After a year as a long-term substitute in a poor rural school district, I was hired as a full-time teacher in June of 2003. The first thing I did was propose to my girlfriend of three years. The second thing I did was buy this Skylark, for the public employee approved price of $3400. In order, those were the two smartest things I have ever done.
One week before I bought my Skylark, I was fishing in the Upper Peninsula, and my pals and I saw a ’64 Skylark Sport Coupe pulling up to US-2 from a side road. It was white with a black “toupee,” and that set the scene for my first General Motors purchase. I’d always liked ’64 and ’65 Skylarks, and the next week, mine popped up for sale in the Auto Trader for $3900. It was about three hours away from my house, but I talked to the owner and decided to go check it out. My dad came along to drive my Escort wagon home in case I bought the car.
Of course, the ’65 Skylark is similar to the ’64, but the fenders, grille, side trim, bumpers, and (most glamorously) rear taillights were different. I’m smitten by the full-width taillight of the ’65, and Buick heralded its unique qualities in its ads for the Skylark in ’65.
1965 was an all-star year for American cars, with dozens and dozens of appealing choices, but the Skylark acquitted itself well in that record year, in sales and in appearance. A buyer could hardly go wrong with any of the BOP intermediates in ’65.
But back to my car. I test drove it, looked it over, and even got pulled over on the test drive for expired tags. It had checked lacquer paint (in spots), but it had minimal rust and a super clean undercarriage, and it had only 71,500 miles on the odometer. After talking the owner down $500, I drove it home. And I’ve done relatively little to it since!
My Skylark came with the 300-cubic-inch Buick small block with a Carter AFB, rated at 250-horsepower, driving through a Super-Turbine 300 two-speed automatic with switch-pitch torque converter. In 1965, Buick divested itself of the last vestiges of the old aluminum 215 by giving the 300 iron heads and and iron intake manifold. In fact, the ’65 model was the only year for the iron 300 four-barrel manifold, making it quite uncommon and somewhat expensive.
They called my engine the “Wildcat 355.” The number after “Wildcat” usually stood for the torque rating of the engine in Buick-parlance, but this engine is only rated at 335 ft./lbs. of torque. Someone in marketing obviously thought 355 sounded better, or maybe they wanted to compare more favorably to the strong Oldsmobile 330 of the same year. Either way, acceleration is not breathtaking with the 300, but it is long-legged with its 2.78 axle ratio. I’ve gone faster in this car than I’ll admit on the internet. I was a little younger and possibly more stupid 10 years ago.
The Skylark’s previous owner had installed an Edelbrock 1406, but included the original numbers-matching Carter AFB with the car. I’m glad he did, for two reasons. First, the Edelbrock’s linkage never got along with the switch-pitch switch (how’s that for a mouthful?). Second, as a result of having a spare carburetor around (another spare, I should say), I now am using the Edelbrock on my Mustang. Two birds, meet one stone. I like the AFB-style carburetor. It is very seldom the best at everything (power or mileage), but it’s simple, easy to tune, and reliable.
My Skylark came with a fairly nicely redone interior. It had generic blue seat upholstery over the original seat covers (still does, as a matter of fact), but someone put a little time into it, and all I’ve had to do is keep it clean. It’s starting to show its age, but it’s a long way from needing to be redone again. Somebody also added auxiliary gauges for temperature and oil pressure, and that has caused me some anxiety over the years. For much of its tenure with me, one of the only issues I’ve had with the car has been its tendency to run 200 degrees (which is fine), and creep up to 220 or so in traffic on hot days.
I’ve largely solved the problem by flushing the newer crossflow three-row radiator and adding an overflow canister. The car came with a clutch fan and shroud already. The vacuum advance was inoperational when I bought the car, and fixing that helped to a great extent, as well.
I repaired some door and fender rust along the way, blended some paint in, and have been driving it to the tune of 32,000 additional miles over the last 10 years. In the first year, I discovered the Skylark’s one real Achilles’ Heel…a propensity to crack exhaust manifolds. I cracked one on the way to the Buick 100th Anniversary celebration in Flint not long after I bought the car, and that led to a fun day traversing Northern Michigan junkyards. I actually found a ’67 Special with a complete 300 at one of them, and snagged its manifolds for $30. Not bad.
I did, however, have to replace one of them again about three years ago. I have since purchased another spare for the other side. Oh well.
Gas mileage isn’t spectacular, up to 19 MPG on the highway if all planets are aligned, as low as 10 or 11 in 100% city driving, but if I’m going on an all-day journey and I want to take an old car, I’ll grab the keys to the Skylark first. The Mustang has been possessed by mechanical demons for about two years now, the Corvair uses some oil (I plan to replace the pistons/jugs this winter), the Special gets no more than 14 MPG and likes to cruise at 60, and the Dart isn’t completely sorted yet. This is my go to car. Even if ’65 Skylarks had no other positive attributes, I’d love mine for that reason alone.
But there’s no reason to love it for only one reason. Its reliability is intertwined with those cool taillights and those crisp Bill Mitchell approved lines and the nice ride (for an old car) and the general quality construction. It speaks volumes that the Skylark finally let me down last month on my way to a car cruise in Flint, and it ended up being a crappy tank of gas. Some enyzme cleaner and a little compressed air through the carb passages cleared it all up.
I keep threatening to tear the Skylark apart to repaint everything and polish up the trim, but I never actually do it. Why should I? I like it just as it is for the most part, and I don’t really care if anybody else does. Someday, I’ll feel like I owe it to the car and I’ll finally do it, but who knows when that will be?
At any rate, it’s a perfect rest area for errant ladybugs.
If it comes across like I love my Skylark, it’s because I do. It doesn’t ignite my passion for weird vehicular objects like my Special, Dart, and Corvair do, and it doesn’t have the family heirloom status of the Mustang, but when I dream about road trips on a cold winter evening, I’m always packing the Skylark’s trunk.