Curbside Classic: 1967 Buick Skylark – Big Little Car

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(first posted 10/16/2014)   You’d be forgiven for thinking this actually is a full-sized Buick. Although Buick jumped whole-heartedly into the compact ring in 1961, it didn’t take long for them to realize that what Americans really wanted in a small Buick coupe was a not-so-small Buick coupe. So within just six years, the little 1961 Special grew into the biggest “mid-sized” GM coupe ever. And its designers did everything to make it look even bigger yet. The slightly littler big car.

Buick Skylark 1962 Second Generation 2 Door Hardtop levelimage:

The 1962 Skylark coupe was 188.4″ long, stretched on a fairly long 112″ wheelbase with quite short overhangs, and carried much of the design cues of the big Buicks. But nobody was fooled; these were compacts in the eyes of Buick buyers, and they didn’t exactly set the sales charts on fire.

Buick 1965 skylark

The little car experiment was over after three years, and in 1964, Buick joined the rest of the GM gang (except Cadillac) with substantially larger small cars, or mid-sizers. They now rode on a 115″ wheelbase, the same as a full size Chevy back in the mid fifties, but a good eight inches longer, at 203.5″ overall.

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The re-skin for 1966-1967 added a couple of more inches, for a grand total of 205. That’s three more than the current Cadillac XTS, and about the same as the LWB versions of the top-end European and Lexus luxury-liners. Mid sized? Hmmm. And of course, the fender skirts added to the ’67 only added to the impression of length. As well as mimicking the full-size Buick’s love of those things.

Buick 1967 Wildcat

Yes, the big Buicks for 1967 sported a new design direction with their down-swept side character line, that accentuated the bigger-then-ever rear hips. This Wildcat coupe measured a healthy 220″, to keep a bit of distance from the pretender Skylark.

Buick 1977 Century coupe

Before somebody busts me, let me qualify the line in the opening paragraph about the ’67 being the “the biggest “mid-sized” GM coupe ever’, yes, the Colonnade coupe were actually four inches longer, but that was all in the mandated five mile bumpers. And the Colonnades sat on the smaller 112″ wheelbase, and didn’t try quite so hard to look extra long (just extra wide).

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The most distinctive design element on these cars was of course the “tunnel-back” roof, cribbed from a 1964 racing Ferrari GTO and the Dino Berlinetta Especiale of 1965. And of course with some more seminal inspiration from Pininfarina’s seminal 1955 Florida. It was a short-lived phenomenon, passed over to Dodge with its 1968 Charger the same year GM ditched it already.

Buick 1968 skylark br

Buick’s love of prominent rear hips was further accentuated in their 1968 Skylark coupe, which was shorter than the ’67, at a mere 200″ overall, riding on the new 112″ coupe-exclusive wheelbase. By mine (and most folk’s reckoning), the Buick was the weakest design of these new GM ’68 A-Body coupes.

Buick 1951 roadmaster

Well, the prominent down-ward-sweeping side spear was a Buick trademark, going back to the 1951.

Buick Roadmaster 1957 riviera side b

But beginning with the 1953 Skylark convertible, Buick couldn’t seem to decide whether that distinctive sweep worked better with a low rear wheel opening, or a full one, like on this ’57. Although I’m hardly a fan of fender skirts, this one isn’t working so well for me. How about a happy medium?

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The ’67 Skylark’s fender skirts were exclusive to that year only; the ’66 was devoid of them. This is the Skylark GS400 version, but even the most gentrified Skylark coupe was showing its rear legs in 1966.

Buick 1967 skylark br a-horz

Speaking of legs and such, the 1967 Buick brochures were legendary, and included a host of (mostly) lesser stars to add their luster to the stars of Buick’s line-up. And who is gracing the Skylark? Dolores Wettach, a Swiss born model and minor star who later married baseball great Ted Williams. There’s a few racier pictures of her at Google Images.

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What’s this recurring affinity of the ’67 Skylark, big hips and attractive women? Maybe Dolores’ granddaughter goes to the U of O? Ok, I was forced to use this shot that was spoiled by this intruder only because my camera flubbed the focus on the same shot without her. And no, she doesn’t mind.

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We’ve obsessed way too much on this Skylark’s length, hips and women here, and ignored this particular car’s story, which is a good one. The owner, who works in the restaurant (I assume), came out and shared it with me, before he drove off in it.

It had been his dad’s daily driver, acquired as a gift from the owner of the shop where he was a mechanic. I’m not sure how old the car was then, but the dad was 24 at the time. And when his son turned 24, he gifted it to him. And now it’s his daily driver, dripping with memories, as well as a vintage portable radio player.

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Given this car’s history, let’s assume the odometer has turned over at least once. The shift quadrant gives this away as a two-speed automatic, but not the Powerglide, as is so often but erroneously assumed. It’s Buick’s Super Turbine 300, with a Switch-Pitch (variable) stator that gave two different torque multiplication ratios; 1.8:1 under low-medium throttle settings, and a more aggressive 2.45:1 (and higher under stall speed) at throttle settings of 2/3 or higher.

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Providing the input torque to the Super Turbine is Buick’s 300 CID (4923cc) V8, here in two-barrel form which was rated at 210 (gross) hp @440 rpm. The 300, and the larger 340 version, was the replacement to the 215 CID aluminum V8, which was too troublesome and would be sold off to Rover. The 300/340 were iron engines, but shared many architectural similarities with the aluminum 215. The fact that the Rover was eventually bored and stroked to 5 liters (304.9 CID) hints at the potential for displacement increases in this block, iron or aluminum.  Buick’s final version had 350 CID (5.7 L), and was built until 1980.

And of course, this engine also spawned the Buick V6; this 300 V8 and the 225 CID version of the V6 share identical bore and stroke. For that matter, since the V6 came out first in mid-year 1961, we could rightfully say that the small-block Buick V8 is really a V6 with two more cylinders added.

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Obviously this Skylark has seen some serious use over the decades, but still manages to convey a bit of the Buick spirit in its vinyl-wrapped interior. Positively spartan for today’s standards, but about as nice as one could get in a mid-sized car. Why didn’t Cadillac use this platform for a Seville in the sixties? Hmmm.

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But hey, it has a split front seat back with a wide armrest! That was pretty hot stuff in 1966, as a date-friendly alternative to genuine buckets. I had a Magnavox radio just like that, and I can hear it playing Crimson and Clover, over and over….

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And the Skylark has a million dollar smile; no wonder beautiful women were (and still are) attracted to it. Confident, composed, enthusiastic, optimistic; well, it was 1967, after all.  And most of all, sunny.

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Hey, where did the fog and clouds suddenly go to? That’s the magic of a ’67 Skylark; big on the outside, little on the inside, and guaranteed to bring out the sunshine and pretty women. Who can argue with that?