Buick Skylark is Classic American Culture on Wheels


Buick Skylark remains an unsung hero of the 1960s and 70s American muscle car era. While the Pontiac GTO, Dodge Charger, Chevrolet Camaro, Chevelle, and of course the Ford Mustang steal the spotlight, the Buick Skylark brand has been ageless and enduring for over 60 years.

The Buick Brand

One of the oldest car brands in the world, Buick has produced some of the most iconic and powerful rigs ever built for the road. First established in 1903, it has been a continued favorite among classic car enthusiasts and a top-selling brand for General Motors through the years.

The Beginning of General Motors

Many people don’t realize that Buick was the company that actually started General Motors, not the other way around. It was Buick’s lead investor, Billy Durant, who used profits from early Buick sales to acquire a handful of auto companies.

In 1908, Durant formed the holding company, General Motors, which would go on to capture 50% of the auto market in the United States over the next 100 years.

From the big screen to the race track, Buick has graced streets and highways with flawless lines and luxury appeal. The Oscar-winning film Rain Man features the quintessential convertible, the 1949 Buick Roadmaster. And recently in the movie La La Land, the main character Sebastian drives a 1982 Buick Riviera.  

buick roadmaster
The 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible from the movie ‘Rain Man’

David Dunbar Buick, The Engine Master

Racing heritage shows the mark of Buick’s innovative engineering. As far back as 1909, Buick won the Prest-O-Lite Trophy, a 250-mile race that existed two years before the first Indianapolis 500. And during the 1980s Buick won the NASCAR Championships in 1981 and 1982.  

Buick founder David Dunbar Buick was a master builder of gasoline engines throughout the 1890s. Buick’s first patented valve-in-head engine design was the most powerful single-cylinder engine of its time.

The Launch of the Buick Skylark

Then in 1953, after decades of successful cars, Buick launched the Skylark to commemorate its 50th anniversary. The Buick Skylark name comes from the species of bird, known for its rich singing in mid-flight.

The car started as a limited-production model as part of the Roadmaster series. The all-new Buick Skylark convertible incorporated the company’s first V8 engine and 12-volt electrical system.

Fast forward to the 1960’s where Buick relaunched the Skylark, it would capture the imagination and enthusiasm of motorists.

We’ll take a look at the Skylarks from the 60s and 70s and find out what made them unique. Then, we’ll discuss why someone might want to add this iconic car to their garage.

What we’ll cover:

  • A brief history of the Buick Skylark
  • 1966 Skylark
  • 1967 Skylark
  • 1970 Skylark
  • 1972 Skylark
  • What Makes the Buick Skylark Unique?
  • Who Might Want to Own a Skylark?

A Brief History of the Buick Skylark

The Buick Skylark first came into production as a limited-edition model back in 1953. The year marked Buick’s 50th anniversary of the brand and the introduction of Buicks first-ever 5.8L Nailhead V8 engine. Buick produced 1,690 units, beating out two other convertibles launched that year, the Cadillac Eldorado and the Oldsmobile Fiesta. 

First generations of the early 1950s Buick Skylark originated from the design framework of the popular Roadmaster two-door convertible model. Some features that influenced later models included the cut-out wheel openings and a cut-down door at the bottom of the side window. 

The 1953 Skylark luxury car has many standard equipment features that buyers didn’t expect from cars of similar price range. The Skylark had full carpeting, powered brakes, electric power windows, and an AM radio branded as the “Selectronic.” 

Redesigning Skylark

Buick achieved a streamlined look for the car design by cutting the windshield by 3-inches. Then, taking the seats, side windows, steering, and the convertible tub, they lowered everything a bit compared to the previous Roadmaster model. 

After a slump in sales and economic pressure during the late 1950s, the Skylark was reborn in 1961 as the Buick Special Skylark. Here, we see a departure from the Roadmaster design base and a wider selection of body designs

There was the two-door convertible and hardtop, the two-door coupé, and a four-door station wagon. In the same year, Buick upgraded the V8 engine from a two-barrel carburetor to a four-barrel version. The new engine upgrades enhanced power to 185bhp. From 1961 to 1963 the Skylark came in both a 2-speed automatic, a 3-speed manual, and a 4-speed manual. 

Launch of the Gran Sport Skylark

Skipping ahead to 1965, Buick launched the Gran Sport variants to their hardtop, coupés, and convertibles. The Gran Sport was similar to the GT or Grand Tourer. Many cars from this era featured a combination of performance and luxury to tackle long distances at high speeds. Perfect for a smooth ride down the freshly paved long and open American highway system.  

By 1968, Buick launched the 2nd generation Skylark produced in a hardtop coupé and four-door sedan. The Gran Sport version featured a massive 6.6L V8 churning a powerful 340bhp. 

The 3rd generation Skylark rolled off the production in 1973. Buick decided to rebrand the four-door sedan model calling it the Apollo. These cars started with 3.8L V6 engines, later bumped up to 4.6L V8s. 

Skylark Rolling Through the 80s and 90s

Moving on to the 1980s and the Skylark brand continued into its fourth generation. Cars of this era were based on General Motors’ “X-body” platform. Buick produced both two and four-door body designs and were fitted with robust, yet not-so-exciting 2.8L V6 engines. 

The last two generations, the 5th and 6th, saw Buicks’ continued innovation in engine design and power output. The 2.8L carbureted V6 was replaced with a modern multi-port fuel-injected V6, pushing out 125bhp. After some minor improvements and design experimentation, the last Buick to wield the Skylark badge left the factory on December 4th, 1997. 

The 1966 Skylark

In many respects, the 1966 Buick Skylark GS was one of the most popular muscle cars of the late 1960s. The Gran Sport edition Skylark rivaled some of the biggest names in muscle cars like the Pontiac GTO and Chevrolet Chevelle SS. 

Due to the need to restore and maintain muscle cars of this era, a huge aftermarket industry of spare parts formed alongside the motor manufacturers. Whether it’s a replacement convertible top, bucket seats, a front fender, wheels, it doesn’t matter what you might need for your restoration project, there’s plenty of supply of spare parts for your old Skylark. To this day, muscle cars like the 1966 Buick Skylark are some of the most affordable classic cars to maintain. 

Luxury, Comfort, and Power

The 1966 Skylark was a redesign of the early 1960s models. The chassis increased to a 115-inch longer wheelbase with independent front suspension and coil-spring suspension at the rear. Both V6 and V8 engine blocks were on the 1964 model year production line. Buick fitted a two-barrel carburetor with a 9.0:1 compression ratio producing around 210 horsepower. However, the V8 engine pumped out 260 hp, with a higher engine compression ratio of 10.25:1.

Both the V6 and V8 engines coupled with a synchronized three-speed manual transmission, and for those interested in an easy cruise, a two-automatic was also available. The interior spec for the Skylark is always one of luxury and comfort. Carpets lined the entire floor area, and seats were decked in either all vinyl or cloth. Padded dashtop, rear armrests, air-conditioning, power seats, and a first for the time, an AM/FM radio. 

The 1966 Skylark series produced around 70,000 cars retailing at $2,749 for the V6 version and $2,818 for the more popular V8. The Gran Sport “GS” edition, technically still a passenger car, was catching many people’s eye as a desirable sports car.

Here’s an up-close and personal tour of the 1966 Buick Skylark Gran Sport. Fast forward to the 6-minute mark to hear the owner fire up the engine. Very impressive car!

The 1967 Skylark

The 1967 Buick Skylark, like its 1966 sister, is based on the developments of the 1964 Skylark. In this year, the convertible four-door sedan was added back to the series lineup. The 1967 two-door sedan model was the only Skylark fitted with a V6 engine. All other models made good use of the V8 with 340 cubic inches and fitted with a Rochester two-barrel carburetor blasting out 220 hp at 4400rpm. 

In 1967, the Gran Sport became a separate series in the production line instead of an option package in previous years. There were also some brand names shuffling between models. The Special Deluxe replaced the previous Special, and the old Skylark became the Skylark Custom. 

Additionally, the 1967 production runs of the Skylark were the first Buick models to include US Federally-mandated safety equipment. These equipment features included dual-circuit hydraulic brakes, energy-absorbing steering column, 4-way hazard lights, and softer interior surfaces. 

The 1970 Skylark

By 1970, Skylark underwent significant change as new modifications took the brand down a different path. The 1970 Buick Skylark replaced the Buick Special branding. In this year, Skylark rolled off the production line as an entry-level model. There were two-door and four-door sedans available with a 250-cubic-inch straight-six engine and the option for a 350-cubic-inch V8

The new bodywork received new sheet metal, and the engine received a longer stroke and smaller bore to improve lower-end torque. 

During this year the Gran Sport option went through major improvements. The 360bhp V8 Engine included a Rochester Quadrajet four-barrel carburetor, bigger valve heads, and a modified valvetrain. The Stage 1 performance specs competed with the best muscle cars of the 1970s. 

The Gran Sport production totaled just over 20,000 cars, with the rarer Stage 1 hardtop muscle car producing only 2,465 cars.  

The 1970 Buick GS impressed many car enthusiasts. This video gives a great short history of the Gran Sport and what made it so great.

The 1972 Skylark

The 1972 Buick Skylark represents the last model to feature a mid-sized sedan option. It was during this year that Buick decided to add a few new features into the Skylark range. 

First, the engine received numerous pollution controls to help lower emissions. Next, Buick lowered compression, and they adjusted spark timing to improve performance. These changes also helped to lower emissions. 

Most of the engine options and interior fittings were a continuation of the 1970 model with few changes. Buick did increase the wheel-bass; the 116-inches added a Turbo-Hydramatic automatic transmission as an optional feature. The two-door models used a shorter wheelbase of 112 inches. This was a standard across all GM mid-sized cars which began in 1968.

New Skylark Features

Some exterior features that Buick added to the 1972 Skylark included bumper guards as standard and black vinyl surrounds for the back bumper. The most popular model of 1972 was the hardtop coupe, which sold about just under 85,000 cars, with the sedan version selling 42,000 cars. 

The top trim level of the 1972 production year was the Skylark Custom. The Skylark Custom featured a specially designed grid-textured grille and a more sophisticated interior design. Moreover, the exterior stylings included wider rocker panels, wider wheelhouse moldings, and extensions to the rear stone guard.  

Total Skylark sales for the 1972 model were just over 216,000 units. Depending on the option package, retail prices ranged from $2,923 – $3,445 for a new Skylark fresh of the production line.

What Makes the Buick Skylark Unique?

The Buick Skylark is an icon of the 1960s and 1970s muscle car eras in automotive history. Though cars like the Ford Mustang and Dodge Charger received more accolades, the Buick Skylark produced equal performance at a more competitive price. 

The Skylark was able to carry on the innovative engine design features of earlier models while not skimping on luxury and interior features. For decades, Buick has been a luxury brand not just wealthy high-end consumers. Buick brought quality to the general public

The Buick Skylark spent some time behind the camera too. The film My Cousin Vinny features a 1964 Skylark, a crucial part of the overall plot of the story. Other films that feature Buick Skylarks are Vanilla Sky (2001) and Crossroads (2002). 

Another aspect that makes the Buick Skylark unique is the development of the Gran Sport series. The Skylark was not considered a GT like other popular muscle cars. However, the performance features and ride quality was a competitive match to GT muscle cars. 

With all the performance features and innovative engineering, the Buick Skylark Gran Sport had the fastest top speed of any production car Buick has ever made. 

buick skylark values
Hagerty values a perfectly maintained 1970 Buick Skylark at roughly $20,000. Classic car collectors might want to consider the extreme value found in a finely tuned Skylark.

Who Might Want to Own a Skylark?

Buick has a long storied history and produced a variety of notable cars. After all, it wasn’t until Buick’s 50th anniversary that they began producing the Skylark. Over the years, it’s become the quintessential vintage car of the 60s and 70s. 

What makes the Skylark attractive to classic car enthusiasts is that they are not ultra expensive to maintain. Performance cars of the 60s and 70s were popular among motorists. They sought out spare parts consistently to keep their cars running in top condition. 

The aftermarket parts industry grew rapidly and still plays a vital role in the current motor industry. Classic cars can be expensive to maintain and parts can be difficult to source. Additionally, some classic cars require specialist experience to work on and repair. 

The Buick Skylark is among a group of cars where spare parts are fairly easy to come by. If you have a working knowledge of engines and car maintenance you can do much of the work yourself.

Affordable Classic American Culture on Wheels

Another reason the Buick Skylark might appeal to collectors is the price. The Gran Sport series offers the performance and grit equal to that of other popular brands but at a much more affordable price. 

Lastly, buyers of muscle cars have a soft spot for the 60s and 70s era. The roar of the engine, the sleek exterior lines, the lavish interiors, the performance and handling – all culminate to offer car lovers affordable classic American culture on wheels.   

The Iconic Buick Skylark

Since the 1953 Buick Skylark entered showroom floors, its satisfied the driving passion of motorists for over five decades. Starting life as a custom-built Roadmaster, the Skylark reinvented itself to be a series in its own right. 

In the 1960s and 1970s, Skylark became a favorite among motorists for its luxury and performance without the hefty price tag. The Gran Sport stood up against the competing muscle cars of the day. Now, in the 21st century, the Skylark GS is a prized collector’s item.

The Skylark is a testament to Buicks’ standard of engineering innovation and an icon of a bygone era. An American Classic.