1977 through 1979 were pretty big years for General Motors. During those three model years, a vast diet was undertaken by the majority of their offerings, so that by decade’s end, most of the familiar gunboats you remembered had a much different, much lighter and much more purposeful look.
It all started with the biggies. The 1977 B-body and C-body full-size cars went from this…
To this. Pretty drastic, wouldn’t you say?
The new cars, while perhaps displaying less Broughamage and curtailing the trend to longer, lower, wider styling, were better handling, better on gas, and in most dimensions had more interior room than the 1976 models. All in all not bad. And the public responded with a healthy appetite for these lean yet satisfying automobiles.
In 1978, it was the mid-size cars’ turn, and so all those great GM intermediates lost their Colonnades and became boxier, smaller and yet lighter on their feet.
I will freely admit the new cars weren’t quite as swanky and substantial as their ’77 and earlier predecessors, but they were right for the time, and again, new car buyers eagerly snorked them up.
And finally, in 1979, the Chris-Craft grade personal luxury cars got the same treatment. It was especially drastic on the huge Eldorado and Toronado, which had been Nimitz-class size in 1978. The Riviera was an anomaly, for ’77 it got downsized to the new Electra chassis while the Cadillac and Oldsmobile remained large and in charge.
Despite the major reduction in size, the 1979 Eldo, Riviera and Toronado retained their flair and style, and sold like free beer. That all these new models were released in such a short period of time is just one more reminder of how gargantuan General Motors was at the time. What a change!
And now that I’ve sufficiently bored you, let’s jump back to 1978 and the new midsize coupes. Of course, the A-body midsize personal luxury coupes, the Pontiac Grand Prix, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Buick Regal and Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, sold in amazing quantities in their 1973 Colonnade iterations. For 1978, Buick had a few things to talk up other than the newly downsized platform. Like a turbo, for instance.
The 231 CID V6 to which the new turbocharger was bolted had a somewhat odd history. Originally introduced for the compact Special in the early Sixties, it was sold off to Kaiser-Jeep in 1967. After the gas crisis in ’73 and recession in ’75, GM bought it back.
It was actually available as an economy option in the 1976 LeSabre-one can imagine how peppy that car would have been with the 231 mill. Or not.
At any rate, the Buick V6 once described as ‘rough as a cob’ was updated in 1977, and in 1978 the turbo version debuted. It was only available on the Regal Sport Coupe and the LeSabre sport coupe.
Yes, the LeSabre too. At the time, it wasn’t the Del Boca Vista special it became known for later in life, but was a family car. And the coupe itself was rather sharp too. Try and find one of these 1977-80 Turbo Lesabres now! But I digress.
The Sport Coupe was the top of the line Regal, the only one to come standard with power brakes and automatic transmission. Yes, you could have gotten a Regal Limited, with wire wheel covers, 25 pounds of chrome trim, landau top and poofy velour seats with three-on-the-tree and manual steering!
The turbo came in two versions: 150 hp and 245 lb-ft or torque with a 2-barrel carburetor, or 165 hp/265 lb-ft with the four barrel. Now in 2017 that sounds pretty tepid, with 300 hp minivans roaming the land, but in 1978 that was pretty decent. And keep in mind a plain Jane Regal with the standard 231 had just 105 horses, though the 185 lb-ft of torque somewhat mitigated that.
I spotted this showroom condition 1978 model at the Buick Nationals the weekend of July 8th, at the Sheraton in Brookfield, Wisconsin. This was an amazing show. How amazing? I took exactly 873 pictures, alternating between my phone and my digital camera.
So many great cars. But this one stood out, due to the excellent color combination. I wasn’t aware the Limited interior could be had on the Sport Coupe, but it was a great combination of sport and Brougham.
What a Broughamtastic interior! And the white upholstery with red dash, carpet and seatbelts is amazing! No mouse gray or hearing aid beige here. No sir!
This was a time when you could take a fairly standard car, and pick from a myriad of colors. Paint, upholstery, even different types of fabric. Many kinds of fabrics and leathers, if you were stepping up to a Cadillac or Lincoln. So many choices. But then, many more people ordered their cars back then too.
Case in point, if you don’t mind another digression. Relatives recently decided they wanted a new VW Atlas. But they wanted it in that pearl yellow. One was in Minneapolis. I told them, just order one. You can get exactly what you want, and buy from your local dealer, whom you like.
But I later found out they drove there and got the car and came back instead. OK, true, it would have taken a while for the car to come in, but so what? Instead, they endured a twelve hour drive, round trip, and put 300 miles on their new car. They love their car, but I just couldn’t help but wonder why they just didn’t order it? But in the end, everyone’s happy. End digression.
Back to the Buick. The Buick club members are a friendly bunch, and despite my not knowing one person there, I struck up conversations with many folks. During one chat I was told that this ’78 Sport Coupe was still in the hands of its original owner, which was pretty neat.
I never actually talked with the owner; each time I walked by the car no one was around. But he certainly has a great late ’70s Detroit personal luxury coupe-with added turbo zest! Lucky man. After all, wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?