Bargain Buicks

A nybody who likes old cars knows that prices for Chevelles, 4-4-2s and GTOs have gone through the roof, especially if they’re from 1968-’72. Even Buick Gran Sports, which used to be the last of the moderately priced GM intermediates, are bringing top dollar. But don’t fret, ’60s GM lovers, for there is an alternative available at a fraction of the cost of a Chevelle ‘ the Buick Skylark and Special.

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Buick’s new-for-’64 Skylark and Specials were bigger and more traditionally engineered, but they were certainly fashionable automobiles. Even though Skylark prices originally eclipsed those of equivalent Chevelle, LeMans and Cutlass body styles, the Buick is now one of the least expensive of the four. The 1964 Skylark Sport Coupe pictured here is bargain-priced today.

    Skylarks from 1964-’67, even hardtops and convertibles, can be found at very reasonable prices. The only difference is that the belt in the back that one feels when hitting the loud pedal in one of those other GM monsters is dulled a little with the small-block Buick engine.

    In 1964, the General Motors A-body was hooked up to the air compressor for its redesign and made larger. In comparison to the trim compacts of the previous three years, the Skylark was larger everywhere. The wheelbase was up to 115 inches, and all of its major dimensions were increased. GM let a little air out of the cars in regard to their engineering specifications. Compared to the revolutionary rope-drive, rear-transaxle Pontiac Tempest, turbocharged Oldsmobile F-85-based Jetfire and all-aluminum V-8-powered Buick Special, the new intermediate-size cars were nothing more than front-engine, rear-drive solid-rear-axle highway cruisers. However, even though they were larger in every way, they were still smaller than the full-size cars, and all sported trim new looks that kept sales strong. And engineering prowess was shown in other ways, beginning with the 1964 Skylark.

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Skylarks went little changed in 1965. The convertible carried a base price of $2,842 when new. Today, a driver-quality example, like the slightly damaged convertible pictured in this factory photo, can be found for around $10,000.

    Standard-equipped ’64 Skylarks carried a 225-cid all-iron V-6, which had been increased in displacement from the previous 198 cid. The new optional engine, and the big powertrain news for Buick, was a 300-cid V-8 that shared bore-and-stroke dimensions with the 225-cid V-6. Aside from the number of cylinders, the big difference was the aluminum heads and water-heated aluminum intake manifold of the 300-cid V-8. Mated to this new engine was a new Super Turbine 300 two-speed automatic transmission, which was shared with the Pontiac Tempest and Oldsmobile Cutlass lines. It is sometimes called a Powerglide by enthusiasts, but the Super Turbine was a different transmission that will not interchange with the Powerglide. The big news for Buick was the Switch-Pitch feature, which allowed an electric solenoid to “switch the pitch” of the torque converter stator blades, giving added torque multiplication. Magazine articles of the day said it felt like a three-speed automatic, but this author disagrees, as the Super Turbine in his car feels like a two-speed at all times.

    The 1965 models were given new trim, a new grille and Skylarks were given full-width taillights to distinguish them from 1964 models. The 225-cid V-6 and 300-cid V-8 stood pat as engine choices, but the 300 received iron heads and an exhaust-heated iron intake manifold. The four-barrel model also was given a lower compression ratio of 10.25:1, compared with the 11:1 of 1964. It was the only year of the iron four-barrel manifold on the 300, and considering there are no aftermarket manifolds for this engine, it is highly sought after.

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For 1966, Buick Skylarks and Specials received a new body with more bottle-shaped lines.

    The big news for 1965 was the introduction of the Gran Sport model with the 401-cid nail-head engine. It was a 325-hp monster, but like most muscle cars today, it commands a higher price than its more sedate stable mates. Nevertheless, the Gran Sport had the same optional transmission choices, including a three-speed manual, rare four-speed manual and heavier-duty Super Turbine 300 with a special nail-head bellhousing pattern. It also featured a beefed-up convertible frame and stiffer suspension.

    In 1966, Skylarks and Specials received a fresh redesign with a coved back window and all-new sheet metal. The 115-inch wheelbase remained, but a new engine option joined the fray ‘ the 340-cid V-8. The 225 cid and 300 cid stayed on the books, but the 300 cid was now only available as a two-barrel, low-compression engine. The 340 cid was a 300 cid with a taller deck and longer stroke, which means that the scarce four-barrel manifolds do not interchange between engines. Transmission, and drivelines stayed about the same for 1966. The Gran Sport option remained as well, with the tried-and-true nail-head engine in its last year of production.

    The last hurrah of the 115-inch-wheelbase Skylarks and Specials came in 1967, and aside from a new grille, taillights and some trim changes, the car was identical. The Gran Sport Skylark became known as the GS 400, because of its new 400-cid wedge-head V-8. This was a new engine design that would be used in various forms until 1976, and would provide the basis for the 455-cid Stage 1 rocket that many enthusiasts can no longer afford.

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When hardtop body styles were all the rage, Buick downplayed, but didn’t hide, the Special’s coupe status. This 1967 Buick Special was described as the “thin-pillar coupe,” and it was the least expensive Buick. This Special carries deluxe trim.

    If you’ve been talked into a beautiful new Buick project or driver, what are some problem areas to look for? First, look for rust, especially in cars that have been driven in salt. The trunk floors, passenger floors, sheet metal and frames can rust as badly as any other 1960s cars, if exposed to the elements. One area to check closely is the rear window channel, which collects dirt and water and will rust. Engine and driveline parts can be found through numerous Buick-only vendors, and many chassis parts can be found at the local auto parts stores, as much is shared with other A-bodies. Sheet metal is not reproduced, so NOS or good used parts are the only options.

    The author’s 1965 Skylark Sport Coupe has been an excellent road car, racking up 17,000 miles since being purchased for a “song” less than four years ago. It has the top-of-the-line 300-cid V-8 four-barrel and aforementioned two-speed automatic. The automatic can be easily swapped for a Turbo 350 with a Buick bellhousing pattern, if an owner is looking for extra performance. No matter what the engine, don’t hesitate ‘ buy your Skylark before somebody else does!

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