Two Brits Visit A U.S. Junkyard And Fall Into Sadness Seeing A Minty But Boring Buick Destined For The Crusher

Britjunkyard Top

Jonathan Lea just got back from a vacation in Colorado, where he and his brother visited a few junkyards. At one of them, the American car-loving duo from North Warwickshire spotted a 1989 Buick LeSabre — an achingly boring car, but one in such nice condition that Jonathan had to tell someone, anyone, about the pain he felt seeing the car on death row. That someone was me, and I’m not entirely sure what I can do to help Jonathan other than to relay his rather charming email to you all. So let’s look at a boring, but minty, Buick!

There’s something about a European coming to the U.S., seeing a car that many of us find boring/perhaps take for granted, and lamenting its doomed fate. In some ways, Jonathan is appreciating a car that hasn’t received enough appreciation over its lifetime, and I respect the heck out of that.

“I thought this was a bit too sad not to share,” Jonathan says in his email titled “Pristine Buick Lesabre I found in a junkyard.” He then explains that he and his brother spent some of their vacation in the U.S. hitting up U-pull junkyards in Colorado springs and Denver to snag parts for the imported American cars the brothers drive in the U.K. “At the yard in Denver, we happened across this sorry sight: A practically factory fresh 1989 Buick LeSabre,” concluded the intro paragraph.

Let’s See This Minty Buick

Let’s have a close look at this 1989 Buick LeSabre — a phrase most people haven’t said in many, many years. (Because the LeSabre has for years been a car that fades into the background.Img 4517

 

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Shoot — look at the paint! The body panels! The chrome bumpers! The wheels! Hell, even the whitewall tires! This thing actually is clean!

“The only thing wrong with it we could find was a small break in the grille, but otherwise it was like new. This thing is nicer than anything I’ve seen at car shows back home,” Jonathan wrote. “It’s not a car I even remotely care about, but to see something that nice waiting to die in the junkyard was such a shame.”

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Oh and that red, wood-trimmed interior; this thing IS mint!

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Sitting under the hood is the unkillable Buick 3800 V6, leading me to wonder what Jonathan was wondering: What’s this car doing in the junkyard?

This really is an injustice, and it doesn’t take a Brit who wears rose-colored glasses when it comes to American cars, which are rarer where he lives. Even I, a Detroit-based man with crazy access to much more interesting American iron, see the tragedy in this situation.

Jonathan and His Brother’s American Cars In The U.K.

Jonathan introduced himself a bit over the email, saying he works for 3M doing R&D work on abrasives, while his brother is an artist.
“Our dad kind of got us into American cars, he had a bunch of WWII surplus Jeeps back in the 70s when you could buy them for nothing, and completely restored a ford GPW in the 90s in the home garage while we were growing up. He had a Jeep XJ during that time which is probably what got us both into American cars,” Jonathan told me, clearly knowing how to win my heart. (I’m a big fan of flatfender Jeeps, and above all, the XJ).
“My brother’s first car was a Nissan D20, replaced by a 4 door Ford Ranger, then he had an ’88 S10 Blazer for about a year before selling it. My brother loves Jurassic Park, so he had a green ’99 UK spec Ford Explorer for a while, then bought his gold, US spec Explorer back in 2009 for £500,” going on to say that the two brothers from just east of Birmingham do much of the maintenance themselves.
“We drove [the Explorer] hours north to the Scottish border back in 2019, and the alternator quit as we crossed the threshhold of the place we were staying for the week. Bought a new one off Ebay and had it posted up to us and lowered the property value of the lovely holiday park we were staying at by wrenching on our junk out in front of the cabin,” he continued, pasting a photo of the SUV below:
Image
“While we were in the US, my brother picked up a new turn signal stalk and the wiper motor/switch from the junkyard, as the UK spec ones are different and he never got around to importing one to fix his rear wiper.”
Jonathan has only been driving for the past five yeas, so back in 2017-ish he picked up a 2001 Suzuki Jimny. “It’s tiny, slow and awful and the clutch desperately needs replacing. The head gasket blew and warped the head about a week after I bought it, I bit the bullet and paid a shop to put a remanufactured head on it, but since then it’s been bulletproof,” he told me. “It’s been my daily driver for 5 years, and I’ve driven it all over the country filled with camping kit and other junk, including filling it with squarebody chevy parts one time and driving home with a fender grazing my head. It’s a POS, but I love it.”
Here’s the little Jimny in question:
Jimney Fulljimney
Jonathan says he’d rather have bought an American vehicle, but apparently getting insurance for imports is nontrivial, especially for a brand new driver with less than a year of experience. “So, 365 days after passing my test, I bought [an American car]. It’s a 1990 Chevrolet S10 Blazer, 2wd, 4.3L V6. Not my first choice, but it was cheap, and my brother and I were already a little familiar with them thanks to the one he owned 10 years before.”
Chevy
“It’s a purchase I often regretted at first, because when we got it home and got a good look at it, none of the doors would lock, the rockers and quarter panels are rust (poorly patched up with about 20lbs of bondo), the engine really needs new piston rings and consumes oil at an alarming rate, and the windscreen and some of the other windows leak quite a bit,” the email continued. “When I first bought it we had a mysterious problem where it kept sputtering and dying, in my naivety, I fired the RockAuto parts cannon at it. Turns out it was just the fuel pump, after fixing that, and replacing most of the ignition components that we probably killed starting it 9,000 times while trying to diagnose the other problem, it runs great. The 4.3 really needs a rebuild, but I don’t have the space to pull it and tear it down at the moment, so for now it just gets driven short distances and topped up when it needs it.”
Jonathan went on to describe all the work he’s put into the SUV. I’ll just block-quote this part, because apparently the S110 has been a bit of a heap:
I’ve replaced the fuel pump, all the rear brake lines, starter, most of the ignition system, replaced the valve stem seals, put in a new radiator, heater core, put in a new headliner and sound deadening (the old one was just… not there), replaced the radio and speakers, a bunch of other small jobs, the normal project car stuff. I learned to weld on this POS and have done one quarter and a rocker panel in the time I’ve owned it, it really needs both quarters re-doing but I’m saving to ship over some repair panels to make that job a lot easier. I work outdoors in a country where it’s constantly raining, so doing bodywork is a bit of a challenge. I used the Blazer for some camping trips, but have since relegated it to a summer daily driver where I don’t have to worry so much about the oil consumption.
“It’s a V6 and a car from the 90s, so it’s the ultimate ‘nobody cares’ car in American car scene here in the UK,” Jonathan went on. “It doesn’t sound good, it doesn’t look particularly exciting, but to me, it’s pleasingly square and retro and is a pleasure to drive compared to the Jimny. Being a ‘mini truck’ in American terms, it’s also pretty reasonably sized and fits into parking spaces with ease, it’s about the same size as most modern crossovers on the roads here.”
Camotruck
“The third vehicle in our lives is the 1984 Chevrolet K30 that we bought about a year ago. We call it… the Truck. I say K30, but it’s actually an M1008 CUCV, one of the military versions with the 6.2L Diesel V8. It’s been in civilian hands for probably close to 20 years and been through a few owners, so we have no idea exactly which base it came from, but the serial in the door suggests it’s ex-Air Force,” Jonathan told me. “My dad got us into military vehicles with his Jeep, and the guy next door to my grandfather had a yard full of squarebody Blazers and surplus stuff from the US air bases here in England, so we spent much of our childhood drooling over the fence at the big square trucks that lived next door. I’d known the guy who owned the truck for a while, and he listed it for a reasonable price in September last year, so my brother and I went halves on it. He wanted it so he could drive a big cool American truck, and I wanted it to take to military vehicle shows,” he explained.
“It’s suitably shitty enough to match the rest of our fleet, and shitty enough that it can be used as a truck without getting precious about denting it or damaging the paint. It’s the perfect vehicle. We’ve replaced the fuel sending unit and the glow plug relay, but that’s about it. The pile of parts in the back of the Jimny up above is a spare fender and the cut-up frame that holds the canvas cargo cover on the back of this truck. I welded that back together and painted it up last year to use it to sleep in.”
I love that Jonathan considers that “the perfect vehicle,” and then immediately goes on to write: “It only does 55mph, has the occasional death wobble when braking, and sounds like a school bus. It’s great.” (For the record, I myself consider my 14 MPG, 110 horespower, 1985 Jeep J10 the perfect vehicle. The layperson might consider the both Jonathan and me rather disturbed).
I asked Jonathan why he was so sad about the soon-to-be-crumped Buick. “None of our cars are particularly ‘cool’ (with the exception of the Truck, as people do like squarebodies), and so we have a bit of an affinity for boring 80s/90s American cars,” he replied. “While we were in the US for two weeks, we had a blast spotting cool, exotic stuff that we never got in the UK like the two door XJs, Jeep Comanches, and full-size Jeeps of all shapes, just as much as we had a fun time spotting mundane stuff like the Chevrolet Corsica we saw at the Grand Canyon, and the Ford Explorer Sport we found in the junkyard, too.
“We’re not Americans, but so much media gets imported from the US that we grew up watching cars like that in movies and TV shows, the cars from the 80s and 90s might not have the best styling or design choices, but they still conjure up nostalgic feelings for me. And as the proud owner of other horrible 1980s GM products, it just makes me sad to see something that nice just left to rot in a junkyard.”

Thank you Jonathan for what has to be the most beautiful eulogy that any Buick LeSabre has ever received, and for helping me (and hopefully some readers) appreciate the forgotten and under-loved Buick LeSabre. It really does have a bit of coolness to it these days, especially when it’s in good shape.

All Images: Jonathan
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48 Responses

  1. The LeSabre might just be the greatest car ever built. I bought my ’04 for $3,100 in ’17, and I’ve taken it from 100k to 250k. I’ve put about a grand in parts into it over that time. I’ve taken it to the west coast twice, the last time just a year ago.
    It’s never been on a tow truck because it’s never failed to start and drive. Show me another car that gives you 150,000 reliable miles for 4 grand.

    1. My 2008 Pontiac Vibe I bought for $3,250 with 194k on the clock. It’s sitting at 305,000 miles as of now and currently serves as both my daily and my Uber car.

      It hasn’t been totally flawless though, but I have an eye for detail when it comes to important stuff. Such as a transmission fluid leak that I learned about when my car slipped out of gear at a light. Having drained and filled the fluid, it’s been shifting flawlessly ever since. The leak has also since been addressed as it was due to a crack in the radiator that the previous owner never bothered addressing from a front end collision that went unreported in the carfax.

      Also, and the unfortunate blemish on its otherwise perfect driving record; the MAF sensor completely died while driving one day and basically KO’d my car. Would crank all day and start but wouldn’t run for longer than a second unless I unplugged the sensor. $210 I replaced the sensor with an OEM Toyota one and the car actually runs better than when I bought it. Didn’t realize how crappy that old sensor was until I noticed a smooth and steady 800 rpm idle the car wasn’t able to achieve otherwise.

      Regardless of those two things, it’s the best damn car I ever bought for 4 figures.

  2. Maybe it was one of the cash for clunkers cars and it just hasn’t been crushed yet. Or the engine and/or transmission may be ruined and just not worth fixing. There could be any number of explanations for why a visually good car from 1989 is in a junk yard, not the least of which is that the car is 33 years old.

    1. This Buick LeSabre would not qualify for cash for clunkers. Gas mileage was too high.

      Out of all 677k crushed cars? 190 LeSabres (1984, 1985, and a single 1987.) More 1992 Roadmaster sedans – SEDANS! – were crushed than all years of LeSabre combined.

  3. My first car was a 1987 Buick LeSabre, got it for $500. It was a good car; I’ve always had a soft spot for these H-bodies. They were like cockroaches, hard to kill, and plentiful to boot. Sure, you’d probably only get about 19-22 with city-biased mixed driving, but for the value, they’re hard to beat. Shame this one is in the JY, when so many folks still need cars these days. A person could probably sell this for $1500 if it’s a runner or close to it. Sadly, most people would rather walk than drive a perfectly good car like this, just because it’s old.

  4. Probably belonged to someone’s grandma who drove it to church, the store, and Aunt Edna’s house for bridge and booze on Tuesday nights (those old ladies drink way more than you think…). When grandma passed away whoever inherited it had the choice of fixing it up & doing the paperwork necessary to drive it/sell it to another owner or selling it as scrap. For whatever reason the latter choice was good enough.

  5. “the most beautiful eulogy that any Buick LaCrosse has ever received, and for helping me (and hopefully some readers) appreciate the forgotten and under-loved Buick LaCrosse. It really does have a bit of coolness to it these days, especially when it’s in good shape.”

    LaCrosse? I thought it was a LeSabre.

    1. I would guess its the seals. All of them. Anything rubber. It all just dries out here in the west.

      I’ve resuscitated 3 older cars (a 1967 Pontiac Firebird, a 1973 Volvo 1800ES and a 1980 BMW 320i) that lived life exclusively in the arid West and all of them leaked substantially when I started.

      Engine, transmission, brakes, differential, fuel lines, etc. Anything old and made of rubber or made to be flexible is suspect. Even wiring insulation drying out and becoming brittle can cause problems.

  6. Am I seeing correctly that it only has 54k miles? Even 154k miles would still be fine, but it looks clean enough that it’s believable it’s only 54 (especially assuming it was someone’s last car). I assume it’s some $500 repair that someone just didn’t feel like paying that sent it to its final resting place. I will cop to having a small soft spot for these, very ’80’s handsome.

    1. this is a Grandpa was sent tot he home car. and then nobody wanted to deal with selling it. Sadly I also lost a 91 acclaim with under 70k miles to the crusher gods when my Gramps passed and the family was just a bunch of turds about it.

  7. Every time I see something like this — or at the opposite end of the spectrum an exotic that’s been “totaled” for a seemingly minor reason — I am initially shocked, but I give a moment for reality to set in.

    While it seems wasteful to destroy what appears to be a perfectly good car, there are many people along the chain (many of them experts who deal with this sort of thing daily) who had the opportunity to “save” the car but elected not to.

    The original owner was the first to pass on the car. Maybe this was someone who inherited the vehicle (a reasonable assumption when talking about a Buick) who just didn’t need another car or it simply wasn’t their cup of tea. It’s not unreasonable that that person would choose to sell the car even if it’s in fine working order.

    So they’ll take the car to a regular dealer. I don’t think the likes of Carmax or the other big used car franchises sell anything this old, and it’s rare to see something like this on the used lot of a branded car dealer. That’s pretty reasonable to pass as well. So the dealer would have sent it to a wholesaler.

    The shady buy-here/pay-here lots can get some of their inventory from wholesalers. The fact that no BH/PH dealer wants anything to do with it raises an eyebrow. With vehicle inventory shortages still going pretty strong, cars that run and drive (regardless of age) are still pretty valuable commodities. If quick easy fixes were all it would take to make it roadworthy, such a dealer would eagerly undertake those and flip the car. That leads me to believe that the mechanical condition of the vehicle isn’t nearly as good as its cosmetic condition.

    So then it gets sent to a junkyard. Sometimes cars are worth less in total than the sum of their parts. Scrap metal isn’t particularly lucrative compared to selling car parts, so a junkyard will “part it out” before crushing the car and getting only scrap value for the metal bits. Maybe that’s already been done — I can’t imagine there are a ton of 1989 LeSabres remaining on the road, so there’s probably not a lot of demand for parts.

    That leaves the two Brits mentioned in the article. If they liked the car so much, I’m certain that they could have made an offer to the scrapyard slightly higher than scrap value and taken it home. Scrapyards are businesses, so if (retrieving numbers from my rectal database) scrap value is, say, $200 and they were to offer $250, that’s a decent return. Of course, it looks like it’s missing a tire in one of the pictures, it probably doesn’t run, it’ll need to be towed away, rubber items like belts and hoses may be dry-rotted if it’s been sitting a while, some other issues might be found, etc. Those little things add up, and pretty soon you’re knocking on the door of the $825 “low retail” value that NADA is reporting. It’s just not worth it.

    tl;dr: There were a LOT of people (including the two Brits in the article) along the way who looked at this car and said: “Nah, it’s not worth it.” I am not arrogant enough to think that I know better than all of them or can somehow do it better than them. There’s a reason why this car is where it is — even if that reason isn’t readily apparent.

    1. Here is another possibility of what went down, more likely in my opinion. As others have said Grandma has finally passed so it was time to deal with her car that hasn’t moved from the garage in a number of years. The battery of course was dead and once the person dealing with it couldn’t get it going in 15-20 min that was it.

      So it was 1-877-Kars4Kids, or some other charity that is always asking for vehicle donations, running or not. The person on the other end entered the info (likely 152K for the miles) into the computer and it’s program said send it to the wrecking yard based on the age and the fact that it didn’t run. So it went directly to their partner wrecking yard. Depending on the state’s laws once they take possession of the vehicle they must surrender the title to the state. If wrecking yards are allowed to sell salvage vehicles, the wrecking yard needs the proper license to do so, and not every yard finds that worth their while. If they did sell it the buyer would get a salvage title, which might be a drawn out hassle, increasing the work needed to save it and lowering its potential value.

      Yes that person who got the job to deal with it could have saved it by putting it on craiglist or wherever. That was probably their plan when they thought they could drive it home and sell it as a running vehicle. But once they realized that they weren’t making it run with 15 min of work, the time and hassle of meeting someone at grandma’s house just wasn’t worth the few hundred bucks they thought they could get for it.

  8. Somewhere there’s a French guy who wanted one of these GM ’80s model cars. But he wanted specifically one of the ones with the Oldsmobile Diesel (LF9). I had to, unfortunately, dissuade him from trying it by explaining what one of my best friends dads experience with a similar GM Diesel product. The dad had gotten one in what appeared to be excellent condition in and out. But after driving it for a couple of thousand miles, the diesel started giving horrible trouble. Head gaskets and fuel pump after fuel pump were replaced. It was a total disaster. The Frenchman yielded but his dream never faded. But he never bought one so his wallet and life were saved in the end.

  9. I’m from the UK, but worked in the US for a while and geeked out on all the perfectly normal US cars. Red indicators!

    Then after a couple of months my company Hyundai had to be returned and the guy at the desk said “your new car is a Chevy Impala, here are the keys”. I was so excited! I had all these images in my head about how cool it was going to be.

    This was around 2007ish, and it was by far the worst car I’ve ever driven. Just dreadful.

  10. The fact that not a single part has been stripped off of this car is proof of how undesirable these really are. NOBODY WANTS THESE PARTS! Nobody needs these parts. Nobody is fixing these cars. I bet this car has been sitting there for 10 years and nobody has touched it. Lol.

  11. I wonder if this is one of those “well granny gave up her keys years ago when she was 80”

    But her old LeSabre just sat in the garage for the next 16 years until granny finally bit the bullet.

    Had not been started in years, gas in the tank turned to varnish, wont start. Nobody in the family wanted to spend the $$$ to get it running again, so it found its way to the bone yard

  12. Unfortunately, I personally condemned a fair number of these era LeSabres. (BTW, it’s at least 154k. And more likely 254k. These are 5 digit odometers, not 6 digit.)

    While it may look ‘minty fresh’ on the outside, they were extremely prone to fractures and invisible rot out of the main crossmember and engine subframe due to poor design. Which instantly totals out the car on these. Period. This is an H-body not a G-body.
    The severity of either was high enough that we literally would not let owners drive the car at all if we found them broken. Because not only does it carry the engine, it carries the steering gear and suspension mount loads. And the rot problem was so bad, that cars this clean were frequently condemned because water would enter openings on the top of the cradle, with nowhere to drain.

    And engine cradle replacement was NOT a cheap job, even back then. The parts were extremely expensive and OEM was mandatory since it was collision/crash, IIRC labor was 14 hours because you have to remove engine and transmission completely (and had to go out the top,) it often required body mount replacement as well, and that was before you found the other damage caused by the broken subframe. And many times, it was severe enough that we would refuse to attempt repair because of liability risks.
    In short, if your 1989 LeSabre had a broken subframe in 1999, you would be looking at a $3000+ repair bill if you could even find a shop to do it. A brand new 1999 LeSabre stickered at $23k to $27k.

    These days, I doubt any shop on earth would touch a subframe job on one of these. I certainly wouldn’t. There’s just way, way too much liability risk.

    1. No it has a 7 digit odo and it really truely 54k per clear pictures of it that showed up on another website today. Where it is located it is highly unlikely that it subframe rusted out. The most likely scenario is what I posted below. It has only traveled 14k since the transmission fluid was changed in 2000 per the writing on the air cleaner shown on the site with the good odo picture. So it sat in the garage for many years after granny stopped driving many years ago. When it wouldn’t start when it came time to clean out the house after she died, it was just easiest to call 1-877-Kars 4 Kids, or some other place that begs for donations of cars and their algorithm said send it to the wrecking yard.

      The area it is located in is not know for the kind of undercarriage rust that rots out the sub-frame and granny obviously kept it garaged and likely stayed at home when the roads were at their worst.

  13. Maybe in 2001, I was hunting for a new junkyard stereo for my sisters 1988 Delta 88. Saw a cream-colored ‘80s Buick Somerset (remember those?) with a matching stereo and the keys in the ignition. What the heck, I turn the key so I can see if the radio works, not only does it turn on, but she starts right up. It’s a hot day, I slide the A/C on max, and I get ice cold air while I remove the trim and stereo. I said to myself “what a waste”.
    Also, that Delta 88 was bitchin with the 3800, it was quick for it’s day. Only extensive subframe rot finally took her out around 2010 or so.

  14. My bet is that this was a “donation” car (Don’t let that awful “Kars for Kids” jingle get in your head). They sell a lot of those to salvage yards although some end up at Manheim auctions as well.
    If they were at Colorado Auto Salvage off Sante Fe in Englewood … they do sell some but they’re up front. If it’s in back AFAIK they won’t sell it as a whole car.

  15. American cars are definitely an acquired taste in the UK, and the American shows can sometimes be a bit bootlace ties, Confederate flags and fifties rock and roll, all a bit tacky. I can’t stand rock and roll.

    That being said, I bow before no man in my love for American cars and have in the past owned a ‘71 Plymouth Duster 340, an ‘83 (I think) Fox body with a boat anchor 3.3, an ‘84 IROC Camaro and a ‘79 Thunderbird. My best friend has in his current fleet a Cadillac Allante. The LHD isn’t really a problem (apart from at the drive through, tolls and ticket on entry car parks).

    The fuel costs are another matter entirely…….

    1. “…apart from at the drive through, tolls and ticket on entry car parks…”

      Based on my experience with British-market cars in the US, I’ll extend that list to include (1) passing and (2) making a turn across traffic from a center lane while facing an opposing car that’s also waiting to turn.

      I do like the term “bootlace ties” for bolo ties, though. That’s a new one for me.

      1. I never found passing much of a problem, just hang back a bit (believe it or not a ’79 Thunderbird can haul when you get into the meat of the torque) Having a trusted co-pilot can help though. Never found turning to be an issue, and parallel parking is a breeze because you’re on the curbside of the car!

  16. This looks just like the LeSabre I used to own – same year and colors. I loved that car for road trips. It was quiet, comfortable, got good fuel economy for the size, had amazing trunk space, was reliable, and all the maintenance parts were cheap and easy to find. No seat support for carving the tight turns but that was ok. I got it used for next to nothing and it was cheap to keep going.

  17. Oh man, a buddy of mine had a Buick just like that it high school. We put so many miles driving that thing all over hell. It was such a great cruiser. I’d love to own a nice one like this, and it’s a damn shame to see it in a junk yard.

  18. It’s always weird walking through a junkyard and seeing that completely mint car that is soooo much nicer than the ones you still see driving on the road. That is, if you ever see one still driving on the road. A pull a part near me had a mint first gen mr2 for the longest time. It killed me every time I walked past it.

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