(first posted 6/7/2016) While General Motors has launched a new Buick Verano in China, the line is being withdrawn from the North American lineup. It had been the first compact Buick since this, the 1992-98 Skylark, which had also been discontinued without a direct replacement. But while the conclusion of each car’s story is the same, the narrative is quite different.
The Verano has put the good fight to premium compacts like the Acura ILX, offering capable dynamics, impressive levels of refinement, an attractive and high-quality interior, a wealth of luxury features, and an optional 250-hp turbocharged engine. All of this is wrapped in handsome if somewhat anonymous styling.
The final Skylark sedan and coupe, conversely, had quite radical styling. Designed by Wayne Kady, the 1992 Skylark initially debuted with one of the most prominent automotive beaks since the 1970-71 Ford Thunderbird. This was a marked departure from the previous three generations of Skylark, which generally sought to ease traditional large-car consumers into a smaller package by applying traditional design cues, as seen on the larger LeSabre and Regal, like formal rooflines and large taillights.
The Skylark’s design may have polarized opinions, but GM had strongly recommitted to establishing discrete design languages for their brands. This was after receiving criticism during the 1980s for lineups full of seemingly identical vehicles. Nowhere was this effort to differentiate more apparent than in the N-Body compacts: Skylark, Oldsmobile Achieva and Pontiac Grand Am. The Pontiac was rounded and shovel-nosed with aggressive, squinting headlights; the Achieva was more upright, with echoes of the larger Ninety-Eight; and, rather bizarrely, the Buick was the boldest.
The Skylark looked little like other contemporary Buicks, something its designer acknowledged, although the grille was said to resemble that of the 1939 Buick. The Skylark’s body was described as a wedge shape enhanced with curves and had a drag coefficient of just 0.32; Kady bragged it didn’t have a single flat panel. This was echoed in the interior, with a center stack sharply angled to the driver but a plethora of curves and intriguing lines.
The division had long had a reputation for skewing older but the Skylark was marketed towards women in their 40s, perhaps a tacit acknowledgement the brand needed some younger blood and also that this distinctive new design might not appeal to Buick’s more traditional consumers.
It wasn’t just a bold new design that was new to the Skylark line. The 1992 also introduced the Skylark’s first electronically adjustable shock absorbers, controlled by buttons on the dash and allowing the driver to toggle between normal, firmer or “touring” settings. The technology was nothing new but it was quite a change from Skylarks of old.
Alas, the rest wasn’t. For all the drama about the interior and exterior and despite a 9-inch increase in length, the Skylark still rode an existing platform architecture with the same chassis dimensions as its predecessor: a 103.4-inch wheelbase with front/rear track of 55.6 and 55.2 inches, respectively. Suspension design was MacPherson struts up front and a twist beam at the rear. The new N-Body triplets now shared their floorpan, inner structure and suspension with the L-Body Chevrolet Corsica and Beretta, but the N-Body platform designation remained.
So, the new N-Body was simply using 5-year-old hand-me-downs. The same was true for its engines. The base engine was GM’s noisy 2.3 Quad 4, in this application producing 115 hp at 5200 rpm and 140 ft-lbs at 3200 rpm. For an extra few hundred dollars, you could opt for a 3.3 V6 with 160 hp at 5200 rpm and 185 ft-lbs at a much lower 2000 rpm. Unfortunately, the only transmission available was a three-speed automatic when most rivals now offered a four-speed.
Another example of cost-cutting was the absence of airbags. Unlike many rivals, the Skylark had standard anti-lock brakes – a laudable inclusion in a time when many rivals lacked this important safety feature – but with no airbags, Skylarks were instead saddled with frustrating passive safety belts. There were also some other deficiencies that may have turned off potential consumers, like doors that locked upon driving but didn’t automatically unlock when the car was put in park, rear cabin doors that didn’t open wide enough for easy access, and an oversize steering wheel which obscured some of the instruments. And despite its standard ABS, the rear brakes on Skylarks remained drums.
Handling was competent and in fact nicely buttoned down in the Gran Sport with its 16-inch Goodyear Eagle GAs and adjustable suspension. Unsurprisingly, the Skylarks sent to press fleets were generally Gran Sport models which came standard with the more powerful, refined V6, touring suspension and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter. But these models cost a cool $2k more than lesser Skylarks and were not representative of how most Skylarks were specified.
With the 1992 redesign, Buick had missed the mark on what was really needed. The Skylark lacked the refinement and build quality of its Japanese rivals. It countered with outlandish styling – despite the conservative lines of top sellers like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry – but this proved to dog sales.
In 1991, the last year of the previous generation, Buick shifted 77,340 Skylarks. For 1992, sales slumped to 60,646. The hike in price was arguably the biggest factor in this decline, as base MSRP jumped by almost $3,000. But a reduced base price didn’t help for the Skylark’s sophomore season, sales staying flat. As the decade wore on, Skylark sales gradually declined. The most popular trim by far was the base sedan, which accounted for nearly 80% of total Skylark sales in some years. The flagship Gran Sport, in contrast, was lucky to sell 2,000 units a year. Meanwhile, Pontiac was building around 250,000 Grand Ams most years.
Although the Skylark had arrived somewhat overstyled and underdone, GM took steps to fix some of its failings. For 1993, a new base model was offered with an MSRP around $500 cheaper. The following year, a four-speed automatic transmission and a driver’s airbag belatedly arrived. The four-speed automatic was optional on the four-cylinder and standard with the V6, now a 3.1 mill which lost 5 horses but gained 2-3 mpg and more refinement. And the car would finally unlock when put in ‘park’.
To help coax shoppers away from imports, value-priced editions of the Skylark were offered that bundled niceties like air-conditioning and cruise control at a reduced price. At launch, the Skylark had been priced right against the Honda Accord. As the Japanese raised their MSRPs, however, the Skylark became a better value; a well-equipped Skylark cost roughly the same as a base Accord, Camry or 626.
The rear suspension was revised in 1995 with a new, tubular axle for a better ride. But the biggest changes would arrive in 1996, the year of the featured car. The beak was removed and a more conservative, LeSabre-esque fascia added. The wedgy lines aft of the nose remained, however.
The thrashy Quad 4 was also replaced with GM’s 16-valve Twin Cam four-cylinder with balance shafts, displacing 2.4 liters and producing 150 hp at 5,600 rpm and 155 ft-lbs of torque at 4,400 rpm. The V6 still had the edge in torque but the gulf in refinement and power had been dramatically reduced in one fell swoop. The antiquated three-speed was also finally put out to pasture.
Inside, there was a more conventional dashboard – shared with the Oldsmobile Achieva and very similar to a vast number of contemporary GM models – that featured dual airbags. Traction control was another new safety feature.
The Skylark was sadly another example of one of the old GM’s two preferred ways to inadvertently sabotage a product. With some of their lines, they would release a new model, deprive it of meaningful updates, strip it of features to cut costs and then drag out the product cycle for as long as possible. The Skylark, however, followed the Fiero Method of Product Mismanagement: release a car half-baked, slowly fix everything that was wrong with it, and then dump it before people even realize.
By the end of its run, Skylark sales had dwindled and many of those were to fleets. For 1998, the Skylark was sold only as a lone four-cylinder sedan and only to fleets. Although the new generation of N-Bodies finally arrived in 1998, three years after originally scheduled, there would be no Buick compact.
Buick had managed to fix almost everything wrong with its junior model but it was too little, too late. Their recently revealed plans to axe the Verano may seem like another ignominious withdrawal but it actually reveals three ways General Motors has improved. Firstly, the Verano has been on the market since only 2012, a much shorter product cycle than in the days of the Skylark. Secondly, the fabulously successful model that has been eating into the Verano’s market share is a trendy, fashionable crossover (the Encore) and not a decrepit, decade-old family sedan (the A-Body Century). Finally, and most importantly, although the Skylark had become a decent compact by the end of its run, GM managed with the Verano to do something it had so often struggled with in the past. It got the car right at launch.
Featured car photographed at the New York State Capitol in Albany on April 29, 2014.
Curbside Classic: 1993 Pontiac Grand Am
Curbside Classic: 1993 Oldsmobile Achieva
First of all, credit must be given for giving the N-bodies very distinctive styling from one another, something that hadn’t been allowed on small Buick, Oldsmobiles, and Pontiacs for some time before. It’s unfortunate however that said styling was, in my own opinion, so incredibly ugly.
From the beak nose, to the fender skirts, the sedan’s formal roofline, and the abruptly truncated trunk, these cars just were a mess of outlandish styling elements. Sedans came across worse with their tiny rear doors that plunged out at the beltline, though coupes also sported an odd rear windshield that didn’t align with the top of the rear windows. The facelift didn’t help either, just kind of dumbing down the styling.
It’s a shame that the styling of the 1990 concept Buick Bolero wasn’t translated more precisely to the 1992 Skylark. Its rounded sheetmetal and sculpted lines are much more harmonious and pleasing to the eye.
Also, who would’ve guessed before these came out that the Pontiac version would be the most conservatively-styled as well as the best selling?!
I never knew these existed before today, and I’m rather aghast at their styling. Looks like a badly-conceived concept car, or perhaps something the trainee knocked up on a Friday afternoon.
I share your opinion. I thought the exterior styling on the Skylark was awful, though to me the interior, with its overwrought lines and shockingly cheap plastics, was even worse. Plus, no airbags or anything more than a 3-speed automatic in 1992–pathetic!
Very interesting that you recalled the Bolero as well. That concept car clearly inspired the ’92 Skylark, but something was badly lost in translation….
Here are a few more shots of the Bolero: the front of the show car does a much better job of integrating the prominent “Buick-style” grille.
And the Bolero from the rear. Hints of the Skylark look, and even the Roadmaster…
That’s pretty bad on it’s own.
Agree completely with all your comments, any car that made a Grand Am look pretty good had to be pretty ugly.
“First of all, credit must be given for giving the N-bodies very distinctive styling from one another, something that hadn’t been allowed on small Buick, Oldsmobiles, and Pontiacs for some time before.”
That’s really the key issue with these cars. GM spent most of the late ’80s being beaten to death for look alike cars. They went back to their efforts similar to the early 1970s, and produced some hits and misses. 20 years earlier, the Pontiac LeMans was the poor sales poster child for it’s 1973 – 1977 run, while the Olds and Buick beat it to a pulp on the sales charts. Still, the LeMans, like the Skylark of this era, provided an option that may have kept some people from straying to non GM brands.
Really, wasn’t that what everybody in the late ’80s wanted GM to do?
And yes, that Bolero is a good looking car!
I can only agree with Brendan about the styling.
But that 1992 is like a dear old relative who tries so hard (too hard really) to be nice and pleasing. It’s almost saying “look how hard I worked to make this car look nice for you”.
I feel that I want to say, thank you, I’d love to have another piece of your homemade onion pie.
Trying hard is a gracious act of kindness. Only in this case, one would have to live with it for a long time and that swoopy red interior and front beaky and rear skirted exterior might wear thin after, say, a few days (if not hours).
And then there is the GM “quality” issue. And that quad four.
(BTW – homemade onion pie is quite good. Never pass up an opportunity to have some. I wish I knew how to make pies).
I rented an Olds Achieva in the early 90s and remember really liking it. It was a snappy little car with decent styling. Looking at the photos now, I think that styling still holds up pretty well today – not too crazy, but not too stodgy either. It’s a pity the mechinicals weren’t up the the quality of the styling.
The styling was bold and well differentiated from the Achieva and the Grand Am. The base engine throughout the run were Quad 4 that were more powerfull that the Japanese competitors and the car offered the Buick V6 that was a great engine at this point and while many Japanese competitors still lacked that option. The car offered one of the last bench seats in a small car. The dashboard is one of the best of the nineties in any affordable car.
The failure of the car really came down to the price and weight increase. Expensive features like the Quad 4 were added to appease completely unavailable import buyers. This raised prices on domestic buyers who are less image concerned but very value oriented. GM should have made sure they could maintain price points as really that was their only way to sell in volume. New assembly operations were pouring massive numbers of Japanese models on the market, ex percentage of which won’t consider you no matter what you are selling, case in point the Geo Prizm.
The Verano, which I own, will stay in China but the USA made version will die. The new generation Cruze is pushed from Lordstown to Mexico. The dim prospect of a Verano from China is thereby avoided for me.
I wonder if someone at GM considered pulling out the nineties playbook and keep the old model around at the USA factory, cut the price, and sell the numbers. It worked for years on the w Impala with it’s Canadian assembly. It gives the dealers volume they much need. I think that the new generation are not so stuck in their politics as were their parents, so not so adverse to good value. We see it in how the Japanese have been supplanted by the Koreans who offered a new value proposition to a new generation.
Thanks William for offering your take on this interesting car.
John, are we looking at the same dashboard? The original interior is absolutely hideous, truly one of those (sadly many) GM-WTF moments (like with the Aztek and Avalanche and minivans….). Granted the updated 1998 dash IS rather handsome – but far too little, too late.
I’d take a black-bumpered Accord DX any day over this.
On to the Verano – I too think it should stick around, since entry-premium is a thing these days. And although I’m not a GM fan, a hat tip to them – the Cruze is a solid little car and the Verano improves on that.
I have a fondness for many of GM’s WTF moments. Compare the early dash to the 96 blanded down affair. This happened in many GM cars and results from a me too lack of confidence. In 1992 a designer was actually told to come up with something different and did. Much more interesting.
The masses were with you on the black bumpered Accord, if they could find one so equipped on the lot. Sometimes the masses were a bit boring though, and I don’t think Honda should have been rewarded for allowing the hoodlines to rise and the car get so big as happened with the early 90s generation.
Buick was definitely punished for letting the weight and the price go up on these.
Hoodlines to rise? Early 90’s version? Have you driven one? Yes, it’s not as directly wedgy as the ’86-’89 cars, but that’s still a very low hoodline with fabulous visibility. Dad owned an ’84 and I owned a ’91, and the hoodline of the ’91 actually felt lower.
It got bigger, yes, but it was trying to be a mid-size. The Civic was the compact. What’s wrong with that?
Think back to about 1985 when the second generation was still among the best and the third gen came out with the dramaticly low hoodline and pop up lights. Then to 1989 when the hoodline was higher headlights returned and the car was so much bigger. I can’t have been the only one disappointed.
Owners do swear by them and I do remember your great COAL on one.
“That’s not a Buick!”
THIS is a Buick!
And this is a proper Buick Skylark…
This is also a Buick.
And this too, is a Buick:
I felt in love at first sight for this trio, specially the Skylark, there were two Skylarks here in Curitiba – Brazil when I was younger, if compared to the style of what Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Opel based Chevrolets and European Fords offered, Skylark looked like an alien.
I’ve seen one Achieva from São Paulo once, although it’s a little bit conservative, the lack of Americans cars here let it flashy anyway.
The Grand Am seems to have a better style for something out of the common place, it seems people from Chrysler also liked it’s nose as the Cirrus resembles it too much.
Brilliant observation on the Cirrus, Gustavo. I never noticed until you said so, but you’re absolutely right.
On a trip back in the ’90’s I rented a Buick Skylark and was not impressed with it-the styling was simply a mass of bizarre elements with no attempt to coordinate them into
a unified appearance and the interior, especially the dashboard was even worse. A sad ending to a once very attractive car-especially in the mid-sixties-1965-67.
Count me as a fan of the Skylark on the basis of the wild and zany styling alone! That said, I never wanted to own one, the combination of obsolescent technology and iffy reliability conspiring to keep my vehicular passions at bay. And let’s not forget those claustrophobic rear seats. What can I say, I’ve always been pragmatic.
One feature of this Skylark that always struck me as peculiar was the 55/45 split bench with the cubby below the armrest. It always struck me as a tacit admission that the car was way too small for a serviceable front bench, which let’s face it, everything narrower than a N-body is. But t to me it’s a much more honest solution than simply putting in a sixth seatbelt and boldly proclaiming it’s a six seater.
Like many, my only direct exposure to this generation N-body was through a good buddy’s Grand Am GT, decked out in that ubiquitous bright red. One summer I had to drive that car from New York to Virginia. It was not a bad highway cruiser, with the 2.4 Twin Cam being sufficiently refined and the tall gearing from the 4 speed auto. But the Grand Am didn’t have a sporting bone in its body, and struck me as being the automotive equivalent of that garrulous guy at the end of the bar who’s all talk, and no action. I trust you’re all familiar with the type.
I love ’em too, and a GS in black was even better! I also like how the dash flows into the door. The driver’s door and dash on my ’15 Civic look like they’re out of two different cars.
Of all the N-bodied renditions done, the Skylark was my favorite. A lot of the appeal depends on color, too, as certain colors enhanced the styling.
At a former job, a woman in the office owned a Skylark – don’t know the year, but it was that greenish-gray with a silver lower body. It really looked sharp. I’m not a fan of green cars, but this is one I would have owned in a heartbeat! Apparently, her car was reliable, too.
First off, simply great article, William. You have brought to the forefront of my mind many cars I hadn’t thought about (intentionally) in ages. These cars were new when I was in high school and working at AC Rochester in lieu of a sixth period. Initially, I hated the styling. My brother summed it up best back then, when he succinctly stated, “That beak is hideous.”.
Fast-forward almost twenty-five years, and I actually find it attractive. Achieva wins the beauty pageant (oh, but that name), and the Grand Am – while a pleasing reminder of my youth and mall parking lots – looks almost juvenile.
I didn’t remember that these cars didn’t sell, but I do remember print ads seemingly being targeted to women – with bright colors and expressive type-fonts.
Thank you for this piece.
Solidly with you on the “Acheiva” name Ughh! Interestingly in Pittsburgh “Acheiva” is a charity for people with disabilities…. I’m sure they do good things, and I don’t know if they were around with our little Olds, But every time I see one on the road, “Disabled” pops into my head – Ah, Marketing!
One of the shots above features the new-gen Impala in the distance behind a tour bus.
Again, it’s a crying shame GM conducted itself as it did from the 70s ’til about ten years ago. Moments of sheer greatness amongst millions of mediocre vehicles have led to long shadows over many of GM’s current – and vastly superior – offerings.
Such as that Impala.
Even more so, Buick’s LaCrosse. In the circles my wife and I run in, it’s 40-50-something women buying, and LOVING, the car. It should be selling better.
GM’s biggest problem today is they don’t have a marketing director…the largest corporation on Earth without one, according to Autoextremist Peter DeLorenzo.
Marques like LG (which used to be Gold Star!), Samsung, Hyundai and Kia are proof that redemption is possible for brands with sullied reputations. Had Buick’s message been more on-point these past few years, maybe the Verano wouldn’t be going the way of the Skylark.
I won’t say much about LG (I actually had better luck with Gold Star TVs!) But on Kia and especially Hyundai – True! Kias today might be inexpensive, but not considered junk, And Hyundai today makes a couple of models I’d buy! Twenty years ago you couldn’t even GIVE me a Hyundai! So redemption is possible!
I remember disliking these when they came out. Especially in that teal that I grew to hate after seeing it the first 5000 times. The red accent on the two tone teal and silver was especially grating.
That said, they look far better today. I find the last generation Hyundai Sonata far more overwrought. And the evil clown Mazda 3. I don’t think for a moment either of those will look better with 20 years hindsight.
For the first time I understand what people mean by “cheap plastics”. There’s a You Tube review of a burgundy Skylark that really pointed this out, part of Saabkyle’s series. The video spends a lot of time in the car and on the dashboard.
$3000 more would get you THAT ? The previous Skylark looked better, though GM 80s generic.
Even here the brochure shots expose a cynicism by GM they couldn’t hide with lots of styling quirks and professional photography.
The semi gloss black plastic is really annoying and looks flimsy. And this from someone who owns an ION. At least in that application, there’s no pretense of being an upscale car and the plastic there is simply utilitarian.
As with others: I’ll take the Achieva. Even with it’s crude bodywork over the rear wheels.
And over and over again, GM proved it didn’t really want to sell small cars. Just units to sell in the segment.Or to use for up-selling to a “real” car. Or better yet, a truck or SUV.
It’s very telling that I had nearly forgotten about both the Skylark and the Achieva (Agreeing with others about the name. Having grown up in the NY Metro area it just sounds to me like Donna from Bensonhurst trying to laud someone for being an ACHIEVER. Oy, that accent…and the voices that propel it for the most part…but I digress.)
My very-nearly-only recollection of the early 90’s Skylark was of a white base model coupe with red cloth interior that was frequently parked near me at my office circa 1998. It was a few years old and well used at the time, but all I can remember ever thinking when I saw it was, “That’s probably the ugliest car I’ve seen in years”. How odd is it that the Grand Am, which was and still is so ubiquitous as to be nearly invisible, never evoked that kind of passionate response from me. Admittedly, by ’96 with the softening of the lines, at least forward of the windshield and the elimination of the harsh bodyside trim and two-tone treatments the Skylark became less offensive if not somewhat attractive, albeit anonymous.
the base engine was the Quad OHC with 115hp, then you could step up to the DOHC 4 with ~150hp. then the Six.
Sis had a 94 Achieva so I took an interest in the 90s N-bodies. The SOHC was a coarse sounding mill but compared to her 84 Sunbird’s 1.8 SOHC 4 with 80hp and single barrel TBI, it was a responsive beast.
They were definitely not anonymous at all. I still like the styling of the Skylark and the Achieva.
My father’s last car was a ’93 or ’94 Skylark 4 door, in maroon and with the 3.1 V6. I was rather surprised at his choice, given that back in the 60s and 70s when I was a GM fan, he wouldn’t touch one. Finally, in GM’s declining years, he buys his first GM car. Maybe he felt sorry for them.
I drove it a few times, and we borrowed it for a three-day road trip, and it was a very forgettable experience (the car). Just like so many millions of other GM rental-grade cars: good tip-in response from the V6, but breathless at higher speeds. Modest in all its dynamic qualities, but no glaring deficiencies. Surprisingly cramped for its length (not surprising, given its N-body platform.
He drove it until he couldn’t anymore, by which time it had a number of nasty scrapes and streaks from increasing encounters with immobile objects, due to his advanced age. He should have stopped driving a lot sooner, due to his macular degeneration, among other things.
But it does bring back memories…
Definitely a deadly sin…
Look ridiculous… and drove even worse (I had rental in 1995…)
N-Car was bad….the Skylark was the worse by a whopping margin.
What a sad ending for the “Skylark” brand.
I seem to remember at the time the Buick and Olds were a little delayed because the styling was even more extreme— during long range dealer showings they complained about the styling so it was toned down. Maybe my memory is letting me down but when I seen the new Skylark I remember not liking it, looks better to me now.
Count me in as a fan of that dash (the red interior one toward the top of the article) – very bold and adventurous, and succeeding in not being boring or too garish. But not a fan of GM’s typical fit and finish – check out in the same image how the black vent trim on the driver’s door panel is not perfectly aligned with its sister vent piece on the LH edge of the dash. Ditto for the red plastic strip at the top edge of the vent bezel.
And this is on a press release car? From a dealer brochure? Really, GM?
Then again, this is the same company that sells $52k Camaro SS convertibles that have a similar issue. If you want a sweeping LHdoor-dash-RHdoor theme, how hard is it to align the damn door trim with the dash trim???
But it’s GM we’re talking about.
These cars, like most of GM’s odd offerings of the 90’s, were hideous. Bloated, over-styled and just cheap looking. What were they thinking? My Dad liked the new Olds ’98 Regency offered in 1992 and I thought he was kidding when he told me. I really must say the only GM products offered in the 90’s that I found attractive were the Cadillac deVilles (not so much the 1994-96’s), the Seville and to some extent the Eldorado. Even the Firebird/Camaro models looked fat and weird!
As flashy and steam-punk overgimmicked as the plastic armor-clad Pontiac Grand Am was, at least it didn’t have the dowdy, fat-hipped, “woman with too long a skirt” look of the Olds and Buick. The Buick was the more incoherent, its aggressive beak a poor match to the frumpy rear quarter.
You can’t sell an old car to a young person, but perhaps the young-at-heart were not GM’s true target market for the Buick and the Olds, which could well have been “your father’s Oldsmobile.”
The “… Your father’s Oldsmobiles” ads annoyed me because they were talking trash about MY tastes in cars. Ok, I admit the drum brakes were not so great, the bias ply tires were a bit underwhelming, 6 to 8 miles per gallon was not so good, tune ups were needed every 7 to 8 thousand miles, cornering was best done at a crawl, the lack of seat belts was deplorable, the solid steering column was more threatening than a Takata air bag, the one speaker AM radio was a bit static-y, the generators often could not keep the battery topped off in traffic, and reverse was below low on the selector array making it scary-dangerous when down shifting while moving.
But damn, they sure were pretty.
I dunno. I trashed the fit and finish in a post just above this one, but I think the beak wasn’t too bad. I don’t think they were really hoping to sell these to young people though. A friend had one back in like 2006 (which was the last time I saw that particular friend) and the car already stood out in a good way from the sea of SUVs and really generic early 21st century makes.
That was before Toyota and Honda, not to mention GM and Ford, started introducing some style into their cars. The “beak nose” headlights looked cool at night (until I got used to seeing that car I remember thinking “what is that” seeing the headlights from a distance on several occasions), the cloth interior was cozy yet comfy in a way no contemporary mid-00s vehicle under $30 could hope to be, and that dash looked pretty cool, especially at night. It ran, too.
He kept the Skylark in a good shape and I remember not being ashamed of climbing in it. I’d never say that for a Grand Am, even a brand spanking new one. Now those things, along with the equally garish and chintzy Grand Prix, and later the G6s, were the cockroaches of the early- and mid-00s American roads. I was happy when GM finally axed Pontiac. The entire lineup somehow became associated with the wrong type of owner. At least the Buicks were perceived en masse as a geezer vehicle. Not the worst car to be seen in.
I think you are confusing the headlights on these with the Pontiac Grand Prix four door of the era; nothing out of the ordinary is going on with the Skylark lamps.
I meant the headlight configuration (perhaps that’s what you meant too). It might well not have been anything out of the ordinary, I just recall that to my more innocent ’06 self the Skylark’s “eyes” stood out at night. Go figure! 🙂
I understand what you mean now. My mistake!
Wow, one of my least favorite cars of the 90s. It seems like 99% of these that I ever saw were base models driven by old people. Why was something like that even in a Buick showroom.
I kind of understood when they were selling base model Specials in the early 60s – Buick was an independent division that was happy to steal sales from Pontiac and Chevrolet and was for some reason allowed to get away with it. But by the 90s, the Divisions were gone. There was just one GM and its “marketing divisions” were just that. Wasn’t there an adult somewhere to say “Buick is for well-equipped, fairly high-end cars.” Apparently not, with the scads of rental grade 4 cylinder, 3 speed auto versions clogging dealer inventories. Just maddening.
Perhaps I might have liked these better if they had all been well-equipped V6s with alloy wheels and leather. At least they would have been trying to offer us a small Buick.
Typical GM. Let’s throw this crap out to the American public and see if they bite. If not, oh well. We tried.
Wait – let’s make sure it is a good product, improve it, fix the bugs….THEN the American public will want it, right? Oh, wait….it is too late….OK, let’s pull the plug, it WAS a failure.
I guess Kady had to come up with a Buick history connection, But anyone who sees a 1939 grille in the 1992 Skylark has spent too much time enjoying “herbal remedys” like,Colorado style!
Typically, GM products have one major failing and are competent in other areas; the Citation was truly revolutionary, high tech, efficient, well packaged, well priced, and attractive, but we all know what was wrong with it. Same thing with the Vega. Some cars like the Reatta and Allante were overpriced for a much smaller market than anticipated; some cars like the Fiero were underdeveloped.
This car was, to start with, breathtakingly ugly. There’s not a single good or coherent line on it. Datsun buyers of the ’70’s were young and may have been willing to put up with mutant atomic cockroach styling for durability and efficiency but Buick buyers were not. The grille could have made sense if it went with the rest of the car, which it doesn’t. The dash vaguely resembles the first generation Focus. The previous generation Skylark had trim packaging and a nice formal roofline which allowed for maximum passenger and cargo room, and may not have been the most spectacular of designs but had simple elegance and coherence.
It was overpriced. At 17-19k decently equipped, this went well past Century territory into Regal and LeSabre territory. The previous model could be had in the high five figures or low teens. You could, with some haggling, get a LeSabre for what this stickered for.
The build quality/reliability was a step backward from the previous generation. The N Body reliability had improved but the Corsica platform felt cheap, cheap, cheap. Interior material quality declined.
Competition had increased since the previous generation debuted in ’85. The Spirit/Acclaim/Dynasty were much nicer and less expensive than this car, which could not be said about the Aries compared with an ’85 Skylark. Honda and Toyota were on their second generation of buyers. Even a Tempo was better looking and much more keenly priced compared with this car, again, that could not have been said in ’85 compared with an ’85 Skylark. As mentioned, engines, chassis, transmissions, etc were low tech. I’m not sure what car this was launched to compete against. Unlike the Spirit featured today, which would have been a very competitive car had it appeared a few years earlier, who wants an expensive, ugly, poorly built, low tech sedan? This wasn’t even competitive against its Buick brethren in showrooms.
The early coupes actually don’t look too bad. The styling is something different at least. The styling does not translate well at all to the four door sedan. Obviously they designed the two door first then adapted to the four door which is a strange choice given which model would sell better.
I do not recall the facelifted version and I suspect it was never sold in Canada. Doesn’t look like we missed much though.
Yep, Pretty much the modern version of 1950s Studebakers!
GM spent cash on divisional differences in the N bodies, but then underneath was just a 1982 Cavalier, and sounded like them.
By the 90’s compact buyers didn’t care about styling differences, just a car that starts and runs good, and modern tech.
But at least now GM gets it. The current Cruze is a Mercedes compared to the old J & N cars.
The styling on these has actually aged unexpectedly well, there’s such a bizarre blend of angles and curves they fit right in with say… The current Lexus lineup, the taillights in particular remind me of the IS. Similarly I’m equally repulsed by the sight. The Grand Am looks the most dated, despite being hands down the most ubiquitous of the Ns.
I do admire GM for being daring though, awful drivetrains aside(I did have a best friend with one, so I can attest to it’s slow rough blandness), I never knew these were so closely related to the Grand Am or Achiva, in fact these never really seemed as compact to me as the Pontiac oddly(must be the emphasis on straight lines), they always looked to be about as big as the W body Regal coupe, and as a kid I was always a bit baffled as to it’s position in the lineup – which is a problem I had with GM in the 80s/90s as a whole. I guess that’s damning with faint praise but GM really hid the roots well, even in their prime they never made the division’s look THAT different.
You’re right on the idea that the styling fits in more with today than 1992…Not that it’s a good thing BTW, but it is true”
I’ve always rather liked these. Especially the coupes.
I drove one once when i worked at Buick customer relations in the ’90’s. I don’t recall much about it except it had a surprising amount of front leg room, and moved out pretty well with its V-6.
Y’know, I’m not going to lie, whenever I think of Buick products in the 90s I always forget about the Skylark. Then I stumble upon a picture, and I understand why.
This car always seemed weird to me, leaving aside the off putting styling, it just doesn’t seem to fit. Whenever I think of Buicks from the 90s, it’s usually bland, boring, milquetoast that looks more or less the same (First gen Park Avenue, Reatta, and Roadmaster excepted), but at least there’s a consistent design theme. To go this radical is puzzling, especially considering who was buying them at the time this was in the showrooms.
The biggest difference between a ’90s Skylark compact and the Verano is the range of cars in the rest of the Buick line-up during the ’90s.
The Verano, Regal, and Lacrosse come across like the same car with tiny, inconsequential variations in size. The ’90s Skylark could be contrasted with the Roadmaster and a variety of other truly differentiated cars.
Over the last few years, every time Buick introduced or revised a car, I couldn’t help but yawn.
That conveniently ignores the totally different side profiles, window shape, and overall styling between those three cars. There was a reason the Skylark lost its beak: buyers preferred a more familiar Buick front end. Let us never forget those “truly differentiated” gems of the early ’90s Buick lineup, the LeSabre and Park Avenue:
Well, yes, the LeSabre and Park Avenue started out similar, but the longer Park Avenue ended with a unique C pillar, rear quarters and rear end – the classic difference between the long and short full-size Buicks going back to 1963. This was well accepted by buyers and many were willing to pay quite a premium for the longer and better equipped car.
Looking at the broader range of 1994 Buicks, there was a lot more differentiation, and there were even two door and wagon models. Sales were generally much higher as well – the Skylark, Regal and Park Avenue for 1994……….
I rented a couple of these in 1992. One was just an overnighter, the other took me from
Tucson to LA, via San Francisco. I found it a comfortable car for my trips. Never missed a beat, despite me taking it places- like a complete circuit of Mojave Airport on the outside of the fence,where a rental shouldn’t be going. And standing on the trunk lid to take photos over fences. I topped it out at 115 MPH indicated somewhere in Arizona, where I also discovered that pedal e-brakes aren’t suited to hand brake turns. About the worst thing I remember was the static electric shocks it kept giving me. I ended up just kicking the door shut.
Over all, I prefer my ’69 Skylark over ‘my’ first Buick
In the mid 90s, I was hot on getting a 2-door Olds Achieva. It was a striking car. But the 4-door version was so dorky, and its Skylark sister was even dorkier, such that I could not pull the trigger. I couldn’t risk being taken for the kind of person who drove a car designed to appeal to people who hung mass-produced swan paintings over their sofas.
I recognized Albany, NY right away in the photos…a whole other conversation about styling errors. For those who don’t know, that’s the Empire State Plaza (our capitol plaza) in the background. In the 60s, Governor Nelson Rockefeller tore down dozens of blocks of great old urban fabric to build a monument to, ah…Brasilia, apparently. Not the one designed by Volkswagen.
“In the 60s, Governor Nelson Rockefeller tore down dozens of blocks of great old urban fabric to build a monument to, ah…Brasilia, apparently.” Is probably the funniest, truest thing I’ve read this week!
The two-door versions of the Olds and the Buick were both the better expression of this body. I liked them both when they were new.
While I’ve never seen it in person, from the photos I actually rather like the dystopian modernist/brutalist concept piece that is the capitol plaza. However, demolishing a significant part of an existing downtown era to build that is rather a grave error. Massive projects like that should be adjacent to the urban core, not in the middle of it (not least because governmental areas are invariably dead after 5 PM).
If you are ever in the area, it is worth seeing…it is far more jarring than photos can convey. The approach from Rensselaer, a dumpy town to the east, is particularly astonishing.
As you suggest, the plaza is not entirely without appeal. It’s all done with top-notch materials, and the interplay of the overscaled Brutalism and the old town fabric can be striking. But functionally, the plaza is closed off from the city…it is a story or more higher, and one side is closed off by a FIVE block-long building. Much of the rest of it is surrounded by moats of open space that no one would dare walk through at any time of day.
Lol, top-notch materials indeed. Marble and precious stones from around the world were used, to great expense. It’s a very strange fit with the Romanesque Revival/Renaissance state capitol, but that too was beset by delays and massive cost overruns.
I first saw the plaza on a cloudy, windy, fall Sunday. It was like walking into a modern, dehumanizing necropolis. If George Orwell had written 1984 in the 70s, this is what he would have described for the government buildings of Oceania.
I still kind of like it though, in a “I can’t believe they actually built this place” kind of way. The Egg is cool, and the modern art collection is amazing. The underground concourse is a good idea for those awful winters, too.
Agree that the styling has aged at least a bit better than when new, yet I’ve never warmed to these. I vividly remember many of them in the green color, though. Might be THE color of the 90s.
It goes against the grain of opinion, but I’ve always liked the “beaked” Skylarks, from a styling standpoint anyway. It’s a very bold design, and it’s not for everyone, but it’s distinctive. The downward-sweeping character line that forms the top of the rear wheel openings is kind of like a reverse interpretation of the side sweep on the ’68-’69 Skylark (another car that gets a lot of flak that I actually love). I like the angular, wide taillight design, and the glassy greenhouse of the coupe. (The sedan? Not as successful.) And it looks great in the two-tones so popular on the higher-line models–teal/silver, black/silver, red/gray. That interior, too–striking. Maybe not beautiful but extremely striking.
Of course, GM giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other. The rough-and-tumble Quad 4 giving way to the markedly better LD9 Twin Cam, plus gaining a 4th gear on the automatic? Good, very good. Blanding down the styling? Bad, very bad. It took out all the strikingness and made it look like a mini-LeSabre with odd rear quarter styling.
I’ve only known, tangentially, of one owned by an acquaintance–my best friend’s sister had a post-blandification sedan in the mid 00’s after she killed her first car (Geo Storm). It looked almost exactly like the one in the next-to-last photo. The Skylark was quite problematic in the year or so she had it, and given what I know about the later N-bodies, it was probably a whole affair better avoided.
While the styling isn’t my “cup of tea”, I’m glad it exists, Like Aztec or Cube, If it weren’t for them car spotting would be boring. I enjoy the 1959 Cadillac AND the 1961 Lincoln at the same time, for different reasons, but mainly how different they are from each other while being only a couple years apart.
I quite agree. The Beak Skylark got my wife and I into a Buick showroom for a look at the styling. The car was to be hers. That my wife actually wanted to walk into a Buick showroom was an amazing fact by itself.
But, it was a car class or two too small for what we were used to. We ended up buying a considerably larger MN-12 Thunderbird.
Yeah, I don’t “get” pointing out how similar the early ’90s Park Avenue was to Lesabre. The differences from the exterior between the the big Buicks forever has been rear,roof line and length. A 1984 Park Ave isn’t radically different from the LeSabre. except for what I said above. Same with 88/98 over the years. And it almost takes an expert to tell a 1980 Sedan DeVille from a 1980 Fleetwood Brougham. The major differences in all these examples have been interior appointments.
Correct, the Electra [Park Ave] and LeSabre have shared from clips since 1959! Just a differing grille a few times, but were marketed as the same full size line. And the pre-59’s had the same differences.
Skylark was Buick’s entry level compact 1975-98, so it had quite a run. Senior compact for 3 years 61-63, then the ‘muscle car era’ mid size which gets stronger emotions.
The nineties skylarks I’ve seen in the u pull its here are high mileage cars that appear to have served their owners well. Personally bought one with 140000 miles and put another 45000 on it with little to no problems. Wouldn’t mind finding a clean 92-93 coupe with the 3.3L (Buick) engine!
I had a 3.1L 1995 Achieva sedan with 100k miles. I settled for it because I needed a car and there was nothing else worth looking at in its price range. The area is terrible for useful cars under $5k.
It was peppy, but I did not like the car after living with it for a short time. The transmission gave me weird vibes, although it performed remarkably better after a proper servicing. The doors leaked and filled with water, although the weather stripping all appeared to be in excellent condition and properly placed. I couldn’t see the fuel gauge without leaning up in my seat to see past the steering wheel. Overall, I was quite disappointed and sold the car in a month or so.
I wouldn’t mind having a two door Achieva with the quad 4 and a Getrag 5 speed. Beyond that, meh. I suppose a Grand Am ain’t so bad, but I wouldn’t choose a Skylark unless it was that or nothing.
Here is a fun video about this car by Regular Car Reviews
I remember being strangely attracted to these with the beak, sort of wheel skirts and greenhouse on the coupe. If only the power train were better.
So disappointing to look at. It’s like management said “We gotta have an entrant in that market segment. And this time it can’t look like the others!” Well, it doesn’t, that’s true, but the result is innocuous, rather than Buick.
Buicks always used to be emotive cars. They used to be cars even foreigners might admire, something you might reasonably aspire to. This doesn’t. It looks different to its platform mates, true, but it’s just… a car. At least this one doesn’t have that gruesome pointed beak, but it still has that funky-looking rising side character line that makes me think Saturn rather than Buick. Too much design cross-pollination between divisions there.
When they had that beautiful Bolero concept, why didn’t their head of design say “Stop right there! This is IT!”, rather than allowing it to be dumbed down to the point of having almost no resemblance?
The dip in the beltline just doesn’t work with the rising body molding. The rest is OK by me.
At the time, I felt like these would have gone some ways to justifying the oddball styling if the mechanical stuff hadn’t been so blah. A three-speed automatic, beam axle, and drum brakes seemed out of place in this price range. (The 3.3/four-speed auto in the Century was a much more agreeable combination, with decent punch and surprisingly good fuel economy.)
Also, for all its, er, visual distinction, in profile or rear three-quarter, it’s hard not to see its family resemblance to the Oldsmobile Achieva, which also had the side effect of making the Skylark look more like an Oldsmobile than a Buick.