There are people out there that think that GM was really starting to “pull it together” in the early 2000s. That its bankruptcy was brought about by nothing but poor financial planning. Rest assured, however, that GM was making cars beyond all reason and comprehension.
Cars like this, the Buick LaCrosse Super.
The first-generation Buick LaCrosse was, along with the Buick Lucerne (a car that is less than 10 years old but which you’ve already forgotten), the last of the Old Buicks. The last of the Old Man Buicks, before Buick moved onto most selling Opels and weird small crossover-hatchback-thingies for the Chinese market.
It was, for the most part, exactly as you would expect. Except for the LaCrosse Super. That had a 303-horsepower, 323 pound-feet of torque V8, paired to a four (4!)-speed transmission, all powering the front wheels. For comparison, the contemporary Toyota Camry at least had five gears.
Buick kept the external modifications subtle, with some wheels, a chrome exhaust tip, the barest hint of a rear spoiler, some fog lights and those all-important port holes across the front fender. Thankfully, even early-2000s GM had the sense to beef up the suspension and the brakes a bit.
But even still, a 300-plus horsepower V8, with power going through a four-speed transmission, through the front wheels?
That it made 300 horsepower is not important, hell, even I know that 300 horsepower is the ideal amount of horsepower. What is important here is the Buick LaCrosse Super’s very existence. A 300 horsepower version, of a car built for old people, paired with a transmission out of an Oldsmobile 88, and equipped with this miserable interior of gray sadness?
Truly, who was this for? Just looked at that odd mix of gray and silver and brown and beige. It looks like something your grandmother’s grandmother would drive. Not your cool grandmother’s grandmother, either.
Acceleration to 60 mph, if you could keep it pointed in a straight line, was down to a Depends-wetting 5.7 seconds. For that car, in that era, it was nuts.
But GM’s odd combination of giant V8, four-speed transmission, and front-wheel drive was not limited to the 1970s and/or this one random Buick.
They put the combo in other cars, too.
There was this, the Pontiac Grand Prix GXP, which sounds good until you remember that the only thing anyone still likes about Pontiac from this time period was the G8, and that wasn’t even really a Pontiac.
And the Grand Prix GXP, like many of the cars I’m ranting about here, had so much of the right idea. It had a heads-up display, vented and cross-drilled brakes, speed-variable power steering, Bilstein struts, even a little G-force display and you could even have fun with paddle shifters.
Paddle shifters that were, of course, let down by a four-speed transmission, sending power through the front wheels.
There was a Chevrolet version of this car, too, the Impala SS, which isn’t really worth going on about except for this, the interior out of a cursed rental car that you swore you had seen the last of, but which forever haunts your nightmares.
You look down at the SS badge, and you feel special, because you know you are in a special car. And then you look at everything else, and you scream and scream, but no sound comes out, because the design of this interior has taken away all creative possibilities. Even that of screaming.
Perhaps this weird engine/transmission pairing had one saving grace, and that was in the Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, made for only two years in 2006 and 2007. But even that was a weird car. Just look at this thing, and tell me what you think it is. A cruiser? A sports car? A muscle car? Bob Lutz’s pitched fever dream?
Who were any of these cars for? What purpose did they serve? And what product planning meeting said that yes, this was a good idea, instead of starting from scratch all over again, with entirely new platforms?
Clearly GM didn’t think any of this was a good idea, keeping these cars in production for only a few years at most before plowing head-first into bankruptcy and building things, like Camaro 1LEs, that they can now truly be proud of.
There is one small, sad sweet bit of solace here. If you want a 300 horsepower V8, in relatively good condition, there may be no cheaper option than these freaks of nature. Here’s a Buick LaCrosse Super on sale right now, with a hair under 70,000 miles, asking just $6,985.
Hell, at that kind of price, maybe old GM was actually onto something kind of brilliant.