By on October 9, 2020

When was the last time you saw a Nineties Skylark? More relevant to today’s subject, when did you last see one in showroom condition? The answer to the latter question is probably during the Clinton administration.

But here we are in the just wonderful year of 2020, and somehow a stunning late model Skylark has survived. Let’s take a look.

The Skylark name had a varied history at Buick. Initially, it was applied to the luxurious Roadmaster in 1953, and represented the pinnacle of the Buick brand. At its debut, Skylark was a costly and limited production convertible and joined the ranks of the Cadillac Series 62 Eldorado. The expensive model didn’t sell well, so Buick dropped Skylark after 1954 and waited until 1960 to use the name again. This time Skylark became a luxury trim on the Special compact lineup.

By the mid-Sixties Skylark graduated into a midsize car and was its own model from 1964 onward. The fun lasted until 1975 when the compact, rear-drive X-body Apollo introduced in 1973 was remodeled and split into two lines: two-doors were Skylarks, and four-doors were the Apollo. Skylark switched to the front-drive X-body in 1980 and experienced further downsizing.

Sticking with front-drive, Skylark was modernized for the 1985 model year when it transitioned to the N-body. For the first few years there were again two model names, with two-doors as Somerset Regal, and four-doors as Skylark. This was revised in 1988, when Somerset was dropped.

For 1992 a new sixth-generation Skylark arrived, though it still utilized the N-body platform. Available as coupe or sedan, The Skylark’s debut design was marked by a very sloped front end that came to a point. It was meant to hearken back to Sixties Buicks but didn’t work. It was also punctuated by an extremely early Nineties marketing campaign with an abstract painter, here:

Initial engines were not as abstract in nature, and all Skylarks were powered by either a 2.3-liter I4 or 3.3-liter V6. This was adjusted in 1994 with the arrival of a 3.1 in place of the 3.3 (both engines were 160 horsepower). Further engine revisions for 1995 saw the 2.3-liter Quad 4 change from SOHC to DOHC, which increased power from 120 to 150 horses. Until 1995 only a three-speed automatic was available, but a four-speed arrived that year as an optional extra on the four-cylinder and standard on the V6.

Toward the end of its life, the Skylark was refreshed away from its artistic and pointy look. The entirety of the front clip was softened and took on a more Century-like appearance. Likely this meant 96-onward Skylarks were less subjected to parking lot bumps at the front – no more pointy protrusion. The hood was also reshaped and smoothed to ditch its power bulge. Other changes that year included the replacement of the 2.3-liter engine with a 2.4 of the same 150 horsepower. The three-speed was finally discontinued for ’96.

The final year Skylark was sold to consumers was 1997, as minimal changes marked the model’s permanent exit from the Buick lineup. The coupe was canceled for Skylark’s final year in 1998, as the sedan was relegated solely to fleet order status. Buick didn’t think that its image was in line with the compact car segment anymore, and steered clear until the Verano’s introduction in 2012.

Today’s very late Custom (base) trim Skylark was purchased in Pennsylvania in March of 1997 and passed to its second owner in December 2019 with 4,970 miles on the odometer. The second owner drove about 10,000 miles in eight months and then traded it off to a Nissan dealer in Cincinnati. This V6-equipped beauty is yours for $5,995.

[Images: seller, Buick]

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62 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Nearly-new 1997 Buick Skylark Coupe...”


  • avatar

    Maybe I’m a sucker for 1990’s GM mediocrity. I always had a strange desire for these, along with the Acheiva and Grand Am, in high school. The styling on the refreshed models was simple, clean, and uncluttered (something that can’t be said about today’s cars) and the interior ergonomics and presentation were a huge improvement over the ’92 Skylark (that strangely, the 2000 Ford Focus paid homage to)

    If I didn’t already have too many cars in our collection at home, this would be a tempting purchase to preserve

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Who does the research for these articles? The 1953 and 1954 Skylarks were limited, low-production vehicles, not a volume compact (’62-’63) or intermediate (’64 and later). The ’53 was radically styled, with exaggerated front wheel openings and a cut-down windshield. The ’54 was less radical, but rarer.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @dukeisduke: I would ask if you actually read the article, as the author did mention it was a special, limited, edition for ’53. Granted, it wasn’t much of a notation but you’re not exactly disputing what he wrote.

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        @Vulpine: A fair point. The ’54 only sold about half the number of units (798) compared to the ’53 (1690). And actually I had it somewhat backwards – the ’53 had a cut-down windshield, but the ’54 had the radical fender openings, front and rear. The ’53 is less than five feet tall with the top up. I own a copy of “The Buick: A Complete History” (Third Edition, 1987), written by Terry B. Dunham and Lawrence R. Gustin (Automobile Quarterly Press). The Skylarks are covered on pages 259-260. The ’53 was based on the Roadmaster, and unveiled as Buick’s “answer to the European sports car” (1953 was Buick’s 50th anniversary, so the Skylark was the halo car for their celebration). For ’54, the Skylark switched to the shorter Century platform, with a 3.5 in. shorter wheelbase. I believe it didn’t sell as well because it too radical, turning off buyers, especially Buick buyers.

        • 0 avatar
          la834

          Also, the 1985 Skylark still used the X body (its last year, and only the 4 door sedan was offered). The 1986 was the first N body Skylark, and the 2 door was now the Somerset (no longer Somerset Regal). The Somerset later (88 IIRC) was called Skylark as well.

      • 0 avatar
        cardave5150

        Reading for comprehension is a gift that not everyone is blessed with….

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Isn’t that exactly what Corey said in the second paragraph?

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Many reasons to like it; many reasons to NOT like it. I was much happier with my ’85 LeSabre “T-type” than I would be with this Skylark, despite its condition. Would rather have that “T-type” back but very likely to be impossible to even find one in decent condition today.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    My 90s GM fetish is a V6 powered Beretta GT manual with the BBS style mesh wheels.Or a DOHC V6 Grand Prix manual.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      The 3.4 DOHC V6 that was available in the Grand Prix, Monte Carlo and Cutlass Supreme was a problematical engine.
      The 3800 SC was a far better engine, all hail the church, however no manual was available.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        The LQ1 was very a “GM” move. Ok, we have this great existing drivetrain but let’s spend $250m and develop a similar DOHC and only put it in a fraction of trims/models in case we screwe it up. Because we can learn and shiznits.

        • 0 avatar
          MRF 95 T-Bird

          I once looked at a nice well maintained Monte Carlo with the 3.4 DOHC V6. Then I read a few reviews and forums and said, nope not worth the potential repair bills.

          • 0 avatar
            ponchoman49

            I had good luck with all 3 of my 3.4 DOHC V6 equipped W-body cars. My 1994 Cutlass sedan had over 100K on it with only a new timing belt as the only thing done to the engine. My 1995 Cutlass coupe and 1996 Lumina LS sedan were flawless right up to 90-100k before I sold them. From what a few dealers told me was that this engine was harder to work on and when something did go wrong it was more expensive to repair thus the bad rap. As far as the engine itself it didn’t seem to suffer from head gasket or bottom end issues and some were not well versed on timing belt replacements.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    These, along with the Achieva, were almost universally panned by reviewers. Knock it down to $1995 and it would make a good winter beater, or, like the ads used to say, a “good school or work car”.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      I rode in the back seat of one once (friend’s rental car) and I was unimpressed. I came away with the impression that they were only barely big enough to not be called a 2+2 (regardless of the number of doors). The sides of the car sloped inward above the window line and the rear seat headroom was tight if your sitting height was even slightly taller than average- even with the “almost sitting on the floor” seat design. Nice looking car from the outside (the grill styling notwithstanding as that is very much subjective) but for that back seat, form won out over function.

      • 0 avatar
        ttacgreg

        Rode in my aunt’s early year four cylinder model that had the front end like the green one above. I was struck by how noisy both the motor and road noise was, and how unrefined harsh) the ride was. My 2000 Corolla had a far more Buick soft and quiet ride than this thing, even if the interior looked more austere.

  • avatar
    geo

    A typical example of a GM from this era. Mediocre but inviting, oddly attractive and compelling, with a good drivetrain.

    I can imagine that the torquey 3.1 and comfortable ride in this lightweight car would cause me to overlook most of its deficiencies, much like the Corsica I once owned.

    I seem to remember odd paint from this era of GMs, like low-grit sandpaper.

  • avatar
    ajla

    If it was a 3300 and not Grandma Beige then maybe $3000 assuming everything works.
    The only 60-degree I’ve ever liked were the 2.8 and 3.9.

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    If I recall correctly, the pointy front end of the Skylark was meant to reference classic Buicks of the 1930s, not 1960s.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Yes, specifically the 1939 Buicks, which were themselves the victim of a controversial cost-cutting measure (Google “1939 short frame Buick”). It’s covered on pages 208-209 in my Buick history book. Here’s a link on Mac’s Motor City Garage:

      https://www.macsmotorcitygarage.com/a-historic-gm-blunder-the-1939-short-frame-buicks/

      Buick president Harlow Curtice decreed that their had to be a 10 percent reduction in the cost of every piece used in the 1939 models, which resulted in the short-frame Series 40 and 60 cars. First, Fisher Body was directed to strengthen the bodies to add support, but that didn’t work. Finally, the frame was redesigned with an extension, as a running change in production, and a retrofit kit was developed for existing cars, which had to be installed by dealers as part of a recall. The Buick book relates that there were stories of customers getting down on their hands and knees in Buick showrooms to look under cars to see if the cars displayed had the short frame, or the extended one.

      Another consequence of Curtice’s edict was that the diameter of the shift rods for the new column-mounted “Handi-Shift” shifter were reduced from the 5/16″ specified by engineering, to 1/4″ in production. This resulted in bent and buckled shift rods, once winter arrived and the gear oil in the transmissions thickened, increasing resistance.

    • 0 avatar

      Feel like you guys are forgetting what Sixties Buick fronts looked like, especially things like the Riviera.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I drove quite a few N bodies working for Enterprise as a car washer in the late 90’s. The pointy nose cars were hideous and this refresh fixed that issue and nothing else. I can appreciate the time capsule this thing is and nothing else. At least its a V6. Look at the liftover and wasted space on the trunk opening!

    The Acheiva was the best variation in terms, but even in the context of time, the Alero and the cars that would replace the other GM siblings were much better cars.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    I owned a ’97 dark blue Skylark 4-dr that was a lease turn-in. Very nice, manual windows but a/c, cruise, good stereo. Never an issue for me and passed it on to one of my sons. An appliance, to be sure, but a pretty nice one. Solid and reliable.

  • avatar
    cardave5150

    Whenever I see a 6th-gen Skylark, I remember a Car and Driver review of the car, shortly after introduction. It described the styling as having “fish buoyancy.” Whatever the hell that is, it sums the pre-update version of this car perfectly.

  • avatar
    saturnotaku

    Coupe. Beige. Column shifter.

    DOES.

    WANT.

  • avatar
    watersketch

    No cupholders! Back in the day we had to buy those aftermarket cupholders from Pep Boys.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      @watersketch

      –Cars did not have cupholders then because people were actually able to go five minutes without needing to consume expensive bottled water, a Starbucks, or a MegaGulp. I long for those times.

    • 0 avatar

      There are cupholders, but they’re hidden. Like many GM sedans from this era, there’s a pair that flips out from the console/centre armrest. Actually, not a bad design for the time

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    At least the tires look new – they’re Douglas, a brand that Walmart sells.

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      I’m guessing that this thing had its original tires on it when it passed to the 2nd owner and the guy that put 10,000 miles on it treated himself to some Walmart cheapies.

      That being said I’m a huge fan of Walmart Douglas tires. I don’t put enough miles on my vehicles to justify expensive, long tread life tires because they’ll rot off before I use up the tread. I don’t even bother rotating anymore at oil changes. Every two years I rotate the rears to the front and put two new Douglas tires on the back. That way I’m never driving on tires more than 4 years old. As I recall, the last 2 I bought at Walmart ran me about $120 with installation.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      It’s also getting tough to find big name tires in sizes under 16”. My 89 Mustang takes 225/60/15, not an unpopular size in its day and the choices from the big names are limited now, unless you want to spend some money. And even then it’s tough. Coker will sell you repro Goodyear Gatorbacks at $300/tire for those seeking concours quality on a Fox Mustang for example.

      I think even the Firestone’s or Uniroyal Tiger Paws this would have had are largely gone.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Check with Coker Tires out of Chattanooga, TN. They specialize in tires for older vehicles. As I understand it, they have purchased the molds for several specific types so they can manufacture them as needed.

  • avatar
    redgolf

    I’ve owned 2 Skylarks, a one owner 68 2 dr beater I bought off a guy at work for $300, the timing chain went out the first day I drove it ( nylon coated chain )and a 72 Custom I bought off a car lot in Kentucky in 1980 for $1000, beautiful car, drove it 2 1/2 years then sold it to a dealer for $1600!

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Actually, wasn’t it a cam sprocket with nylon-coated teeth? That’s what my ’68 Bonneville had. It was meant to make the chain run quieter, but with age and heat, the nylon would harden and become brittle, then start to disintegrate, dropping bits in the oil ban (Pontiac V8s used a cast aluminum timing case, with the bottom open into the front of the oil pan).

      Usually you got plenty of warning to replace parts before something bad happened, like the chain jumping, since the chain would get slack and start slapping against the inside of the case (a clicking or clacking noise).

      A friend and I fixed it, replacing the chain and both sprockets, along with the timing case gasket and front crank seal, and changing the oil and filter, to get any bits that fell down into the oil pan from the cam sprocket, and during the repairs. The replacement cam sprocket was just cast iron, with no nylon teeth.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    If I remember right, the three speed automatics in the early versions of this car had a lockup torque converter in lieu of an overdrive fourth speed- a decision that big GM made for many of their cars back then. The older three speeds were (relatively) more reliable in service than the newer four speeds, but the market demanded better highway mileage. Once GM figured that they had ironed out enough bugs in their four speeds for this size of car, then the three speeds disappeared from the option sheet.

    Or something like that.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Yes, and they had a problem with some, where the the torque converter wouldn’t unlock, so for example, you’d come off the freeway, down the exit ramp and come to a stop, where the engine would stall, like a manual when you forget to push in the clutch. A friend with an early ’90s Cavalier had that problem. It was a related to a fluid passage or a valve, IIRC.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Not sure about salt use or winter in Pennsylvania. Possibly the 2nd owner who put on 10,000 miles in 8 months started to experience issues. After travelling less than 5,000 miles in the previous 22 years the vehicle might have issues with rust underneath, including fuel and brake lines. Probably dry rot on the tires, although they look OK all shined up in the picture. Would need a replacement of all fluids. Probable issues with the drying out or cracking of gaskets and rubber including seals, and even the plastic in the dash, although there looks to be copious amounts of ArmorAll used.

    So the 2nd owner might have ‘bailed’ rather than putting in the required maintenance.

    Our inherited Buick suffered from the above, primarily due to lack of use by the original owner. And although it was a 2005 the instrument panel was eerily similar to this one’s.

    If none of the above are problems then at that price it could make a nice 2nd or 3rd vehicle for a family.

    And it is always nice to see a survivor from an unloved or mundane model. Would like to see what Crabspirits could do with this.

  • avatar
    lstanley

    I have great memories of my buddy’s Buick Skylark. We were both living in Palo Alto for the summer and he found his girlfriend was cheating on him. We packed up the Skylark in the morning after she left for work, phoned in our immediate resignations, and hit the road without even a good bye.

    We went from Palo Alto to Truckee, where is snowed. Then we made it to Reno where we gambled away too much money, had my first Fat Tire beer somewhere in Wyoming or Colorado,finished a massive steak in Nebraska,and ended with just enough gas money to make it to Chicagoland where we couch surfed the rest of summer.

    That car got us everywhere and everywhere in between without even a hiccup. White with the red velour interior. It was magical. Exactly what college summer is supposed to be about – a series of ridiculous adventures made better via one of the silliest looking cars ever designed.

    Somewhere on that trip the K fell off the passenger door and the car got it’s final name. Buck Skylar.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Sanitized!

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Skylark, I find your lack of 3800 disturbing.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I kinda liked the pointy nose version of these, but I am staunchly opposed to any car other than full-sized having the rear wheel openings skirted. And that full-sized exception stops right around 1990.
    What a hideous design choice.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    I would like very much to sit in this vehicle to confirm my suspicions about those seats (seventh picture, and last picture).

    Here are some popular current office chairs:
    https://tinyurl.com/y2ffbp22

    Which has evolved more in the 23 years since 1997 – the office chair in your typical home office, or the driver’s seat in your typical GM vehicle?

  • avatar
    AlexMcD

    They never show the underside. My kid bought a 2000 Century, 46k miles, underneath it was a graham cracker front to rear. All the lines broke at a touch. Wisconsin eats cars.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Was never a fan of the N-Bodies but have to admit, I’m surprised at the number of Grand Ams, in particular, I see still soldiering on in the land where 90s vehicles don’t die.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    A simpler time for sure and one had so many choices that are completely lacking today. We sold a pile of these little N-body cars and besides the normal high mileage neglected 3100 intake issues were pretty decent cars for the lower cost commuter. I spent a good amount of time in a green 4 door 1997 Skylark with the 3100 and was impressed how smooth and zippy that engine was and the mileage was impressive with one long trip seeing nearly 38 MPG! The fact we still see these in the salt belt of Upstate, NY says a lot.

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