Buick Skylark: Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review - Muscle Car

Buick Skylark: Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review

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Elise

Written by Elise

2nd October 2020

Buick Skylark: Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review
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Buick Skylark: Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review

By Chris Williams

Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, the Buick Skylark was constantly reinvented. If an American car could be a jack of all trades, the Skylark would be it, beginning as an exclusive luxury model before becoming a feature in sports saloons. It then evolved into a heavyweight muscle car before winding up an anaemic weasel. 

After this car review, I challenge you to find me any car that has or has had such a wide range of personas as the Buick Skylark. 

First Generation (1953-54)

Caption: 1953 Buick Skylark
1953 Buick Skylark

Rolled out in 1953, the Buick Skylark was built for two purposes. First, to commemorate Buick’s 50th anniversary; second, to capitalize on America’s growing post-war optimism and extravagance. 

In 1953, President Truman announced the United States had developed the hydrogen bomb; Walt Disney premiered Peter Pan; the Korean War ended, and Joseph Stalin died. Things were looking cheerful for 1950s America and Buick thought what the leading nation of the Free World required was another posh car. 

Buick did not disappoint. 5.3 metres and two tonnes of chrome, curves, and cachet. Housing a newly-designed 322ci V8 engine with 190bhp, the new Skylark was a beautiful machine with a fairly respectable 103mph top speed. 

Driving around in a new Skylark advertised two things about you. One was that you were a person who liked to exude wealth; the second was that you were a bit of a womble.

The trouble with the Skylark was that it cost $5,000 to buy. The standard Roadmaster Convertible, of which the Skylark was simply an anniversary edition, cost $1500 less. Meanwhile the smaller Special Convertible was half the price. Very few people fell for that con. Overall, Buick did very well in 1953 and sold almost half a million cars, but only 1,690 of them were Skylarks.

In 1954 it was tweaked somewhat but with ultimately the same pitch: a high-spec luxury performance car with a high price. 836 Skylarks were sold that year, whereupon the model was dropped.

Re-emergence

1961 was clearly another year that filled Buick full of hope. John F. Kennedy had narrowly won the presidential election; Barbie’s partner Ken was launched; and all four nuclear weapons aboard two B-52 bombers failed to detonate when the planes crashed in two separate incidents. Consequently, Buick must have felt this was to be a lucky year for America.

Caption: 1961 Skylark
1961 Buick Skylark

Acting on their optimism, Buick revived the Skylark name in 1961 as a high-spec, high-performance version of Buick’s compact series – the Special. High-spec meaning some fancy external and internal trim; high-performance meaning 190bhp which was thirty more than standard. Remember too, that although Buick called the Special a compact car, it was still longer and wider than a MkII Jaguar.   

Granted, the new 1961 Skylark was not as prestigious as the one from the fifties, but it was unquestionably a better machine. 0-62mph took less than nine seconds and it topped out just shy 110mph. It looked good too. With flowing flanks and subtle grille, the ’61 Skylark came across more European; a MkI Cortina rather than Cadillac Eldorado. 

Buick improved on a good model rather than making an undeservedly expensive special edition. Production figures reflected this wiser Skylark reincarnation: almost 13,000 were produced in 1961. In 1962 Buick sold even more: over 40,000 Skylark Coupes and Convertibles. 

Interestingly, Buick’s marketing strategy for the Skylark didn’t evolve much. As with the fifties model, Buick continued to advertise the Skylark as a car for those with a dynamic lifestyle, only with a new slogan as “Buick’s Sweetest”. Brochures for the 1962 Buick Skylark featured Barbie and Ken lookalikes in badminton getup.

The Gran Sport

1965 Buick Skylark Gran Sport
1965 Buick Skylark Gran Sport

The mid-1960s was an important time for the Civil Rights Movement with the Civil Rights Act being passed in 1964, and the Voting Rights Act being passed in 1965. Occurring alongside the Civil Rights Movement in America was the big block movement where car brands began dropping enormous engines in some of their models. 

The Skylark began the sixties as a trim level but became its own distinct model from 1962. As part of the Skylark evolution and in response to the big block movement, this happened again for the 1965 Buick Skylark with the introduction of the Gran Sport badge.

Say hello to the Skylark Gran Sport (above). A standard Skylark, only housing a 400ci, 325bhp V8. And that is all one can say about it. 

Caption: 1969 Buick Skylark Gran Sport
1969 Buick Skylark Gran Sport

Then, as with the Skylark in 1962, the Gran Sport became its own model in 1968. It offered that same 400ci V8, only now it had 340bhp and a massive 597Nm of torque. For those who didn’t demand a tank engine, Buick also offered a less gargantuan 350ci V8. Buick’s evolution in design began to show at this time too. Off went the square tabletop designs and along came Buick’s sloping rear ends and arrow-shaped grilles. 

What is interesting to note with the Gran Sport is that as a top of the line standalone luxury performance car, Buick brought the Skylark very close to the original design premise of the fifties model. But instead of being a flop, this gave the Buick a unique point of difference with other muscle cars. The Gran Sport was not the same as the Mustang, Camaro, or Charger; the Gran Sport was to them what a Bentley is to a Porsche – only the contrast was far less obvious.  

In 1970 the engine size increased again to 455ci. Power increase was negligible but torque went up to an absurd 691Nm. The GS 455 hippo could haul itself from 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds, do the quarter mile in 14.3, and lumber to a top speed of 129mph. Such is the case for modern muscle cars (by which I mean super SUVs with power steering): straight line speed was never an obstacle. 

A tweaked lawnmower could do those sorts of speed without too much trouble. But where the GS 455, super SUVs and tweaked lawnmowers really fall down is in any scenario other than a dead straight road. But in the US, this does not matter because they have little else. 

Downfall

Caption: 1970 Buick Skylark
1970 Buick Skylark

As the Gran Sport stole the limelight, from the late sixties the Skylark began to lose its mojo. 

No longer was the Skylark an exclusive top-ranker or a luxury sports saloon but rather five and a bit metres of quotidian American metal. A disease that proved worsen with age. 

Caption: 1975 Apollo Buick Skylark
1975 Apollo Buick Skylark

In 1973 both the Gran Sport and Skylark models were amalgamated into a single, new mid-size Buick: the Century. That year, Buick’s new compact model, the Apollo (above), featured the Skylark name but the writing was on the wall. The Apollo was an uninspired, boxy machine that only lasted until 1975. 

Hitherto, the Skylark name had done well remaining dignified throughout its reincarnations but as we know, Americans are unable to finish a series. Sadly, the Skylark pushed on through the seventies and eighties as a drab box with wheezy engines. 

Caption: Buick Skylark, 1980s
Buick Skylark, 1980s

But then in the nineties, the Skylark became downright offensive. 

In 1992 Buick decided to replace the box with an arrow-shaped front end that was reminiscent of Buick’s sixties styling. It was no such thing of course; the nineties Skylark had a swollen bottom lip that looked like it had been rubbed with poison ivy. Buick called it “a lasting impression for the nineties”, and no one could disagree with them on that.  

The effect of the poison ivy finally disappeared in 1996 but even with an ordinary face, the Skylark was still dismal. In 1998 the Skylark was mercifully put to sleep but came to an undignified end, undeserving of such an interesting existence. Its last lease of life was as a fleet-only model. 

Caption: 1992 Buick Skylark
1992 Buick Skylark

Summary

Muscle cars don’t tend to change much during their lifetime. Even over decades, the character of classic cars ultimately remains the same. Mustangs, Camaros, Challengers: all carrying the same essence they were issued with when they first rolled off the production lines decades ago. 

Not so with the Skylark. What other car, American or otherwise, can boast such a wide variety of characters? No Aston Martin or Mercedes Benz could boast such a carousel of roles. 

The Skylark was a grand high-roller, a sports saloon, a heavy-weight muscle car, and a platitudinous crone. A remarkable life. 

Author: Chris Williams


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Sources

’61 Skylark from https://www.pinterest.pt/pin/625859679445934516/

’65 Skylark Gran Sport from https://www.pinterest.pt/pin/549298485775952272/

’69 Gran Sport from https://www.pinterest.co.uk/amp/pin/565764771933203598/

’70 Skylark from https://hu.pinterest.com/pin/688417493016626619/

Apollo Skylark from https://www.pinterest.pt/pin/67905906853353605/

80s Skylark from https://www.pinterest.pt/pin/544935623645272074/

’92 Skylark from https://www.pinterest.pt/pin/130815564156688809/


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