The lifespan of a car often tops out at about 20 years, so it may come as a surprise to see a gleaming 60-year-old auto effortlessly cruising the streets. For Tom Petersen, the longevity of his 1960 Buick Electra 225 is about preserving an automobile of the past and staying connected to family.
The first-generation Electra was purchased by Petersen’s grandfather in 1981 and passed down to his father. After his father died in 2021, Petersen wanted to keep the car in the family and shipped it last summer from his parents’ Clear Lake, Wisconsin, home to the Tri-State.
“It just makes me smile,” says Petersen, a pharmacist for Deaconess Health System. “People wave and come out and talk to you. (The car is) so open, people will literally talk to you on the street.”
The car weighs a hefty 4,570 pounds of mostly steel and is nearly 18 and a half feet long. Petersen must keep the Electra in a storage facility in Newburgh, Indiana, because it’s too long to fit in his Evansville garage.
Many of the Electra’s features harken back to the 1960s. A button on the floor next to the pedal system dials up any station on the Wonderbar radio, including two civil defense warning stations in case of a nuclear attack during the Cold War. A dial on the dashboard can set a buzzer to warn the driver if they are going too fast, and each passenger seat has its own ash tray and cigarette lighter.
Petersen often takes the convertible out for a quick cruise along the Newburgh riverfront during lunch. When he was younger, he would drive the Electra in summer parades in Wisconsin. He compares riding in it to floating on air.
“The car’s been a lot of fun. It’s been in the family for a long time, and I’m wanting to keep it in the family for sure,” says Petersen. “I have a daughter who’s 24 and she’s already said, ‘Dad, when you’re done with this car, I want it.’”