I’ve always liked GM’s formal rooflines of the ‘70s and ‘80s. They were such a breath of fresh air when introduced, and the look worked so well with the downsized platforms that GM had started rolling out across its lineup. The inherent space efficiency of the design didn’t hurt: Back then (at elementary-school age), I thought that verticality of the roofline must be directly proportional to the cost of the car; after all, the Seville had the most vertical roofline of all and was the most expensive Cadillac.
Even the new ’77 full-size Cadillac didn’t have quite as upright a greenhouse. When the 1979 Eldorado, Toronado and Riviera came out, I delighted in their uppity upright (and very sharp edged) formal rooflines. Stunning! And with a price tag to match.
But then they took it too far and turned everything upside down. GM was eager to spread the “Seville school of styling” look to more cars, and at first it worked quite well. By 1981 you could get a Chevy Malibu with a Seville roofline, and Buick’s Century was touted as a “Little Limousine”. Let’s not forget the X-body FWD Olds Omega and Buick Skylark twins, which were ¾-scale versions of the original Seville. And, lo and behold, the Seville itself abandoned the formal roof for a 1930s-inspired fastback look! (I rather like that too, but that’s a different story).
That brings us to 1986 and the car I saw recently at the post office – a surprisingly clean 1986 Buick Skylark, part of the N-platform family that started replacing the ill-fated X-cars in 1985. Even though Ford had moved on to jellybean shapes (and Japan had never really copied the Seville look), GM was still soldiering on with its latest version of the Seville school–and even brought back the formal look to the Seville, which now looked dangerously similar to the much cheaper N-body.
There’s a bit of curviness to this roofline, although it’s upright as ever. These cars weren’t especially successful, but they did have some interesting features and sold well enough to continue until 1991, when they were replaced with a completely different and much wilder version that threw out the formal look once and for all. The rest of GM’s line followed suit, and after the 1993 Fleetwood Brougham, the upright roofline was history, at least at GM.
On its own merits, this Skylark isn’t such a bad little car. This example is a low trim-level version, crank windows and all, but it’s actually pretty nice for a car near the bottom of Buick’s lineup (the J-based Skyhawk was the smallest and cheapest Buick). Even on this base model, you had a cool pod-styled dash, brushed-metal (look) trim, recessed pull handles and plush looking seats. Little limousine, indeed! Buick did its best to put Buick cues onto the N-platform shared with Pontiac’s Grand Am and the Olds Calais.
The full-width taillights are very Buick, harking back to the 1965 Skylark, and the front end is very refined and “Regal”.
But whether you like the broughamy, limousine-like details or not, the market was moving toward cars like the 1986 Accord, which couldn’t have been more different in its no-nonsense sport sedan look–and with sporty pop-up headlamps to boot. We all know which won, but I love them both. Here’s to Buick’s last Little Limousine!