In the early 1950s, Buick dazzled the automotive world with two concept cars, the XP-300 and the LeSabre, low-slung two-seaters that pointed to the future. Inspired by the tremendous reaction to his "dream cars," Harley Earl conjured up the Skylark to celebrate Buick's golden anniversary in 1953. The ne plus ultra of the Roadmaster series, it was essentially a handbuilt factory custom.
Buick's V-8 premiered in 1953, so the Skylark, appropriately, was designed to exude an aura of power and unrestrained elegance. Offered only as a convertible, its windshield was cut down for a lower silhouette, and the wheel wells were opened up to impart a sporting sensibility, complemented by forty-spoke wire wheels. Completing the picture was a rakish rear fender dip that visually lightened the 4300-pound cruiser's appearance.
Skylarks were equipped with just about every possible add-on that was optional on lesser Buicks, plus a sumptuous leather interior and the owner's name engraved on the steering-wheel hub. Paradoxically, something with which every other Buick was equipped was not even offered on the Skylark: portholes. These signature "ventiports" were eliminated from the Skylark to give it an unfettered, cleaner look. Priced higher than most Cadillacs, the Skylark attracted lots of attention but few buyers.
The Skylark returned in 1954 with a new look. Now a free-standing series built on the shorter Century chassis, the Skylark no longer had a chopped windshield. As if to compensate for the loss, chromed tail fins sprouted on sloping rear fenders, both elements unique to the Skylark. The wheel cutouts were exaggerated with the inner wheel wells painted in contrast to the body color. Again, portholes were conspicuous by their absence. Sales were slow, and the Skylark name was put out to pasture.
The original Skylarks were very much cast in the mold of the coachbuilt classics of the '30s: powerful and smooth-riding, they stand apart from the crowd. But the Skylark delivers more than appealing looks and assured power; this is a machine of real substance. Unlike most prewar classics, Skylarks are thoroughly roadworthy in a modern context. With prices soaring for prime examples, it might be a gut-wrenching proposition to merge one onto a busy freeway, but you'll have no problem keeping up with the flow. Should you be fortunate enough to find yourself in this position, try to relax and look the part. You'll merge but you certainly won't blend in.
WHAT TO PAY
The recent range has gone from the mid $70,000s to almost $190,000. Strangely, '54s have been fetching higher prices than the more refined '53s.
Six-passenger, two-door convertible.
Total production for both years: 2526. Buick built more than twice as many '53s as '54s.
WATCH OUT FOR
Difficult to find Skylark-specific trim pieces. Wire wheels mandate tube tires, and the spokes require regular tensioning.
Buick: 1946-1960 Photo Archive
by Byron Olsen, Iconografix, $30. www.amazon.com
Standard Catalog of Buick, 1903-2004
by John Gunnell, Krause Publications, $25. www.krausebooks.com
SPARES AND DEALERS
The Buick Farm
'53-'54 Buick Skylark Club
Buick Club of America
The '53 is - to use the vernacular of the time - swank. The cut-down windshield and rear fender dip trump the '54's fins. Make ours pinehurst green.