1978 Buick Regal Sport Coupe – Activate The Turbo Boost

1978 Buick Regal Sport Coupe – Activate The Turbo Boost
1978 Buick Regal Sport Coupe – Activate The Turbo Boost

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.

1976 Buick Electra Park Avenue

It all started with the biggies. The 1977 B-body and C-body full-size cars went from this…

1977 Buick Electra 225

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.

1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham

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.

1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham

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.

1977 Cadillac Eldorado

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.

1983 Cadillac Eldorado

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?


  1. I would argue that the great migration began in 1975 with the 1976 Seville – and completed in 1979 with the 1980 Citation.

    In those four years the entire North American new car landscape changed. And did so at the leadership of General Motors.

    Bill Mitchell’s Sheer Style introduced a new era of American luxury whose vestiges continued until the 1992 Brougham.

    Art+Science was an attempt to rekindle that old GM styling leadership. And in a time of Bangle Butts it was more successful than we are yet to acknowledge.

  2. odd-fire V6s were indeed “rough as a cob.” “even-firing” versions with split crankpins were better, but still not great; one of the Chrysler engineers who worked on the 3.9 for the Dakota didn’t really care for its “boom-boom, boom-boom” character. a balance shaft helps.

  3. I wonder how adding a turbo sucking through a carb would work. Would the turbo have a smoothing effect on the rough engine, or just add another thing to make noise?

    1. a turbo would do nothing to smooth out an odd-fire engine; they were rough because with a 90° vee angle and 120° crankpin spacing, their firing interval was 150-90-150-90-150-90 which resulted in a side-to-side rocking motion.

      the “even fire” versions which came in for 1978 were much smoother since the split crankpins got them pretty close to an even 120° firing interval.

  4. Damn, I’m disappointed that I missed the Buick Nationals. I’m 15 minutes away from Brookfield. We were out of town that weekend too.

    I had ’76 Buick Riviera for a while when I was young, then a ’79 Pontiac Grand Prix SJ shortly after that. It was definitely a change in eras.

  5. My grandfather bought his 1978 Regal Limited from Brett Motors Pontiac Buick GMC in Chatham, ON in the summer of 1978. His was brown with a cream half-landau top with tan interior. He ordered his to tow his 17-foot travel trailer, so his was equipped with the 5.0L V8 and the tow package (I think it was the 307 Olds engine, I could be wrong, I remember it had “5.0 Litre” badging on it). It was a great car for its time, and replaced a horribly problematic 1977 Plymouth Volare (grandpa’s first and last Chrysler). He drove the Regal until he died in 1984, and it was then handed down to my cousins, who drove the doors off it until about 1988. I have many fond childhood memories about that Regal. Thanks for the article and the trip down memory lane.

    1. I don’t think the 307 existed yet, Olds was still pushing the 260, it probably was a Chevy 305. If it was the Pontiac 301 it would have had “4.9 Litre” badges.

      1. You’re probably correct, but other Canadian-market GM cars at the time were equipped with the 307 vs. the 305 for whatever reason, perhaps because Canadian-market cars did not require catalytic converters until 1988. A friend’s ’86 Parisienne Brougham had the 307 with a 4-speed automatic. My aunt and uncle had a ’79 Regal that had the “4.9 Litre” badges. When they came to visit and parked next to Grandpa’s ’78, I wondered even as a 12-year old why Buick would offer two V8’s with such similar displacement.

    2. Funny,I had to comment..I had the opposite experience..My Uncle had a new 78 Buick 3.8 Turbo and had many problems with it,he replace with with a 1979 Aspen Coupe 360 4bbl,he had the dealer replace the lean burn and carb right away,the car was damn quick..He also bought a new Pontiac Grand Prix in 1988 the last rwd 2 door GM mid size car.He kept the two until he passed 5 years ago..My cousins kept the cars..

  6. I had one of these without the turbo that was blue with blue interior. The engine by the time I got it was a dog, with hesitation and stuttering the name of the game. I still kind of miss that car when I see one of these in good condition.

  7. Cool article, though there was no “on the tree” in the downsized A-bodies, all the manuals were floor shifted, though a 3 speed was still the base transmission.

    The little box on the radiator support with the black cable running to it was the “Turbo Control Center” it was a knock sensor that used a crystal of some sort to detect knocking, magic!

    1. Ah, thanks. I thought it said column shifted in my ’78 brochure, must have been reading the wrong line on the specs.

  8. Love these beauties! My first car was a 1978 two tone green. Lime green above the pin stripes and dark green below. Big chrome bumpers, a hood ornament set off by the wire wheels and a green vinyl roof with cursive chrome written emblems affixed. The puffy velour interior and courtesy lamps. A 4-bbl carb gave a little street cred and torque to the wheezy 305 V8. It was a beautiful 13 year old cruiser for a 17 yr old driver. I paid $675 because the tranny was bad, had a turbo 350 from the junkyard installed for $500 and sold it for $1300 two years later.

    I’d love to have it back.

    I never regretted “upgrading” a car more than when I replaced it with 1985 Pontiac 6000 LE. I must have been sucked in by the front wheel drive, sport gauges and peeling clear coat of the mid 80s.

    Thanks for the vivid trip down memory lane!

  9. Another good read, Tom. Regardless of how rough or smooth the V6 was, soon after this Smokey Yunick spent years trying to get GM to pay attention to the one he’d cut in half and given his own turbo treatment. IIRC he called it a ‘homogenizer’ and Motor Trend claimed that it was smoother than the six…

  10. Similarly, I had 3 of these REGALS, both with the na 3.8. The first was a 1978 LTD ,green/green/green , rather ugly today but she was around and passed down through the family until ready for the scrapyard. My second was a 1979, burgundy/burgundy/burgundy , by far the best looking of the three but met an untimely death at 4 years old upon tangling with a utility pole. Years later I bought a used 1984 , white/blue which I traded in after about 2 years. These were all good cars but had similar mechanical issues as they aged. I had many GM coupes from various divisions and of various sizes. These were all good Buicks but not my favorites from the lot. My favorite Buick was still the Riviera.

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