In June of 1960, LeRoy Smith, a 27-year-old steel worker for Inland Steel in Erie, Pennsylvania, was driving down French Street past Roth Motors when he noticed a brand-new Electra convertible through the showroom’s window. One look at the gold 225 and he was hooked. He was young, he was excited, and he just had to have that car. With several options – but lacking air-conditioning and bucket seats – the price of the Electra was $3,895, which included taxes, delivery and accessories.
Having finished making all the payments on his 1956 Buick Super hardtop, he happily handed over its keys for a $1,000 credit, and on Friday, June 10, the Pearl Fawn Electra was his. Living in Erie, there wasn’t much call for air-conditioning, and with his young wife, Andrea, the leather-trimmed bench seat suited him just fine. How he loved that car: smooth, quiet and a fun car to take “Andie” for rides with the top down.
Soon thereafter, though, Smith’s father, a carpenter, finished building a brand new home for his son with a heated two-car garage in Lake City, 20 miles from Erie and 25 miles from Inland Steel. In 1961, after several months of commuting from his new home to work, Smith got first-hand experience with Buick’s reputation of building gas-guzzlers. The car was equipped with the famous 401cid Nailhead V-8 that developed 325 horsepower and 445 lb. ft. of torque. Although a strong and reliable engine, there may have been times when Smith looked down at his gas gauge thinking it was a tachometer.
In 1961, Buick introduced its unique 215 cid aluminum-block V-8 engine that developed 155 hp and weighed only 318 pounds. To underscore its performance and economy capabilities, the division entered that year’s Mobilgas Economy Run (Buick dealers entered cars in the late 1950s with poor results) with the new economy-sized Special (not much bigger than a Corvair) and took 1st (and 2nd) in class with 24.7075 mpg. These results went a long way in promotions, which certainly did not go unnoticed by Smith. In March of 1961, when the Special Skylark was unleashed with a 185 hp version of the aluminum V-8 (top speed reported at 100mph), Smith decided that he needed a gas-saving hardtop for his daily ride in to Erie.
Upon his return to Roth Motors, he was introduced to the cold hard reality of depreciation. Smith was offered less for the Electra on trade-in than what he still owed on the $2,380.20 note (he had put down $514.80 cash toward the Electra). Frustrated, instead of giving up the one-year-old Electra, he bought the Skylark outright and parked the 225 in his two-car garage. After all, it was good, heated storage.
Through the years, he still took the Electra out for short rides and servicing, but very rarely. Thirty-six years later, in 1997, Inland Steel moved out of state and left Smith unemployed. His cousin, Henry Smith from Kersey, Pennsylvania, a long-time AACA member and owner of a 1948 Lincoln Continental coupe, had never seen LeRoy’s Buick. Tentative plans were made to meet with him so that they could see each other’s automotive treasures. After LeRoy’s official retirement, he wanted to start displaying the Buick at car shows, just as Henry did. The meeting never took place. Unfortunately, less than a year before LeRoy turned 65, March 1998, he died of cancer.
Henry Smith ultimately purchased the car from Andie in April of 1998. At the time, the odometer showed that just 17,460 miles had been tallied. But time took its toll on the original tires, top and carpet, and Henry has since installed a new white convertible top, correct loop carpeting and a set of wide-white sidewall tires. Other than that, and with a lot of cleaning inside, out and under, the car is original.
Since he started showing it in AACA, it has won First Junior and Senior awards and has garnered three Preservations. Best of all, the car gets exercised when it goes to shows, and the odometer now reads 21,680 miles. Henry puts a substantial amount of his own work, time and effort into restoring his cars and showing them. He credits help to his passion by his late wife of 54 years, Lillian Smith, and to his sons, Chris and Kevin.
West Peterson is the editor of Antique Automobile, the official publication of the Antique Automobile Club of America.