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Written by Double Dragon
Tuesday, 08 May 2012 10:09

1972 BUICK Skylark Custom convertible- Stretch & Kiera

oneownercollectorcar.com

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Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown. Buick paperwork copyright GM.

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The association between the Buick Skylark name and convertibles began in 1953 and ended in 1972, making Stretch's Skylark Custom convertible the last of the breed.

The Buick Skylark name first appeared on a specialty convertible version of the Roadmaster in 1953 and a high end convertible version of the Century/ Special in 1954. Buick resurrected these names when the 1961 compact Buick was named the Special. In mid year, deciding the Special needed some excitement, the Skylark name was applied to a jazzed up two door bucket seat version with more horsepower. This time the name no longer meant convertible, but it still denoted a premium model.

The Skylark name stuck with the Buick 'A body' right up until it was retired at the end of 1972. Skylark flew full circle to land on a compact again, this time the 1975 Apollo. The Skylark name once again meant higher horsepower, and a sportier two door version of the base vehicle. By this time the convertible was extinct and later incarnations of the Skylark name never applied to a convertible, making the 1972 Skylark convertible the last time the name equated with a convertible. The last Skylarks built finished their run in the 1998 model year.

The 1968 through 1972 version of the Skylark achieved its peak styling in the 1970 model year. The body 'spear' was dropped and the rear wheel wells were opened up. The car retained this form in 1971 and 1972. The lines flowed perfectly for three model years until 1973 when the new 'Colonnade' style 'A bodies' appeared. The new 'A body' was so changed that Buick deemed it necessary to drop the Skylark name, renaming it the Century. Also gone in 1973 was the 'A body' convertible.

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In early 1972 Stretch heard the rumors of the impending doom of the GM intermediate line of convertibles. Galvanized into action, Stretch hit the dealers in the bitter winter of 1972. Stretch is a dyed in the wool convertible lover and GM fan. At the time he owned a 1967 Chevrolet 327 dual exhaust convertible, but it was a used car. Stretch wanted a brand new convertible and spent some time comparing car dealerships and prices. Knowing that this was the last 'A body' convertible year he also anticipated the future desirability of any convertible 'A body'. Years later when the Skylark graduated from nice car to one owner collector car, Stretch was not at all surprised. He would have been surprised if the car HADN'T become regarded as a collectible car.

Stretch looked at all the 'A bodies': Chevrolet Chevelle, Pontiac LeMans, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and the Buick Skylark Custom. Stretch preferred the style of the dual sport mirrors on the Cutlass, but otherwise the Skylark was his pick. Years later he would transplant Olds mirrors onto his Skylark as can be seen in the photos above, but that's getting ahead of our story.

Once he was sure he wanted the Skylark Custom Stretch appeared at the Ernie von Schledorn Buick car dealership on the last day of the month. EVS, as the dealership is known locally, is located outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin at N 88 W 14167 Main Street in Menomonee Falls. EVS was and is a high volume dealer able to wheel and deal. To see a story about this dealership look in the DEALERSHIPS section of this website under Wisconsin dealers.

Frigid winter months are slow selling to begin with and end of the month creates a bit of panic. Stretch was the answer to salesman Jerry Schultz's prayers when he showed up leap day February 29, 1972. Salesmen like 'one more' sale at month's end to boost their statistics and are motivated to bargain. Jerry agreed to throw in a matched fifth mag wheel for the spare tire so that Stretch could rotate all five tires for maximum tread life.

Stretch managed to secure a fair price and put down a mere $10.00 deposit on his new car! He came back March 2nd with $90.00 to increase his down payment to a more substantial $100.00. Stretch later heard through the dealership grapevine that the ordering cycle for convertible 'A bodies' was stopped at the end of March. Stretch got in just under the wire.

Looking at production figures it is clear that the convertible was a rare bird at this time. The best selling 1972 Skylark was the 2 door hardtop with 84,868 produced.

Skylark 4 door sedan= 42,206

Skylark Custom 2 door hardtop= 34,271

Skylark 2 door coupe= 14,552

Sportwagon= 14,417 built.

Skylark Custom 4 door hardtop= 12,925

Skylark Custom 4 door sedan= 9,924

GS 2 door hardtop= 5,896

There were only 3,608 Buick Skylark Custom convertibles built. There were rarer Skylark derived cars built in small numbers. The GS convertible sold 645, GS 455 (1,099), GS 455 convertible (126). The GS 455 accounted for very small numbers now that the musclecar era was in decline with only 728 hardtops and 81 convertibles. The rarest of the 1972s was the GSX with a mere 44 produced. Given the average figure of 10% of cars surviving there may be about 300 Skylark Custom convertibles still in existence today.

Stretch chose B2 Blue with Black 128 interior, but didn't fall in step with typical convertible buyers who usually want buckets, console, sport shifter and the rally steering wheel. Stretch specified the front bench seat with column shift because he didn't want bucket seats. He intended to drive with the top down most of the time and needed room for three across the front. His experience with his Impala convertible had taught him that "No one wants to sit in the backseat of a convertible with the top down." Wind currents create an undesirable torrent of wind turbulence for rear passengers at speed.

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Stretch also didn't want to spend money on a sport wheel which served no actual purpose to him. "The standard wheel turns the car just as well." He was willing to spend extra for the gauge package which replaces the standard gas gauge/ idiot light combo. The optional package groups the fuel, oil pressure and temperature gauges to the left of the speedometer.

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To the right of the speedometer a clock came standard with the Skylark Custom model. Beside the clock a power top button was standard issue for the convertible.

Stretch enjoyed good radio sound from his 1967 Impala convertible which placed a rear speaker inside the middle of the rear seat projecting the sound forwards. See the story on the 1965 Bonneville in the ONE OWNER section for a photo of a similar set-up. Stretch wasn't pleased by the location of the speaker in his Skylark Custom. Stretch ordered AM radio with rear speaker, but the speaker was mounted on the rear package tray. The speaker was muffled under the convertible top when it was down, which was 95% of the time Stretch drove the car.

In the late 1970s the AM radio was replaced with an aftermarket tape player. A player was selected with matched tuning knob widths to preserve the dash holes. The original radio is in storage.

Stretch isn't a muscle car guy and didn't need the magnificent Stage 1 455, one of the last great surviving performance engines of 1972. Stretch preferred to save money and stick with the base two barrel 350 rated at 155 net HP with automatic transmission and a highway axle. Despite compression drop and smog additions this engine proved to be strong enough for sustained highway cruising, effortlessly pulling three adults and one week's luggage all day at 75 to 85 MPH. Top speed was an indicated 120 MPH on a deserted stretch of Interstate 10 in Northern Florida. That 120 MPH was achieved while on a road trip carrying passengers and luggage. That weight should impede the top speed, so the car might be capable of even more. We do have to bear in mind that 1970s speedometers weren't entirely accurate but it is an impressive performance.

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The engine has confirmed Russ's confidence, still running fine at 176,000 miles without ever being apart. It currently has slightly low compression readings on #1 and #7 cylinders and emits a tiny puff of smoke upon start-up. The base engine has been perfectly capable over the long haul.

The base convertible price of $3,478.64 inflated quickly with options despite Stretch being careful in his selections.

$215.00= Automatic Transmission
$113.00= Power Steering
$73.00= AM radio
$18.00= Rear Speaker
$32.00= Gauges and electric clock
$24.00= Protective Side Molding
$92.00= Chrome Wheels (the salesman sweetened the deal with a fifth spare no charge)
$24.00= Bumper Strips
$4,081.45= Total

$690.45 credit was allotted for Stretch's trade-in 1967 Impala convertible. Deducting this trade- in left him with $3,391.00 to pay on the Skylark Custom.

The convertible was built in Flint, Michigan March 21, 1972; a mere three weeks after the order went through. On April 6, 1972 Russ took delivery of his new car which arrived the prior day on a convoy truck.

After he picked up his new Skylark Custom Stretch drove 90 miles to a wedding. Stretch observed the break in procedures exactly. He cruised at 55 MPH and periodically let off the gas and accelerated again to vary the loads. This was Stretch's first new car and everyone at the wedding came out to marvel at his nice new convertible.

In the first week Stretch made a few alterations to his new car. He disconnected the seat belt buzzer which was a mandatory feature of all cars built after January 1, 1972. Stretch had the single exhaust tail pipe extended beyond the end of the bumper to prevent the chrome from being ruined by exhaust fumes. See the stories on the 1965 Bonneville and 1969 Grand Prix SJ 4 speed also featured in the ONE OWNER section of this website. Owners Gary and Frank also had extensions installed on their exhaust. Original owners think similarly! The photo below shows that Stretch has continued this practice to the present day.

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Stretch didn't order red striped or wide oval tires for his Skylark. He chose base factory black wall F78 tires in anticipation of ditching them immediately. In the first week of ownership, he drove over to Harry Tan Tires to trade his factory tires for a set of new raised white letter BF Goodrich low profile tires. Back in 1972, a 'low profile' tire was a 60 series tire. Stretch has always put 60 series raised letter BF Goodrich tires on the car. It now has a set of 245/60-14 radials on it.

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Stretch installed metal mud flaps on all four wheel wells to protect the paint. He retains this practice to the current day as seen in the picture below.

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Right from the first day, Stretch knew that the Skylark was going to be a summer driver only. Stretch anticipated the day that his convertible was going to be recognized as a collectible car. He drove a variety of 'beater' vehicles that got him through the salt laden streets of the snowy Milwaukee winters. For quite awhile his winter driver was a matching 1972 Buick Sportwagon which is based on the Skylark platform.

The Skylark Custom convertible spent each winter in storage from October until late May showers washed away all the road salt. The Skylark was housed in cold storage for the first two years. Stretch then found a heated garage with constant 62 degrees F. The Skylark is kept under a car cover with a shower curtain under the car to prevent moisture out of the concrete floor from rising up and rusting the undercarriage.

Despite winter slumbers and protective measures the convertible wasn't sitting out life in the sidelines. During summer, Stretch drove the Skylark for his rounds as a sales rep and on weekends the Skylark was taken on 200- 300 mile outings. The Skylark Custom also took Stretch on lengthy vacation road trips throughout the USA.

Most summer Fridays around 8 PM Stretch and a few friends jumped in the Skylark and headed up north to Waupaca, Wisconsin. Around 11 PM they checked into a cabin at the Waupaca Chain O Lakes. Rather than strain the engine and hassle with towing a boat, Stretch just rented a canoe when he got up there. His approach to every aspect of the car allowed him to enjoy it to the maximum without wearing it out prematurely. He has many fond memories of top down cruising to and from Waupaca and paddling on spring fed lakes.

Stretch took the Skylark Custom on multiple road trips to Florida and Las Vegas. He indulged his background in geology with trips to National Forests. The longest road trip he took was several weeks with a few friends, staying in various cities for three or four days at a time. Some of the places they hit were Des Moines, Kansas City, Dallas, Miami, New Orleans and Memphis. He recalls spending a week at the Texas State Fair on that trip.

The Skylark turned in 20 to 22 MPG at highway cruising speeds carrying two or three people and luggage. These impressive figures were accomplished even with the top down which creates a larger co-efficient of drag, making the engine work harder to push the car through the air.

The only road trip where there was any issue with the Skylark happened in Mexico. Stretch decided to cross the border from New Mexico. He was strolling through the streets of a border shopping town when a concerned Mexican man warned him that if his meter expired the car would be confiscated and held for ransom by corrupt officials. Thanking the man, Stretch sprinted back to the car with seconds left on the meter. Other than that tense moment, his travels were fun and trouble free.

The biggest incident involving the car happened right at home when the car wasn't even moving. On Oct 5, 1975 the Skylark Custom was parked on the street. The Skylark was three and a half years old and had travelled 41,576 miles without the slightest incident. A large specialized truck that paints the curbs came too close and put a crease through the driver's side fender. A good body man was able to rework the metal.

June 19, 1979 a dent in the nose was fixed. A drunk driver backing up an alley outside a bar dented it. On Oct 31, 1988 another drunk hit the front of the car, ruining the bumper strip. The part was no longer available and left off the car when the bumpers were rechromed later.

In 1984 despite careful use and storage in winter, the rear quarters were showing pinholes. Stretch began thinking ahead to the day he might need to restore the Skylark Custom. He found three NOS fenders in a local car dealership, and a third one from a dealership in St. Louis, Missouri. At this point in history Stretch was still ahead of the curve. Nice pristine Skylarks were merely regarded as fodder for GS restoration projects in the 1980s. There was still a ways to go before general collectible status would be conferred on original condition Skylarks.

Despite having the top down all the time, the interior of the Skylark survived in good shape. The drivers' seat had new foam put into it but the covers are all still intact. None of the seats split. The carpet was replaced, but the door panels are still pretty decent as seen below. You can see the 'Custom' badge above the door pull. The remote rear view mirror is actually an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme item. When the car was repainted, the mirrors were transplanted onto the car. This was the one feature of the Cutlass that Stretch preferred over the Skylark. Now he can have his cake and eat it, too.

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The rear seat was barely used and is still pristine. Exposure to sun hasn't faded or cracked the material. You can see the courtesy light shining when the driver's door is opened. The courtesy light and the rear armrest they are mounted in are part of the upgraded interior provided in the Skylark Custom model.

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The metal brake shaft has lost its paint and gained some surface rust. The original brake pedal rubber was replaced. The words "Disc Brakes" on the replacement pedal are misleading, because the car actually has manual drum brakes all around. The original gas pedal has held up well.

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The Skylark proved to be trouble free. Under warranty at 18,417 miles the Quinlevan Buick Inc. car dealership at 3501 W. Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee tightened up the flywheel. See a story about this car dealership in the DEALERSHIPS section of this website. Other than the flywheel, nothing out of the ordinary occurred during the warranty period.

Items outside of regular maintenance that failed at high mileage were minor. In 1986 at 122,000 miles the transmission vacuum modulator was resealed. In 1998 at 160,000 miles leaking valve cover gaskets were replaced. A couple of years later at 180,000 miles a window crank wore out and had to be fixed. In 2004 the left engine mount required replacement.

Until his shoulder acted up in recent years, Stretch did his own oil changes using Pennzoil 10W30. He changed it in spring and fall to coincide with the time he took the car out of storage and put it away, which worked out to 2,000 or 3,000 mile intervals.

Like several other one owners who know they will never sell the car, Stretch purchased lifetime warranties on high turn-over items. In 1982 his exhaust and muffler was replaced under a muffler shop lifetime warranty. He also continued his practice of having the tail pipe extend further out past the edge of the bumper to avoid blistering the chrome with the hot exhaust gasses.

The five B. F. Goodrich tires Stretch traded for in the first week of ownership lasted an extraordinarily long time. This was partly due to having a fifth mag wheel which allowed the fifth tire to be incorporated into the rotation plan. At 82,056 miles the second set of tires were put on the car.

After these tires began wearing out, Stretch simply switched the front and rear tires as needed. Doing this let him put larger tires out back but also sacrificed the longer wear he used to enjoy by rotating in the fifth tire. June 20, 1986 he put 245/60R14 sized B. F. Goodrich T. A. radials out back. May 11, 1992 those two rear tires were replaced with another pair of the big 245s. July 23, 1998 two front tires were replaced with 215/60R14 T. A.s. June 26, 2005 the two rear tires were replaced with 245s. At this point only four complete sets of tires had been used with the mileage at a whopping 165,000 miles.

Replacement intervals are listed below. Repairs instead of outright replacement are noted where applicable.

Water pump= 16 yrs/
Carburetor= 18 yrs (rebuild)/
Radiator= appx 15 yrs/ 23 yrs 156,000 miles (repair 2nd rad)/ 27 yrs 163,000 miles (recore)
Starting motor= 20 yrs/
Heater core= 24 yrs/
Shocks= (front only) 23 yrs 156,000 miles/ (all four) 27 yrs 163,000 miles 
Springs= (rear) 32 yrs

When the OOCC Skylark Custom was renewed at 25 years of age, a complete restoration wasn't necessary. Some major work was performed: bumpers were re-chromed, fenders were replaced, and the entire car was repainted. A new convertible top, front seat pads and carpet were installed.

The drive train wasn't touched, nor was the chassis/ underbody. The car just wasn't rough enough to justify a complete frame off restoration. At this point collectors finally recognized the collectible status of the Skylark convertible based on its own merits instead of as eyeing it as a basis for a GS clone. Stretch continues to drive his one owner collector car just like he always has, and he still puts it away every winter. He has found a nice balance between preservation and use in his long standing enjoyment of the last of the Buick Skylark convertibles.

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 31 March 2015 13:12 )