1953-1954 Buick Skylark

Buick Skylark Line Expansion
The 1954 Buick Skylark is a happy reminder of the days when automakers dared to experiment.
The 1954 Buick Skylark is a happy reminder of the days when automakers dared to experiment.

At the height of their enthusiasm, management did dabble with the idea of Buick Skylark line expansion, much as Cadillac would do in 1956 with the addition of the Eldorado Seville hardtop.

At least two 1953 Skylark hardtops were built, and at least one is alive and well in the hands of California collector Jim Ashworth. But these beasts looked rather curious because they used a conventional Riviera roofline and windshield. Somehow, that didn't mesh well with the ultra-low beltline, knocking the lines of the car out of proportion: too much greenhouse.

When general manager Wiles took aim at Plymouth and set out to build 600,000 or 700,000 Buicks in plants designed for 400,000 units, such luxuries as a multi-model Skylark line were quickly shelved. The production result, incidentally, was a third-place finish for Buick during 1954-1956. Unfortunately, a vast sacrifice in build quality from 1955 onward ultimately caused Buick's market penetration to fall to its lowest point since the 1920s.

Output of the 1954 Skylark was only 836 units, and Buick probably lost money on every one.

Yet, even the best management would probably have opted not to keep such luxurious toys as the Skylark in production. Limited edition flagships seemed to work in those days only for top-echelon makes, like Cadillac with the Eldorado. In Cadillac's market -- the one Cadillac would like to have back today -- price didn't much matter.

What mattered was snobbery, and the Eldorado reigned supreme as a status symbol. Buick buyers were solid, well-employed citizens, to be sure -- but they still wrote in the top halves of their checkbooks.

What Buick learned from its experience with the 1953-1954 Skylark was that the carriage trade was willing to pay for a name. But the name they were willing to pay for was Cadillac, not Buick.

The 1954 Skylark is today a rare and valuable collectible auto.

Spectacular failures have a way of remaining firmly stuck in the memory of enthusiasts, if not corporations. But Buick did remember the Skylark. In 1961, when Hint named its new compact the Special, it reserved the Skylark name for the Special's top-of-the-line coupe (which also had unique rear-end styling) -- this by a company that two years earlier had broken with the past by dropping Special, Century, Super, and Roadmaster in favor of LeSabre, Invicta, Electra, and Electra 225!

As a compact and then as an intermediate, the Skylark lived on. As late as 1972, Buick still issued press releases describing its current "popular intermediate car" as "the namesake of a special, limited production sport convertible built as part of the division's Golden Anniversary celebration."

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