(first posted 5/25/2012) One of my favorite cars that shows up to a number of local shows is this very sinister 1964 Deuce and a Quarter. And shortly we’ll get to why I’ll always associate the 1964 Deuce with a murder mystery. But first… a brief history.
Since the 1930s there had always been a Buick that was just a Cadillac by another name. Sure it may not have had the same advancements as Cadillac, but often enough it was nearly as expensive. With one concession: They were normally more conservatively styled (if not equally/more imposing) than an equivalent Cadillac. The perfect way for someone in a more subtle profession to subtly announce the size of their wealth.
But discretion was being rapidly thrown out the window as the 1950s (and Harley Earl’s design career) wound down. If ever there was a year a Cadillac ever felt bashful and demure, it would have been 1958. 227 inches long, slathered in Chrome and $220 more expensive than a base Cadillac, the 1958 Limited seems like a clandestine evening of drinking and doodling by Harley Earl and Liberace.
Not to shrink away in a ball of conservatism, Buick 1) Sold all the jewelry save the grille and 2) decided a re-branding was in order. Now the Greek Goddess of General Motors, the Electra, in regular and 225 guise dashed in to the end of the decade with flamboyant splendor that really could not be topped. And that left that niggling issue of isolating Buick’s traditional base of buyers. You know… the conservative.
So less and less daring Electra and every other Buick became as the Sixties marched along. At least in all the focus diverting from flamboyant looks meant that focus on that traditional Buick opulence was back. The low point in styling though had to be 1962 with its rather mismash approach to styling.
Elegant, sophisticated and ready for Madison and Park Avenue (wink) at perhaps the universal peak of General Motors styling, it’s almost like night and day between the 1962 and 1963 models. So hard to believe underneath it all, they were just a few refinements away from each other.
It’s understandable why after that styling zenith, Buick didn’t see fit to really move the Goddess atop the line up away from those classic looks. The 1964 is different in a few minor details, but again, pretty much the same car save the roll out of the all new “Super Turbine 400” Turbo Hydramatic. Gone for good was the neverending slow surge of Dynaflow, and in its place was apparently surprising economy, as I hear here and there over the internet that 1964 Deuce and A Quarters can surpass 16mpg in highway driving.
And just about every Electra 225 all the way to the 1977 downsizing kept the same basic proportions. And even the downsized one kept the Crisply pointed rear quarter panels. It became the black suit, or “little black dress” land barge of choice for at least 2 generations of American car shoppers.
But the 1964 model did play a sinister role, if not in style, on screen with a quartet of veteran Hollywood Battleaxes fighting in one of the greatest Psycho Biddy movies of all time as possibly the most sinister rental car of all time. Fitting for the fact that the Deuce and a Quarter I see most often is this deviant dark 1964 Coupe.
Robert Aldrich’s follow up to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? traded the derelict old black Lincoln Continental owed by insane Baby Jane Hudson for something with a roomy Body By Fisher trunk.
Cousin Miriam (initially played by Joan Crawford, but due to “illness,” replaced by Olivia De Havilland) swepts into the Louisiana bayou to plot on her cousin’s fortunes in a 6 Window Electra 225. What better car to sneak under the radar and do all types of malfeasance than the most regal of all land barges?
Anyone who has seen the movie knows that, ironically, it’s the light colored Deuce and a Quarter that does all the dirty work, and the black Electra that takes a “victorious” Cousin Charlotte away from her plantation at the end of the movie. And for a pretty Buick product placement heavy movie, there’s a 1964 Special Sedan innocently snooping around for some facts. These three Buicks deserve to be included in the pantheon of “acting cars.”
Many a nefarious deed is done in the movie that leads to a climatic 20 minutes, a good chunk of them spent behind a two tone wheel dialed by Cousin Miriam’s well manicured hands. Camp aficionados like myself can’t help but slip for a moment and think of getting paid to slap legendary actress Bette Davis in the front seat of a Buick.
So the stroll down memory lane whenever I see this troublemaking tri-shield tempress named Electra is a bit more intense than it would be for most other land barges thanks to Turner Classic Movies. Underneath it all, I guess every Deuce and a Quarter has a little trouble maker in its DNA.
Laurence Jones now writes about vintage cars at his blog, Dynamic Drives.