(first posted 1/16/2017) The great singer-songwriter Carole King once sang in her lyrics to “Been To Canaan”, “Though I’m content with myself, sometimes I long to be somewhere else.” As this year (2017) in Chicago has started with its usual Arctic chill (though an uncharacteristic high of forty degrees Fahrenheit has been forecast for today), these lyrics came to mind as I remembered this Skylark I had spotted during a trip to my hometown a couple of years ago. Its factory “Flame Orange” paint looked very warm and tropical to my eyes, especially combined with its “halo” roof treatment and interior both in white vinyl. In the interest of full, initial disclosure, this piece is less technical in nature than it is of my own reflections on this car.
I try to get back to Flint at least once a quarter. It’s usually a bittersweet return, as I embrace the loved ones, places and things still there that I continue to hold dear, with my elation of being home again often counterbalanced with a sense of sadness and anger I feel about the decline of my birthplace. Hope remains in Genesee County, Michigan, and many good people there still fight for what’s right, for survival, and to make it a better place both in the present and for the future. Flint is nothing if not unflinchingly tough and resilient.
I suppose that a sense of what defines “decline” is all relative. When I lived in Flint from the 1970’s through the early 90’s, I remember many folks – both peers and adults, and just people in general – complaining in those times about what a terrible place Flint was to live. In a lot of ways, it really wasn’t, even if its halcyon days (which only some and not all were able to fully experience and enjoy) of the late-50’s and early-60’s were far behind by the time I grew up there. If there was any way to predict twenty-five years ago just how far things would fall – loss of jobs, revenue, population, even clean, safe tap water – I’d consider emptying my entire savings account today if that could make things there return to the way they were in 1992.
As all of this relates to our featured car, I remember thinking as a teenager in the early 90’s about how exciting my family’s impending move from Flint to southwest Florida was going to be. The color of this Skylark, similar to that of a Tropicana orange, looks sweet and delicious – and it stands in total contrast to the decidedly untropical, Midwestern, Rust Belt backdrop of its surroundings. It’s also from the last year of true, GM A-body hardtop coupes. In the 80’s and 90’s, a straight-bodied, rust-free car like this in Flint would likely have been sourced from the warm, salt-free South (as were many former GM workers). Most cars of this era in this part of the U.S. would have disintegrated into rusty piles within maybe seven years of continuous, regular use if their owners were lucky, even if the car still ran reasonably well by the end of its life.
One of about 34,300 Custom hardtop coupes, our featured car was the second-most popular iteration of the ’72 Skylark line, being outsold by the standard/350 hardtop coupe (84,900), out of about 225,300 total. (The GS convertible moved only 852 units at the other end of the Skylark sales spectrum). Weighing 3,500 pounds before options, our orange Custom hardtop came standard with a 150-horsepower Buick 350 V8 with a Rochester two-barrel carburetor, with a 180-hp four-barrel version also available. Prices for the Custom hardtop coupe started at $3,255 (about $18,800 in 2017).
This is exactly the kind of car I wanted as a teenager, and like many car-crazy kids my age in the birthplace city of General Motors, I pined for a 20-something year old A-Body in any form. I had my heart set on finding the “Southern car” of my dreams once my family had moved, one like this Skylark. Fort Myers, Florida, however, though a very nice place, turned out to be not quite my ideal in the three months between moving there in the summer of 1992 and starting college that fall in Gainesville. Though I first considered it a blessing that I had escaped the blunt, pragmatic, no-nonsense, blue collar ethos of Flint, I actually found myself really missing it after experiencing that life in southwest Florida (as with anywhere, in all fairness) presented its own, specific, different set of challenges. Shangri-La simply does not exist, though some cities are a better fit for some than others.
Ultimately, my take-away when looking at this orange Skylark and remembering my youthful hope of greener, warmer, sunnier pastures is this: perhaps contentment may be found anytime and anyplace you deliberately open your eyes to find it. Instead of simply longing for the future, there may also be real value in embracing the present and being thankful for what’s good right now. I say this while comparing the Flint of 2017 with the one I left in 1992. While I love and am truly thankful for my life in Chicago, perhaps when I celebrate my birthday in the Vehicle City later this year, I will take a little extra time to savor a couple of coney dogs at the neighborhood greasy spoon, or a stack of pancakes at my favorite diner at the Dort Mall. After all, and like the citrus fruit that shares the color of our featured car, life is sweet – even if everything isn’t exactly the way you want it to be.
Friday, August 14, 2015.
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