In an attempt to further separate it from the line while reducing its production costs, Buick opted for a different approach for the 1954 Buick Skylark: a Century-based Skylark on the "short" wheelbase.
Actually, it measured a half inch more between the wheels than the 1953 because of the all-new 1954 body design, which saw the Roadmaster/Super go to a 127-inch stretch, the Century/Special to a 122-inch span. So much for all the PR hoopla about the short engine allowing a reduced wheelbase.
Buick went to far more trouble with the 1954 Skylark than the car's anemic sales warranted. With all the 1954 hardtops and ragtops adopting full rear-wheel cutouts, differentiating the Skylark from ordinary models without extensive body alterations wasn't easy.
So the designers worked up trick features, such as deeply scooped fender cavities, some of which were painted red, and an exclusive sloping rear deck with humongous chrome-plated fins housing three-way-visible taillights, a feature inspired by the Wildcat II show car.
Once again, there was no committee review or appeal to higher authority -- the Buick guys just went ahead and did it. According to stylist Ned Nickles, the chrome fins were used because General Motors design chief Harley Earl liked them, and the Skylark in general.
The deck also carried twin ridges sloping down to meet small chrome-plated spacers between the deck and the bumper guards, and deck-mounted backup lamps.
The Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels and the special leather interior made a return appearance. New block-embossed seat and door panel inserts and a bodyside medallion were unique to the 1954 Skylark and are extremely difficult to reproduce today.
There were no significant engineering changes for 1954, although all Buicks switched to tubular front shocks in place of the traditional lever types. The convertible X-members were beefed up and the V-8 combustion chamber was reshaped, giving the 322 an extra 12 horsepower. In its highest state of tune, it cranked out 200 horsepower for the Roadmaster, Skylark, and, optionally, the Century.
Base price of the 1954 Skylark came in at $4,483, about $500 less than the much more highly modified 1953 -- and that seems to be the problem. Despite a 10 percent price cut, Buick's flagship still cost more than a Cadillac convertible. This put it in the wrong territory for a Buick, or any other make in a year when Cadillac so overwhelmingly dominated the luxury car field.
Neither did the Skylark compete well with lower-level convertibles. Except at the rear, the 1954 looked exactly like the Century, yet a Century ragtop cost 50 percent less. Furthermore, despite its use of the Century/Special body, the Skylark was no quicker than run-of-the-mill Buicks. A 0-60-mph sprint took about 12 seconds, while the top speed settled in at 100-105 mph, about the same as the 1953 model.
The Century was the real "hot rod" in 1954; with the same 200-horsepower engine available as the Skylark, the Century weighed up to 450 pounds less, which made a big difference in performance. Even the Century convertible weighed some 300 pounds less than the Skylark.
Buick management was so enthusiastic about the Skylark that they considered expanding the line. Read more about the debate on the next page.
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