ONE-OF-A-KIND BUICK SKYLARK DISCOVERED!
Buick Skylark reveals a myriad of factory details not found on any
Prior to the 1970s when the Department Of
Transportation (DOT) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
started tightening its reign on the automotive industry, it was
possible for manufacturers to “individualize” production cars. Some
were for auto shows, others for special people. Special people often
included internal senior level executives, high-volume dealer
principals, high-profile celebrities, etc.
Because of federal government regulations and internal audits it is
virtually impossible now for carmakers to remove new cars from
computer-driven production lines, alter body panels, trim, and paint
or modify engines and then sell for use on public roads.
From all indications, this stunning 1953 Skylark, one of just 1,690
produced, was “individualized” inside and out during the build
process in 1953. It was built either as a Buick show car, or for an
individual well connected with the carmaker.
“The general consensus among retired GM executives who I’ve chatted
with at vintage car meets is that this Skylark was most likely a
Buick auto show “turntable” car in 1953. In the day, Buick’s show
cars and customized one-offs were sent, less paint interior and
trim, from the production line to Buick Engineering’s Paint & Trim
Shop for finishing. If a car was to receive special paint and
upholstery, Trim and Paint codes were always left blank,” says
ex-Buick PR consultant Martyn L. Schorr who researched this
“Mystery” Skylark for its owner.
Removing the body from the chassis and taking it down to bare metal
revealed original non-available green paint with typical factory
overspray and die-punched (not drilled) emblem mounting holes not
seen before on a Skylark. The origin of the unique Skylark script,
below the trunk lid, has not been identified.
The pattern of the emblem holes in the fenders, punched prior to the
car being assembled, accommodate emblems believed to have been
designed for Buick’s aborted 1955 Skylark.
Influenced by early-1950s concept-car-styling, the 1953 Skylark is a
very special automobile. The sensuously sculpted convertible, based
on Buick’s top-of-the-line Roadmaster, was introduced in 1953 to
celebrate Buick’s 50th anniversary. Priced when new at
approximately $5,000, the Skylark sits five inches lower than a
Roadmaster and is fitted with unique doors, windshield, custom rear
quarter panels, proprietary trim, real wire wheels and a host of
luxury features. It also showcased Buick’s first V8 engine, 12-volt
electrical system and Twin-Turbine Dynaflow transmission.
Buick finished the 1953 model year building only 1,690 Skylarks as
dealers had a tough time selling a Buick at approximately $1,000
more than a Cadillac convertible! In 1954, Skylark (Century-based)
sales peaked at just 836 units. Even though there was strong support
for a 1955 Skylark, the project was dropped due to a lack of
According to the engraved plate in the hub of the Skylark’s steering
wheel, it was “Customized For Muriel Dalgell.” Each Skylark had its
owner’s name in the center hub.
After the golden years (1920s to 1940s) of coachbuilt bodies, Buick
and Cadillac often relied on its in-house engineering shops and
design studios when customizing production cars for special
Nine model years after Buick stopped producing four-door convertible
sedans, Buick designers and engineers joined forces to convert a
1950 Roadmaster four-door sedan into a one-of-a-kind convertible. It
was built for the Kleberg family, owners of the legendary King Ranch
in Texas. Unique from bumper to bumper, the Roadmaster El Kineno
convertible sedan was fitted with fender-mounted rifle scabbards,
rear fender mounted spares and a fold-down windshield.
A number of factory-customized 1950s Buicks have surfaced over the
years and are titled, plated and in private hands. Some were auto
show cars; others built for individuals.
The most radical example is probably the 1953 Skylark hardtop coupe,
built by Buick Engineering. Starting with a Roadmaster hardtop, they
grafted on Skylark convertible rear quarters and doors, added the
convertible trim and real wire wheels. A prototype 1954 Skylark
interior completed the conversion.
It’s been on the collector car show circuit for some years.
When Harlow Curtice became president of General Motors, he requested
a new, special Buick limo and he wanted it built by Buick, not an
outside limo vendor. GM Design worked with Buick to customize a 1952
Roadmaster sedan. Unlike any other, it received a padded roof, more
spacious cloth and leather interior, divider window, rear radio and
temp controls, and handcrafted oversize rear doors and special
One other “special” Buick, a one-off 1958 Limited convertible, was
factory-built for actor Dale Robertson, then star of TV western,
Wells Fargo. It sported custom paint, Wells Fargo
trim on the custom rear fenders and a host of unique interior and
exterior appointments. After being displayed by Buick at auto shows
it was turned over to Robertson.
It should be noted that building one-off cars at General Motors was
not limited only to its luxury nameplates. In addition to some
highly publicized, factory-customized 1963-1967 Corvettes now in the
hands of private collectors, there’s an outrageous one-off 1968
Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 convertible on the road.
Built at GM in July, 1968 for Chevrolet General Manager, Pete Estes,
the drop-top Z/28 features four-wheel disc brakes and
high-performance intake and exhaust systems (very rare 1969
dealer-installed options), unique trim and, most importantly, a soft
top. Today it would not be possible for a carmaker to build and sell
a new car like this for on-road use.
Estes kept the car through 1968, replacing it with a 1969 model. It
was later sold to a GM employee. Over the years it changed hands a
number of times and has been seen at collector car shows and
auctions. Its value is considered well north of $1 million!
This unique Skylark represents the subtle execution of period 1950s
factory customization of a production vehicle. What really turns
heads is its never-seen-before badging.
“The only explanation is that the Buick Design Studio had suppliers
prototype an assortment of logo emblems for the proposed 1955
Skylark and some ended up being used on my Skylark. The emblem
located on the rear, below the trunk lid is obviously a prototype
and has never seen production. Fender emblems were later used on
1961 Skylarks,” says Schorr.
What makes this Skylark unique is the following:
* Original ID (Serial Number) plate with
paint and interior designations (codes) left blank.
* Factory-applied non-standard unusual
* Unique front fender and trunk lid
emblems, and factory, not aftermarket, die-punched mounting holes.
* Factory-installed non-standard
monotone green Interior (seat and door upholstery, carpeting and
floor mats). Production interior was two-tone only and green was not
* Convertible top bows (frame) painted
matching green. Buick used only tan or black to coordinate with
interior, top color.
* Unusual Guide rear view mirror, not
* Dashboard is painted and chrome-plated
(virtually impossible to do after car was originally assembled).
Original production dash finish is paint and Silver-Gray Dynoc
Because of a lack of factory paint and interior data, the owner was
free to choose colors and trim. He had the body painted black (not
available on 1953 Skylarks) and the interior (in keeping with its
original monotone theme) stitched in red leather. The convertible
top is black with red trim.
Since production 1961 Skylark emblems were the only ones found that
would fit the holes in the front fenders, an NOS set was installed.
The totally unique Skylark rear script was retained.
At a recent gathering of Skylark owners at the 1953-1954 Skylark
Nationals in Miami, FL, this just-restored, one-of-a-kind Skylark
baffled the cognoscenti. No one had ever seen a Skylark with an ID
plate lacking trim and color codes or its many unique features
Whoever Muriel Dalgell was and how she was connected to Buick or
General Motors is still a mystery. What we do know is that his
one-of-a-kind Skylark was factory customized to stand out from the
crowd in 1953.
And it is carrying on that tradition today.