- - Thursday, October 27, 2011

In 1953, when Buick was 50 years old, 1,690 very special Buicks were built. The Skylarks that year were all convertibles that weighed 4,315 pounds and had a base price of $5,000, more than most Cadillacs.

One of those Skylarks ended up at Homestead Buick in Homestead, Pa., where it was sold by salesman Bob Nuss. The salesman’s nephew, Rick Berger, admired the car whenever he was near the showroom. That admiration didn’t cease when the car was sold. He frequently saw the car around town and the owner regularly brought the car back to the dealership for servicing.

After 10 years and 22,000 miles, the well-maintained Skylark was traded for a newer Buick. Mr. Berger learned that the car was available and acted quickly to become the second owner. Unfortunately, he was $200 shy of the purchase price. That’s when he sweet-talked his girlfriend, Karen, into lending him the money. That was 42 years ago and he still hasn’t repaid the money although that girlfriend is now his wife.

“I purchased it in early 1964, used it for my daily college commute for two years, and then stored it in 1966,” he says. The car had been driven 45,000 miles when put in storage at the age of 13.

“The Skylark was built with every Buick option standard, including a 322-cubic-inch V-8, automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, power windows, power seat and power antenna, plus two heaters, one under the seat,” Mr. Berger says. The tan top, seat and windows are hydraulically operated, while electricity operates the antenna.

Records indicate that Buick lost money on every Skylark that was manufactured. The custom body included a chopped top, cut-down doors in the style of small sports cars of the day, special flat stainless steel side-spear trim, cut-out wheel openings with the inner fender wells painted red on black cars and white on all other colors. Through the 40-spoke Kelsey-Hayes chrome wheels, the brake drums can be seen and they are painted to match the inner fender wells; on Mr. Berger’s car they are white.

The inside of the spacious car is as luxurious as you would expect, with two-tone leather upholstery and plush carpeting underfoot. A small button on the floor by the driver’s left foot will move the AM radio signal to the next preselected station.

Drifting along on a 121.5-inch wheelbase, the 188-horsepower vehicle is smooth but no hot rod. An ever-cautious Mr. Berger says, “Going downhill with the wind at my back, it will do 70 or 80, maybe.”

After college, the Bergers left the Buick in Pennsylvania and moved to Gambrells. In October 1975 they retrieved the Skylark and towed it home on a trailer. For 19 more years it sat in a corner of the garage as Mr. Berger slowly gathered parts and pieces that he knew would be necessary during restoration.

Finally, in 1994, Mr. Berger put his skills as an industrial technology teacher to work on his own car. “My son, Doug, and I started our restoration in 1994 and after 2,500 hours, we completed the car in September 1997,” Mr. Berger says.

The engine and transmission were sent out to be rebuilt by specialists and after the car was close to being done, the upholstery was professionally installed. Other than that, Mr. Berger says, “We did all of the work ourselves and the car is restored as close to original as possible.”

Early in the restoration the decision was made to bring the car back to the was it was when it sat in the Buick showroom in Homestead, Pa. The color is the original Reef Blue Metallic.

Small but fine details can be found throughout the Skylark. The four taillights, two stacked on each rear fender, are separated by a small reflector. Each bumper guard houses a backup light. Very handsome, but not too practical. At the other end of the car, above the 25 chrome teeth in the grille is the stylized Buick crest and above that the exquisite engine hood ornament that is deserving of study as a piece of art.

Mr. Berger finds care and concentration are required whenever he climbs behind the two-spoke banjo-style steering wheel to go cruising. Unlike modern cars with standardized shift patterns, his Buick Skylark’s shift pattern, from the left, is Park, Neutral, Drive, Low, Reverse.

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