By on December 16, 2008

I stood there with a look on my face as if I had been bitch-slapped by a Charlie’s Angel. What was this glorious ode to a time when spandex was the cutting edge of fashion and posters of Xanadu were still on theatre walls? I couldn’t get over the swoopy Mustang II knock-off lines, the flared nostril quad headlights, and the paint; the glorious, sparkling gold paint that arced through the black body, complete with matching gold rims. I had stumbled upon something most people have forgotten, a 1977 Buick Nighthawk, a special edition Skyhawk, parked beside Route 66, begging for someone to take her home.

With only 45K miles on the chassis, I couldn’t believe someone had not purchased this wonderful throwback to the decade that brought us such greats at the Mustang Cobra II, the 140bhp Corvette and the movie Earthquake. I had to take her for a drive. Trying to sort out which key fit the ignition (round, square or trapezoidal), I fired-up the 3.8L V6. I listened to the push-rod glory as it blew what smelled like raw gas out the back end. No matter. This was the glory days of Detroit, when Car and Driver declared the H-Body quadruplets “have proven that Detroit face off against the best auto artists that Europe can offer and blast them out of the ring with a single beautifully executed punch.” I’m not making that up [C and D, Sept, 1974].

Of course, I should have left the Nighthawk there. As with many things (i.e. people), the more you find out, the less you want to know. While the Nighthawk was in extremely good shape, the whole thing felt as if you were maintaining control of the raging sub-compact by the grace of the Lords of Kobol… or something. The helm was pencil thin and so overboosted I felt I was herding the thing down the highway instead of driving. The throttle response, while good, resulted in a “only if we must” type of urgency. And the squeaks and rattles, oh what a riot of noise! It made me wonder how the American populace ever understood the word “solid.”

But it didn’t matter. The Nighthawk was so wonderfully overdone and so completely underwhelming to drive that I fell in love with it. It was gauche, terrible, and completely wonderful all at the same time, like a 70’s disco party that refused to stop. Too bad I had already pledged my love to something from the 80’s hailing from Ingolstadt.

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49 Comments on “Capsule Review: 1977 Buick Nighthawk...”


  • avatar
    Banger

    This car pales to the Honda motorcycle of the same name.

    The CB-750 Nighthawk was, dare I say, a comparative work of art at any generation, when parked next to one of these. And probably a far sight cheaper to buy and operate.

    But, apples…oranges…

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Reminds me of my college roommate’s orange Pontiac Astre. What a POS that thing was.

  • avatar
    relton

    I had a 1978 version of this car, without the garish paint job. But mine had the 4 barrel carb, and dual exhausts (with dual catalytic convertors). And a 4 speed manual trans. (Yes Robert, I once owned a car with a manual transmission).

    Judging from the pictures, this car is sitting way too high on the suspension. Perhaps for appearance, perhaps because the owner got tired of scraping the underside of the car on the ground. But at the right height, these cars were spectacularly good handling cars. Of course it helped to have the handling package, and to make sure that all the sway bars and shock absorbers were attached, which was not always the case.

    I also eliminated all of the rattles and squeaks inside. Of course, I was doing that for a living at Chrysler at the time, so not everyone had the resources for this, but when I was done, the car was very solid and tight.

    I distinctly remember when the frame cracked, near the lower control arm pivot. Turns out the dealer had frame repair kits from GM in stock!

    I sold this car to a kid who was determined to make an even hoter rod from it. He added a turbo, and promptly broke the rear axle.

    That said, I’m glad the 70s are over.

    Bob Elton

  • avatar

    OMG… my high school girlfriend’s best friend (yeah, I know it’s a stretch) had the Pontiac version of this (IIRC a Sunfire?)… it was 70s Beige. That was circa 1978-1981.

    Driving it was like piloting a vague collection of parts, somehow all moving together in mostly the same direction.

    If people want to truly understand how Detroit managed to get where they are today, just take a test drive in ANY of their small cars, from ANY era… if you can find one that still runs. They have been pathologically unable to create anything of quality smaller than a Sherman tank throughout their history.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    autonut

    In relative terms, I don’t believe Big 2.6 moved an inch forward. Small cars of today compare to Japanese and European just like this specimen compared 30 years ago.

  • avatar
    tced2

    I owned the cousin to this car – Pontiac Sunbird Formula (notchback?) – silver exterior and red naugahyde interior with the 231 V-6 with 4-speed manual transmission. Three memories, (1) home-made speaker enclosures mounted in the front kick panels for enhanced stereo-effect improving the factory supplied center dash speaker (2) The cowl/dash was very high and you felt like you were sitting in a hole and (3) a very leaky transmission which could not be fixed by the Pontiac dealer. I traded it for a 1978 Olds Cutlass Supreme Brougham.

  • avatar
    seby86

    I was thinking the same thing, it does resemble the Astre. So was this Nighthawk simply parked in a garage for 3 decades resulting in its apparently good condition??

    p.s. forgive me for my rather direct question, i am somewhat new to the site, but what exactly which Audi are you reffering to? (I imagine you already blogged it but couldnt find anything)

  • avatar
    1169hp

    Interesting car. There can’t be many left in the wild.

    Just curious, did this car have four wheel disc brakes.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Nice find, and story, thanks.

    OTOH, the chrysler ad with music and no volume button, not so nice.

  • avatar

    @seby86

    welcome to TTAC! As for the Audi, stay tuned in the next couple days, and ye shall find out…

    And the car pictured is identical to, but not the vehicle I drove as it was a spur of the moment thing, and I didn’t have a camera.

    @1169hp

    Don’t really know, but when you stepped on the pedal, it kinda veered off into the ditch, which was most likely due to its age.

  • avatar
    dhathewa

    It’s a great car for burnouts.

    We had the 4-cylinder Chevy Monza variation with 4-speed stick. On the highway, you could get fuel economy in the mid-30s and performance was decent. For a long time, our other car was a 1.8L Cavalier wagon, so the Monza was the hot rod. I think it came equipped with the same fuel tank they put in the Caprice… you could go forever between fillups (we drove from Central MA to Alexandria, VA, on a little over a half tank of gas). The interior was fairly nice, although the back was really cramped. This car did teach me to appreciate the utility of hatchback design.

    It had a couple of minor problems challenging quirks…

    The doors were too heavy for the hinges so, after a while, the doors would sag. Closing the doors just became part of the daily exercise program. I’m an IT guy… if it wasn’t for things like that, I’d get no exercise at all.

    Every 10K miles, the clutch cable would break. I learned to do most of my shifting without the clutch, once it was rolling, a useful skill, which extended the life of the cable to perhaps 15K.

    Reverse lockout worked a bit too well. This helps to develop one’s strategic thinking skills. Find a place or way to park where you won’t have to back up to get away and you’ll be fine. My wife’s solution to parking our directionally challenged Monza in our driveway was to simply pull in but then clear all the kid toys out of the yard and drive around the house when it was time to leave.

    It had moderate electrical problems. We roll-started the car quite a bit because the battery was so often dead.

    The various abuses we inflicted on it to compensate for its various problems might have contributed to the camshaft failure at 70 or 80K miles.

  • avatar
    seanx37

    I had the Pontiac Sunbird. With a 2 barrel 305 v8. Then my friends and I got creative and swapped it for a beefed up 350. I got better gas mileage than tire mileage. Used to have fun with it. Pull up next to BMWs and blow them into the weeds with a rusted car with maybe $400 invested in it. I loved that car. It started and ran every time. Drove it-hard for my last year in high school, and first year in college

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    Can you imagine that car in Phoenix, AZ, stuck in traffic with a broken air conditioner? Truly, these were from a time when GM provided us with a consecutive chain of disposable cars.

  • avatar
    tigeraid

    Factory H-Bodies were always pretty awful… but MAN do they make good project cars. Light as hell, with great suspension layout. Either as 4-cylinder oval track cars or as drag cars, swapping the engine, gutting the interior and adding a rollcage solves all the problems. Grumpy Jenkins dominated NHRA Pro Stock with them for years.

  • avatar
    nino

    1169hp :
    December 16th, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Interesting car. There can’t be many left in the wild.

    Just curious, did this car have four wheel disc brakes.

    No, the rear brakes are drums.

    However, all versions of the “H” body came with standard front disc brakes.

    Believe it or not, the Monza version of this car came with a 350 V8 in California (latter replaced nationwide with the 305 V8). With the stadard 2.29 rear gear, the car could reach 150 MPH if given a long straight to build up a head of steam.

  • avatar
    nino

    The late Mark Donohue developed a version of the Monza with the V8 that was a phenomenal handler for the time and that had spectacular performance.

    It was also a pretty pricey package and very rare.

  • avatar
    charleywhiskey

    IIRC, with the Monza V8s, the engine had to be pulled off the mounts to change the rear plugs.

  • avatar
    marc

    Ahhh, thanks for the Xanadu reference, my favorite movie. Tho you are a few years off. The glory that was Xanadu did not come out until 1980. I imagine most of these cars had found their way to junkyards by then.

  • avatar
    nino

    charleywhiskey :
    December 16th, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    IIRC, with the Monza V8s, the engine had to be pulled off the mounts to change the rear plugs.

    You make it sound as though that’s a bad thing!

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Not impressed by the Buick.
    Wasn’t impressed back then, either. In fact, “yuck” comes to mind.

    I’m not big on vinyl or paint graphics on cars. Not even a fan of two-tone paint jobs; they all seem like cheap childrens’ toys.

    Tell me, did that center side stripe really “match” the wheels like the pic in this article, or was one of those a badly attempted paint job?

  • avatar
    Scottdb

    Ah, the Buick odd-fire V-6. I almost forgot about that triumph of technical wizardry! Take a V-8, lop off two cylinders, and don’t change *anything* else. It ran just like an eight with two missing spark plugs, from day one!

  • avatar
    nino

    Those aren’t wheels.

    They are a stylized “hubcap” that fits over a steel wheel.

    The “H” bodies didn’t offer an aluminum wheel option until 1978. All they offered until then was this hubcap or a steel 4 spoke “star” shaped wheel.

  • avatar
    nino

    Remember that this car was originally meant to take GM’s Wankel engine only.

    All the other engines were put in as a compromise.

  • avatar
    nino

    Whomever is interested;

    http://www.h-body.org/

  • avatar
    pb35

    This car pales in comparison to the Sylvester Stallone movie of the same name:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082817/

  • avatar
    sashazur

    As a kid I thought the Monza was the coolest looking car ever. I still like the lines of this thing, though it would have benefited a lot from the relaxed headlight regulations that came out years later.

  • avatar
    nevets248

    Pontiac offered the cast aluminum “snowflake” design wheel in 1977.

  • avatar
    blautens

    Oh, this brings back memories of H bodies from my high school days. I think H stood for horrible. Only the V8 versions had any redeeming qualities – and only barely.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    The good thing you can say about this car is that it was better than it’s domestic competition, the Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volare.

    Just.

    Barely.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Note also that the Aspen/Volare were awarded Car of the Year, which contrasts nicely with the Car and Driver praise for their GM compatriots.

    Of course, all of these cars were crap, and if you read anything that wasn’t a buff book it was obvious. It was even more obvious if you owned one. But the buff books kept pushing each new iteration of cars like this as the Next Big Thing. I recall particularly vomitworthy puff pieces throughout the 1980s by people who would never, ever by stuck trying to sell a broken Tempo, Cavalier or Reliant.

    And thusly no one believes a word that Motor Trend or C&D have to say. I wonder if they realize that this is one reason why they’re bleeding money?

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    psarhjinian :

    The good thing you can say about this car is that it was better than it’s domestic competition, the Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volare.

    I must disagree. Anything with a slant 6, a Torqueflite & torsion bars is better than any GM small car of the 70s or 80s.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Next up…Mike finds a vintage 1985 Pontiac Fiero 2M4!!

  • avatar
    seabrjim

    Having worked at moorestown nj’s own Duncan Buick from 78-80 ( a unique dealership-it was like being in the 50’s. NJ’s most antiquated dealer at the time) I can tell you none of the comments are far fetched. It may have been an upscale address, but did the customers know very little about what they were buying. Advertised almost like the successful persons “getaway” car, I wouldnt take it on a weekend retreat anywhere. Doing warranty work on one, the service order claimed the engine had a bad miss. I drove it and nothing was found. When the customer came at the end of the day and I still had the engine hooked up to the diagnostic “computer” (remember those?)he said “see how bad it runs!” I looked at the scope. All normal. He could not believe something was not wrong with his new v-6.The eagle on the fender was some slogan if I remember correctly. Buick spirit or some nonsense. Our dealership (razed and replaced with a chain drugstore) looked right out of the 50s,how appropriate the skyhawks technology matched it. They also leaked water when new around the cowl resulting in the parts dept. stocking carpet underlayment and rope putty by the truckload.

  • avatar
    ppolk

    Wow…you should at least say where you got the pictures. That’s my mother-in-law’s car and I took the photos a couple of years ago. They’re on the web somewhere. By the way, the thing is for sale….

  • avatar
    davey49

    I used to love these cars when they were new. I even had a few slot car versions of the racing ones.
    When I was 10 I thought a Monza was going to be my first car. For some reason these were way better than a Camaro to me.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    well
    after reading this..
    at least is wasn’t boring!
    In those days,we left that to Toyota and Datsun!

  • avatar
    Juniper

    psarhjinian :

    The good thing you can say about this car is that it was better than it’s domestic competition, the Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volare.

    I too disagree. I owned a 79 Volare Wagon for 8 yrs. Not the best car but no major problems and the AC worked when I sold it. Did you ever actually own one?
    Also for the sake of fairness find some 70s Toyota or Nissan (Datsun) survivors if you can and test them. See how they compare now. How about a Renault or Fiat, that would be interesting.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Wasn’t the Monza based off the Chevy Vega? Nuff said, then…

  • avatar
    KnightRT

    I fired-up the 3.8L V6. I listened to the push-rod glory as it blew what smelled like raw gas out the back end.

    OK, that made me laugh. It’s the automotive equivalent of starting a footrace and immediately throwing up.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I must disagree. Anything with a slant 6, a Torqueflite & torsion bars is better than any GM small car of the 70s or 80s.

    Volare. Not Valiant.

    The Valiant was a good, solid, mundane car. The Aspen/Volare were that same car with modern styling, a biodegradable body and all that pesky quality engineered out.

    Yes, the Valiant’s powertrain was still there. My parents had one (an Aspen, actually; 1976 wagon, brown on brown vinyl). It was rusting from the factory and didn’t start the third day of ownership. The engine was the only part of that car that didn’t rust, crack, short, leak or fall off entirely. I’m sure the powertrain was wonderful, and it did improve in later model years, but people tend to notice things like the door handles coming off in their hands.

    And it’s not like this was unique to our particular car.

    There’s a reason why the Aspen/Volare made numerous ten-worst lists, not the least of which was the damage they did to all the good will the Valiant and Dart managed to accumulate. Whole legions of Chrysler buyers never returned to the brand after owning one of these.

  • avatar
    Acd

    This car should be Exhibit A in Edward Niedermeyer’s piece “America’s Compact Complex” from yesterday.

  • avatar
    Rix

    I had a 2001 Sunfire as a rental about five years back. Things haven’t improved much.

  • avatar
    don1967

    You can really see where modern-day GM vehicles get their good looks.

    They say that if you give an infinite number of tax dollars to an infinite number of GM product planners for an infinite number of years, they will eventually build a 1988 Honda.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    What a morbidly fascinating review.

    The fact this car exists with only 45,000 is baffling, but I’m glad it does.

  • avatar
    Meatrex

    WOW! Crazy for not taking this animal home! The glory days I once had with the beast of a machine. The 3.8L in this V-6 had the guts to get out the hole and fast!. The back-end was light but nothing a few bags of sand in winter to weight it down couldnt fix. The Back seats folded nicely which made it very convenient for extra curricular activities.

    How could any one forget to mention the glow in the dark decales with the stripes and the chickenhawk glowing ever so obnoxiously at passing cars. One problem with the decales is that the hot sun tended to oxidize the decales causing them to fade.

    At the time they only put out approx 3000 of these babies. They are few and far between. They mixed the interior seats. Mine had the white bucket seats with the original checker board black and white pattern. A real eye catcher.

    As the writer stated. Very loose steering. But very easy to handle.

    Keep the dream alive. Nighthawk is a lost classic. Find a monza, slap some black paint on it and some glow in the dark decales and your ready for a night on the town.

    Once you go Black you’ll never go back.

  • avatar
    stage169

    ppolk please contact me at brjackson@spitfire.net

    I would like to talk to your mother-in-law about her car. Thanks, Brian

    BTW, the glorious, sparkling gold paint that arced through the black body, You must of not seen the car in person. Those pics were taken with flash during the day to show the reflection of the black decals. The car is black but at night when headlights hit the decals parts of it turn gold (or flash :) )

  • avatar
    stage169

    Meatrex, did you buy yours new? If you have any info on the Nighthawk I would sure like to know about it. I have researched the Buick SkyHawk (75 – 80)for a long time and have found a lot of info. Just looking at 1977 there was the Free Spirit, NightHawk and Hawk Accent stripe packages. I have never found any break down info on options for these cars. There were just over 24k made for 1977. All 1977 Buick SkyHawks were made in Canada. GM Canada offers a restoration package that is VIN# specific to any 1977 SkyHawk. This package tells you all the options, what dealer the car went to and some specific info if available. If you have some info on the amount of NightHawks made I would like to see it. Thanks, Brian Jackson

  • avatar
    Nicky

    Oh my freaking god! This was the first car I ever owned in high school! As a somewhat proper young lady, I was a bit, er, surprised to find this gift from my Dad waiting for me in my driveway circa 1981. I took it to college – quite a sight racing down fraternity row. I actually ended up loving it, and was sad when my Dad (who officially owned it) finally decided to sell it around 1986, I was sad to watch it drive away.

    Always wondered what happened to it. He sold it to some guys who wanted to race it.

    By the way, in addition to the standard paint/sticker treatment, someone had added fake quick hood releases onto mine!


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