Efficiency Experiment: 1979 Buick LeSabre Turbo

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More often than not, many of the country’s most popular vehicles are adopting turbocharged powerplants over larger, naturally aspirated engines. The funny thing is, most consumers would assume this is some sort of new phenomenon (if they even cared to learn that much about their vehicle’s engineering). However, as this 1979 Buick LeSabre Turbo here on craigslist demonstrates, General Motors saw the potential for turbocharged performance long before these smaller displacement motors became all the rage. 

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Also known as the “Sport Coupe,” the LeSabre could be spec’d with the Turbo V6 beginning in 1978. Effectively a pilot program for the fiercely popular Grand National, the turbo Buick also came with some other upgrades, including unique badges, a firmer suspension and polished 15×7 wheels that are missing from this example. The interior definitely needs a cleaning but it’s better than I would have expected for tan seating surfaces inside a car that’s been idle for years. The three-spoke steering wheel is a nice touch, and you could live with the dash given the minimal cracks. The seller claims the car was driven to where it has remained parked for who knows how many years.

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Magazine tests at the time found that V8-equipped LeSabres could jump off the line faster than the turbocharged models, but that the V6 would pull ahead in the 0-60 test, eventually recording the same elapsed time in the quarter mile (albeit at a higher speed – 79 m.p.h. for the V6 and 76 for the V8). And, imagine this: all the way back in 1979, the turbo LeSabre recorded far better fuel economy than the V8! It’s amazing to consider just how often the automotive industry moves and shakes in accordance with the country’s appetite for big power and lousy fuel economy versus more conservative options.

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The grass isn’t completely dead beneath the Buick, so perhaps it hasn’t been in this spot too long. The body appears sound overall, although it looks like it received a front clip of a different paint shade at some point. The front turn signal and passenger side rear signal will need replacing, but the chrome still looks presentable. There were only 3,582 LeSabre Sport Coupes made in 1979, so this Buick is an interesting conversation piece for the GM fanatic. Given the fair condition overall (mechanical health notwithstanding), this could be an entertaining driver with decent fuel economy to boot.

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Comments

  1. Jason

    Red intake hose! I’m sold!!!

  2. Keith

    This one is only a couple hours from me. I keep coming across it on craigslist, but never went to check it out – looked like a pretty serious undertaking to make it “right” again.

    On a related note, I also looked at that turbo Riv in person, since it was literally right around the corner from that week’s jobsite. Almost had them talked down to $1500, then I discovered how little metal was left under that vinyl top.

    I like the turbo Buicks of that era, but I guess I just don’t want one bad enough :-)

  3. Blueprint

    I owned a LeSabre sedan of the same generation, 350 4 barrel, got 12 mpg if driven like a church lady, 10 otherwise. I got 10 for most of the summer I owned the thing!

  4. DaveT

    Unbelievable. I honestly looked at one of these about two months ago. The online support for these motors is quite good. Very cool find.

  5. sparkster

    I worked at a Buick dealer when these were new. The turbo V-6’s were a blast to drive once the boost came on. Same engine as the Regal V-6’s turbo. The V-8 engines were run too lean and often has dead spots in the power delivery. Rare and cool find non the less.

  6. AMCSTEVE

    How much you want for that $1000 car?

  7. Dj

    I think $500 is it. There’s enough broke and missing parts you couldn’t find that you’d have $5k in a $2500 car.

  8. Prowler

    Quite possibly one of the most boring generic cars the general ever rolled out the door
    These were dark days at GM…the styling boys must have taken a few years off during this period

  9. RegularGuy55

    I had a ’78 Turbo Regal (first year for the V6 turbo in the Regal and the LeSabre). It was a fun car to drive, especially when the turbo gauge went into the red (maximum boost). The only drawback was the turbocharger used engine oil, so maintaining a 3000 mile/3 month oil change regimen was mandatory. Unlike the later GN models, this engine’s turbo pulls through a four barrel carb. I also seem to think the LeSabre got a slightly larger V6. The Regal was 3.8L and the LeSabre was 4.1 or 4.2L, IIRC.

    Smokey Yunick redesigned the V6’s cylinder heads for ’79, making them flow better and the engine produce more power. The ’79 and later heads could not be retrofitted to the ’78 block.

  10. Chris

    Enduro!

  11. Rando

    This looks a lot like a Malibu or Lemans from same era. Were these based on that platform? I always think of Buicks as being big barges, so it’s kinda odd looking to me.

    Yes I know I am behind, but was on vacation last week and I’m trying to catch up…lol

  12. 1Canuck

    I owned a 79 Le Sabre Turbo Coupe a number of years ago. It is indeed a 3.8 Turbo engine. Was a very reliable car, with good looks. I did not have a vinyl roof therefore no roof rust. The car came originally from Eastern Canada and was rusted underneath. The door bottoms were rusted right out but did not show on the exterior panels of the car. I sold because of the rust problems. Yes it got extremely good mileage from a full sized car. Would purchase again if I could find a rust free example. I am normally a Ford Buyer but this was one great GM product.

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