Buick — Is there any other modern American brand that speaks louder to traditional values, “understated luxury”, mature mindsets, AND one that has done so with so much success for so long a time?
Although Buick has increasingly tried, with some success, to reach a younger audience with CUVs and the somewhat deprecating “That’s Not A Buick!” ad campaign, the past five decades or so have firmly cemented Buick’s image as an old person’s, or at least a middle-aged and older person’s car.
Buick’s deep-rooted image as a mature person’s car long dates back to its once clearly defined position in the Sloan Ladder hierarchy above Oldsmobile and directly below Cadillac. Often referred to as the car of doctors and lawyers, as a more expensive automobile, Buick naturally was more accessible to those with successfully established careers and deeper pockets, and thus more older buyers than younger.
That’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of well-heeled new car buyers in their early-40s, 30s, and even 20s, but generally speaking, the newer the money the greater the display of wealth and success. Younger buyers looking to revel in the glory that he (or she) “made it” were more apt to be drawn by the glitz and glamour of a Cadillac.
Buicks meanwhile, were more commonly purchased by those wanting less attention associated with owning a more expensive car, yet still seeking the features, comfort, and amenties of owning a luxury automobile. As often the case, Buick buyers often stuck with the brand, never “moving up” to the ritzier Cadillac. With the Malaise era quelling most performance aspirations, the Brougham era elevating ostentatious luxury cues, and an ever-loyal customer base seeking luxury without too much showiness, Buicks naturally became glitzier than ever, which is where this 1984 Electra Park Avenue comes into play.
The Park Avenue name first appeared in 1975 as an available luxury trim and equipment package on the Electra Limited, adding many luxury upgrades, most notably its special overstuffed loose pillow seats with available front center console. Starting in 1978, Park Avenue became its own full-fledged trim level positioned at the top of the Electra and fullsize Buick lineup, where it would remain until becoming its very own model in 1991.
This featured example hails from the final 1984 model year of the generation which first debuted for the 1977 model year — the first generation of downsized fullsize Buicks and the last generation of rear-wheel drive fullsize Buicks (excluding wagons) until the 1992 Roadmaster sedan. Despite being the eighth year of this bodystyle, clean, simple body lines and nearly annual styling detail changes helped keep these big Electras popular as ever in their final year.
In fact, word that the Electra and other C-bodies were to be downsized yet again and switch to front-wheel drive probably spurred more buyers to spring for a 1984 Electra instead of waiting for the 1985, as the stabilizing economy and falling fuel prices once again were driving up demand for big cars.
While styling of the Electra remained very in-line with that of the less-costly LeSabre, the Electra’s full-length upper-bodyside brushed aluminum accent trim with ventiports, more vertical roofline, semi-skirted rear wheels, and more ornate rear fascia signaled that this was a more special, more prestigious Buick. Versus the Electra that debuted for the 1977 model year (1978 pictured two above), the 1980 restyle did wonders in making the Electra look lighter, leaner, and more refined. With its clean, dignified styling, the 1980-1984 Buick Electra was arguably one of the most attractive and well-proportioned fullsize cars of the era.
Of course, the tacky-by-today’s-standards Brougham-era add-ons including vinyl quarter-roof, wire wheel discs, and electroluminescent opera lamps were present in abundance, particularly on the Park Avenue. At least by early-1980s standards, they were done in a somewhat tasteful manner.
Inside, the Electra Park Avenue pampered its passengers in very comfortable surroundings not unlike those found in any Cadillac or Lincoln. Seats were of a distinctive loose bolster pillow style, upholstered in either rich velour or optional leather, with a 50/50 split front bench seat and 6-way power driver’s seat. For easier accessibility, the driver’s seat controls were located on the driver’s door panel, though this was curiously not the case for the front passenger.
Thankfully, the “wet wrinkly skin” upholstery style was dropped after 1980.
Standard interior amenities found in the 1984 Park Avenue included upholstered door panels, acres of simulated blonde-tone wood trim, full-foam construction seats, power windows, power door locks, remote control powered driver’s mirror, Delco ETR AM-FM “Concert Sound” six-speaker stereo, and electronic automatic climate control. As this was the early-1980s when nearly 40% of Americans were smokers, all 1984 Electras — whether Limited or Park Avenue — featured ever-convenient dual rear cigarette lighters and ash trays… “Smoke-up kiddos!”.
The Buick Electra Park Avenue was positioned as the flagship of GM’s second-most prestigious brand, so luxury was a standard affair. Naturally, there were some extra comfort and convenience luxuries buyers could add to further personalize their Park Avenue. Select extra-cost options included 6-way power passenger’s seat, electric front seatback recliners, 2-position memory driver’s seat, front cornering lights, tilt-and-telescoping steering column, Twilight Sentinal automatic headlight control, “soft-close” electric trunk pulldown, automatic load-leveling suspension, and somewhat ridiculously extra-cost, a rear window defogger.
Starting at $15,281 ($37,676 in April 2019 USD) in this final 1984 model year, the last rear-wheel drive Electra Park Avenues offered tremendous value for the money. Sure, one could pay a lot more for the prestige of a Cadillac DeVille — $17,625 to be exact, adjusted to $43,455 in April 2019 USD — but truthfully, beyond more highly-styled exteriors and interiors, a Cadillac DeVille offered very little in the way of additional luxury features pertaining to comfort, convenience, performance, or technology.
Indeed, this final “big” Electra was popular right up until the end. Its sales hovered around 68,000 units each model year 1980-1982, and likely due to buyer’s weariness of the upcoming downsized front-wheel drive Electra, actually drove demand up some 30% for 1983 with 88,585 units. This trend continued for the big Electra’s final abbreviated 1984 model year. Despite production ceasing early in April 1984, as that of the new front-wheel drive Electra had begun in December 1983, a total of 56,626 rear-wheel drive units were produced, nearly half of them from January-April 1984. It’s also worth noting that for these model years 1980-1984 model years, the Park Avenue represented approximately 10-15% of total Electra sales each year.
Curiously, for each of these years, Electra sales paled in comparison to those of its Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight and Cadillac DeVille C-body platform mates. The DeVille, despite its price premium, sold nearly as many coupes each year as sedans, helping it achieve such lofty sales. Although the Ninety-Eight’s price was very similar to that of the Electra, and like the Electra it sold very few coupes versus sedans, its greater volume was consistent with that of total Oldsmobile versus Buick brand sales of that era. Oldsmobile was riding a wave of great brand equity and popularity during the early-1980s, but Buick was waiting in the wings and its time would come.
The front-wheel drive Electra and Electra Park Avenue ended up proving just as popular as their successors, but a “big” Buick Electra would never be again. Particularly with this 1980-1984 iteration, there was something truly dignified and powerful about these flagship Buicks, qualities a newer Buick has never matched.
Photographed in Hingham, Massachusetts – April 2019
1977 Buick Electra 225 sedan (COAL)