By on April 29, 2010

“If you’re going to do something wrong, do it big” (Jayne Mansfield)

Can you blame me for thinking of a certain larger than life blond bombshell of the era while looking at this big topless Buick? But then I said to myself, no, it’s wrong; been there, done that. But googling  to find the vital statistics of this Buick turned up the fact that Jayne Mansfield was killed in an Electra in 1967. Holy coincidence! Or did I subconsciously remember that? Whatever. So despite the risks, I’m forging ahead, hopefully for the best, because frankly it might be a stretch to write much about this overstuffed Buick. Like Jayne, it was meant to be looked at, not analyzed.

That was by Jayne’s own admission. She was acknowledged to be intelligent (she claimed her IQ was 163), spoke five languages, and was a classically trained pianist and violinist. Mansfield admitted her public didn’t care about her brains. “They’re more interested in 40-21-35″. And that first number eventually swelled to 46.

The Electra flaunted its size too, perhaps even more blatantly than Jayne. The Electra 225 first appeared in 1959, with the name a handy reminder to the public of how just long it was, in inches. That would be like Mansfield changing her name to Jayne 40-21-35. I never did find out just how long this ’67 model is, since Buick didn’t see fit to ever change its numbering, probably because the 1961 version was actually shorter than the ’59. Can’t have that; it would be like Jayne having breast reduction surgery. For what it’s worth though, the original ’59 Electra 225 would have been an even more fitting memorial to Jayne.

Vera Jayne Palmer was born in 1933, in Pennsylvania. Aged sixteen, she secretly married Paul Mansfield, and they moved to Austin, Texas where she studied dramatics at the University. She won several beauty contests there, with titles that included “Miss Photoflash,” “Miss Magnesium Lamp” and “Miss Fire Prevention Week.” The only title she ever turned down was “Miss Roquefort Cheese,” because she believed that it “just didn’t sound right.” A few years later, they moved to LA, of course.

I don’t know of any beauty titles the Buicks were winning, but they were mighty handsome in this period. Whereas the big Pontiacs were hard to beat up through 1966, by 1967 the Buicks were giving them a serious run for the beauty gold. In my book, this particular model year stands out as perhaps one of the best of the whole classic big car genre: huge and excessive, yes; but with just enough restraint to keep it from winning any “Cheesy Big Car” awards.

Jayne’s career was a mixed bag, kick-started by an endless stream of publicity stunts that all centered on exposing her mammaries to one degree or another. In a period of 18 months in ’56 and ’57, she appeared in 2500 newspaper photos and had some 122k lines of copy written about her breasts. There were numerous “accidents”, which made Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe failure” look like child’s play. She was smart enough to know which of her assets to leverage, given the times.

Unlike for Jayne, I do have SFW shots of the Buick’s ample rear. This would have made a perfect car for her to plant her tush on the rear deck for a parade: “Miss Magnesium Lamp”.

It wasn’t only men that checked out Jayne’s assets. These two pics are are the proof: Sophia Loren taking stock of the competition. Looks like she’s finally more than met her match. Nothing subtle here; neither Loren’s gaze nor Mansfield’s dress. This incident was actually another publicity stunt designed to upstage Loren at a dinner party in her honor.

But then some things never change.

Drop the top all the way on the Electra, and there’s two big cushy seats to run your hands over. Looks to me like these are vinyl though, not genuine mammal skins. And if you really feel like cozying up, just flip up that center arm rest, and snuggle away. There’s plenty of room for two to have fun, preferably if the car isn’t actually moving. Just the thing to park at the lake on a warm and starry summer night.What else is a big convertible good for?

I picked this picture for two reasons. It appears to prove that Jayne really did play the violin (right before her second marriage in 1958). But look at this simple fenced-in back yard pool and patio; it looks so middle class. It’s easy to forget how actually modestly paid the stars of the fifties were compared to today, and the impact a 90% top incremental tax bracket had. They almost seemed to live like mere ordinary people in 3,000 square foot ranch houses.

The Electra Convertible wasn’t exactly the most common middle class fare, but then it wouldn’t have been that much of a stretch either. Its list price of $4421 ($28k adjusted) was quite a chunk less than the next step up in GM’s convertible hierarchy, the De Ville, which went for $5600 ($36k adjusted). For that extra $8k in today’s money. you got the same basic car under the skin, but the Caddy name, prestige and a bit nicer interior. Performance wise, there was probably no real difference; Buck’s new 430 CID V8 was a 360 hp gem, and every bit as smooth and silent as the Caddy. Money well saved.

The times they were a changing, for both Jayne and big convertibles like the Buick. Their heyday was the the fifties; by the mid sixties they were both anachronisms. The platinum bombshell days were over in Hollywood, and Mansfield’s career steadily declined, until she was doing cheap magazine covers and playing nightclubs, and getting to them in a Buick Electra.

On June 28th, 1967, late at night near Biloxi, Mississippi, she met her grisly fate riding in an Electra sedan driven by a twenty year old. He plowed into the back and of a chemical tanker, shearing off the top of the Buick and Mansfield’s upper head. The since-mandated low bars attached to the back of all trailer trucks designed to prevent such an accident are commonly called Mansfield bars.

The big Buick convertibles, like the rest of GM’s big rag tops, were nearing the end of the line too. Less than 6k of these ’67s were made and within a few more years exposing their large private spaces in public became passé. Air conditioning and changing social values made folks want to ride inside, not outside; sitting out on front porches after supper went the same way too. But the joy of floating along in a big open-top deuce and a quarter is still as timeless as certain female attributes, as this owner will tell you. And if I’ve made a mistake co-mingling Jayne with this Buick, at least it was a big one.

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42 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1967 Buick Electra 225 – The Jayne Mansfield of Convertibles...”


  • avatar
    mjz

    Great article.

  • avatar
    86er

    From the angle you took your first picture, it looks as though the infamous Oregon moss had really overtook this particular vehicle.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Excellent article, Paul. A real pleasure. What I find somewhat dismaying is that the trends you mention cast that era – the 50s and at least 2/3′s of the 60s as an era of relative fearlessness. I had some friends with big convertibles (not an Electra 225, that I can recall). You could do all kinds of things with those cars . . . sit up on the rear deck, yell out at your friends as you drove down the street, etc. With the ubiquity of a/c in both houses and cars, we are cocooned. Having bought a soft-top roadster 7 years ago, one of the first things I noticed about riding around in it was that one had the feeling of being part of the environment, rather than cut off from it. At various times, I had ridden around in soft-tops, but not within the past several decades . . . and I had never owned one.

    You miss out on things when you’re isolated like that.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Wonderful article that really captures the essence of both the car and the starlet.

    My friend has a 1967 Pontiac Catalina convertible in this color. Riding in it is fun…the back seat is very roomy, and the ride is smooth. With the top down the world seems as big and expansive as the car itself. The front is dramatic, but I prefer the styling of the Buick and Olds during this period to the 1967 Pontiac. The nose is a little TOO exaggerated for my taste.

    About the house and pool – by today’s standards her house and pool look modest, but as a kid growing up in a small Pennsylvania town in the early 1970s, I remember that if you even HAD an inground pool, your family was definitely “in the money.”

    And a pool combined with a new or nearly new convertible – especially a Buick, Olds, Chrysler or Pontiac – really meant something.

    Our neighbor had a brand-new 1969 Olds Ninety-Eight convertible (no pool, though). It was admired in the neighborhood. The were rumors, though, of excessive drinking and marital troubles.

    When his wife moved out, and the Olds was replaced by a clean 1957 Ford four-door sedan (which, in those days, was just an old car), those rumors were confirmed. Within a year the house was up for sale, and he was gone.

    Interestingly, Jayne’s daughter is Mariska Hargitay of television’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. She was riding in the car with her mother that fateful night, and escaped death because she was asleep in the backseat. While she has never been as flashy as her mother, she has enjoyed more solid and enduring career. She is attractive, but relies more on actual talent than on sex appeal. I’m sure that there is an automotive metaphor in there somewhere, and that you can find it!

  • avatar
    tced2

    My father had a 4-door hardtop Electra 225 of this vintage. It drove like a tank. I installed an 8-track player in it.

    About the accident that ended Jayne’s life: riding in the back seat was daughter Mariska Hargitay (of Law and Order SVU fame).

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      If you think that the 1967 Electra drove like a tank, you must never have driven a 1953 Oldsmobile 98, or a 1950 Packard. Otoh compared to most cars of its day it did drive like a tank.

      I know that “Mansfield bars” existed before 1967, because I have a vivid memory of sitting at a traffic light and watching the kid driving a 1950 Chevy beside me in the right lane accelerate directly into the back of a semitrailer when the light changed, as though he was quite unaware that it was there. He totaled the car, of course, but escaped with minor (but bloody) injuries because the trailer, in 1959, was equipped with such a bar. The change in 1967 was that they were made mandatory.

  • avatar
    undrgnd40

    thank you for another great curbside classic story. you can’t go wrong illustrating history with an automotive emphasis.

  • avatar
    Rusted Source

    I’m confused. Does this car sport a convertible roof, or is it called “convertible” because it can be transformed into an aircraft carrier at a moments notice?

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    Hilarious piece. I was going to try to work in a comment about an Electra Complex, but it just wouldn’t go.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Paul:

    Press release says that her car was a 1966 Electra. The attached link shows a picture of it, maybe you can determine, I don’t know big Buicks well enough from that era to tell.

    http://www.findadeath.com/Deceased/m/Mansfield/Jayne%20CAR/mansfield%20crash.JPG

  • avatar
    sportsuburbangt

    Great read. The late 60′s buick lines are really hansome.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    Nice. Both of them. I would take a Buick from the 50s through the early 70s over any similar Cadillac. The Buicks just seem classier some how.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    We wuz skunked! Congratulations, Paul! It’s amazing that everyone thought it was an exterior panel. I’m personally surprised it was so plain, especially for a Buick of that vintage. Now we’ll have to check for interior clues, since you’ve discovered our weakness!

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      It’s a section of the rear tail light. The red portion came out looking black, because it was in bright sunshine, and the contrast was so strong.

  • avatar
    msquare

    My aunt had a ’68 sedan and my father’s friend had a ’68 convertible very similar to this one. Only differences between ’67 and ’68 were the front and rear styling. My parents had a 1970 Estate Wagon to haul their six kids around, of which I’m the youngest. I was five years old when he bought it, and it stayed in the family long enough for me to drive it through college.

    Leather interiors were very rare in the late 1960′s, even on luxury cars. If you remember, synthetic materials were considered space age back then. We went back to naturals after a few years of uncomfortable and ugly in the 1970′s. Caddies had leather, Buicks and Oldsmobiles made do with vinyl.

    They were by no means cut-rate Cadillacs, however. The corporate styling cues around the greenhouse are there, but short of that, the car shared virtually nothing with any other division, including such things as frames, suspensions and engines.

    Again, as I’ve posted previously, GM was at its best when the divisions acted like separate car companies. Fans of one GM marque did not necessarily like others, and there were some rivalries. Even the second-gen Camaro and Firebird were only 25% interchangeable.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    Wonderful piece , wonderful car (I do have a thing for real Buicks) and wonderful woman. Only ever saw her, when I was very young , in “Girl Can’t Help It” and that says it all.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    These were handsome cars, and the convertible was the best looking of them all. There was really no competition with this car in that era. Nobody would have considered an Olds 98 quite as high up the social ladder, and we all knew that the Chrysler New Yorker was just a tarted-up Newport.
    I grew up in an Oldsmobile family, and we didn’t know that many “Buick people.” My parents had one set of friends, a homebuilder and his wife, who had a white 66 Electra 4 door hardtop. As a kid, I occasionally rode in the big Electra, which I think was the first air conditioned car I ever rode in. I still remember the “speed minder” or whatever Buick called it. You would set a small second needle in the speedo at a particular speed, and the thing would buzz if the car exceeded the set speed. Kind of a low-tech (if annoying) cruise control.
    I spent a little time in a couple of 67-68 LeSabre convertibles, but never an Electra. Although I have never been much of a GM guy, I would have no problem with a big Electra droptop like this one. Even a yellow one.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Judging by the exposed ribs on Mrs. Mansfield’s dog, celebrites must not have been too big on feeding their pets. That, or maybe pets today are just spoiled.

  • avatar
    mimartin65

    Love the article and absolutly love the 225. Only one fact check. Mansfield was not decapitated in her fatal accident. That has been a rumor since her untimely demise.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Jayne’s daughter Mariska Hargitay sould be featured in a review of the current Buicks…..that would be awesome closure….

  • avatar
    catbert430

    When I was a kid, our next door neighbor had a brand new ’67 LeSabre Custom coupe.

    I recall a beautifully comfortable ride; much more so than my Dad’s ’66 Chrysler Newport.

    It had a beautiful interior. I’m sure the Electra was even more impressive.

    When the ’69′s came out, the neighbor bought a new LeSabre Custom and my Dad bought a ’69 Pontiac Executive.

    I was expecting the Pontiac to be the equal of the Buick. Wrong. The Buick was comfortable, quiet, and plush. The Pontiac was a POS. My Dad only kept it for 9 months and traded back to Chrysler. I could never talk him into a Buick. He always said he couldn’t afford one.

    Anyway, thanks for the article.

  • avatar

    Both are very nice…..along with the car.

  • avatar
    NeonCat93

    I’ve seen footage of Jayne playing the violin on the Jack Benny Show (one of his schticks was to play badly)and she did very well at it.

  • avatar

    This is quite the whimsical CC. I love the way you interwove Jayne and the Buick, yes, they do go together oh, so well. And I love the shots of poor Sophia Loren staring enviously at Jayne’s ample bosom.

    But I think the ’64 and ’65 Electras looked far better than the ’67; by ’67, in my opinion, GM styling was in clear decline. The front of the ’67 just does nothing for me, while the earlier two were superb.

    Jayne Mansfield was killed on Tom Magliozzi’s birthday in 1967.

    • 0 avatar
      big_gms

      +1 on the older Electras being a little nicer looking than the ’67. The ’67 frontal styling was never my favorite either, although it’s not bad. I think styling across all GM brands was a little better in ’64-’66 than in ’67-’68. Still, I wouldn’t mind being the owner of this ’67!

  • avatar

    When are you going to do a CC on the microbus that’s in the background of Electra picture #3?

  • avatar

    She was smart enough to know which of her assets to leverage, given the times.

    And a mighty long lever those assets would need too.

  • avatar

    Growing up, my best friend’s parents drove Buicks. They’re, as they say, of means, country club members. His dad drove a series of Duece & A Quarters. His mom drove Estate Wagons.

    Eventually his dad shifted to big Lincolns, when Jews started buying Fords, but his mom continued to drive big Buick wagons as long as she had to drive carpool.

    I didn’t understand why he didn’t drive Caddys instead of Buicks until I was old enough to understand that he probably thought the Cadillacs were too flashy. It was my friend’s mom’s family that had the successful business. His dad was from a poor family and they met at Michigan, where he was on scholarship. So maybe he wasn’t comfortable driving a Cadillac. Lincolns were always a bit understated compared to Cadillacs.

  • avatar

    My family was a Buick family. We always drove Buicks that my maternal grandparents bought new, drove for a few years, and then handed down to us. One of these was a tan/white ’69 Electra 225 sedan. It was the first car I ever “drove” at the age of 7. My sister drove and called it “Burt” after her idol Burt Reynolds. Later my older brother totaled it by running it into a streetlamp, but we stuck another front end on it, repainted it metallic blue and drove it for another few years before selling it. If you’re on the ground looking at your hands in the reflection of the rear bumper it looks as if your fingers are separated. This fascinated me so much that I’m lucky I survived playing behind that thing so often.

  • avatar
    postjosh

    i grew up in a coke bottle green ’67 le sabre sedan. great car. we had it for about ten years until someone rear ended it when it was parked on the street. i preferred the rounded trunk on the le sabre to the boxy rump of the electra.

    http://carphotos.cardomain.com/ride_images/1/2731/3841/6826920007_large.jpg

    my father naively followed his friend’s advice and for the first few years, he didn’t change the oil. just topped it off. after it developed a valve tap, a mechanic set him straight but the car never had any major problems. i remember the air-conditioning vents were plastic chrome balls that could be popped out of their sockets and played with. i still prefer vinyl upholstery to velour. you can clean it and it holds up much better in the long run.

    my buddy around the corner’s parent’s bought 2 or 3 electra 225′s in a row. i was always envious. fantastic land yacht.

  • avatar
    probert

    I always thought she was killed by the “glass necklace” but I’ll take your word for it.

  • avatar
    Monty

    My wife’s grandfather had a 1968 Electra 225 Custom Limited.

    455 cubes of the smoothest, most effortless, power ever put in a GM product along with the T-400 3 spd, on the extended wheelbase with the cushy yet firm cloth upholstery, and almost total noise suppression, made this the best highway cruiser I have ever driven.

    It has never, and I mean NEVER, seen snow, and still has less than 100,000 miles on it. Garage parked during the spring summer and fall, it was put up on blocks after the last weekend in September, and only taken out in the spring when there had been at least a month of no snow on the roads.

    It was supposed to go to me when he died, but his oldest son took possession, and because it was not spelled out in his will, just a verbal promise to me, means I will have to wait for another death to claim my car.

    It still has his golf clubs and change of clothes in the trunk from the day he died.

  • avatar
    FromBrazil

    Oh the mammories..I mean the memmories. Where’s spell check when you need it

  • avatar
    Zarba

    Currently thinking about a ’68 Lesabre convertible. Unfortunately, the Sabre only came with a 350/TH400. If the price is right…

  • avatar
    gottacook

    “Only differences between ‘67 and ‘68 were the front and rear styling.”…

    I’m pretty sure this isn’t precisely true. I recall interior differences between the 1967 and ’68 full-size Pontiacs that probably were implemented across all the full-size GM cars: more dashboard padding as well as new A-pillar padding, in addition to the newly mandated head restraints and separate shoulder belts.

  • avatar
    msquare

    Looking a little more closely at the ’67, you’re right.

    ’68′s had a new dash and a revised instrument cluster with a square sweep-hand speedometer. The identical cluster was transplanted into a different dash for the ’69 and ’70 models.

    Head restraints came in ’69 and I believe the shoulder belts did too. They were definitely there by ’70.

    The ignition lock also moved to the steering column in ’69.

  • avatar
    amca

    I believe that chihuahua perished with Jayne in the wreck of the Deuce and a Quarter.

  • avatar
    1600 MKII

    A bit more – if I’m not mistaken, the “Deuce’n a Quarter” actually came standard with vinyl…leather was pretty rare in that car during the 60s…It actually was not as sporting a car as the Coupe de Ville for some reason and certainly had by far and away a more spectacular engine. All that notwithstanding, the Deuce was a very very cool car and I certainly wouldn’t turn one down.

  • avatar
    Accazdatch

    Mansfield bars…

    I HAVE to remember that.

    Ive seen a couple of the 225′s around, but none looks as bad as that does.

    ((Wish I knew how to post pics on here.. from / through my home library))

    Mansfield was defiantly a looker, but a good 20-30yrs before my time. As far as the 225 (Ive heard a few people call it Duece and a qtr )goes.. thats easily 12yrs before me.

    Nice cars just the same, but the paint and the m.y doesnt do it justice.

    The 59 is more my speed..
    http://www.allsportauto.com/english/detailphoto.php3?zl_id=3849&zl_idMD=623
    http://www.allsportauto.com/english/wallpapers.php3?zl_id=3853&zl_idMD=623

    Even a 63 I could deal with..
    http://www.daytonaclassics.net/custom.asp?id=224665&page=54

    But that 67… is just too much.


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