By on April 13, 2016

1985 Buick Skylark in California Junkyard, LH front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

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.

1985 Buick Skylark in California Junkyard, Iron Duke engine - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

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.

1985 Buick Skylark in California Junkyard, front seats - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

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.

1985 Buick Skylark in California Junkyard, grille - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

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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101 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1985 Buick Skylark Limited Sedan...”


  • avatar
    dividebytube

    When I was a thirteen year old, I had to ride in one of these POS in a long 10hr road trip to a summer Michigan Tech program I was taking in the UP. My parents didn’t want to do the drive there, so they pawned me off on some strangers who were taking their kid to the same school. So there I was stuck in the backseat, which was unbearably uncomfortable, and surrounded by people I didn’t know. Awkward place to be for a shy kid.

    At that age I didn’t pay to much attention to cars but I certainly did that day. The return trip, in my dad’s Olds 98 (b-body), was paradise in comparison.

    • 0 avatar
      JEFFSHADOW

      Oldsmobile 98 was on the C-body.
      One of the coolest things about the 1980 to about 1983 Omegas was the cloisonné Oldsmobile emblem above the glove box. I always grabbed every one of these I could find in the wrecking yards. I think I have eighty now!
      The “badges”, as they are now known, sell for $8 apiece on ebay and look great on a maroon briefcase.
      I had one (still have it!) in 1990 while traveling to St. Louis for the Oldsmobile Club of America nationals. Several passengers on the United flight thought I worked for Oldsmobile!

      Two weeks later, I did!

      Since 2012 I had been looking for a well-cared for Omega to tow behind my GMC Motorhome but as fate would have it, in September 2015, I found a 2000 Alero GLS Coupe at Copart in Oregon. It still had the “change oil at 54,000 miles” sticker dated 2008. It had 51,200 miles when I bought it. It had been driven 200 miles in seven years. The front tires were fifteen years old and the rears were from 2004. Tires like those do not help a car slow down very well! It now has new Firestone tires.
      Now in Mint condition with USA OLDS license plates.

  • avatar
    thelastdriver

    Seems GM vehicles of this era were an exercise of planned obsolescence around 100k. Looks to be less than 3/4ths used up with only 71k on the clock.

    There’s five digits for a reason.

    I live in a rusty state and have owned many end-of-life Cavaliers and a Pontiac Phoenix. They were all terrible. One had a floorpan made from scrap lumber. I kept them on the road far too long and put too many wrenching hours in for the novelty of cars so staggeringly shitty — Without the class of something British.

    Now I maintain a few crappy old Toyotas and life is easy.

    • 0 avatar
      e30gator

      There IS something truly satisfying about owning a vehicle that you care absolutely nothing about, paying almost nothing for it, and then driving it accordingly. I’ve had a few.

      Car wash? What’s that? Good times.

      • 0 avatar
        lemko

        Another thing you wouldn’t care about is theft. My wife had a maroon 1999 Oldsmobile Cutlass sedan that was the very personification of automotive mediocrity. This one was the 1997-generation Chevrolet Malibu’s uglier sister. The interior could best be described as “contemporary domestic rental car.” It forever had cooling and electrical issues. The 3.1 V-6 delivered lousy fuel economy. One could probably take that car down to Philly’s “badlands” neighborhood at midnight with the key in the ignition, all four door open, and the motor running and it will still be there at 3PM the next day.

        • 0 avatar
          e30gator

          Yup. I had a trashed ’93 Ranger that I kept as a home repair/pool chemical truck. I lost the door key and the ignition switch was broken so it could be started just by turning the knob on the steering column. I’d leave that thing sitting, windows down all over Sarasota and nobody ever touched it. Probably thought I was some crazy gun-totting hillbilly. Truth is I had as much fun flogging that POS around town as I did my V70 T5 at the time.

    • 0 avatar
      Jellodyne

      About 71k was when mine chewed through it’s plastic timing gear, leaving me stranded with a UHaul trailer in Rockford Illinois, about halfway between Ohio and Minnesota. I spent the $1200 to get it fixed, and it went on to serve me several more miserable years.

    • 0 avatar
      honda_lawn_art

      There could be a Journeyman Pictures documentary about your car ownership, “Driving in the Margins”.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Bob Barker always seemed to be giving Skylarks away in light metallic blue with chromed wheel rings and white sidewalls.

    • 0 avatar
      e30gator

      With California emissions?

      “Think I’ll try showcase number two, Bob.”

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        A NEW CAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I’ll never forget the time I saw it.

          New Navigator showcase, plus three or four international trips.

          Marge from Virginia or whatever: “Umm, fourty-two thousand seven hundred.”

          Me, at home: “You f-king kidding me Marge?”

          It totaled over $70,000.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            And I remember the time that the “NEW CAR” to be won in PLINKO was a 1991 Cadillac Fleetwood.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            A fine car with the 4.9L! Cost approximately $38,000 in 1991.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I do believe we will canonize the 4.9 as a saint in the Church.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Oh, I have shareable news regarding that.

            Is leaking:
            Oil from the oil cooler lines.
            Tranny fluid from the trans cooler lines.

            They can get the oil lines but not the tranny ones, so they told me to bring them along with me on Friday (got from Rock Auto). I guess GM no longer manufactures the transmission cooler lines for the 4.9, and they have special fittings so you cannot use general lines like you would on another car. Their aftermarket ordering ability is limited (contracts I guess? I dunno how shops work internally).

            They also did a coolant system pressure test, since the burning tranny fluid smelled more like coolant to me. Pressure is excellent, and didn’t waiver at all during the test.

            Other:
            The power steering rack is “just starting” to drip, and they said I’ll get another year out of it. They quoted me “usually $1000 for a rack replacement.” So I dunno bout all that.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Can trans cooler lines be sourced from the junkyard OR otherwise fabricated by a machine shop? Ask your shop.

            Good to hear the cooling system is good to go, if you’re only occasionally driving it perhaps the water pump can wait.

            I had a PS rack installed on the GP for $550 out the door about three years ago, check to see how much the part is because perhaps its just pricey.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I think the fabrication option was out because of the fittings they couldn’t get. He told me it was an unusual setup for a GM engine – which I believe because of the rather limited use of the 4.9. In any event, ordering all four aftermarket parts including rush shipping was $60 total. So I’m not bothered about that.

            Looks about $180 for the PS rack from online sources. I have no idea if that’s a lot or no for that type of part.

            After Fridays fixes it will just be the PS rack, electronic suspension eventual failure, AC no R-12, and radio as issues LOL.

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            Welcome to Old Car Shenanigans!

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I didn’t know that about the 4.9, good to know for my future follies.

            I’d like to know how a $180 part becomes a roughly $1K job (not doubting the shop, just curious).

            Radio? Just rip it out and put in a Pioneer (oh did I date myself there)

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Ha Pioneer. My 5000 got a Pioneer!

            Their part expense could be high, if they’re seeking an original GM part or something. I might have to ask around at a different place when that needs doing. There are a couple independents near my house which seem/look reputable.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            While I got you, I realize you’re in life insurance and not car insurance but I’m dumping State Farm and am looking at Donegal for my fleet. I was quoted 1166 for all three cars a Full Tort policy 100K/300K plus collision on the GP with comp on GP and Sat. The next level up from this was the same but with 250K/500K and collision on Saturn for 1376 annually.

            I’m curious: 1. is this good? and 2. do I really need to care about 250/500K vs 100/300K coverage?

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I had a meeting and now I’ve got to run, but let me think on some numbers on this later this evening.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Thanks Corey.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            So I guess we’ll start with my maths, since I’m similar in age to you and also have multi car policy and live in not Detroit.

            Since I don’t have a car payment, and my miles traveled is relatively low per year, I maintain them at 50/100 + comprehensive at actual cash value.

            M is $44/mo
            Deville $22.50/mo

            $416 /6mo after discounts. I have several discounts, and these total $263, breaking down to the following each 6 month period per my policy document.

            Allstate Easy Pay
            Plan (scheduled auto pay online)
            $15.41
            Safe Driving Club® $77.14
            Multiple Policy $51.45
            Responsible Payer $16.15
            FullPay® $34.02
            Early Signing $3.06
            Homeowner $16.15
            Allstate eSmart® $19.34
            Passive Restraint $2.31
            Antilock Brakes $20.42
            Electronic Stability
            Control
            $7.55

            I think the 100/300 is plenty for you, and I don’t think I’d bother with collision on an old GP, but that’s just me. Without the collision, and no homeowner discount I’d expect you’d be at <$900, perhaps?

            I'd see what kinda quote Allstate gives you. Either way, make sure whoever you choose isn't a company (Progressive) which jacks the rate after your "intro" rate the first year (Geico).

            I haven't heard of Donegal, but larger companies have a bigger pool of risk and more capital, and thus can offer lower rates generally. In fact in checking their site, I haven't heard of any of their family of brands.

            Hope that helps.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Corey, thank you for your expertise.

            I had Allstate prior to State Farm, I went from 25/50 w/collision & comp on GP to 50/100 w/collision & comp for $200 LESS with SF in 2012. SF currently has me at I think 1380 for all three, this stuff is the next liability level up for less. I continue to carry collision because even the fiction of KBB still values my GP at 6K (not worth 6K black book of course, but blue book is the figure I would demand).

            I think if I delete the collision on the new policy, its right around a grand. I’m keeping it though and I might add collision on the Saturn for $90/year (its valued at 3K). Both the current Sat and GP have comp, the Volvo gets nothing extra (my previous Saturn also had nothing because it was a used up POS).

            The insurance woman was trying to talk me into the 250/500 which I think for the time being I will pass on. I’m told Donegal is a regional carrier similar to Erie. I did some googling looking for horror stories and didn’t find much. Something about the company nothing picking up a totaled car after a check was sent was all I can remember, such a situation doesn’t concern me. They conveniently don’t give a current figure for their size but before the economy collapsed they claimed they had $457 million in overall premium writings. So even if the company halved, its not Safe Auto (I hope).

            Thanks again for your input.

  • avatar
    e30gator

    My neighbor had one of these when I was a kid and one day he was T-boned in it at an intersection and died as a result. It was a pretty traumatic experience for my family since he was pretty close to my Dad. Luckily I didn’t see it, but since then it has always been the “dead neighbor car” to me. Creepy. There are a few other cars that will always have that stigma for me as well.

  • avatar
    Pesky Varmint

    The even bigger disaster for GM in that era than the cars, was their attitude towards the complaining owners.

    I know, I had a Citation X-11.

    The stories I could tell are simply astounding.

    Grew up in a Chevy family that ended with that car.

    Over the years GM has mended the relationship and we’ve cheerfully owned a couple of Duramax’s since 2001. And yes, the first one had problems, and yes,
    GM treated us outstandingly for 200000 miles.

    But the old X car days were truly a disgusting era for GM.

    • 0 avatar
      sfvarholy

      Had an 1981 X-11 when I started driving in 1986. It was Dad’s car, bought new (he got himself a 1986 Corvette – a complete piece of garbage, so X-Body haters, share the love – er, hate).

      In hindsight, none of the domestics lasted much beyond 60-80k miles. Now, we expect all of our cars to go 150k+.

      I have an 1982 X-11 in my garage with 153k miles, purchased from the original owner. My observations from 2016 after decades of ownership and maintenance of other cars:

      GM’s engineering was excellent. However, they did not prioritize ease of maintenance or repairs. So they are a HUGE pain in the ass to work on.

      The evolving interior materials of that era: moving from vinyl covered padded cardboard and the like to plastics not only made the cars feel cheap but the newsish materials did not age well. This was true of the Japanese competitors, as well. It got worse in the late 1980’s to mid 1990’s. Had a Rover/Acura and an Accord that had fading/brittle interior plastics, too.

      The X’s were let down by terrible assembly quality and poor choice of components. My X-11 was replace by an L-Body Beretta which was a real nightmare when it came to build quality and reliability….

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    My dad had one of these (and my mom simultaneously had a Citation) until someone pulled out in front of him and totaled it when I was 6. Amazingly, he wasn’t killed or maimed by this POS.

    I always thought the Skylark was super-cool because it had a ‘medium-high’ setting for the wipers, probably its only redeeming feature.

    The ‘lark’s replacement was a 1988 Riviera with the touch screen and lumbar seat support. I promptly broke both.

  • avatar

    Was this kin to the Cutlass Supreme by chance?

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      Not quite. The Cutlass Supreme, restyled for 1981, rode on the RWD A-body along with the Malibu, Monte Carlo, LeMans, Grand Prix, standard Cutlass, Regal, and Century. Then the A-body was renamed G-body in ’82 (and the regular sedan/coupes were dropped, leaving only the 4 personal lux coupes) to make way for the FWD A-body we all know and love as the Celebrity, 6000, [Cutlass] Ciera, and Century.

      The FWD X-body, upon which this Skylark was built, was also the base for the Citation, Pontiac Phoenix, and Olds Omega. The Phoenix, Omega, and Skylark were replaced in ’86 by the new N-body Pontiac Grand Am, Olds Cutlass Calais, and Buick Somerset (coupes up to ’87)/Skylark (sedans, and coupes after ’87).

      In 1992, the N-body cars were thankfully updated, making them much more distinct. The Cutlass Calais was replaced by the Olds Achieva, which was the definition of mediocrity, but at least the new Skylark looked nice (especially the coupe, IMO). This turned out to be the last Skylark, and Buick’s last compact until the Verano.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I get so_confuse about this time in GM history. There were a lot of things of similar sizes on different bodies, all styled in the same box shape, and in the same market segments.

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          Mid-80s GM was a mess because they had two waves of downsizing overlapping each other.

        • 0 avatar
          CobraJet

          In the spring of 1980 my wife and I started shopping for a new car. We were looking for a family car that would get good mileage. We shopped all four versions of the GM X bodies and decided on an Olds Omega Brougham. We odered it with the options we wanted. It took 12 weeks for it to come in. We kept it for about 60,000 miles and decided it had to go. It wss replaced by an 85 Cutlass Ciera Brougham that was a much better car, but it didn’t take much to impress us after the Omega. I’ve put well over 100,000 miles on every other car I ever owned, but it was clear that the Omega was not in it for the long haul.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        Uhh, they sold the Cutlass Supreme sedan up until 1987…

        • 0 avatar
          Drzhivago138

          You’re correct, as well as the wagon (Cutlass Cruiser) up to 1984, and Buick did similar on the Regal. Olds’s nameplate history is a little convoluted–do we consider the Cutlass Supreme/Calais a sub-model of the Cutlass, or its own distinct line? My reasoning is as follows:

          1978-81–the regular midsize (RWD A-body) sedan/coupe/wagons across all lines: Malibu, LeMans, Cutlass (including Salon, but not Supreme or Calais), Century.

          1978-80–the midsize personal lux coupes across all lines: Monte Carlo, Grand Prix, Cutlass Supreme/Calais, Regal.

          1981-87/88ish–the restyled PLCs (RWD A/G-body), as well as (after 1982) sedans and wagons on Olds and Buick.

          1982–Malibu, LeMans, Cutlass (non-Supreme), and Century replaced by FWD A-body Celebrity, 6000, Ciera, and Century. Sedans and coupes from the get-go, wagons starting in 1984.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            Regal Sedan was 1982-1984, after two years of the Century Sedan, when the Century went to the A-Body. Don’t know how long the Pontiac version, the Bonneville-G, went. I want to say that the 1981 was the last year of the A/G LeMans Sedan, but I don’t recall. I want to say that the Chevy Malibu “Sport Sedan” went from ’81 through ’85, but perhaps it was ’84.

            Recall that for ’78-’80, the Malibu and LeMans Sedans were notchbacks with a separate C-pillar window and fixed rear-door windows, while the Cutlass Salon and the Buick Century were “Aeroback” 4-doors and coupes, again, no roll-down windows in the back. In 1980, Olds and Buick switched to the more formal notchback styling with the flip-out rear-door windows, and all the A/G-Bodies switched to this style in 1981.

            Of course, 1981 was also the first year that the “Computer Command Control” carburetors came out in all 50 states, with their own host of issues.

            Never realized it back then, but holy cow, these notchback Xs are damn near dead-ringers for the larger ’81-and-up A/Gs from the rear 3/4-view if you don’t have taillights or other things to cue you in! (They’re only missing the little vent windows on the doors, though I assume THESE windows rolled down, if the opposite way: crank rearward to open, forward to close!)

            I recall mentioning it in a previous late-year JYF X-car post, but again, the integrated door mirrors are right off the A-bodies (and will bolt on to either car, as I recall being mentioned in a response to that post); was it only the last year of the X-Body in which this was so? (The Phoenix Murilee mentions in one of the links was an ’84 with separate mirrors, but I swear the Citation II from that era (with the DIN.5 Delco 2000-Series radio instead of the vertically-mounted unit) was also equipped thus.)

            Almost got the J-Body Cimarron confused with these; not sure if Caddy upstaging this “little limousine” would have turned out differently! Perhaps they could have pulled it off better with some sort of an A-Body variant, the better successor to this platform, but I doubt it!

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          As I’ve stated in these pages, if I could find a lovingly-maintained near-mint example of that Cutlass, ’87-vintage, with every option on the sheet checked (with the exception of the Rallye cluster — wire wheels a bonus), including the AOD transmission and 305 V8, I’d grab it to use as a summer “toy.” Occasional car show, local Olds meet, what-have-you.

          Sadly, as I’ve also stated, I’m sure all the decent ones have met their fate in a demolition-derby or to cushion the landing of a monster-truck’s jump, if they haven’t already made it back to this country as a Chinese washer or dryer. They’ve also fallen into favor with a chunk of the populace which will fit wheels stolen off of a 747 at the nearest airport, as well as sound systems which will vaporize 70th-story windows in all skyscrapers within several blocks of said vehicle!

          A correction for Murilee: the 1989 road-trip link off the Phoenix page mentioned a drive up I-5 in a ’77 Custom Cruiser — eagle-eyed readers might note that the car is a ’78 or ’79 * Cutlass * Cruiser — the second pic of the passenger dash gives that away, and the steering-wheel is from a ’78 or ’79. As that article mentions, we take so much for granted today! My first car, a used-up hooptie of a 1978 Cutlass Salon “Aeroback” Coupe, had a non-remote driver’s mirror just like that in the one picture, as well as a Delco AM radio, A/C, tinted glass, and the Olds 260 V8 (barely more power than the 231 Buick 6, and which drank gas like a 455) with three-speed THM 200, along with the “convenience package” which contained the underhood, trunk and glovebox lights, as well as a single dome-light-mounted map light. (Well, I certainly took the light in the glovebox for granted, since every other car I’ve owned save my ’84 Sunbird had one — that is, until my 2013 Accord! Of course, now try to find a car equipped with the “tint brow” on the windshield — if it doesn’t have a Toyota or HyundKia badge, forget it!)

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Only in the drafting room. GM whored out the styling of the original Seville to nearly every car they made by 1983 or so.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks, guys. This thing looked very close to a Cutlass Supreme that my brother and I had to park along the interstate once. We watched it bleed pretty much every fluid it possessed onto the emergency lane.

  • avatar
    PRNDLOL

    Murilee don’t take this the wrong way but there is some definite Baruth-esque fury in this article which I wouldn’t normally associate with your typical writing style. I was too young when these cars were on the road to form an opinion of their quality one way or the other, but I always kind of liked the Oldsmobile Omega version in four door form as a funky looking car.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Few cars warrant as much fury as X-Bodies.

      If you want to pick just one platform that is more responsible than any other for 30 years of hate toward American cars, this is it.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Or the Cimarron, just for the sheer GM stupidity.

        Maybe, just maybe, if Caddy had waited a year and done an interior riff off the ’83 Buick Skyhawk/Olds Firenza, instead of dropping the more pedestrian Chebby/Pontiac dash in there, who knows?! Same pig, different lipstick! As I stated above, perhaps an A-Body, slotted above the Century in the Sloanian hierarchy, might have made Cadillac a little less of a laughingstock! (Well, at least until the ’85 DeVille and worse, the ’86 Eldo and Seville!)

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I vaguely remember my mother having one of these when I was little, so let’s call it ’95 or ’96. It never worked. She wound up borrowing my grandmother’s much-nicer ’85 Riviera on several occasions. Now that I think of it, it was her last American car. No, wait…she had an AMC Concorde after that.

  • avatar
    Sloomis

    Crappy as hell, yes, but I still thought this car and its Olds clone were pretty nice looking. But then I’ve always had a thing for boxy, conservatively styled sedans.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I think we have to consider the Olds Omega as the worst X-Car, given it came from the highest up nameplate which was not known for awful small cars?

    • 0 avatar
      sfvarholy

      Nope. Probably the Pontiac because it was ugly.

      The Omegas were attractively styled – especially the Sport Omega coupes.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Good Gawd..the ES! (Or was it “ESS?” Too lazy to go to “oldcarbrochures.com to look it up! “ESS” was (also) a “sport”-themed Ford Granada..Malaise-era motoring at its..umm..”FINEST!”)

        Urethane front-end, a-la 1974 Pontiac..::snaps fingers, trying to remember::..Grand Am? (Colonnade-era Pontiac LeMans sporty edition.) Same type of thing as the Chevy (Chevelle/Malibu) “Laguna.”

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Or, you could have had a 4 door Civic for $7,295, an Accord 3 door hatch for $9,095… waited a year and had an Integra for 11k… and they might still run.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Comparing an X-Body to an ’82-generation Accord is just kicking a man when he’s down. Ouch.

      • 0 avatar
        RHD

        There was no excuse for GM to produce such awful cars, considering the resources they had to do a proper job of it.
        Honda made excellent cars and constantly improved what they built. GM completely deserves every consequence of the garbage they produced and the customers who suffered as a result.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          Re: “GM Resources:”

          A neighbor of mine and a buddy have been working for the better part of the day on a ’92-or-later Buick Century (direct descendant of the ’82 vintage, with a smaller, “DLO-Fail”-spec piece of trim where the C-pillar window went in the early versions of these; Buick and Olds were the last two divisions which built these, and they rounded the back window a little compared to the earlier variants).

          My question is this: I’ve heard the driver’s door open several times, and the key chime is a fast-paced “bong” for maybe five seconds, then it “bongs” a single time every ten seconds until the key is removed, instead of a “bong-bong-bong” like you might expect (or even the non-chime tone which took the place of a buzzer that could wake the dead, like my Dad’s mid-’80s Buicks had).

          Why did GM go to this? I’ve heard that same chime pattern in most GM vehicles since that time! Did GM “give up” with that warning, too?!

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Don’t forget the two or three grand in ADM, fabric protection, paint sealant, and all the other crap you had to swallow to actually walk out of the Toyonda dealer with a car back in those days. But yeah, still worth it.

    • 0 avatar
      sfvarholy

      If you could find one.

      They all rusted away long before the X-Bodies. And anything from GM in the 1980’s rusted when you looked at it.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    I bought an ’80 Skylark new. It had one over-riding problem.
    The sunroof (a glass pop-up, not a slider) always leaked.
    The factory aperture wasn’t manufactured correctly and it just couldn’t seal.
    I remember on my third or so visit the service manager (who knew I was an engineer and mechanic) gave me a new weatherstrip and begged me to see if I could fix it.
    In the early days of the X-car, sales demand was awesome. The plants were running balls out and build quality was ugly. I can’t remember the plant locations, but I do remember one of them setting all-time “worst” number for the Fisher Body quality stats.

  • avatar
    skor

    “However, a simple-but-well-built 1985 Mazda 626 could be had for $8,295,”

    This is something I could never understand. Compared to this Skylark, the 626 of the same year seemed like something that had been transported back from 20 years in the future. Why would anyone buy a Skylark when cars like the Mazda were available for the same money??

    I guess PT Barnum was right, there is a sucker born every minute.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      In 1985, American brand loyalty was still a very motivating factor, especially among older people.

      • 0 avatar
        CobraJet

        That was certainly true in my case (and still is today) in buying a new 80 Omega Brougham. We only compare shopped the Ford and Mercury line of Fox bodied cars (Fairmont). We didn’t even consider Chrysler products because they were bankrupt at the time. AMC wasn’t considered either. They had the Concord, I beleive.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    i was one of the many suckers who believed all the pre-launch hype about the X cars from GM with the help of most of the automotive media at the time, which is why I have never bought another GM vehicle nor one of those publications ever again

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      My dad bought a 5-door Citation. Brilliant design, terrible execution. Ours actually didn’t have many problems, other than the paint that started flaking off after a few years. And possibly the world’s vaguest 4-speed.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      “It’s The First Chevy of the ’80s!”

      “This could be the car you had in mind! Chevy Ci-TAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-Shun!!!”

  • avatar
    RHD

    It looks like the only owner of a still-running Skylark in the area found quite a few useful parts off this donor.
    For what it’s worth, there are still a couple of X-body cars driving around where I live. That in itself is pretty amazing, but they look terribly neglected, as the owners aren’t replacing damaged body parts.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      My imagination, or did someone break out the gauge bezels to harvest the pointer needles?

      Murilee, are you building a “Franken-clock” from the corpses of non-running dash clocks you’ve taken? :-)

      Can’t believe someone took the horn pad and left the rest of the steering wheel! I’m betting that the center piece from the Pontiac wheel on the floor could have come from something sized to this car!

      Finally, my Gawd, that release lever for the parking brake is YUUUGE!

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    I’m going to post a contrary opinion on these. My dad and I looked at and test-drove, and rented this car back when it was new. The Buick build quality was better than other GM makes. The interior was plush and luxurious for that size of car. Our favorite color combination was the white exterior with the blue velour interior.

    Downsides – yes, the engine. We rented one, and for some reason, the oil breather was puking massive amounts of engine oil into the air filter housing. This was troubling. The other problem was hydroplaning – we were used to driving full-sized American RWD cars, and this car hydroplaned much easier than we were used to.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Hate GM 80’s interiors, even the upscale (velour!) ones are horrid. That GM was still cranking out Iron Dukes in 1985 is another reason to shoot Roger Smith. After 10 years of downsizing GM should have had a world-class 4-banger in their lineup. The V6, despite Murilee’s dissing, wasn’t a bad motor. Not high-tech, but reasonably smooth and powerful for the time.

    • 0 avatar
      06V66speed

      I too hate 80’s GMs interiors.

      Although I still have a hankering for either a minty and clean ’89-90 Park Avenue Ultra or a Touring 98.

      That being said, those cars are worlds above this. Lol

      ADDENDUM: My dad’s 87 Toronado’s interior was the business, as well. Whorehouse red velour (which “worked” surprisingly well in that application), not to mention the interior felt like the cockpit of a fighter jet, ‘specially at night with the droves of digital gauges and chintzy plastic push buttons.

      (I was 6 or so at the time, maybe that’s why it really felt like a fighter jet.)

    • 0 avatar
      sfvarholy

      They manufactured the updated Iron Duke (Tech IV, etc) for many years after 1985. I hear the postal truck’s Iron Duke moan past my house every afternoon….

  • avatar
    fincar1

    My carpool driver’s mother had one of these that she borrowed from time to time. Its radio would change stations of its own volition, and the speedometer would stop indicating the speed. Its function could be restored by pounding on the dash. My driver herself had the corresponding Oldsmobile product, and I’d swear that there’s still an oil spot on our driveway where that Iron Duke road lubricator would park in the mornings…after 14 or 15 years. I drove it once, and discovered that it really liked to move at 20 mph; anything faster required a lot of attention given to the accelerator pedal. What a lump!

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Both my Mom’s 1980 Cutlass and my 1978 Cutlass with the standard, “sweep” speedometer, would bounce around when displaying a speed below, say, 35mph, the 1980 more so!

      The worst I’ve ever seen was in the 1978 Regal I rode in one time. From the right-rear passenger seat, at 25mph and up, the speedo would bounce maybe 30mph higher than indicated, with an audible “thunk-thunk-thunk!”

      Crap in the speedo pickup on the transmission, perhaps?

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “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.”

    Are you kidding me? Sorry my ’78 Buick Skylark pretty much destroyed the Skylark name. Pretty hard to do any damage to something already laying in a pile of ashes. In fact I’d say that platform was probably the worst by far of all the badge jobs(Nova, Skylark, Omega, Phoenix) done by the general. An absolute low point. These were worse than any of the x-bodies as far as reliability/durability IMO.

  • avatar
    MWolf

    I honestly see VERY few of these and their variants, but tons of other American cars from the same era are still rolling around here. My brother had one of these things in Oldsmobile form. Terrible car.

    I have no problems with the IDEAS GM had in the 80’s. As said before by others, excellent ideas, terrible execution. I was never a fan of the styling. It looks miserably cheap and simple. I can’t even put my finger on why, but the nose is the worse part for me. The interiors of 80’s GM cars didn’t bother me aside from that plastic wood. It got better as time wore on, and it looked ok in my ’93 Riviera.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I agree with your full assessment EXCEPT for the velour. In the JYF series I remained amazed how Detroit vehicle after Detroit vehicle from the malaise era look so awful, except the seats, which consistently are largely unstained, not ripped, and look like the day they were put in.

    Velour may be beyond passe, but I wish modern car cloth interiors were as durable as their 80’s counterparts.*

    YMMV based on make/model/care/experiences – my comments are directed at JYF and is meant as a generality – there are plenty of dogged out cloth seats. This was not an endorsement of GM, or GM specific vehicles, not does this endorse cheap plastic, fake wood, squeaks, rattles, 18 wheeler sized steering wheels, and sagging headliners. Just velour. That’s all. Zap Brannigan approves of this message – but only in reference to red velour.

  • avatar
    sdb8440

    In ’94 we bought an 81′ Skylark for $1200, brown with vinyl roof and the V6…it had 120,000KM on it. We put another 8 years and 200,000KM on it and only replaced brakes, one set of struts, water pumps and alternators. The ‘lark would fire up if not plugged in down to minus 25 and never burned oil or caused grief. Original windshield, no cracks in the vinyl and 8 trouble free years…sold it for $400 bucks and it continued to run trouble free for another 4 years until it was totaled. Much more reliable than the E90 I had for 6 years!

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    This one has the Iron Duke 4 but it was available with the 2.8 MFI “H.O.” that was standard in the Citation X-11 and Fiero GT. And didn’t they offer some kind of “T-Type” package for these too?

    These X cars take a beating now but it seems there was a time when they were everywhere. I had an ’80 Citation and it was overall reliable, if not boring.

  • avatar
    miles solo

    Wow – my 81 Skylark Limited with a V6 was a great car. It was exactly what I wanted at that time: a beautiful little boulevard and freeway cruiser. There was service for it everywhere I lived – Definitely not the case for Japanese cars of that era. It was the light blue metallic with the blue interior. The girls loved it. The V6 was a gem. In 1981 GM cars still had the best air conditioning around – definitely not Mazda. I put 216,000 miles on mine with no major issues of any kind. It was not garaged. Original glass and weather stripping, etc. etc. I think I replaced the water pump and the radiator. I sold it in 1998 when the AC finally gave out. The engine and transmission had never been opened up. It still looked great inside and out. I don’t know anything about the Iron Duke – but my aluminum V6 was definitely royalty.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    GM committed suicide when it plunged head on into the FWD craze, even for their larger cars. It was truly the beginning of its downward slide

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    My experiences with the X cars are not nearly as negative as most of the comments on this article. My brother had a 1982 Skylark Limited 2 door with the 2.5 Iron Duke, 4 speed manual, and fuel injection. He had well over 200k miles on it with very little trouble-mostly highway miles at high speeds. His Skylark was light nonmetallic gray with a red velour interior and landau top, and electric windows. He installed a cruise control. His Skylark would easily go 90 mph. He ran Mobile 1 for 20k miles between oil changes and never had an oil leak and it did not burn any oil. The manual transmission was better than an auto with the 2.5. He bought it from Enterprise when it was a year old. It was not as good as the cars of today but it was far from being a pile of junk and ran and rode very well at high speeds. My brother gave it to his oldest daughter and then he let one of his employees use it for business He got more than his money’s worth out of it. At worst it got 30 mpgs and at best 40 mpgs.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      Geekcarlover

      You got lucky. My Omega was a mystery machine. I always wondered what would go next. The best thing I could say about it was that it was cheap, and about the only thing my budget could afford without paying insane interest to a BHPH lot.I’ve seen a lot of people comment about leaks from various places. Mine didn’t leak, at least not from a place I could find. But it would randomly dump a quart or two of transmission fluid. I could never figure out when or how, but one month it was full, then another there would be shifting problems. Just add some more and drive on. It used about a quart of oil every 600-800 miles. No major leaks, and it didn’t seem to be burning it, again, just gone. The seals around the doors were fine. But the trunk would fill with water during the rainy season. Replacing them didn’t work.
      Then there was cosmetics. My interior held up great. But the paint may have well been water color. Almost all GM paint jobs were bad at the time. But the X cars has the ability to deteriorate faster than others.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      I remember screwing up a bunch of X body cars up while we calibrated a new robot. I ran down the line writing down the job numbers. Then took the list to the guy in charge of final and showed it to him. “Don’t worry about it kid, the dealer will take care of it”. Then there were the times they cranked up the line speed. The guys on the line couldn’t keep up and do their job right. Didn’t matter. Back then, GMAD plant managers got bonuses for production, not quality – or so I was told.

    • 0 avatar
      rise2it

      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 :-)

  • avatar
    laserwizard

    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?”

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