By Brian Earnest
If they handed out a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for loyal attendees of the Iola Old Car Show in Iola, Wis,, Glenn Barnett would be high on the short list of deserving candidates.
And his stellar, and rare, 1953 Buick Skylark convertible would certainly be on the list of biggest crowd favorites at the show.
Together, Barnett and his beautiful Buick seem to perfectly represent what the car show has come to mean for many people: hard-working, blue-collar car nuts showing off the splendid cars they own and adore.
“I don’t have a lot of money,” Barnett jokes, after trying to rationalize how he has 12 cars, including the rare and coveted ragtop ’53 Skylark. “I’ve just worked hard to get what I have … I wanted a car like this and I guess I’ve worked really hard to get what I wanted.”
What Barnett, a resident of Beaver Dam, Wis., wound up with is a stunning, Reef Blue example of one of one of the most noteworthy and collectible convertibles of the 1950s, and probably any decade. Only 1,690 of the special two-door Model 76X Skylark convertibles were built for 1953. They were built to celebrate Buick’s 50th anniversary, and they were decidedly different from anything in the Buick menu for ’53, including their unique white- or red-painted fender wells (Barnett’s car has white), lack of Ventiport “portholes”, special sheet metal and wire wheels.
If there was anybody who deserves to bask in the glow of owning a top-condition example of such a car, it’s definitely Barnett. He’s certainly put in the time, effort and money over the years to be worthy of having the keys.
“I’ve been to every Iola show except the first one,” said Barnett. And a Skylark convertible has accompanied him to many of those 36 shows. He picked up his current car in 2002, but he’s had two others previously.
“I got my first one in ’72, and that one I never got done with,” Barnett said. “I sold that one and got another one, and that one I had the frame done and that one I ended up selling, too. Then, I ended buying this one, which I was able to get in a lot better condition because it was out in California so I didn’t have as much rust to contend with. This is my second one that's Reef Blue. The first one was Maroon.”
Barnett owns a fleet of other hobby cars and his taste in old vehicles runs the gamut, but nothing has tripped his trigger like the ’53 Skylarks. He’s been hooked on them since he was young.
“My dad had a '53 Buick Secial when I was a kid, and I can remember when I was about 10 years old we pulled up in a grocery story next to one of these (convertibles) and I didn’t know what it was,” Barnett said. “I thought it was a customized '53 buick and I was just gung-ho for the thing. I thought it was just beautiful. So I’ve always wanted a ’53 Skylark.”
“This one I had to put complete paint on it, re-chrome the bumpers, and I did some upholstery work. I put a new top on it last fall. But mechanically, it’s just about the way I bought it, so it’s been a real good car mechanically.
Under the hood is the 188-hp, 322-cid nailhead V-8 engine with a four-barrel carburetor. It’s mated to an automatic transmission that is paired with independent front suspension with live rear axle and four-wheel power assisted hydraulic drum brakes. Among the car’s special features are standard factory clock and Selectronic radio, power antenna, power top and windows, power steering, power brakes and power seats.
“I haven’t changed anything on it. About the only option on I think is the left-hand spotlight,” Barnett said. “These cars came with everything … But you couldn’t get air-conditioning. Buick had it, but they never offered it (in 1953) on the Skyark.”
The calling card of the ’53 Skylark, along with its striking grille, was its stunning, curvaceous design. When covered in Reef Blue paint, few cars from 1950s compare when it comes to “wow” factor. “Everybody loves it, and they really love the color. I do, too,” Barnett said. “I enjoy showing it. It gets lots of compliments, wherever I go … I drive it everywhere, I never trailer it. Mostly I drive it to the car shows. I only take it out to cruise in it once in a great while.
“For the Buicks, I think it’s probably the most sought-after and collectible Buick there is. I know it’s my all-time favorite car.”
MORE RESOURCES FOR CAR COLLECTORS FROM OLDCARSWEEKLY.COM