(first posted 7/24/2013) This car hurts my head. Anyone who has read CC for any length of time knows what my left brain thinks about this car. This car (and the entire 1971-76 B and C body clan) is a juddering, shuddering mass of wallowing excess and badly attached cheap trim pieces. Its lack of performance out of 455 cubic inches is surpassed only by fuel usage that nears the need for monitoring in gallons per hour. In short? My left brain hates the damnable things. But then there is my right brain. Every once in awhile, one of these comes along in the right body style, the right color and the right condition, and my right brain just lights up with glee and even passion. Here we have such a car. Wait right here – I’m going to go take some aspirin.
Oh good, you’re still here. Well anyway, prepare for a terrible mishmash of muddled thinking about this car, because that’s all I have here, besides a big headache. Pure brougham-porn that both delights and disgusts. So, we might as well get started.
1976 marked a changed mindset from the bunker mentality that had gripped us for the first half of that decade. The period from 1970-75 was notable for Vietnam, Watergate, the Arab Oil Embargo, and the supposedly impossible combination if inflation and recession. Add to this the horrid new GM full sized cars foisted upon us for 1971 that seemed to be a downgrade in almost every way from the solid and substantial versions we had lived with from time immemorial.
1976 was a fascinating year. Maybe it was fascinating just because I was in high school, and almost everything is fascinating when you’re in high school. The economy was taking off, everyone was celebrating the American Bicentennial and halter tops were in. Did I say I was in high school? So, it was time to party. I mean Par-Tay!. People of my parents’ demographic started shaking off the torpor of the early ’70s and splurging on loud outfits and big cars. And somehow, the miserable POS big cars from GM became familiar things that now didn’t seem so bad. It wasn’t just big GM cars that were all around us, either. We were suddenly awash in Chrysler Cordobas and New Yorkers, Mercury Grand Marquis-es, Olds Ninety Eights and Buick Electras.
My right brain misses the Electra. It had been around for literally my entire life by 1976, having replaced the Roadmaster for 1959. From that point forward, it had been the top Buick forever since. But name devaluation game was starting even then, as the Electra started to collect plug-ins like Limited and Park Avenue.
My left brain is quite sure that there have been more outrageously wasteful two door cars than this one, but it is having trouble thinking of one at the moment. Still, there is something about the looks of this car that makes my right brain declare this car as my favorite GM mega-coupe. Right brain is happy to sacrifice practicality for style and proportion, and this is something that the big ’76 Electra deuce-door has to the max. This is a whole lotta, lotta car – but carries its bulk with style and even elegance. There is something about the styling of this car that simply screams “BUICK!” And my right brain means this in the very best sense. Left brain at least grudgingly admits that if you are going to build a Buick, it should look like a Buick. Let’s give left brain a pat on the back, it is really trying to get into the spirit of things here.
Last summer, I was out driving when I caught view of this car out of the corner of my eye. It was on the eve of the Brickyard 400 stock car race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the car was parked at a hotel. The Wisconsin plates seemed to indicate that someone made a very long trip in supreme comfort. I stood there for what seemed like forever, completely under the control of my right brain. I was simply salivating over this car. This horrible, horrible car, as my left brain kept trying to get across while right brain kept a hand over its neighbor’s mouth. I walked around it and around it again, snapping pictures, then just staring. My car-mentor Howard would no doubt be turning over in his grave if he could see what was going on in the right side of my head. He hated these things even more than I did (and do). Yet, here I was. This car was abso-freaking-lutely beautiful. So long and low and wide. It was like a dream. Did we really used to drive these things to the grocery store for a 2-pack of Twinkies?
I had a job in the ’70s where I got to (had to?) drive one of these. It was a base Electra sedan in silver with a black vinyl roof and blue cloth interior, so I didn’t get the full Luxus-dipping. At the time, I didn’t like it as well as the big Lincolns or Chryslers that I got to drive from time to time. But I could see how someone could like it. In fact, I preferred it to the ’76 Cadillac Fleetwood that was also in the fleet.
This one? My right brain could so do this. “For the love of all that is Holy, why?”, asks my left brain. My right brain tries to come back with something about oozing down the road surrounded by a velour bordello, but left brain doesn’t understand. Finally, I hit upon something that might stick with Lefty: “So when someone sees my Crown Victoria or my son’s ’89 Grand Marquis and remarks about what a big car it is, I can stop what I am doing, throw open the garage door, wrestle them into the front seat and say ‘No you big dumb idiot, THIS is a big car!'” I know, it is crude and overly self-satisfying, but it’s the best I can do for my left brain.
I guess the other thing I can hit Lefty with is that the Buick 455 and the Turbo HydraMatic attached to its tail end should go down as one of the best of that long line of great American powertrains that would, without drama or fuss, churn out maximus amounts of trouble-free torque so long as its Valdez-sized tank was kept full. And who says that GM was oblivious to the fuel mileage of these cars. After all, they thoughtfully fitted these with a 2.56:1 axle and a speed alert system to keep the revs down and a fuel usage meter so that you could better monitor the extent of the big Buick’s drinking problem.
As it turned out, 1976 would be the peak year of that grand ’70s party because for 1977, GM would be the first of the Big Three to sober up and downsize the biggest ships of the fleet. I guess the left brains at GM got together and stormed the palace in a coup. From that point on, the music began to mellow out and the craziness would start to die down, with left and right brains living more or less in harmony for the next several years.
I guess it is time to close out this session of cranial contortions. After spending time writing about this car, the inside of my skull must look like the aftermath of a fight scene in a Bruce Lee movie. Maybe what I need is a nice, quiet ride in the back of this big, black, beautiful Buick. Oh crap, that was my right brain talking, and my left brain just gave it a big kick. I had better call this finished and go tend to my poor, abused head. I have heard about this beverage that comes from Scotland – maybe that will help.