We’ve spent a lot of time with the 1977-96 B and C body cars, but next to none with Buick’s 1977-84 C-Body entry, the Electra/Park Avenue. Fortunately, I have the solution: my own car.
The basic story of the 1977 downsize of GM’s B and C body cars has been told in great detail on this site. GM had concluded its largest cars had gotten too unwieldy, nimbler foreign imports were making inroads–especially in the luxury market–and, though these were already in the works when it happened, the 1973 crisis amplified that desire to downsize. The result was a new 1977 Buick Electra that was almost 1,000 lbs lighter and 10-11 inches shorter than its 1975-76 predecessors, which were 5,000 lb gunboats powered by Buick’s 455 V8, cars which rivaled the 1971-76 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham and 1973-79 Lincoln Continental in length and weight, and were in fact longer than the Sedan DeVille of those years.
Although it rode on a 118.9 wheelbase, slightly shorter than Cadillac’s 121.5 in, the new Electra was actually GM’s longest sedan for 1977-79, leaving its Cadillac DeVille/Fleetwood and Oldsmobile 98 cousins about an inch in arrears. Like the other GM downsized models, despite its trimmer dimensions, and along with some improved mileage, the Electra picked up some additional interior capacity. It also sported what may be the most extreme aspects of that era’s boxy look, squared-off, boxy tail fins which may be the last real set of tail fins on an American car: the Electra’s hindquarters are actual plumage, not just blade tipped fenders a la its cousin the DeVille/Fleetwood.
My Electra was built at the General’s Linden, New Jersey plant in October of 1976, possibly only days after Gerald Ford, who had been catching up to Jimmy Carter in the presidential race, had famously declared in a debate that there was “no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe,” which no doubt contributed to his narrow loss to Carter a few weeks later. Symbolizing the decline of manufacturing in the Northeast since that time, the Linden plant, which was bulldozed about 10 years ago, is today largely vacant rubble, a crater in the suburban industrial landscape along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. At that time, though, many Buicks started their lives there.
This particular Goddess is the 225 trim level, which by 1977 was the base model, and far and away the least popular version. Some 161,627 1977 Electras were sold, almost 75% of which were Limited Sedans and Coupes, and the number of 225s would drop off each year thereafter, until the model was dropped for 1980.
The next level up from the 225 was the Electra Limited, and then the top-of-the line, the Electra Limited Park Avenue, Goddess of Goddesses, the closest you could get to a owning a new Cadillac without actually buying one (or, as so many traditional conservative Buick buyers saw it, the proper and discreet way to purchase a GM luxury car; those “Broughams” over at Oldsmobile and Cadillac are so tacky, you know). As far as I can tell, the real differences in trim levels were in options, especially upholstery.
My 225 comes with a cloth and vinyl full bench seat, the lowliest and blandest option, right out of a middle-trim Caprice.
Pony up some extra cash, however, and you could walk on the wild side to the interesting Hefner-esque tufted tiger pattern (inviting driver not included),
or the 60/40 split bench crushed velour of the Park Avenue, which was not available on the more plebian 225 and Limited levels and was optional even on the Parkie.
You could also check off a lot of options that would normally be found on the typical Cadillac: Vigi-Lite lamp monitors, automatic climate control, tilt and telescope steering, automatic level control, you name it, the “Ultimate Buick” provided it. But other than those differences, length, width, and interior room was the same throughout the trim levels.
Engine options were plentiful for ’77, along with the standard 155 HP Buick 350 V8 in my 225, a 185HP Oldsmobile 403 V8 was also available, and the 170 HP Oldsmobile 350 V8 was standard in California and at high altitudes. These offerings would continue in 1978-79 models (both of which featured minor exterior redesigns) and were mated to the TurboHydramatic 350 3-speed automatic transmission.
For the 1980 restyle, which jettisoned the tailfins and formalized the roofline, a 4.1L Buick V6 became standard, with the Buick 350 V8 staying on one last year as an option, before the 1981-84 models which offered either the 4.1L V6, Oldsmobile 307, or Olds 350 diesel with the TurboHydramatic 200R4 overdrive transmission. Sales would drop back into the mid 120,000 range as the 1970s drew to a close, and no doubt decreased further as the early 80s wore on.
It’s my view that these were truly the last hurrah for the big V8 Buick, with Venti-Ports and sinister grilles reminiscent of late 1950s models. After all, the 1990s Roadmaster rides on the B-Body, like the lesser 1977-85 LeSabre, and had the Venti-Ports on the sail panels!
The Flint built Buick 350 in my car is a torquey, smooth engine, with a very long stroke. It has good pickup around town, cruises comfortably between 55-75 mph on the highway, and while slow by modern standards, reaches 60 mph in a little over 11 seconds. Being a pre-1981 model, it also lacks the elaborate emissions control spaghetti found in the later 307 powered cars. For me, that means that I can solve the simpler problems myself (like that $18 spark plug change), and the many that I elect to refer to the experts are not prohibitively expensive.
My 225 is, in many ways, what folks who want a big luxury car without getting a brougham would most appreciate. It’s got many of the basic features: a/c, power seats, power steering and power windows, without the tiger-lady, coach lamp disco era bric-a-brac. To the extent an eighteen and a half foot long car with tail fins and whitewall tires can be considered understated, it is.
When I bought the car, it was still the yellow color in the featured brochure picture below I thought it looked hideous, plus, I don’t have a sky blue tuxedo with matching ruffle shirt to wear while driving it, so I opted to redo it in the Dark Green paint code available that same year. At one time, my car also had a vinyl roof, but after 35 years in the North Carolina sun, it was removed, in many ways to the car’s benefit. While I think a white full vinyl roof would improve its looks, it wouldn’t go with the mocha cloth and vinyl interior, which, unfortunately, is not in tip-top shape. Though comfortable and free of stains, the Dixie sunshine and, I suspect, its inherent frailness mean it is slowly shredding away.
The Goddess was originally owned by a train conductor for the railroad, then headed south with him. I bought it from his son with 65,000 miles. I had been living in Manhattan for two years and due to several out of state licenses was being called upon to make out of town court appearances to increase firm business, but had had to rent a car every time.
I also wanted to travel more on weekends but always seemed to get stuck with the same Impala at Hertz, so I went hunting on craigslist for big, old-fashioned game. Having owned a 1987 Cadillac Brougham for 7 years, I knew from painful experience that I wanted a car with no computer, mileage be darned. Initially, I was looking for the last of the big 1975-79 Continentals, but, not finding any good ones nearby at the time, turned back to my old GM downsized standbys.
After a tuneup, new exhaust system, ignition, lots of Marvel Mystery Oil to clear up a lifter tick,it has been a pretty solid performer these last few years, accompanying me on road trips, moving my ex-girlfriend to Chicago (and back), and taking me to court appearances outside of New York City when there are no railroad connections near the courthouse. At the same time, gas mileage hasn’t been THAT bad (overall 14-16 mpg), and repairs have been pretty straightforward.
All of the power accessories still work, and the 37 year old R-12 air conditioner still pumps out chilly air on hot days. It handles well for its size, rides smoothly, and you have to love a simple climate control system with sliding levers you could operate blind. More recently, I had the shocks replaced; the Manhattan shot shows the rear end beginning to droop before the change.
We will be parting ways, however, since I will soon be putting the Goddess up for sale. Having spent the last ten years driving two 1977-96 Cadillacs and this C-Body, I am looking to try something new. Not “new”, mind you, but another big boat designed by someone else. As long as I live in Manhattan and use my cars only for out of town trips once or twice a week, I’ll never be concerned about gas mileage or the ideal daily driver, so I might as well enjoy myself, and am seriously considering an upsize: a ’75-’76 DeVille or 98, or a ’75-’79 Continental. We shall see, but in the meantime, the Goddess has certainly made for some divine driving.