1961 Buick LeSabre: Big red convertible driving

Staff reports
Farm Forum

The Berman brothers, Len and Ben, are identical twins who share a common interest in antique automobiles. While Len is located in Cleveland and Ben is based in Washington, D.C., they both keep an eye out for antique cars to buy. In particular, they both like Buicks and even share favorite model years, one of them being 1961.

So Ben was not surprised when Len telephoned to report his yearlong search for a 1961 Buick convertible was over. Len Berman said the restored LeSabre convertible was red and ready to go. The singular little detail to overcome was that the car was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and he couldn’t get away long enough to retrieve it. Could his brother? Yes, of course.

“It’s hard not to like a red convertible,” Ben explains, so he flew to Cedar Rapids, where he took possession of the gleaming 1961 Buick LeSabre. He fired up the 364-cubic-inch V-8 engine and started driving east. The odometer indicated 65,000 miles. Once he had crossed the Mississippi River, he thought he’d see how much of Illinois he could clear before stopping for the night.

Before Ben knew it, Indiana had come into view and had gone out of view. Since he was now in Ohio, it would be silly to stop so close to his brother’s Cleveland home. Just before midnight the headlights illuminated his brother’s driveway. The Buick performed flawlessly across the four-state odyssey — unless you want to count the irritating “Speed Alert” buzzer that sounded when the speed preset by the driver was exceeded. That was one of the extra cost options in those pre-cruise control days. The solution was to either ease up on the throttle or to set the speed dial higher.

“It’s a nice car to drive.” Ben also said he was very impressed by every aspect of the Buick, especially the interior, but his brother Len already knew as much. “I love the garish red and black interior,” he said.

After half a decade had passed Ben Berman found a beautifully restored 1965 Buick convertible in northern Virginia that he knew his brother would love to have. Indeed, Len said he would like the 1965, but then he would have one car too many. What to do?

Ben offered to buy the 1961 Buick he had driven from Iowa years before. So they swapped Buicks. It was a win-win situation where both were happy with the outcome.

Ben Berman has learned only 11,951 Buicks like his were manufactured for 1961. He is especially happy with the design details that abound on his Buick. The ribbed, red taillight lenses are shaded by chrome-plated hoods. On either side of the license plate in the rear bumper, following the curvature of the bumper, are the backup lights. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Buick without the three stylized ventiports on each front fender.

When new, the 4,186-pound convertible had a base price of $3,382. In order to move such a heavy car in such a smooth, sophisticated manner, fuel economy suffers. Berman reports an absolute best highway-only mileage of between 16 and 18 mpg. Stretching 17-feet, 9 3/4-inches from bumper to bumper, the Buick rides easily on a 123-inch wheelbase to give passengers a proper “Buick ride.”

Berman’s well-appointed Buick has a tinted windshield, an AM push-button radio and a rear-seat speaker. Power steering and power brakes are clearly labeled as such, but other features are hidden — the under-seat heat ducts for the comfort of the rear-seat passengers, for example. Probably Berman’s favorite accessory is the Space Age clock in a raised pod mounted in the center of the dashboard.

Another nice touch, relatively new in 1961, is the reflector on the rear of the door armrests to catch the lights of approaching cars. The power-operated top with the plastic rear window is easily lowered. The farthest Berman has driven his red LeSabre is to St. Louis for a Buick convention, but Berman said he wouldn’t hesitate to drive it anywhere — as long as there was a protected parking space when he got there.

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