Back in 1966, General Motors was riding high, and one of the drivers of that success was the effectiveness of the corporation’s upmarket brands like Buick, which was able to charge premium prices while maintaining strong volumes. Perched at the top of Buick’s range was the Electra 225, a series which whispered “money” and was a “quieter” luxury alternative to the flashier Cadillac. Like the car itself, marketing and press coverage was understated and on-target.
Print advertising for the Electra 225, found in publications like National Geographic and The New Yorker, was very clear in defining the aspirational attributes that would appeal to the well-heeled target audience. The tonality was smart, ambitious and confident as befitting an upscale brand. It’s certainly a far cry from the cloyingly awful Buick advertising of more recent years, with the shrill cries of “That’s not a Buick!” managing to simultaneously insult existing owners while failing to offer a compelling reason for new prospects to choose a Buick—after all, who would want a vehicle from a maker that was embarrassed by its own brand?
But there were no such worries in 1966: Buick was firmly entrenched as a desirable choice, and Electra 225 marketing centered on getting customers to move up to Flint’s finest (or reaffirming their intelligence for already owning one). The car was pitched as being substantial, balanced and a smart value—praise which was echoed by the limited coverage the car received in the automotive press.
Say what you will about Motor Trend being a shill for Detroit, but the editors found the Electra 225 to be a compelling choice, and their praise was likely well in-tune with the sentiments of many luxury segment buyers in 1966.
There was nothing earth-shattering in the test results. The Electra 225 simply excelled at the sort of quiet, smooth, predictable performance befitting a substantial big sedan, with roominess and comfort galore. Motor Trend’s test car listed for $5,581.52 ($43,976 adjusted), which represented pretty good value for a luxury liner. A comparably equipped hardtop Sedan DeVille from Cadillac would have been priced at $6,566 ($51,732 adjusted). So by foregoing the flashy, “look-at-me I’m rich!” appeal of the Cadillac, the savvy Electra buyer was able to get a functionally similar car for $985 ($7,761) less.
|American Luxury Car||1966 Sales||Luxury Share|
|Chrysler New Yorker||47,759||7.0%|
|Mercury Park Lane||38,800||5.7%|
|Total 1966 American Luxury Car||681,200||100.0%|
It was indeed a winning formula, as the Electra 225 (along with the C-Body cousin Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight) proved to be highly popular for 1966, while King Cadillac still remained at the top of the U.S. luxury car heap with the popular DeVille series. In fact, GM’s C-Body cars took home over 50% of the U.S. luxury car market. Add in the E-Body Buick Riviera and Oldsmobile Toronado, and GM earned 67% of the highly profitable segment. Ford Motor Company and Chrysler Corporation weren’t even close with their luxury products.
|Full-sized Buick||LeSabre||LeSabre Custom||Wildcat||Wildcat Custom||Electra 225||Electra 225 Custom|
|Total 1966 Sales||70,729||76,670||41,934||26,650||27,366||63,004|
Even within the full-sized Buick line-up, the Electra did well. In fact, the Electra 225 Custom Hardtop Sedan was the second best-selling big Buick, trailing the value-priced LeSabre Sedan by 4,997 units. And the price differential was substantial, with the Electra Custom selling for $1,251 more ($9,856 adjusted) than the more basic LeSabre sedan, even though it couldn’t have cost GM all that much more to build. Ka-ching!! Buick also offered an almost overwhelming array of “Base” and “Custom” models for the LeSabre, Wildcat and Electra series, with the pricier Customs proving to be the strongest sellers in most cases.
So while it wasn’t a media darling, the Electra 225 proved to be a popular choice for successful doctors, lawyers, executives and business owners.
However, there was one Electra 225 4-door Hardtop belonging to a successful small business owner that garnered a high level of press attention, though not the kind of coverage anyone would ever want. The business was a popular nightclub on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and the club’s owner, Gus Stevens, dispatched his luxury car to transport a star entertainer to New Orleans.
That celebrity was Jayne Mansfield, the buxom “Blonde Bombshell” Hollywood Starlet (in the vein of Marilyn Monroe), seen on the right in the legendary picture above, with Italian actress Sophia Loren giving the evil eye to Mansfield’s “assets.”
After performing her nightclub act, Mansfield departed Biloxi with 3 of her kids, her lawyer (who was reputedly also her lover) and Gus Stevens’ driver, heading off to the Big Easy in Stevens’ Electra 225. In the wee hours of the morning on June 29, 1967, while driving along Highway 90 near Slidell, Louisiana, the car slammed into the rear of a tractor-trailer which had apparently been obscured in a fog patch.
The results were devastating. The big Buick hurtled under the truck, crumpling the roof all the way to the rear of the car. The three adults were killed instantly, while the children (who were asleep in the back seat at the time of the crash) were injured.
Mansfield’s death was not entirely in vain, however, as the gruesome accident prompted safety regulations to help prevent cars from under-riding trucks in an accident. These U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Bars (also known as “Mansfield Bars”) remain in use to this day.
Thankfully, most Electra 225s likely enjoyed much less tragic service lives, and admirably filled their role as comfortable luxury cruisers well suited for their intended mission. And the success of these “Deuce-And-A-Quarters” filled GM’s coffers quite nicely.