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Metal to Rust

1953 Buick Skylark


The sporty, posh 1953 Buick Skylark was a specialized Detroit car that expressed the unbridled optimism of early 1950s America. An exclusive car from a jazzy auto era, it was a factory customized convertible with Buick's first high-compression V-8.

The limited-production Skylark helped celebrate Buick's 50th anniversary. It arrived when prosperous General Motors Corp. was presenting gorgeous one-of-a-kind auto show concept cars. GM also offered the low-volume, factory customized 1953 Cadillac Eldorado and Oldsmobile Fiesta convertibles, which also were highly desirable.

The $5,000 Skylark cost a lot but outsold those two other GM cars combined. Its sales totaled 1,690 units, although the Skylark was nearly twice the price of a regular Buick convertible and was by far the most costly Buick.

Skylark sales were a drop in the bucket, compared with sales of other 1953 Buicks. But the special car created a publicity bonanza for Buick, which was a symbol of upper-middle-class affluence. Where else could you get an auto that could pass for a Buick auto show concept car?

The Skylark had flamboyant GM head stylist and Buick lover Harley Earl written all over it. It had better styling than the Eldorado and wasn't overdone like the Fiesta.

The Skylark was based on the big 1953 Buick Roadmaster convertible, which was too big and bulky to be called a sports car. Despite that, Buick called the new 4,315-pound Skylark a sports car. Most Americans were unfamiliar with genuine sports cars in the early 1950s, which handled far better than domestic cars, so  they accepted Buick's description of the Skylark--if only because it sat low with sporty lines and wire wheels used on imported sports cars.

Buick followed the tricks of auto customizers in giving the Skylark drastically lowered bodysides, a big dip in the "shoulder line" along the door and a Roadmaster windshield lowered 4 inches.

The car also had bold open red or white wheel wells filled by sparkling Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels made to Buick specifications and carrying red, white and blue "50th anniversary" emblems in their hubs (also repeated in the horn button).

The Skylark lacked Buick's trademark front fender "portholes" to keep its styling clean, but had discreet special bodyside emblems ahead of the rear wheels.

New Detroit auto gadgets were all the rage, and the Skylark's fabric top that retracted out of sight under a metal cover was considered a wonder.

The Skylark set the pace for future mass-produced Buicks, with its wraparound windshield, full wheel openings and a two-way chromed "sweepspear" that began at the front wheels and dipped sharply ahead of the rear ones before "jumping" over them and ending near twin "bullet" taillights on each rear fender.

Skylark buyers naturally expected lots of luxury--and they got it: There were soft-tanned two-tone cowhide seats, and the owner's name was engraved on a gold-colored emblem plate on the steering wheel hub. Every conceivable accessory at the time was standard, including tinted glass, whitewall tires and power seats, windows, steering, brakes and top.

There was even a "Selectronic" signal-seeking radio with a power antenna and a floor-button control that changed stations. Adjusting a "more/less" knob stopped the radio at more or fewer stations.

The Skylark was powered by Buick's modern new "Fireball" V-8, which replaced the automaker's venerable inline eight-cylinder engine that had all cylinders set in a row. The 322-cubic-inch V-8 had a four-barrel carburetor and generated 188 horsepower and lots of torque at a low 2,400 rpm for instant response.

There was far less traffic in the early 1950s, and the Skylark could cruise all day at 100 mph if its owner lived in states with wide-open roads.

It would be difficult to find a Skylark that isn't in really good condition because owners know exactly what they have. A Skylark was valued as of August 2009 in good  condition at $99,750 and in excellent shape at $185,125, according to the Cars of Particular Interest Collectible Vehicle Value Guide.

The 1953 Skylark arrived before most factory customized cars became too expensive to create in a mass-production auto market. Few have been built to match that Skylark.

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