In addition to today’s gen1 Honda Civic, my brief stop at Springfield’s Walmart yielded another good find. X-Car Skylarks undoubtedly were better built than their Citation brethren, based on the survival rate as well as my own experience with one. Yes, Mr. GM-hater drove a Skylark, believe it or not. But then I didn’t pay for it, so why not? Who’s going to turn down a free car? And it treated me well enough, for the two years I had it.
CC Outtake: The Skylark Goes Shopping
– Posted on March 3, 2015
You didn’t just set your shopping bags down on the hood of that car to take the pic, did you? 🙂
That top looks in better shape than 99% of the tops that I’ve seen over the last ten years, remarkable. Quite the time capsule overall, good find!
The owner, an old lady (natch), was standing just off to the right. She was a bit concerned about me being from the insurance company or something like that, but she consented to have her Skylark recorded for posterity, insured or not.
Here she is:
She’s not old!
Haha, that’s what I was thinking with the shopping bag. But I’m sure Paul would never do that.
Paul, you should play the lottery today. I think the stars are aligning!
Paul, your experience with with the X-version of the Skylark must be a definite exception to the rule, the one I owned was easily the worst car I ever owned. I had more problems with it than the Vega I once owned. I occasionally see one of these things running around-they are usually in really bad shape. I think the X-cars did more to discredit GM as an auto maker than any other automobile they built.
Back in the late 90s, these were commonly found as Estate cars from deceased owners or for sale after the owners had lost their ability to drive. I remember being so disappointed, because 10 or 20 years earlier, you used to get some fabulous cars coming out of those situations. But Jeeze – find a pristine original low mile car, and the damned thing is an X car. Life is just not fair.
In the late 80s, the senior partner’s wife drove an Omega sedan, this same color combo. They must not have liked it, because it was the last GM car either of them drove. Wendell moved into Lincolns, and his wife first got a Mitsubishi, and then a Mustang notchback.
My “last GM” was a ’97 Astro. Never a new car come from a factory with so many problems. Never has a dealer treated a customer with such contempt. Never again…I would by a rusty 10 year old Kia before a new GM product.
And some people wonder why GM went belly-up!
Quite the finds indeed. Maybe I should start going to Wal-Mart.
A high-school friend purchased a fairly mint Iron Duke Skylark as his first car. At the time, I was driving my father’s ’84 F-150 with its smooth running, fuel swilling 300 straight-six.
My buddy raced his Buick against me in the F-150. While it was like herding turtles, with that 2.5 sounding like it would fly apart any second (compared to the smoothness of the 300 while the fuel gauge plummeted), it was a draw in the end.
LOL, yeah we used to race anything and everything too. Rangers, Bel-Airs, Rivieras, 2.3 Mustangs, Aerostars, Cutlas Supremes, F-250. But never a Skylark.
Aerostar. I can’t believe it.
I’ve known of drag-races involving one-ton trucks – back in the 1940s and 1950s.
Good o’ days.
There was a kid racing a ’00 V6 Camaro T-Top against my ’95 LeSabre somehow. Well, the almost same V6 returns almost same speed with quite different styling though.
Well, I did race my ’92 Crown Vic against some kid in a Ford Contour packing the 24 valve V6 (I remember the badges on its fenders). I utterly stomped him; then again, maybe he was more hesitant about driving 70 mph on the business route.
Meh for Walmart, the only thing I ever buy there is Shell Rotella Diesel spec oil for my motorcycle.
Not all Skylarks were turtles, a V6 equipped Skylark with heavy duty suspension was quite a little rocket ship, as well as a torque-steering monster..
You should try it once you’ve broken most of the motor mounts. Very exciting when passing on a two-lane.
That’s how the one I had was equipped; every possible HD component in the option book. It was brisk for its day.
Have not seen one of these in a while, but I know where to find one in Portland. I did see a Citation a few weeks ago though. On a side note what is with the plastic bags, I thought Eugene banned those.
This is in Springfield, our city sister. Plastic bags still allowed there 🙂
I liked these well enough. Not really a youthful car but roomy and comfortable compared to the imports. Too bad the reliability and dynamics were so questionable, but that’s the it was with GM.
It does seem like Skylarks have the highest survival rate, by far, of any of the X-cars. It’s been a while since I’ve seen an Omega or a Citation, and I cannot remember the last Phoenix I’ve seen in person, but a Skylark of this generation will show up every now and again. Maybe it does have to do with elderly original owners, or maybe they were actually better screwed together–were all X-cars produced at the same locations, I wonder, or did each model have their own line(s)?
I never cared for the styling back when they were common, but I’m warming to it as the cars age. It’ll never be called beautiful but I don’t really mind it anymore; perhaps it’s the relative rarity giving me rose-colored glasses?
The Skylark still sold reasonably well until it’s conclusion in 1985. As time progressed, the X Cars did improve, but by 1982-83 sales of the non-Skylark X cars were minimal. Most of the Skylarks that seem to have survived are 1984-85 models. (The one in the photo looks like a 1985 judging by the shade of blue).
At the Carlisle collector car shows, a few X-body Skylarks have popped up for sale in the car corral. I believe that I’ve seen ONE Chevrolet Citation for sale over the years, and no Oldsmobile Omegas or Pontiac Phoenixes.
Given that the divisions had little, if any, control over the factories that produced the X-cars, I’m guessing the survival rate has to do with the type of person who originally bought these cars.
Read my comment about my 1980 Pontiac Phoenix notch-back coupe in the previous thread on the Honda Civic wagon. Except for the metallic silver paint failing after 4 years in the Texas sun and the carmine red interior fading to 50 shades of pink, I really had no trouble with the car. I had one CV joint fail when the rubber boot was torn.
I special ordered it from the dealer so I could have the V6 and 4-speed manual transmission. It had the SJ option with the snow-flake alloy wheels (very similar to the Trans-Am of the time). I thought it was a really handsome car and it always got compliments from the young ladies.
I have no idea if any of the X-cars were better built than any of their brethren, but I hated them all and was the sole reason I went to Chrysler.
Although my hate for GM began with my 1976 C-20 experience – admittedly my fault – and their half-way down back window glass mentality on their cars beginning with the 1977 B-bodies, I didn’t come back to Chevy until 2004 and so far, so good.
There is a similar condition Skylark in my town that I have been attempting to catch and photograph for a while. I assumed that it was a freak outlier in surviving, but maybe these were better built than the other X-cars and have survived in some numbers.
Perhaps the Skylark’s main advertising slogan should have been:
“When better X-cars are built, Buick will build them.”
My fourth grade teacher had one of these and in 1992 Ohio, it was about as pleasant to see and hear as she was. What a bitch.
Were these built in a different factory than the Citation?
The one time I drove an “X” car, it was an ’85 Citation. I rented it the snowy day that a commercial aircraft crashed into the Potomac River and the Metro derailed. It was a very capable and comfortable car for tall me. Most used Buick model cars seem better built because the are well cared for by elderly owners from new. I drive an ’05 Park Avenue right now. I bought it with 103k on it and have only replaced a tie rod end.
Wow, that rental company must have had some pull, able to get 1985 cars in January 1982!
My at the time future Mother in Law had one of these Skylarks .
IIRC it was a options loaded 1983 model.
It was an absolute total POS.
It successfully ended what had been a 25 year relationship she had with buying GM cars.
Aside from the Citation X-11, it was felt that the Skylark in GS guise was THE X car to own. Someone at Car & Driver was boosting the rep of the smallest GS in the magazine back in the early 80s.
I did see a 2 door Skylark GS while living in Memphis in the 90s, that car rarely moved (as far as I could tell). It looked showroom.
’82 version was my first company car. Base 4 cylinder engine that made very little horsepower, but lots of noise and vibration. Third day I had it, bought a lumbar back cushion as the seats had a negative presence in that area.
Did 93K in 3 years, only thing that broke was the vacuum pump; this was installed in the same place on the engine that a fuel pump is installed. Since you had your foot flat on the floor most of the time, there was no engine vacuum to run the AC vents or power brakes, so a pump!
Had a really loud piston slap on the first start each day. The lack of a rear brake proportioning valve guaranteed lurid sideways skids down the road moments.
A college friend had one of these in the late 80’s. His was a dark blue limited sedan. I thought the interior was really nice for a Skylark. He had that car for about 5 years until it started giving him some serious issues like oil leaks, transmission problems and such. I think back when I rode in that car, always wondering if it would break down considering the x-cars were considered such rotten automobiles at the time.
My 1984 Century Limited coupe, an x-car derivitive (which I never knew back then) with the horrible 3.0 V-6 was a nightmare too. The engine was rebuilt twice and still was never quite right. I had problem after problem with that car. The funny thing was I loved it, and even after trading it in, many years later I wanted another one. I eventually got a mint condition 1987 Limited sedan from a neighbor. It was completely loaded, right down to the rare Twilight Sentinel option, console shifter and the 3.8 SFI V-6 engine which was totally reliable and very fast too. I loved that car and kept it well over 200k miles. It was the total opposite of my unreliable 1984, which shows how someone could lose faith in a brand if they don’t give them another chance.
The 1982-85 carbureted 3 liter Buick V6 was a totally different animal than the later SFI 3.8 V6’s. Whereas you were super lucky to ever see a 3 liter go 100K miles it was commonplace to see 200-300K miles out of the 3.8 engines which used steel timing gears, far superior oiling systems and better internals. They also made 40 more HP for 1986-87 model years and 55 more thereafter and lots more torque.
So true, Joe. The funny thing was that with the SFI 3.8 V-6 my ’87 Century was downright FAST. In comparison, the ’84 with the 3 liter V-6 was a total sled. And gas mileage? The 3.0 sucked gas like crazy, with an average of 16-18 mpg, while the 3.8 averaged 21-22 all the time.
Free is good but in some cases I think a little pride is ok.
Never owned one but can’t recall much good about them. They represented a real argument for going Japanese.
If I see an X- body car today it’s usually a Buick version not dissimilar to this one. We were at the local drug store last September and saw a car very similar to this one and it was also a blue sedan sans dark blue vinyl roof and it was a 1982 with Iron Duke power. The 83-85’s seem to be the best of the bunch and we sold quite a few Citations and Skylarks to customer’s back in the 90’s and they didn’t seem too bad. The elderly ladies really liked the 5 door hatch configuration of the Chevy so that was the best seller of the X cars during that time era.
I ran a drag race in 87, they had one of these and I had an 85 LeBaron convertible.
I got whipped! By a girl no less!
One of my great aunts had one of these as her last car. In typical old lady fashion, she went to the grocery store and church once a week as most of her driving. If she accumulated 2000 miles a year, I’d be surprised. This is probably why the Buick version of anything survives better.
I actually thought the Buick and Olds X cars were decent lookers, and that the X’s were pretty well differentiated between the divisions. Certainly better than the ’70’s versions that preceded them. The Buick certainly has been the most persistant of the FWD X cars on the road, I still see one occasionally.
A friend had the Skylark X coupe during our college years. It was pretty roomy up front for a couple of tall guys. In Limited trim, white with a red vinyl half roof it was not exactly the most macho of cars for a young guy, but he’d been through some pretty brutal gas guzzlers and the thought of something different crossed his mind when he came across it. Furrin cars were still too furrin to us in Nebraska, so a FWD Skylark was about as radical as it got. It was a pretty clean used car, but fairly troubled as well. He traded off for an ’84 or so G Special Cutlass Supreme after about two years. RWD on Olds rallies got him his man card back along with a more reliable ride.
It’s funny, the relatively scarce Omega X and the very scarce ’77 Mercury Cougar wagon have had a lot of mention lately on CC. I had a college friend that drove the wagon and the sister of a friend had the Omega sedan. Accordingly I never thought of these cars as all that scarce as I saw them weekly for a number of years.
In my neighborhood, I often see a Pontiac Phoenix hatchback parked at the strip malls or driving around.
I was very lucky one day to park next to it at the Wegmans. I decided to wait it out in my car until the owner came around. Sure enough, after a few minutes the owner showed up. A nicely dressed senior citizen, probably in his early 70’s, walked upto the car and opened the hatch to stow away his groceries. As he was loading up the hatch, I got out of my car and started a conversation with him.
Turns out he was actually the original owner, and brought the car new at the local Pontiac dealership. He told me the story of how he ordered the car with every single option and his wife selected the colors. It was an LJ model, in two tone red over silver, with a red cloth interior.
Turns out it was a 1980 model with the V6 and automatic A walk around the car showed only a few minor dings, no rust or anything. The snowflake wheels also held up well. Paint and chrome was in very decent shape as the car’s been garage kept since new.
Sam (the owner) was nice enough to offer me to take the Phoenix LJ for a spin. Upon entering the car, I noticed that the interior was perfect. The cloth seats were not even faded and were rip/tear free. Besides that, the seat was very comfortable and I found the car to be very roomy. I got a kick out of the dashboard, with all the round gauges and vents. It was kind of sporty. During my spin, Sam told me that he originally wanted the Olds Omega 4 door and actually had one on order. But since his family consisted of him, his wife, and three children, he felt that the Phoenix with the hatch was a better choice.
Well Sam was very proud of his “whip” and the shape that he kept it. The car was approaching 210K miles and he told me that besides normal maintenance, he never had any major problems with the engine or tranny. One thing he said (which my Dad always swore by) was to NEVER change the transmission fluid in a car.
I really enjoyed the spin in the Phoenix. It brought back lots of memories for me. I was 16 years old when the X cars started appearing in the dealerships. I remember the commercials for the Citation, with that catchy song… “It’s the first, Chevy of the 80’s, …it’s the first Chevy of it’s kind… Chevy Citttttaaaation !!!”.
I also recall going with my friends to the local dealerships to check the X cars out. At that time, the Citation X-11 2 door sedan (which they called a “Club Coupe”) would have been my choice, and second choice would have been the Phoenix SJ 2 door. I just didn’t like the hatchback versions of these cars!!
The Pontiac dashboard is what sold me on it over the Chevrolet. I also thought the Citation coupe, and the Omega coupe for that matter, looked a bit stubby since the more sloped (than the Phoenix or Skylark) back lite made the rear deck seem shorter.
BTW, my high school band director and English teacher both bought new Citations in 1980 and neither one had as good luck with their Chevys as I did with the Pontiac. The English teacher traded a 1968 Buick Skylark 4-door with the V6 (rare find in our area) and the band director had had a 1971 Impala 4-door with the 350 V8. What a switch for both.
I still see the occasional X-body Skylark kicking around here on Vancouver Island and I would say there’s more of those left than any of the others. I see one yellow colored Citation every couple weeks on my commute, but the Omega and Phoenix are never seen anywhere.
I owned two Citations in my life, one 4 door hatch 1983 and one 2 door hatch 1984, both with the 2.8L V6 and automatic. I never found either of these to be overly problematic… just feed them the occasional front brake pads & rotors and an alternator or water pump every now and then and they were happy campers.
The fwd X-cars have pretty much disappeared from central Virginia; I see only one or two Citation hatchbacks occasionally.
My mother had an ’81 Citation 4-door hatch with the 2.8-liter V6 and automatic. She didn’t have much trouble with it, but it was garaged since new and the mileage accumulation was slow (I think it had only 50K miles or so when it was replaced by Mercury Sable in 1993).
I do recall the “morning sickness” (nonresponsive power steering on cold startup) and the hatch that had to be held up with a broom handle in the later years.
I had the sister car, the omega for a couple of years, and I don’t know why everyone pans them so hard. True enough, it was a 14 year old example with a mere 48k Mikes at the time. Aside from a water pump and cooling fan I could never seem to get fixed, it was totally Reliable. True, the roadholding was crap, but with the 2.8 it got 30 mpg on the highway lf driven gingerly, and never let us down. I sold it to my girlfriend, who sold it to her brother, who then gave it back to her. I think between us we put 100k youthful, crazy miles on it before selling it for scrap. It must have gone on Phish tour ten times.
As a side benefit, practically any part you needed was available and on the shelf for a few dollars at any auto parts store. $17 water pumps, $5.95 shocks were the stuff of dreams to my 18 year old self.
Yep, those skylarks were pretty durable, there are plenty in my area… And I’m in New England. Go figure.
A white one is driven by some teens, a friend bought a grey coupe, a tan coupe is used as a pizza delivery car and a grey sedan… that does daily duty, alongside an 89 Dodge Colt.
The other Skylark on the list, is a black mint one, which is driven to the local bakery… Funny, how it’s always parked behind my Datsun or 81 or 83 Corollas, whenever I get a craving for linguica rolls(regional Portugese favorite, lol) or pastries.
With both of our cars parked together, it looks like a parking scene from an 80’s sitcom. Lol
As far as the 80’s X-cars go, … Give me a Pontiac Phoenix notchback coupe or an Olds Omega SX, any day. (Please, make it a yellow/black one, too). 🙂
I guess this Skylark bucked the trend, of the “reliable Skylark”. lol
Look just like my daily driver from 2008-2010. PAssed 200.000 miles with the original drivetrain, actually very reliable the time I drove it 40 miles a day.
This am on my Dunkin Donuts run, I was at a red light by a used car lot. I took a quick glance and low and behold, there was an 1980 Omega Brougham Coupe parked in the lot.
I had to pull in the lot to take a closer look. It was camel color with matching cloth interior and matching 1/2 vinyl roof. Pretty nice shape too. I never understood the purpose of those 1/2 vinyl roofs when they didn’t have any type of molding that extended below the drip molding which would kind of make it look like a landau.
Anyway… the salesman came out with the keys and I got to take a closer look. The car was a Brougham, but didn’t have many options except for the factory mounted 8 track, AC, automatic, 6 cyl, and that was about it. Considering the age of the car, it looked like it held up very well.
When these cars came out (if my memory is correct, it was in the spring of 1979), i thought the Skylark 4 door was the nicest looking and the Omega 2 door the unfortunate looking one. But, with age, I got to appreciate the Omega 2 door, and I kind of liked the slightly different design of the sheet metal by the rear windows. I guess the designers at Olds were trying to make it look a bit like a 78-80 Cutlass Supreme Coupe with that little kick down line.
Well the car just arrived on that lot the day before, and the salesman said that the boss hasn’t priced it yet. I’m curious what the price will be because it was pretty low milage (150K), in decent shape, and if mechanically sound, would make a very nice second car. If priced right, I may consider it !
The bad thing was, one of the nifty color keyed wheel covers was missing and I’m sure it would be a bit difficult finding one in the same color…
Seeing this fine example of a car from the 1980’s made me really miss when cars where painted in nice colors and interiors where anything besides grey and tan. Even though this car was kind of “neutral” in colors, they worked well together and that interior color was way nicer than the tans that are offered today.
Despite their underlying problems, I always thought the “senior” X cars – Skylark and Omega – looked really great, and were a refutation of Bill Mitchell’s opinion that designing a small car was like tailoring a dwarf.
That said, my neighbor’s ’80 Skylark almost took off my head. I raised the hood to check out the engine and let it go – and narrowly missed the hood slamming back down. It never occurred to me that a Buick wouldn’t have a counterbalanced hood!
Great article! I loved the “Limited” models with the vinyl roofs and coach lamps. Here is an advertisement for the 1983 Skylark in the rare “T-Type” sport variant (image from http://www.productioncars.com).
The only one of these X cars that I see still here in S.California, car capital is the ugly Citation 4 door hatchback. Most of them are the V6 ones and seem to be that light gold color and they look battered to heck!