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This ’70s Buick With a Tandem Axle Is a Wacky Prototype With a Mysterious Past

Rumors say this is either an escaped GM prototype or a government experiment gone wrong.
Tandem-axle 1971 Buick Electra 225 coupe in blue
Facebook Marketplace

Tandem axles are pretty much only good when you need to tow a whole lot. Otherwise, they just add weight. That might be why this 1971 Buick Electra 225 has one, as some rumors indicate it was a failed, escaped General Motors prototype. But that third axle might actually owe its existence to a completely different purpose: an experiment by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to reduce road maintenance.

This bizarre Buick recently popped up for sale on Facebook Marketplace in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania. It would’ve been the top spec in its time, with the 455 cubic-inch (7.5-liter) big-block V8 and the stout three-speed TH400 automatic transmission. What’s of real interest though is its peculiar tandem-axle setup out back, which is said to hydraulically lift and lower. Typically, tag axles like this are used on heavy trucks, where they help shoulder extreme towing loads across larger numbers of tires.

Tandem-axle 1971 Buick Electra 225
Tandem-axle 1971 Buick Electra 225. Facebook Marketplace

For years, that’s what this Buick’s origin was accepted to be, as some sort of tandem-axle towing prototype that avoided GM’s crusher. So indicated a comment on a September 2013 Bring a Trailer blog post, which chronicled a Craigslist listing for the car for sale in Pennsylvania.

User Kevin Preston said he’d called the seller, who apparently claimed to be a former Cadillac dealer that bought the car in California back in 1986. Supposedly, the seller had paperwork that suggested the car was engineered by GM, then assembled by a body shop that was supplied a complete conversion kit. They also claimed to know of a second example owned by a woman back in California.

However, an entirely different story was told when the car came up for sale just last week on Facebook. The current seller acknowledged the previous story, but disputed it, instead positing that the Buick was a one-off built in 1972 on a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. PennDOT was allegedly having problems with studded tires tearing up asphalt in the winter as they slid around, intensifying road maintenance needs. The DOT apparently theorized that adding a third trailing axle out back would increase lateral stability, thus reduce wheelspin and therefore road wear.

How exactly that went has been lost to time, but it presumably wasn’t well if this Buick was released into the wild. It remains there to this day, still on the road, a wacky prototype that might be the only one of its kind. Or might not, depending on which story you believe. Someone on the V8Buick.com forum who said they’d spoken to the seller heard that the car has been in the same family for 40 years, indicating the story may have changed in the last decade.

There’s no denying the mystique this story adds to this classic Buick, but you’ll have to ask yourself if owning the subject of that intrigue is worth the $100,000 asking price. A quick search online shows you can get a regular old Electra of the era for around $30,000, so you really have to be invested in the story. Or at least, that third axle, regardless of whether it’ll help you tow or stay safe in the snow.

The GM Heritage Center was unable to find anything about this car in its archives.

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