aluminium drums (with cast-iron liners) on the fronts made them consistently more effective. Additionally, finned iron rear drums were used. Now, on the LeSabre, because of its lighter weight, the finned iron drums were used front and rear, with nearly the same effectiveness as found on the Wildcat, Electra and Riviera.

1965 Buick LeSabre in profile
1965 Buick LeSabre in profile.

Buick LeSabre Grille
The LeSabre carried its own grillwork and emblems, to distinguish it from the same size Wildcat and larger Electra.

Buick Electra Dashboard
There was plenty of chrome on the dash, and strangely the important dials sat below the warning lights.

Buick Electra Fastback Sports Coupe
Buick Electra Fastback Sports Coupe.

Buick Electra Trunk
The boot was plenty wide, and had a flat floor.

Buick LeSabre Engine Bay
The air-conditioner of the mid 1960s turned an otherwise uncluttered engine-bay into a plumbers nightmare.

Buick LeSabre Tail End
The tail end treatment of the 1965 LeSabres featured a "jig-saw" look. The tail-lights were in the outer position but blended well into the design.
The LeSabre also shared the Wildcat and Electra perimeter frame and Wildcat bodies, although the other two series are on 126-in. wheelbases rather than the LeSabre's 123. The 3-in. difference was accommodated in the rear suspension as the frame's rear kick-up had plenty of longitudinal space to allow the variation. Rear coil springs were mounted atop the Salisbury-type rear axle on the LeSabre, while they fitted on the lower control arms of the Wildcat and Electra, just forward of the rear axle. All three cars utilized a 4-Iink rear suspension with two longitudinal lower arms and two diagonal upper arms. All arms were heavily rubber-bushed to damp out road noise.

The perimeter frame Buick used for these three models was similar to the rest of the General Motors line at the time. It had torque box areas curved into the front and rear portions, which isolated the body-carrying portion of the frame, in effect, from the front and rear suspension carrying portions. Then, by mounting the stiff, self-supporting body on soft, absorbent pads, Buick achieved a layered structure which trapped road and engine noise and vibration before they reached the passengers. The level of quiet was impressive and amplified the only noise problem a handful of road testers encountered. When a side window was "cracked" or rolled down just a fraction to allow better circulation of air, wind noise was at an irritatingly high level.

Buick increased its front tread width and at 63 in. it was just as wide as certain "wide track" products. The drag-link type of front suspension, whereby an I-section lower arm and a diagonal, rubber-bushed strut formed a wider-based control arm, had been adopted to Buick, too, along with virtually all other GM cars of the mid 1960s. It gave a better ride by allowing the front wheels to move a fraction of an inch rearward when overriding bumps, thus eliminating some harshness. As to its effect on handling and stability, the LeSabre was at least as good as previous Buicks.

A big feature of the LeSabre was its smaller, lighter engine. The 300-cu. in. V-8 used as standard equipment came directly from the Special line and was descendent from the super-light aluminium V-8s of 1961 - 1963. Although it was now completely cast in iron, it still weighed only 466.6 lb. (without clutch and flywheel) where Oldsmobile's 330-cu. in. V-8 weighed 559.9 lb., Pontiac's 326 weighed 596.3 lb. and Chevrolet's 327 weighed 533.9 lb. in similar form. This light engine weight helped give the LeSabre a fore-aft weight distribution of 55 /45%, which in turn meant good balance and tractive ability.

At 4262 lb. curb weight, the 1965 LeSabre was really no lightweight and it required lots of work by the little 300-incher to make it move. The combination of the Super Turbine 400 transmission with the 300 V-8 was the reason for brisk performance many road testers were surprised to find. The torque converter, three speeds forward and pitch-switching feature, of this excellent transmission, all contributed considerably to the impetus. As mentioned, the engine on the 1965 LeSabre no longer had any aluminium components.

The cylinder heads and intake manifold were redesigned for iron in 1965 models, thereby eliminating any possibility of bimetallic electrolytic reaction in the coolant. This had been a service problem in certain parts of the USA. By-products of the return to iron for the cylinder head were increases in valve size, elimination of inserted valve guides and streamlining of the gas passages. The iron intake manifold allowed inclusion of an exhaust heat jacket under the carburettor riser for quicker cold-weather warm-ups.

Standard engine for the LeSabre was the 300-cu. in. V-8 rated at 210 bhp. This engine has 9:1 compression and a single 2-throat carburettor. Torque is 310 ft.-lb. at 2400 rpm. With changes to 11:1 compression and a 4-barrel carburettor, horsepower went up to 250 at 4800 and torque improved to 335 at 3000 rpm. No other engine option was available, although Buick installed its 401- and 425-cu. in. V-8s in the same chassis under the Wildcat and Electra name tags. The two 300 V-8s, however, were options in the lighter Special series where they generally gave better performance because of lighter vehicle weight.

The standard LeSabre had a 3-speed manual transmission which has first and second gear ratios of 2.58 and 1.48:1. Only second and third gears had synchronous meshing and the shift lever was up on the steering column. Buick offered the Muncie Gear 4-speed, with its 2.20 first, 1.64 second, 1.31 third and all synchromesh gearing as an option. Or, the buyer could select between 2- or 3-speed automatic transmissions - both of which had switch-pitch torque converters. The 2-speed cost US$210 extra, the 3-speed US$231, so that extra gear worked out at $21 additional. At that price, it was an outstanding bargain.

The 3-speed automatic offered just as much improvement in performance over the 2-speed unit as did a 4-speed manual over a 3-speed. Not only was the gear spacing better, and more compatible to a variety of driving conditions, but the "tighter" torque converter gave better performance. For instance, the overall starting ratio of the 2-speed "Super Turbine 300" was 1.765 (gear) x 2.45 (stall torque ratio) was 4.52:1, where the "Super Turbine 400" had 2.48 x 2.22, or 5.51; then, when the 300 shifted to high it went to 1:1 where the 400 shifted to 1.48:1 (second). The transmission's variable torque converter stator vanes ("switch-the-pitch") changed from 2.22 to 1.8:1 on the 400, from 2.45 to 1.8 on the 300. The changeable stators gave a kick-down effect in top gear, going from 1.8 back to 2.22 (or 2.45) upon command by throttle and allowing the engine to rev up a bit. The pitch returned to 1.8 when the engine was idling, to reduce the car's creeping tendencies.

Most road testers and motoring journalists, after driving the 3-speed ST-400, wondered why Buick even offered the 300 for the LeSabre. The 400 gave so much more flexibility to driving the car that any comparative demonstration was sure to sell the 400. With only two speeds, a car this heavy and as relatively low-powered as it would be with the 210-bhp engine (19.9 lb. /bhp) must have been pretty sluggish. Underpowered or not, the LeSabre was well put together. Every component looked as if it was designed to fit together, and as if the panels were stamped and trimmed and painted all in one operation so that it did. Behind the wheel drivers would soon discover a few niggles - the sweeping rear roofline created a serious blind spot to the right rear; the huge heavy doors of the 2-door hardtop were awkward to handle, and, when sandwiched in between other parked cars, were impossible to open far enough to allow passengers to squeeze out. Trying to push open the uphill door when the car was parked across a slope could be pretty strenuous, too.

Two large, round, hooded faces enclosed speedometer, clock and warning lights, one on each side of the steering column. Between was the automatic transmission indicator quadrant and fuel gauges; above that the signal and high-beam indicator lights, plus the usual switches and knobs, in a wall-to-wall chromed band. All this was topped by another hood running the width of the dash. What everyone noted was that the speedometer and warning lights should have been up higher, closer to the line of sight of the driver, and the signal lights lower, as they didn't need to be watched so closely. As it was, the driver had to take their eyes off the road and look down at their left knee to see the speed. And, if they reached for the fresh-air inlet control, they were likely to pull the knob off the radio as it was in confusingly close proximity and was exactly the same shape.

On the other hand, Buick had a huge bin-type of glove compartment on the right side and this was immensely practical, unlike the mail-slot box in Pontiacs from this era. It tipped outward to reveal its contents and was large enough to contain most of the paraphernalia found stuffed into the average car. Two minor features among the LeSabre's lengthy list of options which would have caught plenty of interest were the tilting steering wheel that had seven positions, and the speed-minder. This latter item was the forerunner to the modern day over-speed alarm - but in 1965 it was a simple safety device which attached to the speedometer and sounded a harsh buzzer when the driver exceeded the pre-set speed. It was in the luxurious appointment that the measure of the LeSabre as a conservative, sophisticated transport emerged. A full step above the other cars in its class, the LeSabre's material, workmanship and design deserved praise. More than mere surface-glazing or wood-like applique, interior trim was tasteful and not overdone. It provided a luxury image at a budget price.

1966 Buick LeSabre

New grilles and four-segmented taillights highlighted the face-lifted 1966 LeSabre models. Also new was a revised instrument panel with a horizontal sweep speedometer replacing the round pod instruments and new interior door handles. Both base and Custom level series were continued. New standard safety features included a padded instrument panel, outside driver-side rear view mirror and backup lights. Under the hood, the 300-cubic-inch V8 was replaced by a larger 340-cubic-inch V8 rated at 220 horsepower with two-barrel carburetor and available with either a standard three-speed manual transmission or optional two-speed automatic, but the four-speed manual was dropped from the option list. Ordering the LeSabre 400 option upgraded the buyer to a 260-horsepower 340 with four-barrel carburetor and higher 10.25 to 1 compression ratio along with the three-speed Super Turbine 400 automatic found in the larger engine Wildcat, Electra 225 and Riviera.

1967 Buick LeSabre

Somewhat more rounded sheet metal and a swoopier fastback roofline for the two-door hardtop highlighted the 1967 LeSabre but chassis and inner body were unchanged along with drivetrains. Both base and Custom-level LeSabres were continued. New options for 1967 included front disc brakes and a stereo 8-track tape player. The standard drum brakes were upgraded with more cooling fins and a dual-master cylinder system was introduced. Engine and transmission offerings were unchanged from 1966.

1968 Buick LeSabre

The 1968 LeSabre received a minor facelift including new grilles and taillights along with concealed windshield wipers. Inside was a revised instrument panel with square speedometer surrounded by other instruments with minor trim revisions for both base and Custom models. A new 350-cubic-inch V8 replaced the previous 340. In standard form the 350 V8 delivered 230 horsepower with two-barrel carburetor and 9 to 1 compression ratio and came with a standard three-speed manual transmission or optional two-speed Super Turbine 300 automatic. The "LeSabre 400" option package included a 280-horsepower 350 four-barrel V8 with 10.25 to 1 compression and three-speed Super Turbine 400 automatic transmission. The "Switch-Pitch" torque converter used in conjunction with the Super Turbine automatic transmission was discontinued in favor of a standard torque converter.

1969 Buick LeSabre

The 1969 LeSabre received new sheetmetal with more squared off styling than the 1965-68 models including a formal roofline on coupes replacing the semi-fastback of previous years. Though the 1969 model was extensively restyled with new sheetmetal, the basic 1965 chassis and inner body structure were retained, along with the roofline of the four-door pillared sedans though vent windows were dropped on all models. Wheelbase remained at 123 inches (3,100 mm). Interiors were mildly revised with minor changes to the instrument panel including the movement of the heating/air conditioning controls to the left of the steering wheel, which was new this year. Headrests, previously optional, were now standard equipment due to a federal safety mandate.

The 1969 LeSabre and other Buicks also received a new steering column mounted ignition switch (relocated from the instrument panel) that also locked the steering wheel when the transmission was in Park. The ignition/locking steering column appeared on all 1969 General Motors cars one year ahead of the federal mandate requiring all cars to be so equipped. Also new was a variable-ratio power steering unit along with revised front suspension geometry for improved ride and handling under Buick's tradename of Accu-Drive. Steel rails were also built into the doors (and rear quarter panels on coupes and convertibles)for improved side impact protection as was the case with all 1969 GM B- and C-body cars. Powertrains were unchanged from 1968 with the 230-horsepower 350 two-barrel V8 standard and available with a three-speed manual transmission or the two-speed Super Turbine 300 automatic while the LeSabre "400" package once again included a 280-horsepower 350 four-barrel engine and three-speed Super Turbine 400 automatic.

1970 Buick LeSabre

Only minor detail changes including grille and taillight revisions were made to the 1970 LeSabre. New features this year included a hidden radio antenna which amounted to two wires embedded in the windshield. Wheelbase was increased by one inch to 124 inches (3,100 mm), matching direct competitors such as Oldsmobile Delta 88, Mercury Monterey and Chrysler Newport. Both base and Custom models were again offered. Engines were revised with the standard 350 two-barrel V8 increased in horsepower from 230 to 260. A new option for 1970 was a low-compression regular-fuel version of the 350 four-barrel rated at 285 horsepower and the high-compression premium fuel 350 four-barrel V8 was reworked with horsepower upped to 315 on a 10.25 to 1 compression ratio. Added to the lineup was a new LeSabre 455 line which shared interior and exterior trimmings with the LeSabre Custom and was powered by Buick's new 455 cubic-inch V8 with four-barrel carburetor, 10.25 to 1 compression and 370 horsepower, which also required premium fuel.

Transmission offerings included a standard three-speed manual with column shift for the base 350 two-barrel or optional three-speed Turbo Hydra-matic 350 automatic, which was standard equipment with the two 350 four-barrel engines. This transmission completely replaced the old two-speed automatic offered with the smaller base engines in past years, while the 455 was paired with the Turbo Hydra-matic 400. Buick now joined other GM divisions in marketing the automatic transmission under the Turbo Hydra-matic trade name rather than the "Super Turbine" designation used since 1964.

At the start of the model year, variable-ratio power steering and power drum brakes were optional equipment. Those items were made standard equipment on all LeSabres (and Wildcats) effective January 1, 1970. Power front disc brakes remained an extra-cost option. For the first time since 1964, Buick offered a full-sized station wagon for 1970 under the Estate Wagon nameplate. Though it used the LeSabre's B-body, it rode on the C-body Electra 225's 127-inch (3,200 mm) wheelbase chassis. The Estate Wagon came standard with the 455 V8 and interior trims were similar to the LeSabre Custom and Wildcat. The 1965-70 GM B platform is the fourth best selling automobile platform in history after the Volkswagen Beetle, Ford Model T and the Lada Riva.

1965 Buick LeSabre

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Excellent! Hit all the major styling and mechanical points. Well done. I loved these cars, especially the 1965 and 1969 particularly in Wildcat form. People really were getting something better than a Chevrolet or Pontiac when opting for the Buick LeSabre. It may have been the least expensive full sized Buick but it was a Buick thru and thru.
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