Truly one of the great and lovely names in the back catalogues of car history: Electra.
General Motors has produced some very charming cars and they have also been incredibly bad custodians of their brand equity. Here is an example of a great name on a good car, relics of an abandoned market and an abandoned badge. More than 30 years after it ceased production, the Electra name still casts bright-blue light, and it made my afternoon when I saw this one while I was about to return from an appointment on the outskirts of the city. This version of the Electra ran from 1985 to 1990. Some versions had the Park Avenue suffix which turned into a free-standing model in 1991, a remarkably different kind of car, visually.
The Buick Electra could be legally obtained in only a pair of forms: the four-dour saloon shown in the title picture and the two-door coupé illustrated in the stock photos above this paragraph. In typical GM-style customers could only have one of two engines (almost nobody went with the diesel). One transmission sent power to the front-wheels. As you might have noticed, this Electra isn’t in the tradition of really big Buicks. It was a shade over 5 metres long, just 20 cm longer than a Volvo 760 which came out the year before.
Anyone who wanted an estate could have a car bearing the same name but looking entirely different, a car based on the old body-on-frame B-body, a much different proposition to the down-sized C-body here.
The coupé is a pretty handsome car (and also weird), but I have never seen one in the metal. They only made 15,000 units and gave up production at the end of the third year of sale, quite fed up with its failure in the market.
These kinds of Buicks seemed to me the ones best suited to Europe if GM had found the energy and resources to install some smaller engines. Volvo managed quite well to propel the similarly sized 740 with 4-cylinder engines and the 760 with a 6-cylinder. Admittedly, the Volvo weighed a bit less, from 1300 kg to 1400 kg. The Electra weighted in at 1500 kg. However, such a weight difference could easily have been handled with a modest adjustment to a 4-cyclinder or 6-cylinder engine available to GM.
What I really ought to dig into was the formal roof line, of which this Electra is a great example. This trend appears to have its origins at the end of the 1970s. Like a cloud, the phenomenon gets harder to see the closer you look. Around 1979-1984 some US saloons have a rear windscreen approaching vertical. And the 1984 Volvo 700-series is only one of several cars that appeared at around this time with the kind of upright C-pillar we see on today’s Electra.
You might think GM got there definitively first but really the style appeared in several places at the same time. The 1983 Mercury Cougar gets to the point very clearly with its plumb-vertical back glass. Volvo’s car is the next year. The GM versions mostly appear the year after. Who got there first? Which formal roof is the definitive one?
Here’s the interior (source):
I did not get close to many of the cars I saw in Savannah for reasons of personal security. That’s why I have stock photos of the interior. If you really like this car you’re in for bad news as there are none for sale in Europe that I can find. Would a mid-1980s Jaguar XJ suffice? Or maybe a Rover 800, sir? Or perhaps a Volvo 760 GLE is the car that gets closest.