Junkyard Find: 1985 Buick Skylark Limited Sedan

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?"

  • Snickel Fritz I just bought a '97 JX 4WD 4AT, and though it's not quite roadworthy yet I am already in awe of it's simplicity and apparent ruggedness. What I am equally in awe of, is the scarcity of not only parts but correct information regarding anything on this platform. I'm going to do my best to get this little donkey back on it's feet, but I wouldn't suggest this as a project vehicle for anyone who doesn't already have several... and a big impressive shop with a full suite of fabrication/machining/welding equipment, and friends with complimentary skillsets, and extra money, and... you get the idea. If you don't, I urge you to read up on the options for replacing anything on these rigs. I didn't read enough before buying, and I have zero of the above suggested prerequisites... so I'm an idiot, don't listen to me. Go buy all of 'em!
  • Bryan Raab Davis I actually did use the P of D trope, but it was only gentle chiding, for I love old British cars of every sort.
  • ScarecrowRepair The 1907 Panic had several causes of increased demand for money:[list][*]The semi-annual shift of money between farms and cities (to buy for planting and selling harvests)[/*][*]Britain and Germany borrowing for their naval arms race[/*][*]San Francisco reconstruction borrowing after the 1906 earthquake and fire[/*][/list]Two things made it worse:[list][*]Idiotic bans on branch banking, which prevented urban, rural, and other state branches from shifting funds to match demands. This same problem made the Great Depression far worse. Canada, which allowed branch banking, had no bank failures; the US had 9000 failures.[/*][*]Idiotic reserve requirements left over from the Civil War which prevented banks from loaning money; they eventually started honoring IOUs illegally and started the recovery.[/*][/list]Been a while since I read up on it, so I may have some of the details wrong. But it was an amazing clusterfart which could have been avoided or at least tamed sooner if states and the feds hadn't been so ham handed.
  • FreedMike Maybe this explains all the “Idiots wrecking exotic cars” YouTube videos.
  • FreedMike Good article! And I salute the author for not using the classic “Lucas - prince of darkness” trope, well earned as it may be. We all know the rap on BL cars, but on the flip side, they’re apparently pretty easy to work on (at least that’s the impression I’ve picked up). On the other hand, check the panel fits on the driver’s and passenger’s doors. Clearly, BL wasn’t much concerned with things like structural integrity when it chopped the roof off a car designed as a coupe.