Retro Muscle: 1968-69 Buick Skylark & Special

They were designed at the height of muscle cars – so it wasn’t any surprise that GM’s 1968-1972 A-body mid-sizes all had muscle car overtones. But one of these cars was not like the others – at least, not in appearance.

The ’68-’69 Buick Skylarks and Specials have been uncharitably described by some critics as “not entirely cohesive,” or “Not Buick’s best work.” Buyers completely disagreed – the Buick A-cars had a record year in 1968 and another strong one in 1969.

The styling may have been unusual in a broader context, but it did exactly what it was meant to – make the Special and Skylark look like smaller versions of the senior Buicks (LeSabre, Wildcat, Electra).

The little big Buick

The ’68-’69 Skylarks were characterized in front and in back by complex bumper/fascia arrangements that moved inward towards the center of the car, particularly at the rear but it was the sides that captured most of the attention.

After years of rather sober, almost Lincoln-like straight lines, he ’67 full-size Buicks had revived the brand’s famous “Sweepspear” – a character line running from the front fender to the rocker ahead of the rear wheel, then kicked up again at the rear wheel and flowed back to the end of the car, mimicking pre-war separate fenders.

It first appeared on the 1949 Roadmaster Riviera hardtop and had been a Buick trademark in the 1950s, only to be swept away by 1959’s space-age delta-wing cars.

Return of the Sweespear

Under Buick style chief Dave Holls (and possibly from the pen of stylist Paul Deeson), the sweep returned in mild form on the big Buicks in ’67. It was subtle on these slab-sided cars – they had only a most modest kick ahead of the rear wheels, but made the big Buicks look appreciably more distinctive.

The treatment was applied to the A-body Special/Skylark for ’68 to bring them in line with the big cars. The flourish was considerably more radical on the A-body, sweeping back to the rear wheels and not kicking very far up. Broad, clean quarter panels and optional fender skirts gave it a heavy look out back.

Despite the the potent Skylark Grand Sport (then GS350 or GS400) and the very basic Special (on its way out – the Skylark handily outsold it), these cars were seen as more upscale than other A-body cars. Indeed, they were several hundred dollars costlier than their Oldsmobile siblings, though the lowest rungs nearly overlapped.

The return of the sweep was brief – Buick studio was taken over by Don Lasky in early 1968 and in 1970 the Skylark was restyled with much more conventional looks (as were the ’71 big Buicks, aside from the Riviera). Nobody’s ever rushed to claim credit for the ’68/’69 cars, but customers liked them – sales were up 20% from ’67 and stayed strong in ’69.

Build it and they will come

Just because they looked “upscale” and different from the other A’s didn’t mean they weren’t still muscle cars if you ordered them right – the GS350 and 400 were both de facto muscle machines with luxury touches, and most of the non-GS Skylarks packed Buick 350s also.

The old Special V6 was sold to Kaiser-Jeep and replaced with a Chevy 250 I-6 for ’68 in the Special and the base Skylark, though the V6 would return a decade later. The Special, Buick’s base model since 1961 and a long and storied name, was mostly eclipsed at this point by the Skylark, and was phased out after 1969.

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