Buick Electra 225, 1959–1984

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The “deuce and a quarter” was Buick’s ultimate ship of the line—measuring nearly 19 feet long (225 inches) from snout to tail. This road titan’s wheelbase would eventually stretch to a full-figured 127 inches (in 1970), a girth exceeded in the modern era only by six-figure exotic land yachts such as the Rolls Royce Phantom or Daimler Maybach. A 2009 Lincoln Town Car’s wheelbase registers 117.7 inches, or nearly a foot less than the battlewagon Electra’s.

Just for some perspective.

The behemoth was available as a six-window hardtop sedan, lead sled coupe, and convertible coupe. Like the WW II Iowa Class battleships, the 225 outlasted the era it was born in by decades—continuing in production until 1984, until the last of them was finally retired. (The Electra name was continued through 1990, but the models built after 1984 were all downsized, front-drive models that ought to be considered distant kin, at best.)

As Buick’s flagship model, the 225 offered the best of everything (short of a Cadillac), including one of the first production applications of Supplemental Restraint Systems—air bags, in modern lingo. These became available in 1974, along with Buick’s Max Trac traction control system—both of them literally 10–15 years before other cars began to offer such technology.

Of course, a tank as slab-sided as the 225 had little real need for additional safety equipment. Physics is you friend when you’re packing two tons of mass, have a hood made of heavy-gauge stamped steel that weighs more than the entire front end of a Honda Civic CVCC, and a “bumper” that would more accurately be described as a battering ram.

Few ordinary cars stood a chance of surviving an encounter with a 225.

Coupe versions were a real treat—with room for six people and more in the trunk.

The ’65 pillarless hardtop coupe managed to be graceful despite its massive size—in the same way the way Titanic was a thing of awe-inspiring grace. It took time to run your eyes across the acres of metal and seemingly endless details—from the slatted, slim-line horizontal brake/parking light combo out back to the baroque but handsome chrome touches up front. Electras were among the first of GM’s cars to feature hidden wiper blades that tucked under a slightly raised lip at the rear of the hood, a design touch that cleaned up the exterior noticeably even if it did make it a bit harder to clear ice and snow on a cold winter morning.

Though the 225 shared its basic platform with the Oldsmobile 98 (and equivalent Cadillac), the Buick maintained its uniqueness through styling and what was under the hood. Huge V-8s designed and built by Buick—starting with the 401 in ’59 and achieving ultimate expression in 1970, when the 7.4-liter 455-cubic-inch V-8 arrived on the scene—assured the 225 never lacked for thrust.

Convertible coupes went away after 1970, but the 225 coupe made it all the way to The End, in 1984.

To Buick’s eternal credit, even the last of the 225s were still impressively large—riding on a still-substantial (for the time) 118.9-inch wheelbase. Somewhat confusingly, by this time, Buick had been using the “Electra” designation as more or less a trim package on other large Buicks, such as the Park Avenue, Limited, and Estate Wagon.

1980 was actually the last year that Electra 225 appears in the literature—a quiet admission by Buick of the car’s downsizing. The process had actually begun three years earlier, when the Electra’s overall length was chopped back by nearly a foot.

Still, like the Pontiac Trans-Am of the same period—which still offered bigger engines and better performance than just about anything else then available—the Electra tried to maintain its dignity. Arguably, it succeeded. The Electra 225 (and the plain old—and slightly smaller—Electra) carried the big car flag during an era of size-attrition, when virtually all formerly full-size American cars got squeezed down to the dimensions of what, in better times, would have been considered medium-sized cars at best—and compacts at worst.

Electra 225 Facts 

* As Buick’s top-of-the-line model, the Electra 225 boasted four portholes (or Venti-Ports) on its fenders. These, however, were altered during the 1981 model year when pressed-in slats on the side trim were substituted.

* Big-bosomed film star and Howard Hughes squeeze Jayne Mansfield died in a ’66 Electra.

* While models built up to the mid ’70s had Buick-built engines, later ’70s models sometimes came equipped with the Oldsmobile-built 403 and 307 V-8s.

* A 1959 Electra 225 convertible coupe had an MSRP of $4,192. A 1984 Electra Limited coupe’s MSRP was nearly triple that at $13,155.

* The longest-overall Electras measured 233.3 inches (in 1976), with the added sheetmetal grafted on in order to help the car to comply with the federal government’s new bumper-impact requirements.

Excerpted from “Road Hogs” (2011) by Eric Peters; see http://www.qbookshop.com/products/147301/9780760337646/Road-Hogs.html

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  9 comments for “Buick Electra 225, 1959–1984

  1. William Burke, Jr.
    October 1, 2012 at 2:25 am

    I’m a big Buick fan and have always loved the Electra 225’s with
    the 401 cu. in. nailhead engine. I especially liked the 1962 Electra 225 convertible in red. My Dad owned a 1960 Invicta with the 401 engine and that car could really move! Zero to 60 in 9 seconds with 125 mph top speed.

    • October 1, 2012 at 9:30 am

      Classic Buicks are among my favorites also.

      They had comfort and style – and tremendous torque. A good example here is the early ’70s GS 455 vs its cousin, the Chevelle SS. The Buick was just as quick – if not quicker – with the AC on and the power windows up!

      It makes me sad to see Buick going the way of Pontiac… a series of mostly forgettable, corporate-engined, badge-engineered cars like the current lineup. Buick is already croaked in the US market. The only reason it hasn’t been croaked officially is because the brand is very popular in … China.

  2. Reverend Gonzo
    February 4, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    My dad had several of these behemoths over his tenure at GM Research starting in the mid-60’s – absolutely awe inspiring land yachts, each and every one. Funny story concerning a camping trip to northern Michigan towing one of the first generation Coleman pop-up campers with the 225, dad picked the wrong dirt road to a lake somewhere in the outback that turned into a two-track and, finally, into a no-track in the middle of a thick forest with nowhere to turn around…. He literally backed that entire ensemble (19 feet of car towing another ten feet of trailer) out until he found a space to pull off a 27-and-3/4-point turnaround. Mom was not pleased…

    • eric
      February 5, 2014 at 7:30 am

      Hi Rev,

      Great story..!

      I can picture it in my mind… great times, eh?

      • Reverend Gonzo
        February 5, 2014 at 11:24 pm

        Eric,
        Don’t get me started, we also spent winter vacation time driving from suburban Detroit to the ski resorts up north…. My father is possibly the only human to attempt using the front end of a 225 as a snowplow in a blizzard after dark…. If it weren’t for a local farmer and his mondo Massey-Ferguson tractor, we might have been statistics. I sometimes wonder if there wasn’t something in the water over at the GM Research labs that encouraged weird behavior…..

        • eric
          February 6, 2014 at 6:48 am

          Weird behavior!

          Guys like DeLorean and Michell and, of course, Lloyd E. Reuss (the wonderful maniac who pushed the Regal GN and GNX) epitomized it. God bless ‘em.

          Some of my best memories from childhood involve furtive test drives (and experiments with) my parents’ massive Olds 98s. We had a ’74 sedan, then a ’77 sedan (and later, an ’83 coupe, one of the last V-8/RWD 98s). Oh, the adolescent fun of flipping the air cleaner lid to let the Quadrajet’s secondaries moan full throat as the 455 (and even the 307) belched fire into the night…

          • Reverend Gonzo
            February 6, 2014 at 10:50 am

            My pop went clear back to the days of Harley Earl, I sometimes think that the entire reason they built that complex out in Warren was to give Harley a place to play. On balance, worked out pretty well….. Of course, some of the oddities that came outta there can still make me scratch my head – a Pontiac Grand Prix Model J that had 4-wheel STEERING…. Spending 6 million on the rights to do developmental work on the Wankel, building a four rotor and then putting it into a freaking Vega as the test bed – that thing was fun, bright yellow GT with a jacked-up rear end scavenged out of something much beefier that made the weirdest engine noise ever heard while smoking the tires straight through three of the four gears before hooking up; my neighborhood smelled of burnt rubber for weeks…

          • eric
            February 6, 2014 at 10:55 am

            Oh yeah!

            I once got a tour of GM’s “museum” of one-offs and concept cars. I’ve seen the Kammbach (sp?) versions of the Second Generation Trans-Am, but what I’ve always wanted to see firsthand and so far have not is the gullwing Banshee prototype DeLorean built circa ’66 (IIRC) that got sent down the memory hole because – according to the stories I’ve been told – Chevy saw it as a direct threat to Corvette.

            There is also a prototype of what eventually became the ’76 Limited Edition/50th Anniversary Trans-Am, using a ’74 SD-455 car. It was painted black and gold (metalflake) and had the gold Honeycombs.

            You can probably tell I’m a Pontiac guy!

  3. Reverend Gonzo
    February 6, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    Did you see the original Firebirds? Gas turbine concept cars, they built three different ones; I think they are kept out at the Milford Proving Ground these days and I believe they all still function. I got to sit in one of them when they were on display in the main lobby of the building my dad worked in at the Tech Center when I was a kid… too cool!
    One of the wilder applications of horsepower those jokers built was to take the Firebird 455/Hurst linkage 4-speed/dual exhaust/posi rear end monster, tune it up and put it in a Grand Prix Model J – if you had the balls to stay in the throttle on the freeway, you could get 140+ indicated on the 160 speedometer!

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