Buick Skylark Gen 2
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
In the early 1960s more and more Americans were following the then current trend of ordering their cars with sports options - bucket seats, convertible tops, and four-speed floor shifts. Most of these items were being ordered on compact cars, not standard-sized ones. One of the more popular compacts was the Buick Special, and in the early 1960s the Special was the second-best seller in the Buick line-up.
With 30 per cent of all Americans buying compacts, the Special's popularity was one of the reasons Buick sales climbed from sixth place in 1962 to fifth during 1963. It was mid-year 1960
when General Motors introduced their trio of new compact cars for the 1961
model year. These shared the same chassis, engines (with some differences between the three models), and basic sheet metal, although each had unique front and rear styling and differences in exterior and interior trim. It shared the same chassis as the Pontiac Tempest and the Oldsmobile F-85.
Introduced in the middle of the 1961
model year and based on the basic Buick Special two-door sedan (also referred to as a coupe), the 1961
Buick Special Skylark had unique Skylark emblems, taillight housings, lower body side moldings, turbine wheel covers, and a vinyl-covered roof. It also featured a plush all-vinyl interior with bucket seats as an option. Instrumentation was minimal, consisting of only a speedometer and a fuel gauge.
The basic 1961
Buick Special came standard with a 215 cu in 3.5 litre all-aluminum block, V8 engine with a 2-barrel carburetor that produced 155 hp (116 kW) at 4600 rpm. The 1961
Buick Special Skylark came standard with a version of this same engine (optional on other Specials) that used a higher compression ratio and a 4-barrel carburetor to produce 185 hp (138 kW).
For the 1962
model year the Buick Skylark became a model in its own right, instead of being a subseries of the Special. The 1962
model used the same basic sheet metal as the 1961
models, but was available in two new body styles: a two-door convertible coupe (shared with the Special and Special Deluxe models) and a two-door (pillarless) hardtop that was unique to the Skylark. Tuning of the 215 cubic-inch V8 increased power to 190 hp (140 kW) at 4800 rpm.
The 1963 Skylarks
Buick Skylarks used the same chassis and wheelbase as the previous 1961
and 1962 models, but adopted new sheet metal that featured boxier styling. These newly skinned Skylarks were Buick's answer to the young at heart, who wanted sporty transportation plus luxury. In standard trim with a three-speed transmission
, the Skylark convertible retailed at US$2756, but by the time all the accessories were added it could easily top $4000, plus taxes. The Skylark came standard with an aluminium, ohv, 215-cubic-inch V-8 engine. Rated at 200 hp and putting out 240 pounds-feet of torque at 3200 rpm, it featured a five-main-bearing crankshaft, hydraulic valve lifters, a bore and stroke of 3.50 x 2.80 inches, and compression ratio of 11 to 1 – which meant you needed to use premium petrol ... or as the Americans would put it, gas.
The Skylarks came equipped with a four-barrel Rochester carburettor. Other Special models could be ordered with this same engine mounting a two-barrel carburettor. It had a 9-to-1 compression ratio and used regular “gasoline”. Horsepower rating of the less powerful V8 was 155 at 4600 rpm, and torque was 220 pounds-feet at 2400 rpm. The cast-iron V6 was also available in the Special, putting out 135 hp at 4600 and 205 pounds-feet of torque at 2400 rpm. Compression ratio was 8.8 to 1, and the V6 had a 3.625-inch bore and a 3.20-inch stroke.
A Real Performer
The 216ci V8 Skylark was, for the time, a real performer. It weighed 3055 pounds with a full tank and tipped the scales at around 3400 pounds. With its all-synchromesh Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed gearbox and a standard 3.36 rear-axle ratio, the convertible was good for 0-30, -45, and -60 mph in 3.9, 6.7, and 10.4 seconds respectively. The aluminium engine was willing to turn 6000 rpm in its first three gears. Shift points came at 49, 67. and 85 mph - all at 6000 rpm. In an era long before traction control, it was easy to provoke wheel-spin off the line when you were trying to put in fast times, but even so an average drive could attain a respectable 18 seconds flat through the quarter-mile and hit a top speed of 77 mph at the end of the run. The convertible, with the top and windows up, would wind out to a top speed of 103 mph, with the tacho sitting at around 4800 rpm – well below the red line.
The Skylark's four-speed box was perfect for normal driving, but really fast shifts were hard to manage, with third and sometimes fourth gears difficult to engage on fast acceleration runs. This was a normal quirk of gearboxes of the time – but there were a handful that were better nonetheless. So, under normal driving conditions, the box was smooth and easy to manage; it just refused to be forced. We suspect an optional Hurst shift linkage would have given more precise shifts. Cars equipped with the four-speed used a woven clutch facing, while the three-speed standard-shift cars used a moulded material. Clutch action was smooth and positive and owners claimed there was very little slippage.
On the Road
The four-speed transmission was a Buick Special option, which cost US$199.80 on the 1963
options list. A two-speed automatic
transmission was available for $189 - dubbed the "Dual Path Turbine Drive" it was a Buick design and shared no common parts with the Chevrolet Powerglide transmission. The standard transmission was a column-mounted three-speed unit that didn’t have synchromesh on first gear. It was adequate for average driving when judged on what people expected of the time – but would be considered woeful by today’s standards.
The Skylark was reasonably economical too – which was expected from a compact. It didn’t take too much effort to average around 16 mpg. Really hard driving would bring the mileage down to a low of 12 mpg, and highway cruising at legal speeds would raise that figure to around 20 – provided you were gentle. The Skylark had a soft boulevard ride, as did most GM compacts from the time, but this made it comfortable for both long or short trips. Coil springs were used front and rear in conjunction with direct-acting tubular shock absorbers. A link stabilizer was used at the front, and drive and torque were taken through control arms at the rear.
In a straight line, the ride was soft and comfortable, but in 1960s speak that meant the Skylark would leans way too much when cornered at above-normal speeds. In fact, some road testers found the lean so pronounced that the engine would starve for fuel as it leant over in a fast bend. Understeer was present but was never a problem provided you remembered to slightly over-inflate the tyres
- to 32 psi front and 30 rear instead of the factory recommendations of 22 psi all around and 26 for heavily loaded stations wagons. On wet pavement or on loose gravel roads, the rear end would break loose in a turn.
Behind the Wheel
The power steering
provided smooth action and good road feel, but at four turns lock to lock it required a lot of wheel turning on winding roads or when trying to recover from a skid. But lets not be too critical – given the manual steering took a whopping five turns lock to lock! The front bucket seats gave good leg and back support, and the driver's seat, with its four-way power unit, could be adjusted for rake, height, and leg room. The wheel was low enough to see over and high enough to allow plenty of clearance. The Skylark has plenty of room for five adults and plenty of boot space as well. All switches and knobs were within easy reach, and the car had enough nice features to assure a trip in complete comfort. Vents on either side let in plenty of fresh air, and the Special's heater was up to a North American winter – maybe even that of a Canadian winter.
The air conditioner was good too, judging by the comments of owners from California who claimed it was more than capable during the summer. It would have had its work cut out in the convertible, given that at highway speeds the top tended to “balloon” which meant it didn’t provide a very good seal for keeping the cool air inside. This air-conditioning unit was a US$35 option when installed at the factory. It was mounted up under the dash and was easy to reach – while not interfering with driver or passenger leg room as most under-dash units tended to do. The Skylark didn’t come standard with power brakes, but the non-power units very adequate when judged against the braking ability of cars from the ear.
Normal driving would not heat the drums up enough to cause fade, and even multiple emergency stop braking would induce little fade. Buick Specials used duo-servo hydraulic brakes
with 9.5-inch cast-iron drums, plus two-inch riveted linings in front and 1.75-inch linings at the rear, giving 123.77 square inches of effective lining area. For better handling
you could option stiff heavy-duty suspension
which consisted of heavier front and rear springs
and shocks and cost only US$10.76 extra when ordered on a new car. A Positive Traction differential was offered for US$43.04 - a desirable option for people who lived in cold climates – such as Canada. Superlift shock absorbers were another Buick Special option for those intending to pull trailers or carry heavy loads. Axle ratios of 2.78 (turnpike), 3.90 (mountain), and 3.63 and 4.30 (trailer) were available.