(first posted 1/7/2015) Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t describe the styling elements of this 1984 Buick Electra Limited, or any other upscale/luxury American car from this era, as subtle. With waterfall grille, hood ornament, chrome rocker panels, wire wheels, vinyl roof, landau bar, and opera lights, this Electra exhibits all the requisite gingerbread of the Great Brougham Epoch. But while some cars slathered the bling on to the point of looking like a vehicular Liberace, these final RWD C-body Buicks applied these elements in a somewhat tasteful, uncluttered manner.
This generation Electra first appeared in 1977, when GM concurrently downsized all of its full-size B- and C-body cars. The 1977 Electra lost almost a foot in length, over two inches in width, and several hundred pounds of weight over the 1976 model. These new Electras were still big cars however, and continued to offer the space and presence that Buick’s flagship was known for. They proved to be quite popular too, with first year sales totaling over 160,000 units.
Over the course of its eight-year run, the Electra went through three distinct styling periods. 1977-1978 models were characterized by their vertical grilles (12-section in ’77, finer egg crate-style in ’78), reverse-slanting headlights with lower wraparound turn signals, ventiports, and sharp vestigial tail fins. Coupes sported large opera windows and a rakish roofline similar to that of the LeSabre coupe. 1979 Electras were treated to a new, more vertical front end clip that made them look very similar to the ’79 Chrysler Newport.
In 1980, Buick reverted to the 1977-78 style front clip, but with new slimmer headlights with integral side turn signals. Rear corners were blunter, and the rooflines of both the coupe and sedan were more vertical. These small changes gave the Electra a more formal and cleaner appearance than in preceding years.
Formality was only enhanced in the following years. By 1984, exterior colors were more subdued (no more baby blue, pea green, or banana yellow) and interiors were less, well…brothel-like. There was still plenty of soft cushiony velour and oh-so obviously fake wood trim galore, but its execution was simpler and less gaudy than before.
Despite its downsizing, the Electra was still very much a full-size car. Wheelbase was a lengthy 118.9 inches, and overall length was 221.3 inches. For comparison, a 2015 Buick LaCrosse rides on a 111.7-inch wheelbase, and overall it is 196.9 inches long. Even with modern cars’ space efficiency, this ’83 Electra naturally boasts more rear leg, hip, and shoulder room. Buick’s use of lighter-tone bird’s eye maple-like plastiwood gave its interiors an airier feel than many competitors. This was especially evident in the rear, where many large coupe’s interiors were downright claustrophobic.
Even after 30 years, the face on this Buick still looks proud and majestic. Its simple, elegant lines convey the understated elegance that Buick has long been known for. To some, luxury will never be anything less than a Cadillac, but to others, cars like this unpretentious Electra better fit their definition of luxury.
Much like today’s luxury and fully-loaded non-luxury cars (for example, Cadillac XTS and Buick LaCrosse), there really wasn’t a huge difference in the content of the 1984 Buick Electra and Cadillac Coupe deVille. Sure, the Cadillac displayed more distinctive, bolder exterior and interior styling. But beyond the Caddy’s special paint options, interior finishes, and exclusive, albeit less reliable engines, the Buick could be equipped with nearly every comfort and convenience luxury in which its Cadillac platform mate could. To many people, the biggest difference in luxury was the greater prestige the Cadillac name exuded. As the slogan stated, “Best of all… it’s a Cadillac”.
So for those who preferred a regal rendezvous with a little less flash, this Electra was their kind of luxury car. To them, best of all… it wasn’t a Cadillac.