Junkyard Find: 1985 Buick Skylark Limited Sedan

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1985 buick skylark limited sedan

Remember the misery of the Chevy Citation, which had such outstandingly bad build quality and horrifying public reliability problems that the damage to Chevrolet’s image took decades to repair? Only the staggeringly nasty Pontiac Phoenix (a Pontiac-badged Citation sibling) might have been worse; meanwhile, the Buick Division leaped on board the oil-leaking, prematurely corroding, Iron Duke-powered X-Body bandwagon, and fired a full spread of torpedoes into the once-beloved Skylark name.

Not many of these best-forgotten automobiles remain uncrushed, but I was able to spot this ’85 sedan in a Northern California wrecking yard last winter.

If America tried Roger Smith for treason for allowing this car to help befoul the reputation of what was once the most respected American icons in the world, the Iron Duke engine might have been Exhibit A. It was a noisy, rough-running, primitive, 2.5-liter pushrod four-banger. The Iron Duke managed to make the optional 2.8-liter V6 seem sophisticated. It wasn’t.

The interior is a cacophony of low-bidder velour, greasy offgassing plastic, and some of the phoniest-looking “wood” ever ineptly glued into a car by angry drunks. The base price of this car was $8,283, which is just about exactly half the price of a then-new 1985 BMW 318i. However, a simple-but-well-built 1985 Mazda 626 could be had for $8,295, while the comfy 1985 Ford LTD sold for just $8,874 with its four-cylinder “Pinto” engine.

Mercifully, 1985 was the last year for the X-Body Skylark; after that, the Skylark name went on the N-Body, where it stayed long enough to be a sibling to the revived Chevy Malibu in the late 1990s.

“We couldn’t get all the reasons people like Skylark into this commercial, but we sure got them into the car.”

Even when the X-Body Skylark was new and exciting, Buick had to dole out big cash bonuses to get these off dealer lots.

[Images: © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars]

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  • Superdessucke Superdessucke on Apr 14, 2016

    I think the rep these have brings out certain, shall we say, embellishments in stories about these vehicles 25+ years after the fact. My Citation was an Iron Duke 4-door hatchback. It was oddly optioned with automatic transmission, cruise control and power door locks. No AC or anything else. I owned it about 2 years and it never broke down or did anything out of the ordinary. It was actually pretty quick, was easy to park in the huge city where I lived back then, and could haul a ton of stuff. I wasn't in love with it, and never missed it, but it did its job for me over that two year period in the early 1990s. A faithful commuter car in short. People now make them sound like the anti-Christ of cars. Maybe there were some bad ones out there, but mine sure wasn't one of them.

    • See 2 previous
    • Rise2it Rise2it on Apr 18, 2016

      My Citation had the same engine...bought it used while in College, maybe 50K on it..one owner, older adult. After one week, lost the clutch...2 days later, lost 3rd gear in the manual tranny. Multiple water pumps (which, of course, required radiator removal, etc), an alternator, etc, etc. About a month later, the hood flew open and dented in the top of the car (so much for the 2 step hood safety feature)...ripped loose the panel around the wipers, but amazingly didn't crack the windshield. Hood now tied down with a boot string, but the faster you drove the higher the hood would rise. By the time you got to 50 MPH, you were Buck Rogers flying into space. Then it got finicky and started stalling out. Had a friend take me back to it after it stranded me on evening, opened the hatch, took out the jack, beat the windows out of it, and called the junkyard. $50 and thank you. Oh, and I still owed money on it, so I got to spend the next year paying it off. No real troubles from anything else I EVER owned...and I SWEAR this story was NOT embellished :-)

  • Laserwizard Laserwizard on Apr 14, 2016

    Say what you will GM during this era of going front drive and ruining everything that they touched in the process, but that psuedo-velour material used for the seats was almost as durable as cockroaches. If you didn't rip the fabric, it wore well and would outlast the vehicle. It might fade (like Honduh and Toyoduh and Ford materials from that era), but it was the most durable part of the vehicle. I'm surprised that some bean counter didn't come back and ask management to make the fabric less durable: "Why are we putting in a material that will last 20 years when the car will only last five?"

  • Chiefmonkey Honda just cuts too many corners. There's no reason why the base Accord should have a 4 speaker stereo lol. It's a $28,000 midsize sedan, not a Mitsubishi Mirage! Not to diss the Mirage it's a great car for what it is. And what's up with Honda's obsession with the dullest most spartan looking black cloth or leather interiors? Literally every other automaker I can think of offers two, three, four possibilities. If I order even the top trim accord in the blue paint, I am limited to a black interior...why???? Strangely, if I order the white paint, the possibilities expand overwhelmingly to two: black, or dentist's office gray (which clashes with white.) There's zero rhyme or reason to it. Just a cheap, corner cutting company.
  • Dartman It was all a scam just to gin up some free publicity. It worked. Tassos go back to sleep; no ones on your lawn. Real ‘murricans prefer hot dogs to gyros.
  • ToolGuy I plan to install a sink in the crawl space soon. After that I plan to put washer and dryer hookups on my roof.
  • ToolGuy "That power team adds an electric supercharger"YES!
  • Cardave5150 UAW is acting all butt-hurt that their employers didn't "share the wealth" when they had massive profits. They conveniently forget that they have a CONTRACT with their employers, which was negotiated in good faith, and which the Remaining 3 are honoring, paying them exactly what they negotiated last time.