GM’s ’70s downsizing first cut back the footprint of its big rear-wheel drive cars. Then it converted compacts like the Skylark to front-wheel drive.
The Cutlass is an example of downsizing on a then-common rear-wheel drive platform. The Cutlass gave an extra nod to tradition by retaining a full frame underneath, rather than switching to the lighter unibodies favored by Ford and others.
The Skylark is an example of the later phase of GM downsizing, which switched to front-wheel drive and a light-weight unibody.
The Skylark is one of the X-cars, which spread the new designs across four of GM’s divisions. After years of Detroit excess, the X-cars were thrillingly rational and practical, and their tidy packages were exactly right for the stagnant economy surrounding their April 1979 debut.
It’s a shame that X-car durability fell so far short of the platform’s promise. Skylarks, Omegas, Phoenixes and Citations are getting pretty thin on the ground, but one continuing mark of the junked X-cars we’ve seen is the remarkably low mileage at which they expired.
This Skylark had less than 62K on the clock.
This old-school odometer has only six digits, so we don’t know if it’s flipped to actually be 162K. On the one hand, the driver’s seat is lightly worn; on the other, the nicked doorjamb has seen many ins and out.
On the other hand, it appears from the body damage that this Skylark still worked hard for the money.
When it debuted in 1979 as a 1980 model, a base Skylark Limited V6 started at an adjusted-for-2017 $19,700. That price held remarkably steady; this 1985 works out to having almost the same exact 2017 value.
The Limited sold about half of the cheaper Skylark Custom’s volume. The Custom would have knocked off about $1,300 from this Limited’s adjusted price.
The full vinyl roof would have been a $370 option…
and this Limited sports opera lamps in the C-pillar.
This Skylark’s V6 engine was a massive improvement over the base Iron Duke four-cylinder, and it carried an adjusted $600 premium.
The wire wheel covers cost an adjusted $435.
Inside, this Skylark was pure Buick, with a massive instrument panel and flat-planed presentations.
We see from the skeletal instrument panel that this Skylark had the $110 extra gauge package.
The misaligned glove box door reminds us of Malaise Era quality, when it seemed like a glovebox that closed with a uniform gap was just impossible.
Optimus was a Radio Shack brand. Radio Shack is gone, and so are cassettes. Still, this was probably a nice upgrade from the Skylark’s factory radio.
The Limited’s door panels were trimmed with planks and strips of faux wood…
…and rather than side-impact airbags, Skylark Limiteds had side-impact logos. One good smack against that could give you a nice noggin imprint. And yep, there’s more Malaise Era quality here, with black screws and overlapping trim.
The year 1985 was X-car’s last. Phoenix and Omega ended in ’84, and the Skylark and Citation soldiered on through ’85. By then, their tooling had long been paid for, so the 93,157 Skylarks and 62,722 Citation IIs made in the final year – yep, the Skylark outsold the more mass-market Citation II in the final round – were undoubtedly profitable.
And so the X-cars continue trickling into junkyards with low mileage, and they’re a reminder of typical Malaise Era’s ambitions and failings.