There were just 836 Buick Skylarks produced in 1954. Each came fully equipped with leather interior, full power equipment, special ornamentation, and open wheel wells with Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels. This low-mileage example received a complete professional restoration, which was completed in 2003. It is finished in its original color, Condor Yellow.
This beautiful Skylark has received numerous awards, including “Best of Show” at the National Buick Skylark meet at the Petersen Museum in 2004. It was also judged a new “Gold Senior” at the Buick Club of America event in Dallas, Texas, where it scored 392 out of 400 total points. It is considered by many to be one of the finest in the country.
The SCM Analysis: This car sold for $181,500, including buyer’s premium, at the Russo and Steele Scottsdale sale on January 20, 2006.
The 1953 Buick Skylark was introduced as part of Buick’s 50th Anniversary celebration. It was designed by Harley Earl as part of the Roadmaster series, and its production was limited, with only 1,690 reaching dealer showrooms. Available only as a convertible, it was luxuriously appointed and not inexpensive, with a sticker of $4,355. It was the only Buick that did not have venti-ports—or port holes—on the front fenders, but that was minor compared to the other new features on the Skylark. The V8 overhead-valve, 322-ci engine produced 188 hp and replaced the staid overhead-valve straight-eight that had been under the hood of Buicks since the early ’30s. The new engine was only offered in the Skylark, Roadmaster, and the Series 50 Super, but it would be available in the entire Buick line the following year. Other firsts for Buick that appeared on the Skylark were power steering and brakes, as well as a power top.
The ’53 Skylark was an attractive car. Round wheel openings displayed the chrome, spoked Kelsey-Hayes wheels to good advantage, and the cut-down belt line accentuated the low, sleek appearance of the car. The interior was equally luxurious with full leather interior, Dy Nox padding on the dash, and the owner’s name engraved on a gold-colored hub on the steering wheel.
Buick claimed the Skylark was GM’s answer to the European sports car, but pushing 4,300 pounds around corners and a 0–60 time of over 13 seconds made their statements marketing puffery. Regardless, it was the most popular of the three 1953 General Motors image cars that also included the Oldsmobile Fiesta and the Cadillac Eldorado. The Skylark was priced almost a thousand dollars above the Cadillac convertible, but its sales were close to twice that of the Fiesta and Eldorado combined.
While not a bottom-line success for Buick, the model boosted Buick’s image and created traffic in the showroom for less-expensive models. The Skylark was to be a single-year offering, but Harley Earl was so enamored with his design that he continued it for 1954. Shifted to the slightly smaller Century chassis, it was redesigned—to the chagrin of most. The rear deck was tapered and big chrome fins were stuck on the rear fenders. The wheel wells were stretched back and painted in color. The changes did not sit well with the buying public and only 836 Skylarks left the dealer showroom in 1954.
Fans of the ’54 Skylark make the argument that their “rarity” makes them more desirable than the 1953s and thus at least as valuable, while others will state that they are rare for a reason: The styling is not as attractive, so sales were limited. One thing all can agree on is that the value of both ’53 and ’54 Skylarks has taken a major bounce the last few 59 years. So was the Russo and Steele sale of the Condor Yellow 1954 Skylark a market indicator or auction fever carried to an extreme?
If this sale represented “silly money,” so did the ’54 Skylark that Barrett-Jackson sold at West Palm in April of last year for $189,000. At the McCormick sale in February of last year, I watched a noted dealer buy a very nice ’54 that I had rated a #2 for $75,000 or so, take it back to Seattle, and after a fluff-n-buff, sell it for $175,000.
This brings us to the logical conclusion that the market for Skylarks is rapidly appreciating, and well-restored examples with pedigrees from national events will bring close to $200,000. The rising tide will lift all Skylarks, but before you run out and pay six figures for an example that only needs paint, chrome, an interior, and a little engine work, stop and consider the extraordinary cost of restoring one of these. If you want to have a presence at the national judging level, be prepared to write checks at least equal to what was spent for the car at Russo and Steele.
By all accounts, this is a bunch of money for a 1950s American production car, but we can’t argue with the facts: This is now market price for a ’54 Skylark with national trophies in the back seat.
– Carl Bomstead customized his first car, a 1948 Plymouth, when he was 15. He can’t remember all the cars that have passed through his garage since, but it numbers close to 100.
(Historical and descriptive information courtesy of the auction company)
Photos: Russo and Steele