(first posted 11/8/2016) GM’s Badge Engineering Department was working overtime in the early 70s. The energy crisis made Pontiac, Olds and Buick dealers desperate for small cars, so Chevy was tapped several times, starting with the Nova in 1971. Act 2 was the Vega, which Pontiac turned into the Astre. Next up was Chevy’s Monza 2+2, which now Buick and Olds coveted and appropriated. At least they had something to make it a bit different: Buick’s V6.
But this was the V6 in its original uneven-fire version, which always sounded (and felt) a bit like a V8 with two dead spark plugs. But that was hardly the worst of the Skyhawk’s issues. Its suspension was a not sorted out, turning it into a notorious oversteerer. And its brakes were woefully inadequate. As R&T said in its conclusion: “In the final analysis, the Skyhawk loses points because it isn’t a finished car”. Gee, what were you expecting; this is Buick, after all. We’re still learning about these dang small cars. If you want a complete small car, maybe you should go check out the Toyota dealer down the street.
Absolutely damning. There’s just no other way to put it. This I think to be far more Deadly Sin material than a G-Body Bonneville. At least that did the things a car’s meant to do competently. But, when a contemporary magazine comes right out and says the largest and allegedly most competent automaker in the world botched so badly the car’s not done…
Agreed. No G-body should be on any DS lists. This car was more deserving of it if anything for that rough and crude odd firing Buick V6, the lame handling and those brakes.
I had a 75. Worn out inside and out at 36k. Loved it as a teen but was really junk
I had a 77, which I kept for 7 years. Constant problems.
Many break changes, speedometer broke, but at the tranny.
Plastic coupler on tranny shaft broke. Clutch, water pump, transmission, you name it.
The engine, however, was solid, and the car was fun to drive.
Finish was crap. Has the dealer change the front plastic bumper twice and it still didn’t fit right.
Rust bucket also…
In high school one of the Berry sister’s (Liz, Barbara, and Tina) boyfriends had one of these. I think it was a 79 model. All I remember is it could easily outrun my 71 Maverick with the 170. And it was Red. This was in the 83-85 timeframe. V6 with automatic. They didn’t date very long. Wonder if the car or the cheating was responsible?
It is fascinating that at the same time GM could turn out a couple of the best handling cars in America (in the Camaro and the Nova) could miss the mark so badly on this one. Also, it would be one thing if brakes that got hot enough to melt the plastic wheelcovers off would actually stop the car well. Unfortunately, these did not.
Who could have imagined that when Buick bought back the old paint-shaker V6 from AMC that a smoothed-out version would be one of GM’s best powerplants for the next three decades or more? Certainly not me in 1975. Reading about this original design that was before the “even firing” version of a few years later jogs some memories.
I’m surprised that Buick persisted with the old ‘paint-shaker’ version of the V6 for so long. Surely Buick had the engineering nous to sort out the problem earlier. Imagine if they’d held off a year and introduced the ‘even-fire’ version when they brought the engine back from AMC…
No time to tool up for it…maybe? A “get it on the lot and sort it out later” mentality? (A problem that all the Detroit car companies shared.)
That’s how software is often done nowadays.
Unfortunately, it’s a damn sight easier to patch software than a car!
Another case of could have, should have, would have. Typical GM. Quality control for GM, especially their smaller vehicles, always left a lot to be desired. They could build a phenomenal mid and full-sized car. But competing with the Japanese manufacturers with their smaller offerings always left GM in the dust.
My Sister and Brother In Law had a 75 Buick Skyhawk bought barely used. I remember that they had to do rust repairs in he first year. It was cramped, noisy and that 3.8 was JUNK. The seats felt like they were on the floor. I was 13 and realized this car was garbage.
Bleh! I feel like I need to wash my hands after just reading about how GM so blatantly abused its customers. Disgusting.
This and the Monza were garbage from day one. Terrible build quality – the rear hatch hinges had a habit of breaking, if I recall correctly.
I understand the OEMs were under the gun to switch to more efficient cars, but this was such a rush-job like the Vega and such that the build quality – or lack of it showed.
Buick should never have had such a car, but I suppose you have to go all the way back to the early-60s Cutlass to crab about it!
“Gee, what were you expecting; this is Buick, after all. We’re still learning about these dang small cars. If you want a complete small car, maybe you should go check out the Toyota dealer down the street.”
More like: “Can we just get gas prices back to normal and then you can all go back to buying REAL CARS?”
Well, I didn’t comment on the G Body Bonneville, but like the first poster above, I think this represents a worse sin on GM’s part than does the Bonneville. Sloppy handling, quirky engine dynamics and slipshod quality control were just par for the course during this era, but brakes that literally aren’t suited to the task of reliably stopping the car just can’t be overlooked. GM does have a proving ground, so there’s just no reason to think that this braking system wasn’t put to an equally grueling test before the car was marketed. Somebody just didn’t think it mattered enough to throw the $.89 into it to fix it.
I’ve had a good deal of first hand exposure to these cars (Monza, Sunbird, & Skyhawk, not the Olds variation, but what’s the difference?) They were nice looking and decent handling for the time, and I knew plenty of folks who drove them hard as their first cars with few major problems. It wasn’t hard to see though that they were afterthoughts from the get-go. There was nothing about these that could be viewed as well thought out, innovative or well appointed. They were well styled, but that was just because that was GM’s strongest suit in those days. Beyond that they were barely adequate. I’ve got a nostalgic affinity for them, but rationally they probably don’t deserve it.
I love the fact that the wheel cover melted, and that they didn’t bother to put back on for the top picture.
I know, that’s just beautiful. It makes me wonder if they caught any flak from GM for that.
Well, considering the hub melted into mush, it’s not likely they could just fit it back on…
I had one of these midnight blue v-6 hatchbacks with a 4 spd-drove it 150,000 miles-never did anything more than do regular gof and change plugs- sold it to a buddy who drove it for another 3 yrs-
Look at the bright side: at least Buick offered a unique engine vs. Chevy. And despite its inauspicious performance here, the V6 conceptually anticipated the industry-wide adoption of the layout for the sake of shrinking hoods & FWD. And it even managed to exceed 20mpg in this review, vs. the Monza’s 17.
Hey, the car presumably sold pretty well as it was. Why bother to make it any good?
Having driven one…it was a different car with a standard shift!
Unvented front brake rotors, its not like they werent in the GM parts bin, Holden made lots of noise in their advertising blurb for the all new 1971 Holdens having vented front brake discs, Couldnt someone at Buick pick up the phone and call that Holden front end was Chevrolet based they even changed their wheel stud pattern to the American Chevy type.
Solid rotors can work fine…offhand, many Volvos used them, as did the BMW 318ti. The problem was lousy pads!
My Hillman has solid rotors but 1963 was when they were introduced.
Volvo 240s used them to the early 80s…and the 318ti to at least 1998!
Yeah, but Holden brakes have tended to fall into the “barely adequate “category more often than “good”….
NZ Holdens had disc brakes standard from the HR in 66 in our hilly country they worked fine, never an issue the drum system was barely adequate but not used here from when disc first became available.
It’s hard to find truthful reviews nowadays.
IIRC, these Monza-based cars were lambasted by nearly all the car magazines for having small wheelwells that consequently made upsizing the wheels and tires impossible….even chains were “forbidden” except in extreme emergencies. I would therefore think hot air generated by (possibly overworked?) brakes wouldn’t have an easy escape and would therefore melt wheelcovers. But as was pointed out, you would have thought that that would have turned up in proving ground testing.
Aside from rampant cost cutting, the more I read about these cars the more I am inclined to believe that they were not tested very well. This Buick sounds like the engineering department just ran a Buick “formula” on the V8 Monza but never drove the finished product. Example? Take Chevy springs and shocks….and make them softer, because Buick buyers expect a ride that’s softer than a Chevys. As far as the engine? Worked ok in a Jeep, and small car buyers aren’t all that sophisticated….don’t worry about noise and/or vibration.
This probably wouldn’t have worked, but GM should have given Buick a version of the Monza Town Coupe instead of the hatchback. Made the drivetrain “choice” V6 with automatic transmission only. Really given some thought to suspension calibration. And market the resulting car as a gas saving alternative to a Riviera.
Howard I think you are 100% right. If Buick had a luxurious version of the Chevy Monza Town Coupe to sell I think it would have been a hit. Maybe give the seats a little crushed velour, offer wire wheel covers and a luxury woodgrain steering wheel – buyers would have bought them in droves! The hatchback version simply didn’t fit into the Buick showrooms of the day.
Given the market at the time. A “broughamized” version would’ve made more sense. However as a Buick guy, anything less than a LeSabre isn’t a Buick. All these reek of desperation. and they may have been smaller, the mileage “gained” wasn’t impressive, and to an actual Buick buyer, likely irrelevant. Just watered down the brand. :/
Badge engineering gone amuck.
I remember finding out that these were sold under all GM brands save for Cadillac and thinking: Chevy, ok. Pontiac, why not. Olds — a bit of a stretch. But Buick? This, a stablemate of the Riviera and the Electra 225??
If you make all the bottom rungs in the famous Sloane ladder identical, then you don’t need five marques. It took a while, but here we are: no more Olds, no more Pontiac, Buick only surviving thanks to Chinese customers.
IIRC there was a concept in one of the New Car Preview Guides from 1974/75 that showed a sketch of a Buick H-Body notchback concept called the San Marino. It had full-width Electra-style tailights than ran across the entire rear, and naturally a landau top. As a mini-Riviera/Regal, it seemed like a smart direction for a small Buick coupe. But reality served up the disconnect of the hatchback…
http://testdrivejunkie.com/1976-buick-san-marino/ Just a quick google search brought this up.
I get a sense that the Chevy and Pontiac versions were planned from the start and the Buick and Olds were last-minute additions thanks to the gas crunch.
This is the reason the Accord, among others, got so much traction in the late ’70s.
Having driven a string of sometimes very big cars, I got a wild hair to look at a lightly used Pontiac Sunbird notch coupe. No vinyl top crap, just a nice, honest looking little car.
From 20 feet away, and first glances, it looked rather appealing. Upon opening the door, it was explained to me the pins were bad, so the door was sagging. A lot.
The interior bits looked cheap, and the build quality was obviously pretty bad with various misaligned parts and poor color matching between components.
I don’t think I even drove it. After some experience with my sister’s ’74 Mustang II, I was further convinced that small cars were just crap. Foreign makes were simply scarce where I lived, so the idea of a quality small car remained foreign to me.
I’d have to agree with others, considering the mission failure of this car to match the imports, these second gen H cars likely deserve the dreaded DS.
From GM’s view, the entire H- body program was a susceeded with 2.9 million units. Allowing it to amortize the tooling and give something to each of its divisions.
However, it also succeeded in alienating 2.9 million customers and another 2.9 million potential customers who heard the cries and wailing of the owners of the H-body vehicles.
GM repeated this economic model with the X-body and J-body. Strange Math!!
How about Cadillac buyers of the 80’s? The HT4100 engine alienated tons of potential new and existing buyers because they turned out junk.
Meanwhile, a 1980-1984 Olds 98 or Buick Park Avenue offered what a DeVille did, And would more reliable at a lower payment.
Exactly James. I could never figure out why Cadillac stuck with the 4.1 for all those years, even to this day. Hmmm – I can buy a beautiful Park Avenue or 98 Regency and it will have the reliable 5.0 litre tried and true engine. Yet, Cadillacs suffer for years with the anemic, unreliable 4.1? It took too long for GM to put the 5.0 in them, and although they were slow they were at least reliable. And they finally got it right with the RWD Fleetwood in 1990 by putting the 5.7 litre 350 in them. Ridiculous.
The HT 4100 fiasco was utter incompetence that was dictated by stupid management at the time.
A Cadillac had to have a Cadillac engine except if it was Cimarron or a credit option Buick V6 or an Olds 5.7 diesel of course. They also couldn’t have a gas guzzler tax passed on to the customer. Instead of spending all the money on the displacement on demand idea, which was way before it’s time, Cadillac could simply have either carried on putting the 368 V8 in the Deville/Fleetwood, Eldo/Seville line and charged a small guzzler tax or they could have used there brains and fitted the 200R-4 overdrive automatic to the RWD cars or the 325-4L to the FWD models and some 2.56-2.73:1 gears which would easily have lifted the dismal 22 highway rating to over 23 which was the magic number needed to avoid the tax.
It’s hard to believe that as an 11 year old at the time me and my best school friend could see this but GM couldn’t.
I wonder also if investing in converting the 368 to port fuel injection would’ve improved economy enough to avoid the fine. The greater cost would’ve been money well spent by customers, and in line with Euro practice.
My father had an ’80 deVille, last yr. for the conventional 368. I don’t remember any problems except the persistent check-engine light.
Don’t forget the sunk costs of attempting to develop GM’s licensed version of the Wankel Rotary, which was to have powered these cars [and sold to AMC for it’s Pacer].
It may have been GM tried to make up the costs of the program by just cobbling together what they had with off the shelf engines and give all 4 divisions a version to help amortize the costs of their rotary development.
Not to mention the costs re-engineering the engine compartment to accept v6s and v8s when the Wankel couldn’t be made viable.
Then you’d have had costs taken out of the whole car, everywhere it could be done to compensate.
Just a theory.
C’mon, this is just a rebodied Vega. What did they expect?
The only surprise (to me, anyway) was the ‘uneven fire’ Buick V6. I guess they remedied that problem in 1977 but I had no idea there were two versions of the same engine and the later one was (apparently) much smoother. If they cleaned up the suspension and brakes by then, too, I wonder if a later car would be improved enough to be acceptable.
Mine was a 78 with the even fire 3.8…it was butter-smooth once I fixed the too-low idle.
Never should have happened.
At 20 paces, this is a Monza 2+2 with a blackout grill.
My ’75 Monza, with the 4.3 V8 and a 4-speed, was a BALL to drive. If only they had put larger brakes on it. I know others had issues with theirs, but I got a good one.
I wouldn’t have taken this beyond Chevy and Pontiac. Buick and Olds had no business selling them. And in 1975, there was no energy crisis. Gas prices were higher but stable, so that excuse doesn’t wash for me.
This just never should have happened.
A lot of things at GM should never have happened.
If only it had been run with an eye to the long-term….
I remember that G.M. had 2 show car Corvette’s, the 2 Rotor and the 4 Rotor,with rotary engines, always thought that the 2 Rotor looked best. Styling is based on the 2 Rotor, but much to small.
Funny, you mention the Toyota dealer along with the Buick (well, B-O-P dealer, they all sold the same piece of junk!). I ended up buying a 1.6L Corolla SR5, and a few friends bought the GM domestic crap. They were restoring their cars in 1976; my Corolla lasted six years in New England’s salty winters. Learned my lesson!
Considering that Mike Coughlin of JEGS Performance has a pro-touring 1971 Vega with an Art Morrison chassis and an LSX 454, I wonder how long it will be before someone does something similar with the 1975 Buick Skyhawk or its GM corporate cousins.
I knew a lady who traded in a red Opel GT on one of these. Yes. She traded in her cute little baby Corvette on a new 1975 Skylark, Apparently, her vehicle-purchasing strategy was to walk into the Buick dealership and hand them her paycheck. I recall that the “chrome” panel between the taillights was actually just a sticker. Literally a sticker, like those STP emblems that were popular at the time. It wasn’t even stuck on properly, and had a pretty big wrinkle in it. That one detail summed up the whole car. I could go on and on, but you know what I mean.
H Special body was to get the GM Wankel motor, which got cut. Also, there were demands for small cars, period. Can go on and on about it, but when gas goes up, everyone screams for “MPG”.
It is too bad that they did not retain the rights to build the aluminum V8. Would have been fantastic in this car. Along with brake and suspension upgrades.
Great-looking cars; a mini Ferrari Daytona. The styling of these very successfully hid their Vega origins. Too bad pretty much evertyhing else about them was crap, which is presumably why you don’t ever see them as survivors.
*Great looking cars in this format, anyway. The notchback versions suffered by comparison, and IMO the “mini brougham” look of the Monza Towne Coupe was extraordinarily ugly. What worked (sort of) on the Mustang II just didn’t here.
I have a 1975 Skyhawk and wouldn’t part with it for anything. I absolutely love driving this car and never had any problems with it. I just drove it from Nova Scotia to Alberta going south to Tennessee then north from Colorado. Total 6k miles. Those of you condemning this car should maybe look at your driving habits.
In fairness to Buick, 99% of their buyers weren’t making repeated 80-0 panic stops or taking turns so fast the rear end might come around. Did any US car brand of the period not have build quality and reliability problems?
My dad did the math on buying one of these to replace the ’68 Electra for his commute. It would save him only a couple hundred dollars a year in gas, so he never bothered to test drive one. I was hoping he’d at least try an Opel Manta Luxus with reclining corduroy seats in the corner of the showroom, but he was used to and liked a big car ride and wasn’t going to buy foreign.
Another GM rush job; the GM design philosophy was still “put the money where the customer can see it”-namely styling with everything else pushed to the back burner. The Skyhawk weighed 3100 lbs. which was about 800 lbs. more than the Vega weighed when it was introduced in 1971. You would have thought upgrading the brakes would have been higher on the priority list, but apparently not at GM: Rush it through development and fix the other details later. And GM kept doing this through the 1970’s and 80’s.
PS. A friend of mine had a Skyhawk, the interior was absolutely cheap. I once test drove a Skylark with the v-6; at idle it felt like a paint shaker was in the engine compartment.
Did the H-body ever get the improved ‘even-fire’ 231 V-6? I’ve read that Buick fixed the issue in 1977 with a smoother running version but don’t know if it was an across the board model replacement or only certain cars got the ‘good’ V6, and the poor old H-body had to make do with the paint-shaker for its entire model run.
IOW, if someone were specifically looking for the best V6 H-body, would there be a certain year to get?
The exasperating thing about the H-body cars is that there was no particular reason that they couldn’t have been much better than they were. Yes, it owed an awful lot to the Vega, but the Vega had a pretty decent chassis for the period, and the 90-degree V-6 made more sense on this platform than an iron V-8. Sweating the details a little more would have made it a perfectly agreeable small coupe.
As for the brakes, I’m wondering if they were spec’ed with the assumption that the H-body would be lighter than it was. The curb weight (3,100 lb with the V-6? eek!) is hefty for a ’70s car of these dimensions.
Hard to see how a platform that had been in production for 5 years already wasn’t perfect by then. The suspension and brake tuning and assembly should have been impeccable by then, the Monza wasn’t exactly breaking a lot of new ground. Instead, it’s the Mustang Too and absolutely humiliating.
I guess Americans were just so accustomed to sloppy engineering and assembly faults in their new cars back in those days that they just put up with them. Or the manufacturers expected them to.
A standard part of ordering an American car from this era was deciding which final drive ratio to go with – the taller “standard” one or the shorter-geared “performance” final drive axle – the latter helped acceleration but hurt highway fuel economy and noise as the engine would be revving higher in top gear. The solution wouldn’t arrive until the mid-’80s, when an additional gear or two would be added to transmissions, effectively giving you both the “performance” final drive ratio but with a new top gear to shift into to lower the revs and up the fuel economy, all in the same car. There’s no reason they couldn’t have done this on the 1975 models; it’s not like it required any new tech they didn’t have back then. Indeed, several imports were already offering 5-speeds for that purpose.
Imagine if the Buick 231 V6 was more highly developed back then too, like if the 205hp Series II 3800 it evolved into by 1995 was built in 1975. This engine was smooth, durable, and powerful enough to replace the various 300-ish V8s GM used in the late ’70s and ’80s, and would have upped fuel economy considerably. What malaise? This would have given GM a competitive engine to fight Toyota’s I6 and Nissan and Honda/Acura’s V6, even BMW’s straight six back when all those carmakers were eating away at GM’s market share. Of course they needed something better than the Skyhawk to but it in, but that would have been the easy part.
The fully developed 3800 would be a great engine for the A/G body intermediates.
If GM had taken every penny wasted on the Oldsmobile Diesel and used that to bring electronic SPFI to market in 1978 instead…
5 liter V8s would’ve bottomed out at about 200 hp and felt satisfying in a full size car.
City gas mileage would’ve bottomed out at 17 mpg.
Starting & drivability problems that were common in the late 70s would’ve been eliminated.
I very briefly had a ’76 Starfire, the Olds version, with the Buick V6 and rare 5 spd. It was torquey and fun but a total pile of crap in assembly and finish quality and ergonomically a disaster. GM at it’s absolute worst in those respects. Ditched it fast.
Parents had one as 2nd car, bought in ’77, two years old. Was fun to drive, learned how to shift manually.
But, had issues, like stated above. overheated and clutch wore out twice in 6 years. Yes, it was kept, until 1985, my Dad kept patching it up.
While yeah this was a pain in the neck, family’s ’78 Cutlass, with the 260 v8 was good car, kept ’til 1992. Slow, but started and ran, easy fixes. GM always dropped what worked for ‘flashy trash’.
FWIW, Ford basically brought out an improved version of the Monza as the Fox Mustang, which lasted decades, and is revered.
The 4 square headlight fascia went on many cars, including 1982-92 Camaro. Or, GM’s ‘next gen Monza’.
It was sheer desperation to watch Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile use the Nova to sell in their showrooms, because we all knew the Nova wasn’t a Pontiac, Buick or Oldsmobile. So it looked even worse when they used the Monza to sell in their showrooms. It was pretty sketchy all around. Up to that time, each brand had their own identity, and the NOVA and Monza cars were just too much – too cookie cutter. These cars just demeaned Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile as Chevrolets. They didn’t even try to make the cars look different.
Worse, the Monza was a Vega. We all knew what that meant. The wreckage of the Vega was now being shared among four divisions. Few were fooled into thinking that the Skyhawk was manufactured by Buick, using Buick employees. GM just looked rank with these moves.
Why would I pay more for a car that was a Chevy with an Oldsmobile badge on it? The ruse never worked either. Even after a decade of trying, Buick and Oldsmobile versions of the Chevy barely sold. They weren’t real cars compared to the other better cars in the Buick and Oldsmobile showrooms. The only thing GM did with this nonsense is wreck the decades of careful brand cultivation that gave each division a purpose.
Same story…ours was my Mom’s new ’76 V6 Sunbird…firethorn red, white vinyl top and rally wheels…no air. She traded in a flawless ’69 Toyota for this? Total quality disaster from drooping doors, to sagging suspension, rust, an auto trans handle that would come off in your hand and stalling issues (exhaust/converter related as I remember). Replaced with a Honda Accord and she never glanced at a GM car again. Hard to comprehend how stuff this bad made it out the door. Truly a deadly sin at our house.