Automotive Mileposts

1953 Buick SkylarkThe 1953 Buick Skylark was a limited production show car that was actually available for purchase. It was introduced along with the Cadillac Eldorado and Oldsmobile Fiesta to mark General Motors' 50th anniversary. All three cars were very exclusive—and very expensive—for the time. They were built to call attention to GM's advanced design leadership in the American automobile market, and as such offered unique styling that made them stand out from other cars of the day.

Of the three cars, the $5,000 Skylark was the best selling of the bunch with 1,690 units sold. Based on the top of the line Roadmaster, the Skylark was distinctive and its styling set it apart from the rest of the line. Available only as a convertible, its unique sheet metal pieces (front and rear fenders, outer door skins, and the convertible top compartment) gave it a much lower appearance, and in fact it was just five feet tall with the top raised. The windshield frame was three inches shorter, and the side glass and top frame were modified to accommodate the windshield. In order to make allowances for proper headroom, the seat frames and steering column were also modified.

Styled under the guidance of Harley Earl, the Skylark was inspired by the prototype 1951 Buick XP-300 [link to image opens in new window] and 1951 Buick LeSabre, two show cars that had been making the rounds for a couple of years. The Skylark differed from other Buick models due to its lack of ventiports (or "port holes") on the front fenders, which were common styling designations for Buick at the time. The more exclusive models had 4 ventiports, while less exclusive ones had 3. The front and rear wheel wells were much wider and painted a contrasting color to make them stand out. The windshield was smaller and not as tall as traditional cars of the time. A chrome accent molding ran from the front fender rearward and down to the base of the forward edge of the rear wheel well, then following the front outline of the well back where it terminated near the rear edge of the quarter panels. The beltline mimicked the swooping effect of the lower molding (or did the molding copy the beltline?) and dipped just behind the doors. Ornaments unique to the Skylark appeared just before the rear wheel well, in the dip created by the chrome body molding. Sporty chrome Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels with 40 spokes made certain that the Skylark would sparkle in the sun and catch attention everywhere it went. (The prototype Skylark was equipped with Borrani wire wheels, but these were not carried over into production.)

Inside the Skylark, the seats were upholstered in genuine leather with a ribbed sew pattern, and the instrument panel was adorned with an attractive silver gray and white checked facing. Full power complements were provided at no extra charge, and included power steering, power brakes, power windows, power seat, power top, and even a power radio antenna for the Selectronic radio. A nameplate on the steering wheel bore the name of the original owner.

Buick introduced its new engine, the 322 cubic inch Nailhead V-8, in the Skylark. The overhead valve/pushrod engine design had rather small-sized valves, which were positioned vertically and looked somewhat like nails, hence the nickname. Buick compensated for the smaller valves by using a camshaft with higher lift and longer duration, which provided exceptional torque for its day. With four barrel carburetion and a compression ratio of 8.5:1, the engine was rated at 188 brake horsepower. This enabled a 0-60 mph time of about 12 seconds and a top speed of around 105 mph. Weighing in at 4,315 pounds, this performance was considered quite impressive at the time. Another first for Buick was the Skylark's 12-volt electrical system.

The 1953 Buick Skylark is arguably one of the most significant collector cars of all time; and certainly one of the top collectibles of the 1950s. Surprisingly, many of these cars were victims of price resistance when new, and were sold at a discount! If people only knew then what we know now...

1954 Buick SkylarkChanges to the 1954 models were many. Due to a public perception that the 1954 Buick Skylarks were not as exclusive as the earlier models, only 836 were built for the model year. Part of this can be blamed on the "downgrading" of the Skylark from the Roadmaster/Super chassis to the shorter Century/Special chassis. Much of the sheet metal remained unique to the Skylark, however, with the front and rear fenders and the rear deck not used on any other Buick. The power train was still shared with the upper series Roadmaster line, and was of course the most powerful available on any Buick at the time. A modest increase to 200 brake horsepower gave the engine a bit more performance, with quarter mile times of around 18 seconds.

The 1954 Skylark still offered unique styling touches that set it apart from other Buicks, especially the front and rear wheel cut outs, which were elongated for 1954, and were often painted in a contrasting color to make them really jump out when viewed in profile. It is not unusual to see black cars with red wheel housings, or red cars with white wheel housings. Chrome tail fins housed the taillights, and a pair of ridges ran parallel down the deck lid, essentially dividing it visually into three sections. Backup lights were mounted midway up in the outboard sections of the deck.

Due to slow sales, the Skylark model would end with the 1954 model year. A smaller Buick would bear the name for 1961-1963, but it was not a limited production car as the earlier ones had been. The Skylark would continue to become larger during the sixties, and would be available in several different body styles. Never again would it achieve the exclusivity and recognition it had during the 1953-1954 period.