Courtesy of Barrett-Jackson
This Motorama-inspired Buick Skylark has undergone a comprehensive nut-and-bolt restoration. It is finished in correct and desirable Reef Blue. Powered by a 322-ci V8 engine with automatic transmission, it’s fully sorted and ready to drive.  

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1953 Buick Skylark Convertible
Years Produced:1953
Number Produced:1,690
Original List Price:$5,000
SCM Valuation:$125,000
Tune Up Cost:$250
Distributor Caps:$50
Chassis Number Location:Hinge pillar post and dash under hood
Engine Number Location:On crankcase or cylinder block
Club Info:1953–54 Buick Skylark Club
Alternatives:1953 Oldsmobile Fiesta, 1954 Buick Skylark, 1953 Packard Caribbean
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 683, sold for $137,500, including buyer’s premium, at Barrett-Jackson’s June 21–24 Northeast sale at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT.

General Motors’ commitment to innovative and creative design was reinforced when Alfred P. Sloan and Lawrence Fisher hired Harley Earl in 1927 to head their new “Art and Colour” section.

In 1938, Earl created the sensational Buick Y-Job, a concept car whose design elements continued to appear in a variety of models two decades later.

This was an era when automotive executives, unhindered by committee decisions, had incredible power and control. Earl drove the Y-Job for many years as his personal car.

General Motors continued to promote their design capabilities with the Motorama exhibition, which was established in 1949. It was first held at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel and was called the Transportation Unlimited Autorama. More than 600,000 people viewed the seven special Cadillacs on display. In 1953, it became a traveling show, and a dozen or so special buses toured the country.

Custom touches for GM brass

During the 1950s, General Motors executives ordered personal cars that were altered to incorporate their individual design touches. It was an expensive perk, but GM felt the notoriety the cars received was worth the expense.

The tale as told suggests Buick General Manager Ivan Wiles wanted to build an American sports car that rivaled those being built in Europe. Wiles looked at the concept cars that had been created for the Motorama, and he also examined his fellow executives’ cars for ideas.

It’s a bit far-fetched to envision a 4,000-pound Buick as a sports car, but the American market had limited exposure to European sport cars — and their performance.

Charles Chayne, Buick’s chief engineer — and future GM chief engineer — oversaw the design of the XP-300, which he felt would be as “fresh” in the future as was Harley Earl’s Y-Job.

The XP-300 was a sensation at the 1951 Motorama. It was not practical to place a variation of the XP-300 in production, but the excitement it created reinforced the need for a sportier Buick. A prototype was created based on the 1952 Roadmaster, and plans were in place for the forthcoming Skylark.

The trio of 1953

A trio of GM specialty convertibles greeted the buying public in 1953: the Oldsmobile 98 Fiesta, the Cadillac Series 62 Eldorado and the Buick Skylark. The Skylark was part of Buick’s 50th Anniversary celebration.

The Skylark, which featured a V8 engine and a 12-volt electrical system — firsts for Buick — was the most successful of the trio, with 1,690 cars produced. However, at the sale price of $5,000, Buick lost money on each one produced.

Production continued into 1954, when only 836 were produced, simply because an executive liked the car. This was a far cry from today’s bean counters and endless committees.

A hand-built lead sled

The Skylark was really a hand-built car. The fenders, outer door panels and portions of the convertible top were special stampings. The inner door panels were made from the Roadmaster and were cut in half and welded back together in a jig that was set at an angle to get the desired door dip.

To achieve the lower stance, the frame was not altered, but the windshield was lowered three inches and the side windows and top were lowered. A great deal of lead filler was used, especially behind the doors.

The interior was finished with narrow pleated leather that was offered in four two-tone combinations. Roxpoint nylon carpeting complemented the leather, and the new foot-controlled Selectronic radio was standard equipment.

The dash was covered with Di-Noc, a diamond-patterned material, and a unique horn button in the center of the steering wheel — with the owner’s signature — celebrated the 50th anniversary of Buick.

Way up and way down

Skylark pricing over the past 10 years has fluctuated wildly. RM Auctions, at their 2007 McMullen Collection sale, hit the high-water mark when a 1953 Skylark realized $495,000.

In 2006, Barrett-Jackson, at their March Palm Beach sale, sold a 1953 Skylark for $383,400. It’s been downhill ever since. A review of SCM’s Platinum Auction Database showed that the last three reported sales were under $100,000.

The 1953 Skylark is an exceptional car in all respects. It offers sporty elegance and reasonable performance, but it is incredibly expensive to restore.

The hand lead work required when the car was produced must be duplicated, and the chrome bill for the “bucktooth” grille alone is staggering.

In my opinion, the 1953 Buick Skylark has hit rock bottom and is on the rebound. It is doubtful half-million-dollar sales are on the horizon, but cars selling in the $150,000–$200,000 range is certainly reasonable.

As such, if this example was truly “sorted” as mentioned in the auction description, the new owner will be in a position to ride the wave. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.)

Comments are closed.