Even as a six or seven year-old kid at the time, I knew that GM’s 1959 cars were a nadir. Where could this direction possibly go, and still be semi-functional? GM jumped the shark, and they knew it, probably even before the first one ever hit the streets. The nasty recession of 1958 threw a bucket of ice water on this direction started by Chrysler in 1957, and the winged wonders were the butt of jokes and scorn from day one.
So GM did what it didn’t like to do: start over with a totally new body after only two years. And the results were truly lovely, most of all in relative terms. And it wasn’t just the loss of wings and jet pods and afterburners; the ’61s were palpably trimmer. And taller. And the seating was more upright and decidedly more comfortable. In relative terms.
We arrived in the US just as the ’61s were coming out, and to say I obsessed on them is an understatement. And one of my favorites is this Buick Electra 225 Riviera hardtop sedan, by far the cleanest of the new C-Bodies. This was a car that GM could be proud of, even in Europe. Pininfarina couldn’t have done better, if even equaling it. GM turned an embarrassment into a gem.
Buick’s 1961 ad theme was “The Clean Look of Action”. And it gets right to the point: “You get more room for hats, and heads, for shoulders and legs. Floors are flatter. Cushioning is thicker. Seat height is better.” More room on the inside, and smaller on the outside; what a novel concept.
And just how much trimmer were these ’61s compared to the ’59s? Length went from 225.4″ to 219.2, making a liar out of the “225” moniker. Width went from 80.7″ to 77.9″, or almost three inches. And height increased from 55.5″ to 57.1″. And it weighed 250 lbs less than its predecessor.
Here’s the front end, which shows quite a bit of restraint from its wild predecessors too. A 325 hp 401 “nailhead” V8 was standard under its hood, teamed with the smooth Turbine Drive automatic.
Jim Cavanaugh did a quite in-depth post on these Electras, focusing on their three different roof styles. There were two distinct series of Electras: the Electra 225 came only in the Riviera hardtop as the one at the top, as a convertible. The lesser Electras offered this six-window four door sedan, which obviously was the same roof as the hardtop, but with framed windows.
The non-225 Electra’s four-door hardtop was quite different, an updated version of the ’59-’60 “flying wing”. A bit odd to have two different hardtops, but such was life at GM when you owned about 50% of the total market.
The ’61 Olds 98 was a bit fussier on its sides, and its grille seemed to be lacking in a clear vision. And the skegs on the tail hearkened back to the ’59-’60 era a bit too much.
And of course the third C-Body stablemate was Cadillac. And as much as I can find certain charms in it, and it’s certainly an improvement over the ’59, it’s still too stuck in that mentality. There were plans to shear the ’61 of its fins, but in the end, Bill Mitchell chickened out, as by then Cadillac had been wearing fins for so long it was now too deeply associated with them, and any change too radical might hurt.
Fortunately that was not the case with the Electra, and as a consequence, it has its wheels firmly in the 1960s, unlike the Cadillac, which struggled with the weight of its finny legacy for quite some time to come.