By on January 29, 2011


I snapped this shot of an Austin Mini (technically a Morris 850) and a Buick Electra 225 parked side-by-side in an Alameda, California parking lot before I left the West Coast, and every time I look at it I wonder: would I rather have an early Mini or a Malaise Era Electra? I can’t decide!
The Mini was one of the first Down On The Street honorees, and I believe the Electra pictured here has been featured in DOTS as well. So, what’s it gonna be, assuming the cars are similar condition? The beautifully simple machine that put the tranverse-engine/front-wheel-drive platform on the map, or the float-on-a-cloud, big V8-powered expanse of traditional Detroit Luxury Iron?

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55 Comments on “Mini or Electra?...”


  • avatar
    John Horner

    I own a 1967 Fleetwood and an 1985 Fiat/Bertone X1/9. Vehicles like this are cheap enough that you can swing both ways depending on your mood and needs.
     

  • avatar

    Can it be both? The Mini for the daily grind and the Electra to cruise around on weekends?

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Electra 2-2-5 all the way.  For an era when you needed to announce your car’s wheelbase to the world.  So much torque you could almost idle around town.  Gimme curb feelers and a trailer hitch with one of those little boat propeller thingies on there cause I’ve got a sense of humor.  Cruising low n slow in Gallup, New Mexico with my fiance who was a self-professed vata in high school.  Peace brother…
     
    (Although driving either one now would get you lots of smiles and thumbs up from the populace.)

  • avatar

    I was driven to Kindergarten and 1st grade in an Electra just like the one pictured. Buick all the way.
     
    (And yes, this may be the only time ever I’ll express preference for a GM product!)

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Take the Mini!  Look, I’m a land yacht kind of guy, but if you want a big GM luxoboat, be like John Horner and get one from the 60s when they were decent cars.  The 71-76 big GM sleds are just awful – loose, juddering bodies, cheap interiors with door panels that crack in cold weather and dashboards that crack in hot.  Let other people suck up the misery of owning these and just enjoy the nice styling from your Mini.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      The 71/72 Chevrolet Caprice Classic was a darn nice vehicle. I put many miles on one in the early 80s when they were so cheap to buy I could easily afford the gas. Went cross country in it twice with a car full of friends and luggage. Mine had a big block V8, I think a 454. Bought it for a few hundred bucks from a nice couple in Los Gatos who had cared for it from new.
      Good times, good times!
       
       
       

  • avatar
    Monty

    They’re both old enough to justify buying both. You could throw the Mini in the Electra’s trunk for storage.

  • avatar
    OliverTwist

    I lived in Denver for eight years and had seen plenty of Mini, including the 1996 model that was documented as 1966 as to circumvent the rigorious compliance requirement.
     
    One day, I saw a 1966 right-hand-drive model with bright orange paintwork parked on the sales forecourt. The sales associate looked at me and told me right away that I would NOT fit the Mini at all! I retorted him by pointing out that he made a quick judgment without seeing me entering and seating in the Mini. He reluctantly gave me the keys and was very afraid of liability should I injure myself in an attempt to stuff myself in the car.
     
    Well, due to the lorry-like steering wheel position, I slid in very effortlessly and showed him how much room I had in the Mini. He was amazed beyond belief and told me to take it for a spin.
     
    Because of somewhat dirty windscreen, I stopped by the petrol station to peruse the windscreen washing facility. A couple of redneck guys with jacked up 4×4 pick-up truck saw me and almost died laughing at the tiny “clown” car. When I climbed out of the car, they stopped laughing, and their jaws dropped far down in bewilderment. I yelled, “What’s the problem, eh?”
     
    They couldn’t understand how could a man like me fit in the Mini easily. To sum up the story, I am 6’8″ or 205cm tall. Mini has more headroom and legroom than Chevrolet Suburban…

  • avatar

    My dad had an Electra 225.  Over-boosted power brakes and steering and the huge hood made it really scary to drive.  It was the automotive equivalent of a sensory deprivation tank.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    A fellow hobbyist has one of those big Buicks as his main driver. He goes to meets all over the country with it; iirc it has over 300.000 miles. He told me once that he had another one waiting in the garage in case this one gets swallowed up in an earthquake or something.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Requires a cost comparison for replacing the windshield.
    The cheaper of the two gets a nod from my mostly oval-shaped head.

  • avatar
    zbnutcase

    Is Paul back yet?

  • avatar
    Sam P

    If you’re gonna go land yacht, go all the way and get a Cadillac or a Lincoln from the late 60′s or early 70′s. Don’t go halfway with a Buick.

    • 0 avatar
      npbheights

      That sums up my feelings about Buick and Mercury.  They just don’t feel “all the way” A 225 inch wheelbase Electra is cool, but the 133 inch wheel base on a Fleetwood Brougham is cooler.  The Buick faithful will say I “just don’t get it”.  I agree with that… but I’d rather have a Mark or and Eldo over a Riviera, or a Continental or a Fleetwood over a Grand Marquis or Electra/Roadmaster/Park Ave or what have you.

      But back to the question of Mini or Electra….. Definetly the Electra – With fresh paint.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The Electra never had a 225 inch wheelbase. The 225 name came from the 225 inch overall length.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    Get both! Put boat hooks on the trunk of the Deuce-And-A-Quarter and use the Mini as a dinghy.
     
    I grew up driving land yachts and I happily drove a CRX for nearly a decade. However, for me, both of the featured cars go too far in their respective small/big directions to be truly appealing to me. The Mini would be fun and nimble, but that would be offset by it feeling old, crude, and vulnerable. The Buick is completely devoid of handling and would slurp up gas at a prodigious rate. I would love another CRX and the H-body LeSabre I currently drive is as about as big as I care to go for a car. Now given a choice between those two, I’d take the CRX.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Mini you could find in a parking lot.. Electra you’d have to find one… Likewise with a gas pump – Electra you’d always be looking.

  • avatar
    ixim

    225 all the way! You can buy brand new versions of the Mini today; but a Buick like that? Think of it – a wheelbase 20 inches longer than an entire Odyssey! I remember those boats – once you got used to them, they were easier to drive than many smaller contemporaries.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      Agreed, but if it were a full-size Buick from the seventies, I’d want a Centurion (preferably a pre-smog convertible).

    • 0 avatar
      Ben

      The “brand new” (bloated) version of the MINI has nothing in common with the original, don’t let the marketing department tell you otherwise.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      The “brand new” (bloated) version of the MINI has nothing in common with the original, don’t let the marketing department tell you otherwise.

      I look forward to the day that we can call a 2600 lb vehicle bloated, but unfortunately we’re just not there yet.

  • avatar
    william442

    As the once proud owner of a MG 1100, I suggest that the Buick is the better choice. All it needs is some good shocks.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    In  the  parking lot at  Lime Rock , I happened across a mini parked  next  to a MINI. The MINI  is  is a foot  larger  in  every dimension.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    I’ll take the Electra. I’m not sure I can make the psychological adjustment going from one to the other. The Electra is a pre-’75, so it’s smog exempt in California and some power can be restored. It would be perfect for my San Diego to Vegas runs. The trick there is to fill the tank BEFORE you enter the casino.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      The trick there is to fill the tank BEFORE you enter the casino.

      Ain’t that the truth.  As a side note the GM automatics of those days would actualy be strong enough to handle the power increase. 

  • avatar

    This is really a question of “do you need a speed guy on the outside or do you need a starting  left tackle?”

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    The Electra 225 was named for the original model’s total length. This car has a 127″ wheelbase and this generation topped out at a total length of 233″, according to the wiki, anyway.

  • avatar

    Quality in Detroit took a dive in the 70s, so you’d probably want a Deuce & a Quarter from ’71 or’72. ’71 was the last year without any smog equipment. Concerns about the environment aside, most of the cars from the mid to late 1970s ran like caca because they were struggling to meet the new emissions standards. I think that sometimes people take for granted just how much engineering and scientific knowledge has been gained over the past 40 years when it comes to controlling what’s going on inside the combustion chamber. 600 horsepower is no big deal really, the old 426 Hemis and other hi-po big blocks of the 60s can do that, but the ZR1 gets almost 30mpg on the highway.
    It’d be interesting to take a Cadillac V8-6-4 and retrofit it with modern control devices and a modern ECU. That engine was on sale for only a year and almost killed Cadillac. Now everyone has cylinder deactivation. If you look back at automotive history you’ll find a lot of good concepts at first failed because the tech or materials science just wasn’t advanced enough to implement them well. Later inventors/developers took the same basic concepts but by then they had tools to properly implement them.
    If you’re going with the Deuce, that engine bay is huge. I think you’d probably be able to fit any modern engine in there. Unless you really have a thing for vintage Buick 455s, I’d recommend going the full restomod route w/ a modern LSx, a transmission that has more than 3 forward speeds, and maybe a multilink rear suspension. Obviously disks at all four corners. That big old BOF has a long wheelbase so you can probably stiffen up the suspension quite a bit before you give it an uncomfortable ride. Throw in a modern sound system and you have a fine car for cruising both boulevards and interstates.
    The Mini? Great car in theory, perhaps the most fun car to drive of all times, but very, very primitive with almost no soundproofing or insulation of any kind. That engine is a primitive pushrod engine with crappy gas flow because the intake and exhaust are on the same side. Also, to save space Alec Issigonis had the engine and transmission share the same case, with shared lubrication. The gears chew up the long chain polymers in the oil so the engine lubrication suffers and you really need something thicker than 10-40 in your gearbox. I’m no safety nanny, but I wouldn’t want my kids driving an old Mini. It’s got great active safety, if you can avoid it, in a Mini you probably can maneuver out of trouble, but if an accident’s going to happen, it’ll crumple. Again, if you’re going to drive an old Mini, restomod it and put in a Honda drivetrain or even a ‘Busa or some other BEC route. One thing I wouldn’t touch on a Mini is the suspension and steering. That’s perfect. Rubber springs work differently than steel.

    • 0 avatar

      Great advice on Mini! Duly noted.

    • 0 avatar
      Ben

      Just to add to Ronnie’s advice regarding oil for the mini, just stay away from synthetics, change it every 2000 miles and you will find that the engine and gearbox will withstand a lot of punishment.
      With regards to the crappy gas flow, this is nothing that a decent A series tuner can’t fix. The A series engine has been around for over 50 years, and there are plenty of street registered minis able to pull a 14 second quarter mile using the A series. Changing the engine removes some of the car’s character – the A series has a rumble that is as distinct as a Harley or a Subaru.

      • 0 avatar
        jpolicke

        Don’t know why you would stay away from synthetics. My choice for this engine would be Mobil 1 10-40 motorcycle oil. It was designed for engines that share oil with transmissions, has the zinc anti-wear additives that they took out of car oils, and will hold up better than your dino stuff.

    • 0 avatar

      Ben, you do have a point. The A series engine is a known quantity and parts are plentiful because of the Spriget. It’s available in displacements from 850cc to 1298cc so you have your choice of gas miser or a performance car. My brother still owns a Mini, the shell is sitting about 50 ft from here. I worked on it years ago and know the car pretty well. It’s a very cool car, no doubt, but it was designed in the 1950s. The A series engine is even older then the car itself.
      Considering the way 1960s and 1970s era British cars turn into iron oxide alloy, if you want a Mini, build one. You can buy complete Mini bodies from British Motor Heritage just like you can buy ’67 Mustangs from Dynacorn.

  • avatar
    turbobrick

    You can call me skipper ’cause I’m going for the Buick. I’d like to eco-mod one of those. Surely you could put an overdrive truck transmission behind that motor with the help of an a-dapter kit, and replace the carb with a home-made TBI fuel injection setup. Dare to dream, 15 MPG here we come!

    • 0 avatar
      Ian Anderson

      Vortec 7.4 (454) and a 4L80E out of an early 90′s 454SS pickup. Or if you’re up for a challenge Holley might have something to control it or you could get a laptop and rig an OBD-II TBI/CPSI system on a custom intake. Still need a controller for the 4L80E though (or if you’ve got money burning a hole in your pocket, a 6L80 from a current model truck/car).

  • avatar
    anchke

    I’m remembering the story of the three bears. Too big … too small … 

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      So it’s 1975 (before the release of the “downsized” b-bodies) what is “just right?”  Caprice Classic with a 400 small block?  Malibu wagon with 350 4brl?  Oldsmobile Cutlass? 

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Chevrolet Nova.  Probably the best car GM made during that period.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Chevy Nova – I agree. I owned a 1972 model after I returned home from the USAF. Bought it in October, 1973, the day my dad retired. Ironically, I toyed with the thought of buying one new while still in the air force, but didn’t want car payments yet. The Nova I bought was the exact color/interior/drivetrain combo I would have ordered! 250 cu. in. six cyl, three-on-the-tree (remember, I was cheap!), metallic brown, off-white interior. Wonderful car. The Electra? It’s worth saving only because it’s pillarless hardtop. Other than that, nah. The Mini? Nope. Nope. Nope.

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    Take the Buick, go to the nearest U-Haul to have a hitch fitted and buy a trailer, go back and get the Mini. Done! I’d take both, but like was said a few comments up it’d be hard not to look for a Cadillac from the same era.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    I had 8 or 10 of the Electra/Park Avenue/98 Regency battleships from the 1969 to the 1976 models. I drove them all over the country. I drove them from the late 70s until about 2004. I would still be driving them if I could afford to put gas in them. Aside from the gas mileage, the only problem I had with these was the fact that in hot weather, gasoline would actually BOIL in the carburetor of the 455 cu. in. big-block. Usually this happened only 1 or 2 days on the hottest days of the year. Many people installed “water injection” systems to cool down the intake manifold somehow. I never did.
    If you can afford the gas- buy the Electra. I would buy the mini, myself. I enjoy small cars too, for around town. But for cross-country interstate cruising, you can’t beat the big Buicks. (Or the Olds 98).
     

  • avatar
    DeadFlorist

    I love Detroit barges more than most, own a couple myself, but would still go with the Mini.  I have a Midget, adore the visceral driving experience, the manual everything, the tossability of the thing.  The Mini would be the same thing I imagine.  The revvy little BMC A-series motor is simple and easy to modify for more power.  Sure, the Mini would be the more hair-raising to drive in traffic, but isn’t that part of the fun?  You haven’t lived until you’ve almost been run over in your tiny English death trap by some witless Tammi in her mall tractor.

  • avatar
    daviel

    deuce anda quarta for me, please.  great car!  The mini would be fun and all, but nothing beats that elderly Buick.  That’s all the cruiser one needs.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The Mini is plenty cool. The Electra 225 looks like a 72, not the best yr for GM build quality,  leaks loose trim etc. Give it Fresh paint Rebuild the 455 with some Kenne-Bell parts and a set of period 16″ Cragers. Restomod that you can bring to shows and have the Grand National owners drool over.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    Well, the Mini probably fits in the Buick’s trunk, so you can have a both/and solution.

    Seriously, Buick all the way.  A ’74 Electra was my daily driver from 1992-96.  They are great cars which handle better and get better mileage than many other barges of that era.  The Electras had more rear overhang than the Cadillac sedans, so the Electra is within an inch of a Fleetwood Brougham in length and has a much bigger trunk.  You can see the decklid thru the back window, so it’s not hard to parallel park. 

    • 0 avatar
      0menu0

      I dd’d a ’76 Electra from ’92 to 94-95. I had a crackhead go cuff me a nice wood-rimmed Grant steering wheel for it. Always packed with people off do some mischief or other. I laugh when thinking of those days.

  • avatar

    I’d take the Electra, simply because it’s of a breed that’s tough to find in this day in age. Lots of transverse, FWD subcompacts around these days, even if they’re not quite as charming as the Issigonis Mini. Full-size, long/low personal luxury coupes are a little harder to come by, sadly.

  • avatar
    2ronnies1cup

    I’m sorry, but in my book anyone who didn’t choose the Mini just can’t be all that interested in the joy of driving.

    Seriously, the Buick is basically just a badge-engineered lump of generic iron designed to make some middle-aged orthodontist feel just a little superior to his suburban neighbour (whose car was a shameful 6″ shorter). The Mini was designed by a guy who seriously loved driving, and frankly it shows.

  • avatar

    Just joined this forum today. I’d choose the 225, and I’m a bit partial. I have a mint 73 4-door in my garage, and a 72 Limited under a car cover. Both project cars with identical 455 V-8 4bbl. Great cars to drive!


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