Buick LeSabre in NASCAR, 1986-1987
LeSabre is one of the most known models of Buick, which is one of the oldest American car manufacturers. Among the million cars Buick produced, there was Buick LeSabre Grand National, one of the rarest of all Buicks ever made. General Motors stated that only 117 units were produced, while other sources estimate the number at 112.
Buick LeSabre as a replacement for Regal in NASCAR
This car was produced to qualify for the all-new sixth generation of LeSabre coupe body-style for NASCAR competition in 1986. Since 1981, Buick successfully used the Regal in NASCAR until aerodynamic advances by the competition led to the decision to use the new sixth generation LeSabre as the Regal replacement on the ovals. By using LeSabres for NASCAR, Buick wanted to improve the sales of its larger LeSabre by lending it the Regal’s sporty image.
Different from predecessors because of the front-wheel drive
Sixth generation of LeSabre was different from all other predecessor dating back from 1959 up until that point because of the front-wheel drive platform instead of the previous layout with a front-mounted engine and rear-wheel drive. To prepare LeSabre for NASCAR Winston Cup, GM and Buick had to make a special version with the new body. LeSabre Grand National had modified rear quarter windows, which gave the car a streamline advantage over cars with the large rear quarter windows.
The rarest Buick with the Grand National emblem
All LeSabre Grand Nationals were produced in December 1985 in one run, from one run sheet in the new Buick City plant in Flint, Michigan. Around that time, Buick Motor Division changed its marketing strategy from performance to luxury car image and cancelled future LeSabre Grand National builds. Only the one production run of LeSabre Grand Nationals was completed and Buick decided to build no more. Because of that, the 1986 LeSabre Grand National is the rarest of Buicks wearing the Grand National emblem and one of the rarest of all modern era Buicks.
Bobby Allison’s Talladega win with LeSabre
All of the LeSabre Grand Nationals produced were shipped to Daytona for the 1986 Daytona 500 race. Reports said that each car was taken to the track for at least one lap. After the race, the cars were moved to dealerships. The 1986 LeSabre was powered by standard Buick’s 3.8L V6 engine, with starting power of 150 hp. The racing version was, of course, much more powerful.
At the 1968 Daytona 500 race, which was the opening race of the 1968 season, Buick LeSabre was represented by the 1983 Winston Cup champion Bobby Allison, who drove the #22 car for Stavola Brothers Racing. Allison was far from the top (finished 42nd), but later during the season, he scored four Top 5 results and a victory in the Winston 500 race at Talladega. Allison finished seventh in the championship standings, in the season in which Dale Earnhardt took his second title.
Three LeSabres in the debuting NASCAR season
Just three LeSabres were run during debuting season: two of which belong to Stavola Brothers Racing with Bobby Allison and Bobby Hillin Jr. as drivers, and one King Racing’s car driven by Joe Ruttman. Hillin scored one victory at the same track as Allison, in the October’s race at Talladega. Ruttman’s best results were two second places at Richmond and Martinsville.
In 1987, four LeSabres competed in Winston Cup. Stavola Brothers Racing had the same cars and same drivers, King Racing replaced Ruttman with Morgan Shepherd, while Winkle Motorsports ran with the rookie Steve Christman.
LeSabre won the 1987 Daytona’s 400-mile race
In 1987, Buick LeSabre was victorious at Daytona International Speedway, although not in the 500-miles race but in the shorter 400-miles race. Earlier in the season, Allison survived a spectacular crash at Talladega, after LeSabre’s right rear tire blew up in lap 22.
He spun and went at about 200 mph traveling backwards. The car airlifted and hit the fence. When it came down, the Buick was hit by several other race cars. Allison escaped unhurt, but some fans in the stands were injured.
Talladega’s crash changed the rules
After three victories in two seasons, the crash at Talladega was the most memorable moment of LeSabre’s short NASCAR history. That crash caused changes of the rules for the 1988 season, with restrictor plates limiting the power and speed. In 1988, LeSabres were retired from racing and Buick decided to go back to Regals.
At the end of the season, Bobby Allison also retired. In the meantime, he took the #12 Buick Regal to Victory Lane at Daytona in the 30th running of the famous 500-miles race. It’s interesting that he won the race ahead of his son Davey Allison.