Home » I Know A Good Idea When I Hear It: 1998 Ford Club Wagon vs 1998 Buick LeSabre

I Know A Good Idea When I Hear It: 1998 Ford Club Wagon vs 1998 Buick LeSabre

Sbsd 11 15 2023
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Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! Yesterday, in the comments, several of you suggested that since I had done ranged weapons, I should follow it up with cars named after melee weapons. Well, hold on to your d20s, because today we’re going to attack with a pair of cars named after weapons of close combat. Yesterday’s contenders were from the same parent company; today’s are from the same year.

There was lots of love for the little golden Arrow in yesterday’s comments, but it didn’t translate to votes. I had high hopes for that little car; I’d seen it for sale for quite a while, and I was just waiting for the right opportunity to feature it. Personally, I think it’s way cool, even with the automatic, but having come of age in the era of turbochargers and digital dashboards, I can’t resist that Laser.

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It really is in remarkable shape for that price, and I hope it finds its way to a new owner who appreciates it – that is, doesn’t abuse it, but doesn’t lock it away in a garage like some princess in a tower either.

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Today’s contestants aren’t quite so pampered. They’re workhorses, both of them, with big lazy engines, soft-shifting automatics, and comfy seats. One wears the battle scars of a life in the city, while the other has eaten up many miles on the highways and byways. One carries the name of a bludgeoning weapon, the other edged. Which one will emerge victorious? I guess we’ll see.

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1998 Ford Club Wagon – $1,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 4.6 or 5.4 liter overhead cam V8, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Visalia, CA

Odometer reading: 312,000 miles

Runs/drives? “Still going strong”

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Ford’s E-Series is a legend. Dodge and Chevy vans may be cooler, but when you want to get shit done, you turn to an Econoline. And if you want your Econoline to haul people instead of roofing or plumbing supplies, you spec it with seats and windows and it becomes the Club Wagon. It’ll haul the whole family on vacation, or your daughter’s volleyball team, or your weird cousin’s bluegrass band, and still have room left over. And these suckers last: they may have been replaced by the Transit in Ford’s lineup, but Ford built millions of them; you’ll be seeing them on the road for decades to come, I predict.

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This fourth-generation Club Wagon was built after the first of two facelifts over its long life, so it benefits from a much nicer interior than the early models, and the newer, more powerful overhead cam “Triton” V8. The seller doesn’t specify whether this one is a 4.6 liter or a 5.4, but either way, it’s the early two-valve design, not the less-reliable later three-valve revision. An overdrive automatic was the only transmission available on E-Series vans by this point, so that’s what you get here. Strangely, however, in researching these vans, I found out you could get a three-on-the-tree manual in an Econoline as late as 1986.

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This is the fancy “Chateau” model, so no mere bench seat for second-row passengers. This thing has four captain’s chairs, and a three-seat bench behind them, giving a total seating capacity of seven. It’s a far cry from the extended-length fifteen-passenger “church van” version, but I bet this one is a hell of a lot more comfortable. The interior looks remarkably clean, especially for more than 300,000 miles.

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Outside, it’s mighty clean too, except for a few bumps and bruises. The UC-Davis sticker on the back bumper tells me the miles on this thing are probably mostly highway; Visalia and Davis are about 250 miles apart, and I bet this van knows the route by heart. Except for questionable gas mileage, I imagine it’s a pretty great way to eat up freeways.

1998 Buick LeSabre – $3,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.8 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Hollywood, CA

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Odometer reading: 159,000 miles

Runs/drives? Of course

Further south, on the mean streets of Los Angeles, we find this beige Buick. Another legendarily durable vehicle, this sofa-on-wheels is powered by everyone’s favorite low-tech V6: the 3800 Series II. This ninety-degree cast-iron lump puts 205 horsepower to the front wheels, and reputedly returns up to 30 miles per gallon doing it. Naturally, like the van, this one’s only transmission option is a four-speed automatic. But can you imagine this marshmallow with a stickshift? Actually, that might be kind of fun… but it’s not a option.

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This car demonstrates the difference between a comfortable car and a luxury car. Buick is not an aspirational brand; it’s a nice car for working-class guys like my grandfather, who came home from World War II with a Purple Heart and a lot of stories he wouldn’t tell unless he was drunk, went straight to work in a coal-fired power plant, and treated himself to a new Skylark every time they changed the body style. It’s a bit of softness for folks who live in a hard world, not a coddling overpriced toy for those already surrounded by it. This is a car you earn. Maybe that’s why it’s a favorite of retirees.

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This one has seen better days, but it still has some miles to cover. The color is worn off the steering wheel and the seams on the leather have popped, but the Dynaride suspension still floats over bumps, and I bet the air conditioning even still works. As the seller points out, that sort of isolation is perfect for the daily grind of Los Angeles traffic. I do, however, find it funny that one of the other things they point out is the fact that it has four ashtrays. It’s important to some, I suppose – I just hope they haven’t been too well used. Cigarette smoke is a tough smell to get out of a car.

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Outside, it’s, well, beige. It’s not an unattractive car, just a forgettable one, and sometimes that has its advantages as well. Other drivers will ignore you in traffic, you can park it more or less anywhere and no one will mess with it, it’s great. You won’t impress anyone at the valet stands in a town like LA, but screw those people.

I’m a big fan of vehicles like these: comfortable, useful, honest, unpretentious. They put in the work, year in and year out, mile after mile, and don’t ask much in return except a little maintenance. I actually kind of hate to pit them against each other, because I think they would make a hell of a $5,000 two-car garage. But that’s what we do here, so the time has come for you to choose. Which will it be?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
8 months ago

If the Buick wasn’t so grimy inside, it’d be my preference.

But any vehicle at 300k that looks that well maintained is probably decent bet, especially at this price. Van, even though it really has no business being a daily driver unless you have 6 kids to ferry around.

Oldskool
Oldskool
8 months ago

I would have taken the 3800. But by the looks of it, the 4 ashtrays are the 4 passenger footwells. Cigarette smoke residue is one smell I can’t stand. If I could get it for next to nothing, I might consider ripping out the carpet and headliner and deep cleaning the seats. But then again the smoke residue in the vents will never really go away, and I’m not tearing the whole dash apart.

The van looks clean and well kept. I’m really not thrilled about daily driving such a behemoth, or working on the engine, but if I had to choose, this would be it. Since it’s just me, I’d probably do a cheap little vanlife conversion and use it for summer trips.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
8 months ago

For the same money, I’d consider the Buick, but for under two grand in good enough shape to haul passengers, not just cargo, without shame, the Ford’s a clear winner.

Here4thecars
Here4thecars
8 months ago

Even though I have nowhere to put it, I am seriously tempted by that van. It’s only 3 hours away from me, and that is a great price in today’s market. I can think of so many things I use it for: people- and cargo-hauling duties, take the rear seats out and use it for camping.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
8 months ago

LeSabre!

MAX FRESH OFF
MAX FRESH OFF
8 months ago

Bruce Berry was a working man
He used to load that Econoline van

I had a 1978 E-150 Chateau with a 3 in the tree and a 351 Windsor and that thing was indestructible. When you turned on the A/C at full blast on a hot day the vents would be covered in frost within seconds.

Ricardo
Ricardo
8 months ago

I’m taking the Buick.
I’m sure my stink can overcome any existing funk.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
8 months ago

“…a forgettable one, and sometimes that has its advantages as well.”

Like as a getaway car.
Cop: What were they driving?
Witness: Um, something.
Cop: What color?
Witness: None.

Last edited 8 months ago by Alan Christensen
Hotdoughnutsnow
Hotdoughnutsnow
8 months ago

Hmmm… what looks like a dirty sofa you found on a sidewalk (I can smell it from here; cigarettes and cat piss), or a clean functional van that needs the rearview mirror installed?

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago

Man a tough call. That 5.4 spit out spark plugs like popcorn but at 300k miles probably no worries. And while I don’t need a hauler daily I need one more often than renting would cover. Now that Buick is a comfortable ride and half the miles of the Ford has more miles left. But my need of a regular hauler means give my my 4th E-Hauler.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
8 months ago

I love those Buicks, and fully expected to pick it, but that interior is so gross, compared to the much cleaner one in the Club Wagon, I’ll take the van.

Farty McSprinkles
Farty McSprinkles
8 months ago

Van is more useful to me, so I went with that.

Mike F.
Mike F.
8 months ago

Would go with the van even if it weren’t for the potential smoke taint issues with the Buick. Can’t believe how good the interior is, and assuming the miles are mostly Visalia to Davis, this thing’s in decent mechanical shape as well. Also, it has my ex-employer’s bumper sticker on the back and I actually liked working there, so that’s a bonus.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
8 months ago

Dang…this one is harder for me than most of these lately. I’m going Club Wagon, mainly because my wife would probably never want to be seen in the Buick, and her family once owned a Club Wagon that they drove all over hell’s half acre (and I do mean hell because the AC apparently wasn’t ticked in the option box) – so there’s that.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
8 months ago

The van, I can do more interesting things,with it, and I have a 2003 LeSabre in the driveway with 213,000 miles on it that outlived its first two owners

Gudendrunk
Gudendrunk
8 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

Its a Buick, the expectation is it’s the last car your grandparents buy before they die

Last edited 8 months ago by Gudendrunk
TOSSABL
TOSSABL
8 months ago

People here keep praising the 3.8, and the road-eating ride those old GMs have, so I was all set to click on it with an eye to an Epic Road Trip Out West. But, once out there, I’d be confined to tents or motels, and my little Scruffy dog likes to talk shit to bears. Suboptimal.

So, drop a limited-slip or locker in the rear of the van, pull out a few seats, and install curtains. Buy some chains, a camp stove, and a few other comforts, and hit the road. Plus, it should easily tow any future bad impulse buys I make

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
8 months ago

I was leaning Buick coming in, but that interior’s pretty rough, and I’m scared off by the probability of a smoky interior.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
8 months ago

I don’t usually go for the van, I’m not a “van guy,” but this one being a Club Wagon means it would actually be useful for me. Plus, it looks to be in such good shape, better than the Buick, that I can’t pass it up.

Mike B
Mike B
8 months ago

That van is straight up NICE. I don’t even need a van but if I saw that for that price near me, I’d snatch it up. All these vans in the northeast are beat to hell and literally falling apart.

That model Buford can be a nice car, just not that one.

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