Curbside Classic: 1968 Buick Electra 225 – The Great Society

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This car is the perfect counterpoint to my first CC.  Both are white domestic full-size sedans from the mid-late 1960s and both are rather basically equipped cars from semi-premium marques.  But unlike the Newport I found, which was lovingly restored and prominently parked in the center of town, this Buick is a somewhat rough survivor and hides in the periphery of Bloomington’s North Side.

I had been passively stalking it for several months, hoping that it might magically pop up in front of my house and sit around long enough for me to find my camera.  Luckily, I found out some friends of mine live on the same street where it’s normally parked and took some pictures.  I will maintain that the ’66 Newport is a better looking car, but this Electra is also attractive and white is a fitting color for both.

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Buick changed their C-body more extensively over the course of production than Chrysler did, although the Newport kept the same basic body for only four years, versus six for the Electra.  The split grille marks this as a post-1966 model, but the presence of the front vent window makes means it can’t be newer than a 1968.  The 1967s retained earlier model years’ full-width taillight cluster, so this car must be a 1968.  This also means it was the car’s final year on the 126-inch wheelbase as the 1969 and 1970 cars gained an extra inch between the wheels.

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It appears that this car sat for a long time without being driven, as all four hubcaps are present and match in terms of wear.  There is a uniform patina on most horizontal surfaces, none of which look to have ever been under a vinyl top and because the upholstery has no splits, it wouldn’t guess that the car spent very much time under the sun.  I would love to meet the owner and ask about the car’s history.

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It would seem Buick was somewhat resistant to the “Coke-Bottle” styling of the era.  As I pointed out in my capsule on the 1972 Skylark, that car–with its unflattering horizontal taillight treatment–was the least famous and remains the least desired of its A-body siblings.

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The horizontal taillights were also present on the Electra, but on the more expensive C-body, shared with fewer divisions, Buick was able to integrate them somewhat more effectively.

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If buyers didn’t care for the Electra’s styling, GM had enough money to go around to fully distinguish all its full-sizers.  For those who wanted swoopier, sportier styling, there was the Bonneville, Impala, the Olds 88 and the LeSabre/Wildcat.  Chrysler, on the other hand, offered much less distinction between, for example, the 1968 Newport and Monaco.

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The General was able to poach buyers from all its rivals, who were forced to focus their efforts in fewer directions.  So while I might point to a 1968 Bonneville as being quite distinct from a 1968 Monaco, there is greater commonality between this white Buick and a 1968 Chrysler, both of which aim for a linear theme, with Buick doing so in a more heavy handed–but dissonant–fashion.  Olds managed to pull off the square look just a little bit better than its sister division, but in any case, Chrysler decided to go all curvy for 1969 (I’m still looking for one of those cars).

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While the front and rear ends have a very horizontal treatment, the center section of the car has a sweeping crease beginning above the front wheels, continuing to the bottom of the rear door.

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Two feet above that point, another piece of chrome trim, which continues from the ridge above the rear quarters, defines the curve above the rear wheel well, itself obscured by a plastic skirt.  Overall, square ends on a curvy car.

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The severe rear styling lets the rest of the car down, looking static while the from the C-pillar forward, the overall shape suggests motion.

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Looking at its B-body siblings, the LeSabre and Wildcat, the front half of the Electra makes much more sense. What’s likely is that Buick stylists wanted to exaggerate the illusion of length, while still making a sporting impression.  If this was the rationale in using two separate themes on the same car, the result speaks for itself.

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In fact, you might even call it an honest presentation of the car’s nature.  On one hand, this was an enormous, heavy car, but with a very big, very new V8 engine, it wasn’t entirely sedate.  The 430 CID engine produced 360 horsepower (SAE gross), but as this was a Buick, the focus was on torque and with 475 lb-ft, it delivered.  A 455 would be made available in 1970, but in 1968, this was the best an Electra 225 buyer had available.  Not that the 430 lacked power, with sixty miles per hour reached in the seven second range (which admittedly seems like an unrealistic figure).

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Depending on the buyer, braking was less dramatic than before, with front discs available for the first time.  Regardless of what was ordered, bringing this heavy car to a stop would obviously still be a handful compared to what we are used to these days, but I like to think drivers were more skilled forty-six years ago.  At the same time drum brakes were on their way out, the automatic’s variable pitch torque converter stator was discontinued, as the Super Turbine brand name would be in 1969.

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The Electra hadn’t been built on the X-frame since 1964, and the new full-frame platform was fairly conventional.  Although GM began an honest effort to improve chassis dynamics during this period, buyers in 1968 would be better served by Chrysler.

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Of course, whipping around corners in a car this size could only be so fun, so declaring these late ’60s Buicks as genuine crowd-pleasers is easy.  New Yorkers and Newports were in their final “good” year, and Chevys, Pontiacs weren’t quite as flossy.  The cultural baggage Cadillacs carried also contributed to Buick’s success, along with the Riveria’s popularity, so the Electra found many happy owners during this period.

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It’s not as though Buick had easy competition.  The Mopars, as we’ve seen, were incredibly elegant and the Ford LTD and its Mercury sibling were better than GM’s full-sizers when it came to being soft and quiet, which really was the point of a full-size sedan.  The Chryslers weren’t as isolated, though, and the Fords were wallowy, even for this class, so the solid Buick fared well against both.

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A basically equipped version like this, while somewhat prestigious, was still relatively easy to attain in the less stratified 1960s and it’s very easy to see how this car’s legacy sold Buicks up through the brand’s very recent reinvention.  There’s a domestic charm about this car lacking in some upscale rivals, giving it surprisingly classless appeal.  Whether a buyer stretched his or her budget for a very basic LeSabre or made an economical choice in choosing a fully-loaded Electra 225, the outside world was given the same impression.

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This was likely lost on some owners, many of whom I imagine would have voted for Nixon the year this car was built.  The pudgy model which followed in 1971 mirrored these more anti-social aspirations, while its lean, progressive 1961 predecessor may have never seen them coming.  A confused looking but attractive car, this late-sixties Buick represents the changing of the guard more faithfully than its creators ever intended.

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