While Buick has released its fair share of stylish and technologically advanced concept vehicles over the years, the 1951 General Motors LeSabre concept (technically not a Buick, but hey) has always stood out from the rest. This is thanks in part to not only its direct connection to an icon of early GM history, but also the key role it played in setting the direction of Buick styling for the duration of the 1950s.
Designed by legendary GM stylist Harley Earl, the LeSabre embodied the styling of early fighter jets in its basic design. This is especially prevalent at the nose of the concept, which strongly resembles a turbine intake, allowing the car to not only have a futuristic appearance, but to also have a level of aggression that was absent from production Buick models of the time.
In addition to looking stylish, the LeSabre concept was also a technological showcase that included features such as a dual fuel system that burned alcohol and conventional gasoline, as well as a specially-designed moisture sensor that automatically raised the convertible top in the event of a sudden downpour. All of these features put the LeSabre way ahead of its time, while also making the car a herald of what would eventually become the modern iteration of the automobile.
The over the top exterior styling is the first noticeable feature that casual observers may notice which is thanks to the numerous aircraft inspired design cues that are scattered throughout the concept, as well as slick tail fins with the latter later being added to production GM models a few years later. A wraparound windscreen was also added to the concept which helped improve visibility while also looking cool in its own right at the same time.
The concept was motivated by supercharged 3.5-liter V8 that was initially hooked up to a rear-mounted Buick Dynaflow automatic transmission, before later being switched out for a more advanced Hydramatic unit. In fact, the LeSabre was the first automobile to use both of the aforementioned components, and the engine in particular was eventually and ironically picked up by a number of British auto manufacturers that used it in Land Rovers, MGs, Triumphs, and even early Morgan models. The LeSabre Concept also previewed many advanced technologies that we currently take for granted, such as heated seats and electric headlights, which were hidden behind the nose-mounted jet intake.
After its time on the show circuit came to an end, the LeSabre concept became Harley Earl’s daily driver — a feat that very few one off cars achieve, and performed admirably in this role for over two years before Earl’s retirement several years later. Buick, meanwhile, went on to borrow the LeSabre’s tail fins beginning with its 1956 models before using the moniker for a production sedan that debuted in 1959 that would ultimately live on in various incarnations until the nameplate’s retirement in 2005.
So, while the 1951 LeSabre Concept may have been ahead of its time when it first debuted, its futuristic styling as well as its suite of advanced technology served as a crystal ball that influenced not only GM’s future, but also the direction of the automotive industry as a whole.