After World War II, General Motors (GM) had 5 car divisions. GM did a fantastic job of giving each of these divisions their own distinctive exterior styling, interiors, engines, and character. This business model worked well with each of these divisions thriving for many decades with strong sales. Each of these divisions catered to different customer bases. Buick by the 1950s had evolved into a high quality brand which offered cars that appealed to buyers who weren’t willing to pay the high price of a Cadillac (which was GM’s luxury car division). However Buick buyers still wanted the luxury styling, features, and options that were normally available with a Cadillac.
This is where the Buick Electra came into the picture, it was first introduced for the 1959 model year as Buick’s new top-of-the-line luxury car which was a role it would maintain for a little more than 3 decades. Electra sales remained strong for its segment for a majority of its production life. When the Electra reached its apex was during its fifth generation – 1977-1984 which was it’s final generation as a full-size rear-wheel drive car. Though the 1977-1984 Electra had modern and attractive exterior styling and plenty of luxury options, it didn’t have a Buick big-block V8 engine under the hood like its predecessors. It was downsized in comparison to its enormous fourth generation predecessor. However the 1977-1984 Electra was still a large car, it had a more roomy interior cabin than its predecessor and it had a massive rear trunk with lots of cargo capacity.
The Electra was available in a 2-door coupe and 4-door sedan. The Electra had three different trim levels: the Electra 225 which was the base trim model, the Electra Limited which was the mid-range trim model, and the upscale trim level was the Electra Park Avenue. Starting in 1980 the Electra 225 model was dropped and the Electra Limited became the base model. It was the Park Avenue model when equipped with plush cloth seats or leather seats that was on par to a loaded Cadillac in terms of sheer luxury. The Park Avenue had a laundry list of standard features and plenty of options that would please even the most demanding of luxury car buyers back in the day. Also during this time period a 5-door station wagon version of the Electra called the Electra Estate was also available during some model years.
One of the great traits of the 1977-1984 Buick Electra was its soft luxury car ride which so easily absorbed potholes and other road imperfections much better than most modern cars. The Electra also floated on the road especially at highway speeds but this luxury car ride meant its suspension was no match for the turns and road curves when compared to the European luxury sedans of this era.
Though the big-block V8 engine option starting in 1977 was no longer available with the Electra. From 1977-1979 an Oldsmobile 403 cubic-inch small-block V8 rated at 175-185 horsepower and 310-330 lb-ft of torque was a good substitute for the big-block V8. From 1977 to 1980, there were two base Electra engines. One was a Buick 350 cubic-inch small-block V8 rated at 155 horsepower and 270-275 lb-ft of torque and the other was an Oldsmobile 350 cubic-inch small-block V8 rated at 160-170 horsepower and 270-275 lb-ft of torque. Both 350 V8s and the 403 V8 were mandatory with a 3-speed automatic transmission. From 1980-1984 the Electra’s standard engine was a a Buick 4.1 liter (252 cubic-inch) V6 rated at 125 horsepower and 205 lb-ft of torque. Also available at this time was an Oldsmobile 350 cubic-inch diesel V8 rated at 105 horsepower and 200-205 lb-ft of torque. Both engines were equipped with a 3-speed automatic transmission which was later replaced by a 4-speed automatic transmission for better fuel economy. From 1981-1984 the Electra’s had another optional engine which was an Oldsmobile 307 cubic-inch small-block V8 rated at 140-150 horsepower and 240-245 lb-ft of torque. None of these engines gave the Electra quick acceleration but they provided smooth operation and enough low-end torque to adequately propel the 3,900-lb Electra.
GM’s move of transitioning most of Buick’s cars to smaller front-wheel drive cars during the 1980s was not the wisest long term strategy. There’s no doubt a majority of car buyers wanted more fuel efficient front-wheel cars during the 1980s. However there were still a good number of luxury car buyers that wanted a traditional full-size rear-wheel drive car like the Electra. The rear-wheel drive Electra had strong sales and if GM had allowed Buick to continue to produce it, Buick may have not lost its identity. When the Electra was downsized for 1985 to a much smaller sized front wheel drive car the Electra lost its identity and so did Buick. GM tried to rectify this mistake with the rear-wheel drive 1992-1996 Buick Roadmaster 4-door sedan. Unfortunately its wild exterior styling paled in comparison to the Electra’s attractive exterior styling and Roadmaster sales figures never came close to matching the fifth generation Electra’s sales figures leading to its cancellation. Ironically when the Electra 2-door coupe and 4-door sedan moved to front-wheel drive, the rear-wheel drive Electra Estate Wagon lived on until it was replaced in 1991 by the Buick Roadmaster Wagon. For its last model year, 1990, the Electra Estate Wagon was called the Buick Estate Wagon. In the final analysis, the 1977-1984 Buick Electra was a fine luxury car with a tremendous amount of character.
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