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Buick’s 1964 LeSabre – an expensive car with an affordable price

Published in blog.hemmings.com

1964 Buick LeSabre two-door convertible. Magazine advertising courtesy of Lov2XLR8.

Introduced as a new line in 1959, Buick’s fullsize LeSabre models were completely restyled for 1961. Three years later, the second-generation design soldiered on, though with declining sales numbers in its final year. To boost sales prior to a 1965 redesign, Buick lowered the price of most 1964 LeSabre models (wagons excluded) and took an interesting approach to marketing, pitching the LeSabre as an expensive car at an affordable price.

Which was something of an odd tactic for the GM division, as it had traditionally positioned itself as an upmarket GM brand that sold on content, not price. Compared to its primary competition – and even at its new reduced price – the LeSabre was often more expensive than similar products from Dodge, Chrysler, and Mercury. The two-door LeSabre convertible seen in this ad, for example, carried a base MSRP of $3,314, while a Mercury Monterey two-door convertible sold for $3,226 and a Dodge Polara two-door convertible – perhaps not a direct competitor to the Buick – sold for $2,994. Only the Chrysler Newport two-door convertible carried a higher price – by $20 – than the LeSabre.

Two-door hardtops were priced in a similar fashion, with the LeSabre listing for $3,061, followed by Chrysler at $2,962, the Mercury at $2,884, and the Dodge at $2,637. What the competition lacked – at least according to Buick’s advertising copywriters – was the same level of response, comfort, and ride quality, along with a reshaped floor (adding foot room for middle-seat passengers) and finned aluminum front brake drums, for improved cooling and lower unsprung weight.

Buick changed up the LeSabre’s powertrain offerings for 1964 as well, allowing it to allude to improved fuel economy. In 1963, all LeSabre models came powered by a 401-cu.in. V-8, fed by either a two-barrel or four-barrel carburetor. For 1964, the base engine became the 300-cu.in. Wildcat 310, which when topped by a two-barrel carburetor still produced a respectable 210 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. Those seeking more performance could opt for the 300-cu.in. Wildcat 355, which used a four-barrel carburetor to deliver 250 hp and 335 lb-ft of torque.

Buick’s largest engines, the 401-cu.in. Wildcat 445, the 425-cu.in. Wildcat 465, and the 425-cu.in. Super Wildcat, were available in 1964 LeSabre models, but only the two- and three-row Estate Wagons. The standard transmission for all LeSabre models was Buick’s three-speed, column-shift manual, and, oddly enough, a four-speed floor shift was an available option on Estate Wagons only. In any case, it’s a safe bet that the majority of buyers checked the option box for the Super Turbine 300 two-speed automatic or the Super Turbine 400 three-speed automatic transmission, as available.

In 1964, Buick sold a total of 135,163 LeSabre models, a decrease of 21 percent from the previous year. Only the Estate Wagons experienced sales growth, with the two-row jumping up by 17 percent and the three-row climbing by two percent, despite slightly higher sticker prices. LeSabre sales rose again in 1965, but credit goes less to the model’s redesign than to the introduction of the higher-trim LeSabre Custom line.