Story and photos by Brian Earnest
The next time he goes collector car shopping with his mother Delores, Bryan Simonson figures he better either get a head start on her, or a faster power scooter.
The last time the old car-loving mother-son duo went snooping around for a new hobby car, Delores left her son in the dust and had already zeroed in on a car by the time he got to the car corral at the Iola Car Show in Wisconsin.
“It was about 10 years ago her knee started going bad and she couldn’t walk, and so one year she couldn’t get around and I remember her saying, 'I can’t wait until next year! When I have my new knee we’re really going to go!' Well, the next year, we rented motorized scooters and I could not keep up with her. We headed out to the car corral and I lost her, and all of a sudden she came tooling back and said, 'I’ve found the car for us,' and it was this car,” he recalls, pointing to his beautiful 1964 Buick LeSabre four-door hardtop.
“And she’s a Pontiac person; when she goes to the car corral she will not stop and look at anything other than a Pontiac [laughs]. I said, ‘First of all, it’s a Buick, and second of all it’s a four-door, and you don’t like anything that’s not a Pontiac, and you don’t want anything that’s not a two-door hardtop.”
“She said, ‘I know, but you really need to take a close look at this car.’”
The couple had to wait for the owner to return, and when he did there was quite a few other interested suitors on hand. Simonson wasn’t even sure he’d get to talk the owner before someone snapped the Buick up. One by one, however, the other prospective buyers wandered off.
“Lots of people looked and crawled around it and then they all dispersed,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘What gives? Is there something I’m missing?'
“Next thing I know I’m driving it home.”
Simonson certainly never expected be bringing a four-door Buick back to his residence in Sparta, Wis., but there was a lot to love and admire about the big hardtop. Chief among them was its stellar condition and paltry 30,000 miles on the odometer. Everything worked perfectly. The car needed almost nothing, and seemed to simply be too good of a deal — and too nice of a car — to pass up.
“[The owner] didn’t know much about it, but … it’s a Nebraska car. I don’t know if was in an estate sale or what. I have no idea how it changed hands as many as it did. He bought it because he thought it was a good deal and a little undervalued. I’d say I’m the fourth owner.”
“What sold me was that the interior looked like new. It drove like new. There is nothing stained, nothing worn. It didn’t sit quite level when I bought it and we put new shock absorbers on it … [The shop that did the work] felt that they were the original shock absorbers. There were a couple of little rust spots, so we replaced the bumper ends. They were very small, so we replaced those and that’s really the only thing we’ve ever done to it. Oh, and we replaced the master cylinder.”
An instant winner
Buick debuted its LeSabre nameplate for the 1959 model year as a bottom-tier offering below the Invicta and Electra series, but by 1961 the LeSabre was moved up a rung on ladder with the introduction of the Special line. The first-gen LeSabre proved to be extremely popular wherever it was positioned and wound up being Buick’s top seller from 1959 through 1964.
By 1961, the LeSabre had dieted down and was a slimmer, sleeker version of its former self. The cars didn’t change a lot from year to year before a major redesign in 1965, but a freshening of the front rear and a handsome new stamped grille helped distinguish the 1964 models. A narrow bright bodyside molding was found on the rear one-third of the body, with the series signature residing above it, near the fender end. Standard LeSabre features included electric windshield wipers; Step-On parking brake; padded instrument panel; directional signals; front and rear armrests; dual sunshades; smoking set; courtesy lights; dual horns and cloth upholstery. Cloth and vinyl trim was optional. The convertible was trimmed in all-vinyl, with front bucket seats optional. A Custom trim package option included full-length bright bodyside moldings, with a brushed metallic insert.
In the power department, the 300-cid V-8 rated at 210 hp replaced the 401-cid V-8. A 250-hp version with four-barrel carburetion was also optional. A three-speed manual on the tree was standard with a four-speed on the options list. A two-speed Super Turbine 300 automatic transmission could be mated with the two-barrel 300 V-8. A three-speed Super Turbine 400 came with the four-barrel versions and the 401-cid V-8 that was still used in the Estate Wagon.
Inside, passengers were met with ample brightwork, lots of room and living room chair comfort. Two large round gauges held most of the instrumentation — the speedometer on the left and fuel, oil, amps and temperature on the right.
For ’64, the LeSabre was available as both a four-door hardtop or sedan, along with a sport coupe and convertible. The two station wagons were technically grouped in their own series and were trimmed as LeSabres and equipped with the Wildcat’s chassis and power trains. The LeSabre four-door sedan was by far the most popular of all Buicks for 1964 with 56,729 produced.
Simonson’s car was one of 37,052 four-door hardtops built for the model year. They carried a base price of $3,122 before add-ons. His car was originally purchased in Omaha, Neb., and was equipped with the base 210-hp V-8, 3-speed automatic, power steering, air conditioning and Deluxe interior trim. The red interior is all original, as far as Simonson knows, and completes what he thinks is the ideal look for the lovely Buick.
“I don’t think this car would be nearly as smart if it wasn’t this color combination,” he says. “I really think the black and red is the best combination.”
“The interior has a nice little shimmer to it. It still looks really nice … It’s got the original trunk mat in the trunk. I don’t think the jack has ever even been out of there. I don’t think it’s ever been used…. And one other thing that’s kind of cool is the little power trunk release in the glove compartment. That’s kind of neat.”
The story Simonson got is that the LeSabre was repainted its original black once at some point, but he doesn’t know when or by whom. Judging by the way the rest of the car looks, it was repainted by an owner who was definitely on the finicky side. It’s hard to imagine the original paint had taken much of a beating with the rest of the car in such immaculate shape and so few miles on the clock.
Simonson has only put about 3,000 miles on the car in the decade that he has owned it, but he expects that number will grow steadily in the years to come. He and Delores both plan to continue their annual pilgrimages to Iola each summer and hit plenty of other hobby events each year. They don’t need much of an excuse to get in drive the smooth, classy Buick anyway.
“It goes just so straight and true down the road, it’s nice and tight,” Bryan says. “It’s got power steering, factory air, but it does not have power brakes. You have to remind yourself to put a little more pressure on the brakes, but I have no problem stopping. I put radial tires on it … That just adds to the driving pleasure."
“It will go 70 mph down the road and it doesn’t shimmy or rattle or shake. At 60 mph everything just works. It just purrs and hums along like a well-oiled machine. You just float. It’s fun. I guess that’s why I do it. It makes you smile. ”
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