COAL: 1980 Buick Skylark – From the X-Files

Note: None of these pictures are of the actual car, but are close.

In 1983, an opportunity presented itself that I could not pass up.  A friend of my sister owned a 1980 Buick Skylark that she decided to sell so she could buy a Buick Century.  This car was somewhat well equipped for a Limited edition, but it did not have power windows, locks, or seats.  It DID have factory air conditioning, which would be a first for me.

It was equipped with cloth seats, an electric clock, an AM/FM stereo that wasn’t mounted vertically like the Chevy Citation, a rear window defogger, an automatic transmission, and a wonderfully noisy 2.5L 4 cylinder engine.  It did get great mileage, which none of my previous cars could claim.

The X-cars were big sellers when they came out right after the second Arab oil embargo of 1979.  For once, GM hit the target by designing something with great space utilization and high efficiency.  Other variants included the Chevy Citation, Pontiac Phoenix, and Olds Omega.  They were also the subject of controversy regarding the tendency of the rear brakes to lock up and cause the car to swerve in the rear.  This actually did happen to me once, but never happened again.

Mechanically, the car was easy to repair and maintain with a few exceptions.  First, the thermostat decided to stick in the open position during one of the coldest days of the year.  It is out in the open, as you can see in the picture above (with radiator hose attached).  However, Murphy’s Law dictated that one of the two screws holding the cover would break off.  Lots of fun trying to drill out the remaining part of the screw and re-tapping the hole.  Additionally, the dipstick for the transmission was located nearby.  When I decided to flush the cooling system before reassembly, the dipstick had popped out of its tube by about 1″.  This meant that water ended up in the transmission, turning the fluid a cute shade of pink.  A couple of transmission flushes later and the fluid was back to its normal color.

Upon inspection, you could see the value engineering that took place in the design of this unit.  It was a flat radial design the occupied a small amount of engine compartment space.  It was also designed to leak a small amount of oil out the front of the shaft during operation.  The first sign of this leakage was a 6″ line of oil stain on the hood pad.  The system still worked, but I was worried about it and proceeded to put a new front seal in the compressor.  A friend had the special tools you needed to get the clutch off, so it wasn’t a bad job.  However, what I didn’t know was that the oil leakage was intentional.  So, after doing the work, I still saw oil leakage.  I left it alone and the AC system worked fine until well after I sold the car.

The other component that didn’t last long was the clock.   It was a mechanical clock located in the right side of the dash just about the glove compartment.  No surprise that it died, since most mechanical clocks in cars of the era never lasted long.  The funny thing about this particular clock was that when I removed it, there was a sticker on the back of it telling you where to send it for repair!  Talk about planned obsolescence.  I replaced it with a digital clock from RadioShack.

This car was also the victim of water leakage on the passenger side of the floor.  It took some doing, but I found that the source was a small rust hole in the firewall.  That was patched easily, but then I had to rebuild the passenger side floor with new sheet metal.  This was the only significant rust repair that I had to do on this car.

Overall, the 1980 Buick Skylark was a great car to own and drive.