The Shocking Revelation of 1987 Buick Lesabre | 1987 buick lesabre

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James Hoffman chose an unlikely automobile to transform into what he and spouse Carol call a hot rod.

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It’s a nearly 40-year-old Buick that back in the day many would have considered a suitable ride for one’s grandparents. After extensive customization, the 1975 LeSabre convertible looks more sinister than sedate. It’s long and low with an all-black shiny exterior. Inside the immaculate engine compartment is an oversized-piston 462 cubic inch V-8.

“I wanted a newer model car for our hot rod,” the Norman resident and Carter Hospice and Home Health medical social worker said. “To me it’s a modern car because most hot rods are anything 1949 and older.”

What they have now is a ride that would be comfortable driving together cross-country. Mechanically it’s like a new car. The old Buick wasn’t like that when Hoffman found it. In 1987 he began searching for one of the last of GM’s large convertible automobiles that they stopped assembling a decade before.

“I found exactly what I was looking for on a note lot in Oklahoma City,” he said.

A “note lot” is the kind of small independent car dealer who specialize in financing buyers who can’t qualify for conventional bank loans. Hoffman bought the Buick on the spot for $2,500 cash on the barrelhead.

“It’s the model I was looking for,” he said. “Back then it was faded red.”

In the Hoffman’s operating room-spotless garage, there’s a series of photos lining the wall documenting the car from 1987 to present. He had very specific plans for the newly acquired convertible. In part they involved dropping a different engine into it.

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Hoffman had one in storage from a trade he was involved in as a Big Red Sports and Imports dealership employee while in graduate school. Understand that although not a formally educated engineer or mechanic, he has been working on and making old cars run since childhood.

“I was a poor kid in Pennsylvania and my parents couldn’t afford to buy me a car,” he said. “So if I was going to have one, I had to learn to work on them.”

Hoffman’s dad was a car assembly plant machinist, passing on skill and knowledge to his son.

“So I’ve always been around cars and fixing them up,” he said.

For several years the Buick was a work in progress. The couple adopted an infant daughter around the same time and their focus was on her. Their car went to a body shop for a paint job. Hoffman gave instructions to paint it all black. He was later somewhat startled to discover the body guy had even painted the chrome bumpers. But the new monochromatic look grew on him and in fact it has a distinctive appeal.

“It makes the car look kind of modern,” Hoffman said.

For the next 14 years their Buick sat with no engine under a car cover in the garage. He knew how to rebuild motors but didn’t have the necessary equipment in his Norman garage.

1987 Buick LeSabre - Pictures - CarGurus
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In 2009, Hoffman shipped the engine for refurbishment to a Buick specialty shop in Valdosta, Ga. They made it into a 425 HP monster. He got it back, dropped it in the car and in a few months they were driving it.

The suspension, interior and rag top were replaced. They learned the hard way that the radiator would have to be changed out during a break-down on an out of state road trip. Undaunted, Hoffman located one with the correct capacity and did the work himself in a motel parking lot. Veterans in an adjoining VA facility cheered him on and offered to keep an eye on the vehicle while he slept.

Mechanical parts for the car have been no problem to locate.

“Body parts are a whole different thing,” Hoffman said. “Sheet metal can be hard to find.”

Only a small number of original sway bars were made but one was finally secured from a salvage yard in California after a long hunt.

“He loves the search,” Carol said.

“One of the things we enjoy most about our Buick is that you’re kind of a celebrity when driving it around,” Hoffman said. “People yell ‘nice car’ and you can’t go anywhere without getting comments on it.”

1987 Buick LeSabre - Pictures - CarGurus
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The car is big, black and bad-looking. In an age of look-alike automobiles it’s abnormally distinctive.

“We drive the crap out of that car and it just flies down the road at 90 or 100 mph,” Hoffman said. “When I keep it under 70, it can get nearly 20 mpg.”

In 2013, they drove their Buick in the Hot Rod Power Tour. It’s an annual collective road trip for American motoring enthusiasts. The Hoffmans chose to participate in half the 1,300 mile drive.

“My first thought was, ‘Do I want to spend 10 days with gearheads?’” he said. “It turned out to be marvelous and I wish we’d done the entire week. They don’t just talk about cars the entire time.”

Besides special trips they also drive the Buick to Canadian River Cruisers car club coffee meetings and in Norman parades.

“It’s just a great old car,” Hoffman said.

Have you seen a cool vehicle around town? Writer Doug Hill is always on the lookout for future Dig My Ride columns. E-mail him at Media

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