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What would YOU do? I need a pep talk before I modify this '64 LeSabre


Pete Phillips

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Some of you will recall the '64 LeSabre 2-dr. hardtop with factory stick shift that was listed on the Buy/Sell forum a few months ago. It came from western New York and was/is so rusted that it would require $20,000 worth of body & welding & fabrication to repair--not worth it, even after I bought it for $700 and spent more than that getting it to Texas. The car runs & can be driven around the block, but it too dangerous to try to take out on the open road. But it is probably one of less than 1% of full-size 1964 Buicks that came equipped with 3-speed stick shift, and all of the documentation came with it.

Subsequently, I found (with Jake Moran's help) almost a carbon copy of that car in Nebraska last month--same year same model, same color interior, same upholstery, same engine (except it is a 4-bbl.), but with automatic transmission and a LOT of other options that you don't normally find on a '64 LeSabre--such as power windows, power seat, power steering & brakes, factory A/C, etc. Yesterday, I got this car home from the paint & body shop--it has a very good body and needed hardly any body work. It has 85,000 miles which I believe to be original, due to the good condition of the original upholstery and the tightness of the front end (hardly any free play in the steering wheel). My idea was to transfer the rare transmission,clutch, column shift and probably the dashboard from the rust bucket to the restorable car. Here are some photos of the Nebraska car fresh from the paint shop.

Oh, I need to mention that the automatic transmission in the Nebraska car will not move the car in Drive or in Low. Only the reverse gear is working. I checked the fluid, and it is not low on fluid.

Now, I need some talking to or a pep talk or whatever, because now I am getting cold feet about this project. I can't bring myself to modify the nice Nebraska car by putting a stick shift into it. It just doesn't seem right--it wasn't built that way. Those who know me, know that I am a purist when it comes to old cars. I make every effort to keep them in factory original condition, or restore them to factory condition. It's sort of like creating a bastard child or mutilating the car--this particular car was never built with a stick shift, and the data tag is going to show an automatic (assuming they show such things). I know we don't look at data tags when doing BCA 400-point judging, so why does it bother me to do this? I know I have to take the automatic transmission out of the Nebraska car because it has to be rebuilt, at the very least. I just don't like the idea of creating something that was never built in the first place. It seems a little dishonest. I know there are those in the BCA and on the forum who modify Buicks and who frown on those of us who get hung up over what is correct and what isn't correct on a car. But if everybody did modifications, how would restorers 20 years from now or even two years from now, know what is right and what isn't? That's why I strive to keep my cars correct and as close as possible to factory-built.

So, tell me, what would you do in this situation? Am I too hung up on originality? Is there anyone out there who would spend $20,000 to save the factory stick shift car before I start cutting it up and scattering its pieces or using its useable parts? Last photo is of that car.

Pete Phillips, BCA #7338

Leonard, Texas

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I wouldn't spend $20K on the rusty one. I'm also a purest sort of guy but I'll tell you this. If I could have found a 55 Century complete stick set up when I was restoring my 55 it would be in the car today. In fact I would still consider doing it if I found one..................Bob

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I guess I concur with Bob. It is still a factory option available on the car at the time of production. To me it would be no different if you painted the car a different color that was still a 64 color, but not the factory original color. All are acceptable. Figure this, You can take the auto trans out, fix it at your leisure, then if you get the purist feeling, you can always re-install it and the column..and voila! back to factory!

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Pete, You know I am not a "purest", But I do like the correct ones. Just happen to not be wound too tight that way. I suspect, with a little time, and a lot of patience, another '64 will show up, better than the bad one, worse than the good one.

If I was in your place, I would part out the body, save the savable parts and s**t can the rest. Save the chassis. Set it aside or restore it, waiting until the right body comes along. Maybe even a Century convert with no drive train!!!!

Ben

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Guest BigDogDaddy

I say go for it, and put the four speed in the freshly painted car. As mentioned above, it is a factory correct option and it can be converted back to an automatic. Also, since it is a factory option, it won't take away from anyone wanting to restore their car because it will be done the way the factory would have done it. It may even inspire someone to look for their own factory four speed car.

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Guest 48buickkid

Build it whichever way you think you won't be saying"man I wish I would have...." In a few years when the nice one is all done up. If it were me I would keep the nice one as is hold onto the other as a parts car till another good body came around as stated earlier. But alas there is always gonna be a small part of you wishing you would have done it whichever way you don't end up going. It's hard battle.

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Pete,

You know my orientation. More than originality as built, I prefer originality as could have been ordered.

You also know that even more important (to me, at least) is driveability and enjoyment. I am not a purist when it comes down to it. I like modified cars just as much as the bone stock variety. I am much more in awe of a well done modified car than a poorly executed restoration. Other than a few examples, they are all just production automobiles.

Oh, and everybody should reread the OP. It's a three speed column shift. Not a four speed.

Go for it Pete.

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Guest wildcat465

Pete, I have had the pleasure of knowing you a couple of years. The fact you have publicly pondered the idea gives me an idea me that you are ready to do this.

You asked what I would do. I would do it. Plenty of LeSabres out there with automatics. Do the tags distinguish transmissions? I think a stick shift, four barrel, air conditioned, well optioned LeSabre sounds like a fun way to go, but then, you know what I am partial to.

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I had a similar dilemma several years ago, when I owned a nice 64 Wildcat that came from the factory with a bench seat LeSabre interior and column shift. I had all the parts to switch it over to the custom interior with console floor shift but could not bring myself to do it. The new owners also flirted with the idea of buckets and console, but the car remains original today, other than the addition of factory style chrome wheels.

I think your nice LeSabre should be preserved without modifications, because it is rare to find one with all those options and in such good condition. That's my $.02, but it's your car, your decision, and the car can always be returned to original.

John

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What a problem. Folks that are purists have the hardest decision to make in time like this.

Pete, as much as I would endorse the plan to put the stick shift into the good car, you know you are always gonna regret it. Hate to be negative, and the car would be a winning combination as a fully optioned Stick Shift car, but in the long run the 3 speed Lesabre is probably rarer than your 4 speed W-cat conv. As a purist you'll always be re-hashing this decision.

My suggestion is refurbish this automatic and sell the car, then look for another candidate for a body replacement on the Stick Shift car.

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I agree with the comments Mike made... "AS could have been Ordered"

I''ve converted 60s full sized GM Automatics to stick shifts for years and as long as the factory parts are being used

No harm...no foul... in my opinion.

Besides, I'm thinking that you'll have a LOT more fun driving the nice

LeSabre with a stick & that's what the hobby is all about....FUN, right?

Plus,

All those parts exclusive to the Automatic can be preserved and kept with the car.

my 2 cents

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We had a '64 Impala two door hardtop with a stick six once. I thought it denigrated the idea of having an Impala. I don't think I would do it unless I could find a factory radio delete plate. Imagine showing up with a stick shift, radio delete car............ nah, somehow I imagine a swarm of Mopar guys running up.

Just keep saying to yourself "Dynaflow, not Dynarow." and watch out for them slickers in western New York!

Bernie

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That's a tough choice. I would be very tempted to convert a heavily optioned LeSabre into a 3 speed. But as a purist, I would leave the Nebraska car as is and try and find another body for the 3 speed. Bottom line, do whatever is going to make you sleep better at night.

Ashby

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I say go for it, and put the four speed in the freshly painted car. As mentioned above, it is a factory correct option and it can be converted back to an automatic. Also, since it is a factory option, it won't take away from anyone wanting to restore their car because it will be done the way the factory would have done it. It may even inspire someone to look for their own factory four speed car.

I knew somebody would say this - I agree, it is the best action for both cars to live on! I think it is perfectly fine to restore the fresh paint car with the three on the tree standard equipment.

And 4bbl to G-G-G-Go!

Edited by Wildcat65 (see edit history)
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First, I rather doubt swapping a 3-speed manual transmission (as originally posted, not the 4-speed others seem to have suspected "manual shift" means), will make the particular Nebraska car worth MORE money in the end . . . usually only LESS. The 3-speed manual was the standard vehicle configuration, with the automatic trans as the "upgrade option". No matter how rare the 3-speed manual transmissioned LeSabre might be, it would take a particular buyer to pay extra for it at this point in time.

The other thing is that changing from an automatic to a manual trans (even with all of the parts to do it) is not nearly as easy as changing from a 2bbl carb to a 4bbl carb. Certainly, there's the clutch pedal assy to re-mount. Then there's the clutch linkage (including the items which will need to be attached to the frame and also to the engine) to swap out and make work (hoping that all of the "wear items" are good enough to reuse). Plus the clutch items, themselves, and the clutch release bearing. What about the end of the crankshaft being machined to accept the needed pilot bushing?

With all due respect and knowing how much Pete likes manual-transmissioned Buicks, doing the swap would not be financially-viable with respect to the ultimate value of the "converted" vehicle . . . even with a good donor vehicle in the mix. To me, it would be best to repair the automatic transmission and "go on down the road", but then I figured out a LONG time ago that I could change automatic transmission fluid/filter myself and miss all of the "joys" of changing manual transmission clutches (as I'd already, at that time, seen some of my friends partake in the "joys of a manual transmission"). Perhaps I'm showing my "vintage-ness", but doing a lot of extra work (later, to possibly be "undone") just to have a vehicle that will move forward and rearward under its own power doesn't strike me as being totally intelligent, with all due respect. If there was a spare automatic trans that would fit that vehicle, THAT would be a different propopsition, all together!

Of course . . . Pete's car, his desires, his work . . . his ultimate decision.

Just some thoughts,

NTX5467

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Guest Rob McDonald

PETE, PETE, PETE. Don't even hesitate. Build this terrific, well-optioned car with the three-pedal three-speed. That device caused you and half the population of these Buick Forums to drag a disappointing rust bucket clear across your beautiful country. Let some good come out of that.

i think the Nebraska car is the same one that showed up here last year, as a pretty credible repaint project that had been stalled midstream. The poor thing had been left outside for a while but pictures and the description convinced me that this was a steal that needed to be stolen.

If that's the car you got, congratulations, you thief. I love the interior, I love the colour you chose - original to the ID plate? - and I'd love to take it for a spin, when you get the manual gearbox all sorted out. Purists sometimes forget how bloody short this life is, imo

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