I recently signed on to attend a gathering this fall with some of my former high school classmates, which will take place back in Flint, Michigan. This will mark my third trip back to the Vehicle City this year, following a couple of weekends in June and July. It will also be the first time in many years that I will be face-to-face with some of the individuals with whom I used to share the halls of our former, long-closed high school. When I had first heard this upcoming event was going to take place, I wasn’t invested. This was on the heels of a great summer and with other trips planned for between now and the end of the year. Maybe it was the cool temperatures and shorter daylight hours that sparked nostalgia for fall semester and the cozy memories of holing up in my bedroom across from the laundry room in my parents’ old split-level house. The thought of being among my friends and peers again eventually became irresistible, so it’s on. I’m going.
I’ve never been cool. I’ve been loved, had friends, liked the way I look, been proud of my accomplishments, etc., but I’ve never been one of the cool people, at least in my own head. I’ve been around cool. I’ve been adjacent to cool. I’ve had cool friends and acquaintances and been included in cool activities alongside cool folks, sometimes with a cool invitation in my hot, little hands. There’s an episode of The Simpsons where the titular family is returning from vacation in the family station wagon, debating what makes one cool. Matriarch Marge Simpson, with her frustration mounting as she fails to understand, asks if not caring about being cool is what makes one cool, to which Bart and Lisa respond, in unison, “No.” I care less about being cool in middle age more than in any part of my life after maybe age 8, but I recognize this does not make me cool. Nor am I fishing for someone to reassure me that through my essays, they can tell I’m a cool person. I’m cool with me. Nothing else really matters.
“Skylark treats you both very special.”
I’m a lot of great things, including frank, earnest, and brutally honest, including with myself. I’m loyal, caring, hardworking, self-disciplined, and I listen to my conscience. These things do not a cool person make, though they may be part of the makings of a good person. There’s no question as to whether I’d rather be seen as good or cool. If you can’t tell the answer to that already, I’ll add that some of my various attempts at being “cool” throughout my adulthood had led to some questionable choices and misdirected priorities.
You know what a “cool” weekend looks like for me in 2022? It may include some social interaction, a cultural event, or a little retail / resale shopping, in addition to banging out one of these essays. It will, without question, include me sitting on the couch under a blanket in front of my television, and eating dry cereal and trail mix as I watch some of my favorite shows or movies. I’ve had some fun nights out throughout my adulthood, but this current modus operandi has produced far more contentment than some of the late nights and early mornings I remember (or don’t fully remember) having spent at the bar or disco.
This ’72 Skylark Custom was one of this summer’s finds. I had to reread an article I had written about a different example back in the beginning of 2017 to make sure I wasn’t repeating myself in this essay, which would have been a distinct possibility, given my six-year plus tenure as a contributor here at Curbside Classic. I was good to proceed with my original idea, but there are some interesting thoughts expressed in the comments of that earlier essay related to what I’m about to say… or rather, ask. When it was a new car, was this ’72 Skylark coupe considered cool? I was born in the middle of that decade, and though I had started to play a game called “Count the Chevette” from the back seat of my family’s ’77 Plymouth Volaré before the ’80s arrived, a car like this Skylark predates any concurrent recollection I might have had. By contrast, I fondly remember the downsized 1978 – ’80 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supremes and Calaises when they were new-ish, as they were my favorite cars for a while. Those were definitely cool and driven by cool people.
By the time I was in high school starting in the late ’80s, the two-door versions of this generation of Skylark, whether a hardtop or pillared coupe, along with its other GM A-body siblings, were cool beyond measure. Even in awful, beater condition, many kids my age, self included, didn’t see rust-perforated body panels and clouds of smoke. We saw a diamond in the rough that a little elbow grease and time in the shop could turn into the envy of “The Cruise”, a stretch of Industrial Avenue next to an empty GM factory complex in Flint’s north side where drag racing would take place every Friday night. Being at The Cruise was electrifying, and even just thinking about it now as I type this makes the hairs on my arms stand up. The sounds of the revving motors, the smell of exhaust, the nighttime illumination from car lights, rock and R&B music thumping from car stereos, the camaraderie of being among others like me… Those nights were some of my happiest teenage memories, even if I was only a spectator, and I’ll always cherish them. Always.
I could see a new, ’72 Chevelle having inherent cool-factor just by, well, being a Chevelle. Any Olds Cutlass from that era was part of a model line that was only increasing in popularity. And even if Pontiac had made a hard pivot in the early ’70s from their well-earned performance image of the preceding decade to one of luxury and convenience, the looks of a ’72 LeMans weren’t that far removed from the firebreathing GTO Judge from just a few years prior. The Buick, though. I’m asking if it was considered cool when new because I’d actually like to know, from individuals who were there and remember them as new cars. This is not a passive-aggressive diss on the Skylark cloaked in Generation X-style irony. Do any of you of a certain age remember discussing with your friends in homeroom, “Hey, have you seen the new Skylark 350? I have got to have that one day. Let’s go check one out at the lot next weekend.” And yes, I’m aware of the Gran Sport, which I respect. It just never seemed to have the same kind of name recognition, in my mind.
To borrow a bit from my earlier essay, the Custom hardtop coupe was the second-most popular ’72 Skylark configuration sold that year, with about 34,300 produced. The combined total of the standard/350 hardtop coupes was higher, at 84,900. Only about 225,300 total Skylarks were sold that year. By comparison, there were 393,700 Chevelles sold for ’72, of which 207,600 were V-8 powered Malibu hardtop coupes. Numbers often don’t tell the whole story, but in this case and to my point, I think they do: the ’72 Chevelle was cool, is cool, and shall always be cool. To infinity.
You might have already been asking what this car and my upcoming gathering with my classmates might have to do with each other. It’s simple. I may not have been a jock, skater, partier, mechanic, star actor or musician, popular, or any of the other things that defined the guys I thought of as “cool” back then, but like this ’72 Skylark, I feel that I’ve aged really well and through simple perseverance, consistency, and the grace of God, I’ve ended up in a much better position in life and with higher stock than might have been expected of me back when I was “new” (to being a teenager). Buicks are supposed to be quiet, right? The muted yellow finish of this example is far more sedate than the factory Sunburst Yellow that was offered for ’72, but I think it fits the character of this car even better. In the meantime, when I get to see my fellow alumni later this month, any pressure to impress anybody will be completely off. To simply be present, to enjoy everyone’s company, and to partake in the festivities will be infinitely cool.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, July 10, 2022.
The 1972 Buick Skylark brochure pages were as sourced from www.oldcarbrochures.org.