I reference my parents’ 1977 Plymouth Volaré coupe a lot because that was the first car with which I had developed a love/hate relationship. My years as a toddler starting in the mid/late-’70s are filled with memories of riding in the Volaré as my family’s “nice” car, despite the fact that our ’71 Plymouth Duster, six years older, proved itself to be, far and away, the more reliable car.
I loved the Volaré because it looked the part of an up(per) scale ride, with its richly colored burgundy paint, white, pebble-grained bodyside moldings and vinyl half-roof which stretched from the A- to the B-pillars, and deluxe wheel covers complete with the Plymouth “frog-legs” emblem in the center. I also hated it because it was the source of considerable stress on my parents when it broke down (which was often enough), which then left us kids feeling “shook”, in current urban parlance.
The summer following my third grade year of elementary school, our family took a one-hour drive south from Flint to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for the annual Ann Arbor Street Art Fair – which is still a major draw and celebrated cultural event that brings artists of all media and spectators to “A-Squared” from all over the state. We met long-time family friends, the Hackmanns, there, walked around, and made a fun day of it. (I also remember this being the first time, as a kid, that I had ever seen the “f-word” printed on a t-shirt in the same font used on Ford’s blue oval insignia. My mom probably clutched her pearls, but I don’t remember her actually saying anything about that shirt, even if I probably snickered.)
After we had parted company with our friends, we piled into the Volaré, then just six years old, and headed back toward Flint on US Route 23. Our family of five made it about halfway home before our Volaré said, “Nope. I’m tired. Pull me over.” Unacceptable.
CC Readers, let me take you back to a time before cell phones, when major highways and interstates in Michigan had call-boxes with little, blue lights on them, every mile or so. While my dad left my mom, older and younger brothers (then age 14 and 5) and me in the Volaré with the hazard blinkers on, and with my younger brother whimpering softly like Randy Parker from “A Christmas Story”, I sat in the back seat of our temperamental Plymouth, literally wondering how all of this was going to turn out, as if there was actually a possibility that this situation would not end well.
I realize that some of you must be wondering if I’ve mistitled this piece. Enter our knight in shiny, lacquer-finished, landau-topped, tail-finned, chrome-plated armor: the Hackmanns’ early-’70s Buick Electra 225 hardtop. To be completely honest, I’m pretty sure theirs wasn’t a ’73 like our featured car. I seem to recall it had the horizontally bisected taillamps and a few other minor details of the ’71, but it was dark out, cars were whizzing by as we sat on the shoulder, and I was a freaked-out kid. Let’s just say that the sight of our olive green example in these photos shared enough DNA with the Hackmanns’ car so as to have triggered these memories.
There was a collective sigh of relief in our car once we saw headlights slowly approaching us on the side of US 23. Let’s also take a moment to remember that this (true) story was set in the ’80s, long before kids like my brothers and me felt like we had to wonder if something bad was about to happen to our parents at the hands of a stranger as we sat stranded on the side of the road.
After we had all piled into the Hackmanns’ Electra (all seven of us fit because my younger brother was on Mom’s lap), I remember several sensory details. The textured brocade upholstery in the back seat felt much nicer than even some of the living room couches I had sat on before – almost like it should have been covered in plastic. The inside of the car was utterly silent like a cocoon, even under acceleration in the passing lane. I might have even craned my neck from the middle of the back seat to get a glimpse out of a window to make sure we were still moving. There seemed to be so much room in the interior of that car, even with four adults, a teenager, and two young kids inside. There was also that wonderful, 1970s-GM-interior smell, which I might wear as a cologne today if something like that actually existed.
It was then that I realized that, save for our piano, the inside of the Hackmanns’ Electra was probably nicer than our living room. I’m not going to lie. It was. I’ll bet that if Pastor Hackmann had turned on the AC Delco factory sound system, it would have made our Fisher hi-fi sound like an artifact from the Sloan Museum in downtown Flint.
These C-Body Buicks may have been among the largest full-size passenger cars that GM ever produced, may have consumed half a dinosaur’s worth of fossil fuel between fill-ups, and may have external dimensions that would make them nearly impossible for the average U.S. citizen to park – but I’ll always remember the time it had felt like last night, a Deuce-And-A-Quarter saved my life (with apologies to funk / post-disco group Indeep). Sometimes, it’s true – there’s not a problem that cubes can’t fix, and four hundred fifty-five of them boasting over three hundred horsepower came to the rescue of the Dennis family on the side of US 23, early in the summer of 1983. For forty minutes or so as we rode in silence back to our house, the inside of that Electra had felt so comforting, and almost like home.
Lakeview, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, December 15, 2019.
My parents bought an ’83 LeSabre coupe new, and it broke down on the highway at least a half dozen times. It took almost two years for the dealer/GM to figure out that the camshaft bores in the block were cast/machined incorrectly, which wreaked havoc on the distributor.
So we had a bunch of loaner cars for a long period. One was a 10-year-old ’73 Electra sedan in blue, which I thought was a pretty cool car. Of course, a 10-year-old loaner off the used car lot was probably a slap in the face at the time. Often, we got to drive a new Regal or a Skyhawk; I guess they gave us whatever was available on the lot. I’ll agree that being stranded on the side of the road in other states (and Canada once) was not fun for a young kid!
This would rank as one of your best ever, Joe. Isn’t it true that the occasional car can make long-dormant feelings well up something fierce? I think you made all of us love this Buick just a little.
The sad thing is that when your story took place the Buick was “just another old car” while your Plymouth was no more than middle aged. It is well known hereabouts that there is a lot that I dislike about these early 70s GM sleds, but it cannot be denied that they often ran longer and with less drama than most other cars on the road.
I recall times spent along the sides of roads too. My mother’s 1961 Olds F-85 wagon was also a really nice car, at least until the aluminum 215 V8 would overheat on a summer day, something that happened 2 or 3 times a summer. On a car that was 3 years old when my parents traded it in. On another Oldsmobile. This was back when GM had a rep like Toyota has today. You may have gotten a bad one, but everyone knew it was a fluke and your odds would not improve by going elsewhere.
How perfect would it be if Buick resurrected the “Electra” nameplate for their inevitable battery-electric crossover?
If GM had any sense, that’s exactly what they’d be doing, considering the Chinese market where both Buicks and EVs are big.
Excellent. All round first class, and some lovely details and atmosphere.
The writing’s pretty good too!
Great piece. I can certainly relate to your love/hate relationship with the Volare — I had a similar relationship with my parents’ 1980 Subaru wagon. When new, the Subaru was exciting and attention-getting, but it wound up being the most awful car my parents ever owned. Started in about 1982 it suffered a long string of breakdowns, leading, like you said, to lots of family stress. I actually thought that my parents would divorce over that car; I began to hate it passionately.
And I vividly remember some of the breakdowns. Like when it broke down at a busy intersection when Mom was driving me to middle school, and it seemed like every school bus in town drove by and saw my sitting stranded in that car.
My knight in armor wasn’t a family friend’s car, but rather the rent-a-wrecks that Mom would rent while the Subaru was in the shop. These were typically 1970s-era barges like your featured Buick. Yes, they were outdated by the 1980s, but I felt so special when she had them. Actual luxuries!… like power switches and neat-looking upholstery… room to sprawl out in a huge back seat, and so on. My favorite was a mid-70s Chevy Impala in a similar shade as this Electra.
And if anyone begins making a 1970s-GM-interior cologne, I’ll be right there with you to pick some up.
It’s intriguing in 2020 (I’ll admit that I almost typed “2019”) to think of a Subaru, any Subaru, being prone to breaking down. This is just how far that brand has come.
Echoing your experiences with nicer rental cars, I remember my parents sometimes getting cars that were nicer than the ones we owned – but they were usually (more often than not) plagued with the baked-in secondhand cigarette smoke.
Like you, though, I was usually impressed with things like power locks and windows, cornering lamps, and more solid-feeling switchgear than the compacts our family usually owned.
There were too many of us, so in ’75, we got a ’62 VW Microbus.
I detested it.
Everything, including the more active of snails, overtook us. It smelled. It was hot, or freezing, choose your journey. It had holes of iron oxide in it, some above and drippy, some below, and spitty. It had too many of my family in it.
But most blasted of all, it was a piker. It was lazy. It liked a break. In fact, it liked TO break, and saved the best of its efforts for the worst of our times.
Amongst the many thwarted moments of holiday fun – ones that became long days of home bickering with older siblings more bored than I – I recall an attack similar to the one involving this Electra.
In undeserved fairness to the malevolent Wolfsberger, it had for once not dumped us mid-nowhere, as was so often its custom. Nor were we en-route to holiday bliss. In truth, we were at the stifling surrounds of a convent, and in further truth, I would’ve thrilled for a small mechanical drama, or even a large one, anything, really, to free us from still being in the dusty there.
Well, I got one.
At nun’s end, winter night upon us, goodbyes complete (hairy-lipped old female kisses endured), the malevolent bastard wouldn’t start. Dead as the good Lord himself on the cross in the convent. Needed no less than a new engine, it later transpired.
And so, by now actually tired instead of bored – or in addition to bored – we waited for years, doubtless minutes, but in kid’s time, while Father Maher took forever to sober up, and then turn up.
But bless him, he finally did.
Instead of a breeze-ridden German spartan van, instead of a screaming farty four and moaning transfer cases, instead of 30mph everywhere, we all were soon sat in a big new Falcon. Now, hardly an Electra, I know, but big boomy engine, an actual heater, a radio, squishy seats, green dashboard lights, and a kindly (if tipsy) driver who drove as if he intended to get there – my dad’s approach to the same being infinitely more cautious and thus longwinded – it was a night and car I’ll never forget. Even if I was asleep long before home was in the windscreen.
I haven’t owned a VW since, but I have owned a few big Fords.
BTW, gigantic the Buick may be, but for me, it’s still got the last vestiges of the Greatest Generation of US styling. It’s really sweet. At least to behold, if not actually move about in. Or park.
Justy, I have not gotten such a hoot out of someone’s writing, as you have gifted me with this morning. Malevolent bastard! How cool is that! Father Maher sobering up! As if?!! My interest was piqued as I too had a ’62 VW, albeit a Beetle, as cold and freezing as you described.
Great story, thank you for sharing!
A fascinating, humorous, and well-written account – thank you for this! This is another CC comment that could / should be a post with pictures added. I also find it important that your experiences with this VW bus were so negative that, as you stated, you haven’t owned a VW since.
Why, thankyou, Mr D. But it was your (typically) excellent piece which set off the memory.
Yes, most excellent piece as others have said and one of my fave Buicks of all time, although I’d pick the convertible body over this one (which ranks a close second).
Most of us over the age of 40 have endured similar travails to yours, and the memories make me shudder. I’ll head out to the garage in a bit and just double check the fluids on all the cars and glance them over, methinks.
I love the first photo, it’s as if the Electra is glancing around, taking in its surroundings, and looking disdainfully at the SUVs and pickups crowding the road. The look on its face says it all – “I’m a real car, you all are just pretenders. Now get the hell off the block, this one belongs to me.”
Well woven story about the Volare. Thank you for this fine piece.
Moparlee, I really like the idea of the Electra doing just what you said. I also attribute human qualities to cars, inadvertently. It’s almost second-nature to me.
Well done, Joe!
Thanks and Peace
Jeff, I have to thank you for finding me after the service to tell me about this car! Otherwise, this essay and pictures would not have existed!
Thank you again so much.
Ah, the 70’s, and the joys of motor travel back then. In my family’s case it was a mustard yellow ’72 Vega that left us stranded temporarily every other week. My mother was an attractive mid-20’s divorcee, and my father had bought her the Vega as a “parting gift” and taken possession of our ’68 LeMans. Time has proven that Vegas were prone to tons of trouble, but ours just liked to shut itself down randomly, whether in motion or at a stop light. Mom became pretty adept at coasting into parking lots or gas stations, clutch depressed, strong-arming the non power steering to a safe spot. Invariably there’d be some gallant guy at the window offering help, which wasn’t actually needed. The Vega just wanted a 5 minute rest, and off we went again. That car became a symbol of everything horrible about the world and Mom’s life during the early 70’s. She got her first ever speeding ticket in it one night on the way home from my grandparents’ house, resulting in exasperated tears. We were rear-ended in it by a hippie in a beat up old van once, which gave me my first visit to the back seat of a police car (big fun at 4 years old, not so much fun in my 20’s). It is still known in family lore as the worst POS we ever owned. But then probably EVERY family’s Vega is similarly remembered.
True to JP’s assessment of the GM Loyalty phenomenon, Mom replaced the Vega in ’75 with a light blue metallic Monza 2+2. The Vega sucked, but it must have been a fluke, right?
MTN, thank you for this. I’ve been doing a lot of Vega research lately, for my own personal reasons, and the account of your mom’s ’72 Vega sounds pretty consistent with most of what I’ve read about people’s firsthand experience.
I can’t imagine doing what she had to do (finding places to coast into, waiting, etc.). Just the not-knowing factor of if and when the car would break down would be extremely stressful to a planner like me. Kudos to your mom.
Fantastic writing and story Joe, you really make us feel the moment. And having a Buick as the “knight in shining armor” somehow seems so fitting. This sort of comfortable cocoon is what Buick did so well for so long.
As for the feature car, it is in amazing shape and sure brings back memories because of that color combo. My Pop’s first company car was a ’73 LeSabre Custom in exactly the same shades (Taupe/Beige). It’s an unusual color that can look green or brown or gold depending on the light (sort of like hazel eyes). Like all big Buick’s of that era, Pop’s was cushy and roomy and easy, quietly announcing to the world that you’d “made it.” Though I was just in elementary school at the time, I vividly remember most details of that car, but somehow I can’t recall how it smelled!
My memories are of a ‘74 Electra 225 of a very similar Brown color with black vinyl top and hard black vinyl interior that my parents had from around ‘77 to ‘82 or so. It was the first car that they owned that had AC, which blew COLD. The black seats would sear your exposed legs when climbing in in July or August. The turn signal monitor on the end of the fender also let you know when your lights and/or your high beams were on. The design made it seem like a way more substantial (heavier) car than the 73, with the big required bumpers augmented by vertical bumperettes at the rear, connected to the body by the soft urethane body-colored extensions I loved to squeeze as a kid. It felt a little inappropriate, like touching a safe breast.
Poke fun at me if you wish; but I have always found that this generation Buick did not “drive like a big car”; was much more nimble steering, stopping and handling-in-general than the same generation Mercury or Chrysler.
Great story! Your family’s experience with the Volare mirrors that of many Mopar loyalists who had been very happy with their Darts, Dusters and Valiants, and thus eagerly bought this updated version. Which was anything but Valiant-like in its reliability. Problems with the Aspen and Volare were a big reason why the corporation was begging for a bailout by 1979.
My parents had an Oldsmobile of this generation of B- and C-bodies – a 1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale hardtop sedan. Not very fuel efficient, not very “rocket-like” in acceleration, but dead reliable, smooth on the highway and comfortable.
Fantastic story and pictures. These big 1971-76 Electras are so evocative of a particular time and place in my memory that they seemingly have escaped the scorn I heaped on them as a very wise and discerning young man in my teens and early 20s. I too can remember occasionally riding with 6 or 8 others in these smooth, spacious, and exceedingly comfortable cars, marveling at all the luxuries so conspicuously absent in my family’s bottom-of-the-line rubber floormat Dodge wagons.
Incidentally, I do remember that two door versions of the C body were relatively rare, especially in the Buick iteration. If you’re going to buy the Queen Mary, you might as well get the 4-door hardtop, preferably in a darker color.
A wonderful tale, and a fitting example of the CC credo that every car does indeed have a story. I guess the family Volvo’s of my childhood were very reliable, as I don’t recall so much as a flat tire or dead battery requiring roadside assistance. Nevertheless, I can relate to this story. My first experience of needing help was when I ran out of gas in my work ‘72 Ford pickup in rural Virginia in the summer of 1975, and the person who stopped and took me to a gas station, where they loaned me a gallon can (those were the days), and then took me back to the truck, was driving a Renault R10. With a Buddha on the dashboard. Yes, rural Virginia in 1975. I am always reminded of this when I see an R10, which is never.
My Dad sold his ’68 R10 in 1974 (no options, no radio) that he bought new in Vermont, in Manassas VA. Of course you mention rural Virginia, which Manassas is not (even in 1975, when we moved back to Vermont from Manassas. But of course you have to wonder, how many of them there are (even when new, they were uncommon).
His only had about 22k miles on it when he sold it, but did have a new clutch, it gave out on the way back from a Washington Senators game when he tried to drive back timing the lights so he wouldn’t need to shift. Main reason he sold it was that it wasn’t an automatic; my mother learned to drive on a semiautomatic Chrysler but has never been comfortable with a manual…I even tried to coach her on my car when she was going on a trip with her brother to Poland and Slovakia…my Uncle has had odd things happen to him on trips, so she wanted to be able to back him up if the worst happened and she needed to drive. My Dad wanted her to be able to drive a smaller car than her ’73 Country Sedan after the first gas shortage, she never drove the Renault so he sold it (even though of course it got very good gas mileage).
I never got to drive it, missed it by months, as I got my learners permit probably a month after he sold it.
Great story and like so many people of our generation (I’m about 5 years older than you I think), I have similar childhood memories. Grandma’s 1976 Volare wagon that would not run more than a week or so without being in the shop. A great uncle with a 1970 Electra 225 (pilarless hardtop, silver with black panty fabric seats and a black vinyl top), and a grandfather with a 1976 Electra Park Avenue (pilarless hardtop, triple light blue, with leather). I thought those two Buicks were out of this world as a kid. I can remember riding in them like it was yesterday.
JD is becoming one of my favorite contributors here on CC.
Thanks to his vivid words and detailed descriptions my “mind’s eye” pictured it all in great technicolor details.
Mark, thank you so much for the kind words. I drafted this particular essay in a backyard (on pen and paper) with minimal distractions, so I’m sure that this aided in being able to provide the level of detail I did here.
Mark, I’ve known Joseph (virtually) for years and he has indeed become one hell of a writer, as have Brendan, Tatra and JPC. It’s been a while since I contributed to CC, but if I resume I hope to be as skillful at manipulating words as they are.
Curiously enough, I can think of only one incident where our family car broke down. That was a bit hairy though, as a rear wheel bearing in the ’65 Dodge Coronet blew while on an elevated section of the New Jersey Turnpike. We were heading for a vacation and it was fully loaded up, including the roof rack. The rear axle and wheel started coming out of the axle housing, but was contained by the fender. The shoulder was just barely wide enough to be out of the lane.
A NJ turnpike patrolman came by before long and called a tow truck. We all stayed in the Dodge during the tow to the garage; I vividly remember looking out backwards through the windshield.
This independent garage was huge, and had us on our way in a couple of hours! Amazing. I suspect they did a lot of business from the turnpike.
I do remember the ’54 Ford throwing a fan belt in Iowa, but it was near a small town and we just drove to the gas station where it was readily fixed.
But I cannot remember any other actual on-the-road breakdowns.
Those rear bearings were a known weak spot on that vintage of Mopar’s. Grandpa’s ’65 Belvedere went through three within the 5/50 warranty. His dealer fixed a lot of them at the time. Apparently, the bad bearings finally were purged from inventory and the last repair lasted for the rest of his life.
1960 Dodge Seneca. Blown left rear tire. I-81 NB on a road-cut on a big mountain near Hazleton, PA. My Dad changing that tire on the very narrow shoulder as cars are whizzing by at 75 miles per hour.
I was 3 or 4 years old and remember it vividly. Scary stuff when you’re a kid. It makes an impression. My Dad is still amazed I can recall those details from such a young age.
Oh, and Joseph… your comments about the cologne… Priceless. You always paint an excellent picture with your posts.
“Eau de Excellence” – the new fragrance from GM. Too Funny.
“Eau de Excellence” needs to exist!! That would be the perfect name for that fragrance.
Maybe fifteen years ago, I had purchased “Corvette”, the GM-authorized cologne from a discount department store. The bottle was shaped like a C5, and had smoked tint. I had bought it on a lark, but surprisingly, it wasn’t nasty! Didn’t smell like the interior of a ’70s GM car, but it was pleasant enough that I wore it for a long time.
I thought about calling it “Marque de Excellence” which literally translates to GM’s catch phrase of the time, but “Eau” made more sense than Marque.*
Like you, I can recall that smell too. My great uncle always had fancier cars than my Dad when I was a kid… Dad had Impalas, while my uncle had Olds and Buick cars… Dad switched to Ford with an LTD, Uncle Harold just HAD to upstage him with a Marquis (Hey, another French word!*)
Everyone likes that “new car smell”. My Mustang is developing an “old car smell” and it’s actually pleasant and makes me smile every time I get in it. I’d rock that scent as an aftershave.
* Google Translate was used here. The writer of this comment does not speak or understand French. Marquis may be or not be a real word as far as I know. French is Greek to me… ok, I’m mixing metaphors. However, that being said, why would you name your dog Fido, only to spell it Phydeaux? No offense to our FCA and Citroen enthusiasts from across the pond. ;o)
Interesting Rick – I remember our first breakdown as a little kid as if it was yesterday. It was on route 924 near Hazleton, PA and it was raining when a semi truck pushed a whole lot of water into our ’68 Chevy Bel Air wagon and it just died in the dark of night. I remember my dad with a flashlight fiddling around under the hood when some good samaritans from nearby Shenandoah in a Pinto(yes thats right) helped us out to get us going. It had to be about 1975 or so, as a 5 year old I was scared!
What a good story! The cars, the imagery..thanks for sharing! You wrote it so well–I had a similar experience, but I’m kind of plagiarizing yours….nice job!
My childhood love/hate car (not hate–dislike—total dislike) was a ’68 VW Beetle, which was our sole family car from until 1975, while my father was stationed at US air base outside Athens. Athens, Greece.
There was much to dislike about the VW. Until I was 9 or so, I could not see out of from the front seat. NOISY. NO HEAT. Slow. The only good thing was that Greeks and Americans and my dad considered them reliable and good on gas. Why couldn’t we have a nice American car–or a Porsche! (there were several on base).
During the energy crisis, Sundays were odd/even. On odd days, we crammed 2 families into the VW. As the oldest, largest kid, though skinny, I sat in the well behind the rear seat. Yuk. But on even Sunday, our friends had a 69 or 70 LTD….like the Electra, it felt vast, even with 8 people. It was also the quietest car that I’d been in.
When I was 9, we got into an accident Memorial Day weekend driving from Athens to Sparta–miraculously, we all survived with no major injuries. Coincidentally, another GI’s family was also taking a trip. They spotted us, the dad knew my dad, so they changed their weekend plans and drove the four of us back–in their 65 Chevy wagon. I sat in the cargo area with the the other kids who were my age—I always liked riding in the back of station wagons with other kids.
After the accident,–I figured the Bug was done,, the front looked like a crushed Greek red easter egg–but no, it was fixed and we kept it for another year or two.
Great story! While I ran out of gas more times than I’ld like to remember owning a ‘68 Toronado as a teenager and had numerous flat tires on my ‘67 LeMans, I can’t remember my parent’s car(s) ever breaking down.
The ‘73 big Buick was always my favorite of the humongous ‘71-‘76 generation. I like the low grill and the headlight detail, which GM sort of recycled on the ‘75 & ‘76 Caprice. That is a wonderful color, which does resemble a person’s changing hazel eyes.
Seeing an early ‘70’s Electra reminds me of my uncle Ralph, who always drove a 4dr Electra, that vast back seat upholstered in a brocade with fold-down center arm rest was like a living room and made a huge impression on me. One of Uncle Ralph’s sons, who was about 15 yrs older than me ended up working for Honda North America in the late ‘70s and by the mid ‘80s Uncle Ralph was driving an AWD Civic wagon and enjoyed criticizing American build quality.
Joseph, Happy New Year and thanks for another great read. Those sentiments that you were feeling were exactly what Buick wanted you to feel. A Buick was a comfortable safe haven of quiet luxury. You felt well taken care of in a vehicle that was a reward for the purchaser’s hard work. The harsh world was safely outside. I don’t know if any new car can elicit those feelings any more.
I have fond memories of my Dad’s 1971 Electra 225 Sport Coupe. That was our family car when I was growing up. I was born in 1969 and I think he bought it not too long after that. He was looking at the Electra or a boat-tail Riviera, but the Electra won out because it had to carry me and my older brother and sister – much more room in the back seat and trunk. Ours was burgundy (“Burnished Cinnamon”), with Sandalwood vinyl interior and top. Not much ever went wrong with it that I can recall. There was plenty of room for us (plus the dog) on our weekend trips up north, in comfort despite the lack of A/C. I also remember that car towing our 25′ Carver Santa Cruz across the state so we could go on a trip down the Mississippi River. Great cars in their time.
Joseph, your story made me remember a very similar story of my own.
My mother had a very unreliable 74 Maverick, and of course one day on the way home from my grandparents (her parents) it died. My mother called her father and he came and picked us up in his early 70’s Olds Delta 88. I remember sitting in the back seat, which was huge, and marveling at how you couldn’t hear or FEEL the road, just smooth and silent.
Thanks for bringing back the memories.
Grew up with these C Bodies. Yeah they would break down from time to time and sometimes would run very poorly but never left us stranded. Usually a fairly simple fix that the neighborhood service station could fix fast and for a reasonable price. Never had a major mechanical failure with engines or transmissions. As a kid they felt secure and safe (even if we did ride in the front seat without belts fastened). Smooth, quiet, good stereos for the time. We may make em’ more reliable and efficient now but hardly as durable.
Joseph, once again your amazing story telling captures my heart and my vivid memory of my first ride in a similar Electra when I was about 11 years old.
My parents were talked into going to tour vacation properties in the Pocono Mountains of PA.. it was going to be a lavish event being held by the property developers that included 2 nights accommodations at Mount Airy Lodge (I’m sure some of you remember the jingle from the commercial), all meals, and a gala cocktail reception. This was all free as long as you promised to sit through the hour or so presentation and take a tour of the property and look at some model homes.
My dad thought it over and called the salesman telling him he changed his mind and didn’t want to attend (he really had no interest in buying a vacation property). The salesman, eager to get us to attend, told him he would come to Brooklyn and pick us up and take us back home after the event ended on Sunday.. Dad gave in…..
I remember when a horn beeped in front of our house that Friday afternoon. I ran to the door and saw a big, beautiful blue car with a white roof. As we gathered our luggage and placed it on our stoop, I remember my dad saying to my mom, that’s the Electra, like the one we looked at.
My dad was a Caddy man thru and thru. He LOVED Caddy’s so much that he always had one. At the time, we had a 1974 Coupe de Ville in a beautiful color called Andes Copper (like a terra cotta color) with matching leather interior and a white cabriolet Roof (proper caddy lingo).
We piled into the big 4 door tank, and mom and I sat in the back while dad shared the front with the salesman. I remember the car had those wild looking brocade seats which looked just like our living room drapes! I never saw anything like it!
The car was beautiful and had a very smooth ride. I recall dad telling the salesman that he was very impressed with the Buick.
So after a 2 hour ride, we arrive at the Pocono Mountains and settle into our luxury accommodations and the beautiful Mount Airy Lodge. I remember going to the fancy dinners, watching boring movies about vacation lifestyles, touring endless model homes, walking through wooded properties with mud, and then hearing my dad give some excuse to the salesman that him and my mom weren’t interested in buying a home there.
So the salesman asked us to sit tight and then the manager came to speak to dad and mom, making them all these offers. But dad was strong and stuck to his guns.
After a few more rounds of this crap, Dad said we were ready to leave. And told the salespeople of him and mom changed their mind, they would call them ASAP.
So the salesman finally said OK and that he was going to have someone else drove us home. As we were sitting in the lobby waiting for our ride, we see a beat up 1968 Fury pulls up.
I guess we would of rode back home in the Buick if mom and dad signed on the dotted line.
Excellent write-up Joseph. Your Volare sounds like it was very similar to our family’s 1979 Fairmont wagon. I too had a love-hate relationship with that car much like your described. My dad on the other hand had a pure hate relationship for how often that darn Fairmont broke down. I have a vivid memory of the mechanic coming to our house to pick-up the Fairmont (again) and bring it back to the shop, while my mom was in the hospital. I remember pleading with dad not to send the car away just in case we had to go see mom at the hospital.
I never had much exposure to these GM C-bodies, as most of my family and friends didn’t own these big monster 1970s fullsize cars (the intermediates were big enough). I actually remember walking past a ’73 Centurion every day on my way to school everyday. Even then, I thought for a 1973 car, Buick did a good job styling the front end. I also remember an old man who had a ’75 Electra 225 by our church. The car was meticulous maintained, but was so long the last foot or so stuck out of the garage.
Wow. I’m floored – thanks for the warm reception to this one, everyone. Glad you enjoyed it, as I also enjoyed hearing about your similar experiences. I can’t imagine driving even a moderate distance anymore without my cell phone (i.e. in a rental car that doesn’t have OnStar or a system like it).
I used to have a fantasy about having one of these, in somewhat beat-up shape, that I could use to punt left-lane bandits out of the way.
When I was a kid, dad drove late model GM cars and we never had a breakdown. ’55 Pontiac, ’59 and ’65 Chevy wagons never let us down.
My Dad ran out of gas 3 or 4 times in the 4 years we had a Pinto wagon, but otherwise I don’t recall any roadside emergencies.
I do remember my grandfather’s ’73 LeSabre. It was a low option sedan, so not as nice as this Electra but it would swallow 4 adults and 2 or 3 kids with ease.
Buick really was on a roll in terms of design, engineering, and quality in the mid-60s through the early 70’s and this great piece brings back good memories. I rode in many 225s (and many other Buick models – see below) during those years, from a high school friend’s father’s new 67 through a 1974, and every one was smooth, quiet, and luxurious. A friend and I drove all over hot, muggy Chicago one week-end in August 1975 in his uncle’s dark green 74 225 four-door hardtop and it was a sweet ride. As someone else mentioned above, that air conditioning ran C O L D!
During my first job at UCLA while a new graduate student in 1972 I worked for a staff person who had a new 1972 Skylark Custom coupe in ice blue metallic. What a nice car: the softest high quality vinyl upholstery, again, icy air conditioning, and great sound insulation. And another friend way back in 1965 had a new Wildcat convertible with the 465 and four-speed – what a bomb that was to drive at age 16 with a new driver’s license. Buick had something for every generation back in those days and truly was an aspirational brand. Thanks for the memories.
In the winter of ’77, a 4-door ’76 Electra impacted my family. Literally. Our back yard backed up to a two lane road at the intersection with a country lane. The road was up a steep slope, about 6 feet above our yard. From our kitchen table window, you would see lights shine up when a car on the country road reached the intersection, especially in winter.
It was around 11pm. My parents had just returned from the symphony in Pittsburgh and we were around the table when we saw the lights, then realized they weren’t moving. We opened the back door to see what was up, and a young girl with her face covered in blood appeared from the screen of trees at the back of our yard. My mom and dad raced out to help her, and we kids scrambled to get towels and call 911.
Later, I got up the back and saw what happened. At the bottom of the slope was the 225, with the rear of the hardtop roof pinned to the back seat. Amazingly, the three girls in the car, who were all in the wide front seat, suffered only surface lacerations, even though they weren’t wearing seatbelts.
So what happened? They were drinking, and weaved off the far side of the road onto the gravel berm. Punching the gas and swinging the wheel hard to the left launched them vertically across the road, where the rear of the roof met a big tree on our property and deposited them in our back yard, taking out a couple of 4-inch trunked trees along the way.
After much effort, they managed to extract the big Buick from our back yard, but the gash on the big tree remained. And for years afterword, bits of tempered windshield glass would surface from the earth.
And every time I see one of these, that night immediately comes to mind.
Interestingly, I had a similar experience growing up, with a car going airborne and landing in our backyard, which faced a busy street. In my case, the car was a Ford Tempo, and the driver fell asleep. Fortunately, neither he or his passenger were seriously injured.
Back in the summer of 1960 our family piled into our 1953 Pontiac for our annual vacation to the beach in Wildwood, NJ. The tired old Chieftain made it to about five miles from our destination, when an awful grinding noise emanated from under the hood and it stopped dead. It was towed to a local garage, where my Dad was informed that a connecting rod unconnected and cracked the block of the straight 8. It needed a new engine and the family was 160 miles from home. It made little sense to replace the engine on a car that was its last legs anyway, so we walked to a nearby Plymouth dealership where my father bought a used ‘57 Belvedere off the lot. It was a beautiful four door hardtop with push button Torque-flite, power steering and brakes. We transferred the luggage from the old Pontiac and went on our way. The Plymouth proved problematic and literally fell apart over the next few years, with hardware bits constantly falling off the car and frequent engine starting problems. Ironically the push button Torque-flite, which initially was a concern to my father, never gave us a problem. The car was such a bad experience that my father never considered a Chrysler product ever again. It was replaced in 1963 by a new Olds Dynamic 88.
These were popular cars in Chicago and I always thought they looked amazing. The Electra 225 had those huge taillights framed in bumper guards, while the LeSabre’s taillights had the bumper guards sweep up from under the bumper and cross above each light before returning, framed on three sides.
The ventiports were in full force located on the hood like an old 1953. Hardtops. Massive doors. Long. Heavy. Decadent.
5000 pounds. 9 mpg. Whew! What a sled.