Story and photos by Bill McCleery
Scott Starkey’s 1966 Buick Skylark takes him back to when he was in kindergarten. That was in 1969 — the same year that his parents, Bob and Maxine, acquired the Buick from an Indianapolis dealership. They became the car’s second owners.
The parents of two kids traded in a 1967 International Travelall “with brakes that always squealed,” Starkey said. “My mom never liked it because my dad could never get that noise to stop.” So they made a vehicle-and-cash transaction that yielded two “new to them” vehicles — the Skylark and a 1966 Chevy Impala station wagon.
The Buick convertible was purchased for Maxine to drive whereas Bob adopted the Chevy station wagon as his commuter car and family hauler.
“Mom drove me to kindergarten in the Skylark from the fall of 1969 into the spring of 1970,” Starkey recalled. “I remember sometimes we would go get lunch at the Burger Chef (a fast-food chain restaurant that operated from 1954 to 1996). I would get my plain hamburger, and she’d get a cheeseburger. And we would share a strawberry shake.”
Later, Starkey’s sister, Cris, drove the Buick to high school. After about the mid-1970s, he said, the car sat in a garage much more often than it was on the road.
“They decided to keep the convertible, because the rumor was the car companies were going to stop making convertibles, and they wanted to have one,” he said. “It got shuffled to the back of the garage. It wasn’t necessarily forgotten, but for 20 years it was largely ignored. It was taken care of, but just sat there collecting dust. It seemed like we were always trying to find a place to store it.”
As a teenager, Starkey was not allowed to drive the car, he said.
“Mom and Dad saw the way I drove my own cars and thought I was a little rough on them,” he said. “They didn’t want me to tear that one up.”
The Buick had a little more than 20,000 miles on it when Starkey’s parents bought it. Its mileage had only reached the 60,000-mile range by the time they signed it over to Starkey in 1994 after he expressed a strong interest in owning it. “Now it’s been in my possession as long as it was in theirs,” he noted. The odometer is currently approaching 73,000 miles.
Even at a young age, Starkey appreciated the Skylark’s attractive lines and smooth drive. And he liked the feel of the sunshine and wind when traveling down the road with the top down.
As a kindergartener, he probably didn’t appreciate the technical details such as the 300-cid V-8 engine that produced 210 hp and 310 lbs.-ft. of torque.
As a 56-year-old adult who still owns the car all these years later, however, he knows the car inside and out.
“The transmission is a two-speed automatic,” he said. “Buick called it a Super Turbine. It’s just a Powerglide with a switch-pitch torque converter.”
Buick Club of America President John Steed said Starkey’s model is a desirable specimen.
“Convertibles are always popular with collectors,” Steed said. “And all the General Motors mid-sized cars are well-liked — the Skylark, certainly, along with the Chevrolet Chevelle, Oldsmobile Cutlass and Pontiac Tempest. And the family connection ... just makes it all the more special. Many people are drawn to what their parents drove when they were young.”
In 2007, Starkey took the car apart to give it a new paint job in its original color of Astro Blue Poly. He removed the body panels, engine and interior. He also replaced the white convertible top with a black one. The work came naturally to Starkey, who estimates he has restored or painted 20 cars over the course of his lifetime.
“I almost regret repainting it because nowadays you always hear how they’re only original once,” Starkey said. “And it was really just fine in its original paint, but it was a little bit faded with a few little scratches here and there.”
He cherished the project, however, because it developed into a joint venture involving his son, Ethan, who was 8 years old at the time. His wife, Crystal, and daughter, Clara, also share an appreciation for the Skylark and its history. In keeping with the family tradition, Starkey drove his own two kids to kindergarten a few times in the Buick. They are now both adults.
“Ethan has developed his own interest in cars over the years,” Starkey said. “The older I get, the more I appreciate the stories of the people associated with old cars even more than the cars themselves and all the technical details. It’s neat to see how people share memories and form friendships over a shared interest in these old cars. Obviously, they often become part of family lore like this one.”
Starkey’s father passed away in 1997. His mother, now 87, got to see the car refurbished to its former splendor.
For a while, Starkey drove the Buick to car shows and cruise-ins. In time, however, he grew tired of hobbyists who liked to inspect it with a critical eye and point out every little flaw they could find. “Those kinds of people take the fun out of things, in my opinion,” he said. “I am already critical enough with myself concerning my own work. I don’t need someone telling me they found a blemish somewhere.”
Although he doesn’t attend car shows as often as he once did, Starkey has found himself driving the Buick more frequently in recent months.
He’s open to parting with it someday, he said, since his own kids seem ambivalent about whether they want to own it.
“But I’d have to find a home for it,” he said. “I would have to interview the person who was buying it. I would have to find the right caretaker.”
Meanwhile, he knows what will always trigger his kindergarten-age memories of riding in the Skylark with his mom.
“We don’t have Burger Chef anymore,” he said, “but whenever I get a strong smell of those charbroiled burgers and strawberry shakes you get at Burger King, it takes me back to those memories of getting lunch with her.”
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