Curbside Classic: 1962 Buick Skylark – The Integra Of Its Day?

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(first posted 9/10/2014)    I expected to find interesting cars while away on vacation, but this Buick was a particularly nice treat. I wasn’t hoping for anything this rare or stylish; a basically outfitted LeSabre or 88, sure, but a loaded ’62 Skylark? This is definitely CC-material; even better, it doesn’t seem to be a restored garage queen, though it’s obviously been given a lot of care over the years.  A friend of mine makes a huge claim about the more well-equipped Y-bodies of the early ’60s, calling them the best American cars ever.  I’m not prepared to take a very firm stance as this is concerned, and I expect our readers will make their own very well-informed judgments, but this particular black hardtop makes a good case for itself.

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Modern mechanical specification (aside from the two speed Dynaflow Dual Path Turbine Drive) notwithstanding, what stands out most to modern eyes is this Buick’s ergonomic and dimensional rightness.  Having been raised on imports, I’d almost feel right at home in this Skylark.  The switchgear is thoughtfully integrated, and that includes the air conditioner underneath the stereo.  Those two chromed vents on the right side on that metal panel are both delicate and modern-looking in a way many other HVAC outlets of the era were not.

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Moving on, we have a pared-down dash design with a low cowl and simple moldings elsewhere.  Everything is kept out of the way, enhancing the feeling of space, with minimal forehead-gashing protrusions–very conservative for the era, but more relevant today than more creative contemporary layouts.

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This car looks low to the ground because it is; unlike other similarly shaped and well-equipped cars, though, it’s also narrow and short enough to make sense as a compact.  It’s actually quite a unique combination of practicality and opulence for the time, giving it a jewel-like quality that reminds me so much of the better imports of the ’80s and ’90s.  I almost want to call it the W201 of its day, but as that car was severe, underpowered and austere on the inside, that this analogy doesn’t entirely work.  I’m more inclined to compare it with the Integra, given its low-slung style and aspirational compact concept; after all, not all of the small Acuras had the VTEC engine and close-ratio transmission.

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The owner seemingly agrees with this assessment, given the somewhat excessive asking price.  The car isn’t in the sort of condition to merit this outlay, according to most metrics, but I wouldn’t argue with someone spending this much provided they had a passion for Skylarks.

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There are probably more people interested in finding an equivalent Cutlass/F85, Corvair or even rope-drive Tempest.  Everything that makes this Skylark so elegant in my eyes, down to that traditional Buick font, is what makes sportier or “sportier” compacts more compelling to other buyers.  In that sense, the W201 comparison is more apt; and just as Baby Benz got became more profitable, more powerful and less distinctive, so did the Skylark.

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The Integra, while longer-lived than the original Skylark, in some ways met the same fate as the original Y-body Buicks.  It would never be as popular as the cheaper compacts, nor would it have the gravitas of the more musclebound alternatives like the Mustang.  While undeniably unique, neither cars were what enough people wanted.  But for those who could appreciate just how special they were, pun intended, both were “just right.”

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These Chinese replacement tires, sized 185/70 R13, also mark the connection to the large compacts of the ’80s and early ’90s.  They are small, but given the leanness of the overall shape, are more than adequate.  Look for this tire size to become increasingly uncommon with the rubberband tires on today’s “compacts.”

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It’s the attention to detail which really makes this car; can we blame GM if so many car buyers in this price class weren’t moved by such subtle virtue?  It obviously didn’t help that the Y-body platform-mates were either more overtly sporty and more expressively styled, but with that said, Buick managed to move more of its small cars than did Oldsmobile.

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A lightweight aluminum V8 sits behind that clean grille, as you all know, helping keep this car around 2,800 pounds.  That’s an impressive figure for a rear-driver of this size with A/C, a full bevy of power assists and a large engine; another connection with more modern imports, perhaps?

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If the curb weight doesn’t convince you, the overall combination of luxury and performance (as opposed to an obvious nod in either direction) provides a better parallel.  For all the success attained by sportier or flashier competition, Buick managed to retain as much of the sophistication this car embodied as was possible in future generations.  Cars like the later GS were similarly neglected in spite of their talents, but the appeal of the Tri-Shield’s approach to making large compacts has helped ensure the brand’s survival to this day, with the Regal winning (at least) critical acclaim.  And as that car delivers what Acura no longer can offer, one could argue that the spirit of this ’62 Skylark remains alive today.

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Related reading:

Curbside Classic: 1962 Buick Skylark – Gimme

Curbside Classic: 1963 Buick Skylark Convertible – Knocking on Heaven’s Door

Repair Shop Classic: 1962 Oldsmobile F-85 Cutlass Club Coupe – I’ll Try Anything