44K-Mile One-Owner 1985 Buick Skylark

No, this 1985 Buick Skylark isn’t being shown here because it’s pumpkin spice season, it’s here because it’s a one-owner time capsule with under 44,000 miles on it. Ok, I admit to liking orange vehicles so maybe there’s a bit of that involved – although I don’t like pumpkin spice cars, drinks, or anything. This nice, X-body GM can be found here on craigslist in Le Mars, Iowa and the seller doesn’t have a price listed.

First, here’s an interesting tidbit about Le Mars, Iowa. The city, which was formerly known as Saint Paul Junction, was named after the first initials of six women who were with a railroad baron and other officials in 1869 after stopping in town. Hey, Barn Finds is more than just cars, we’re an equal-opportunity education source. Now, about dangling participles… hey, wait a minute. Enough of that, back to this fantastic Skylark. You can see how nice this car looks after 35 years, that’s no easy task as the mirror tells me every morning.

The X-body Skylark was somewhat of a counterpart to Chrysler’s K-car series and they included the Chevrolet Citation, Oldsmobile Omega, Pontiac, Phoenix, and Buick Skylark. At least initially, they were well-received but problems cropped up fairly quickly and they ended up being somewhat of a black eye for General Motors, unfortunately. I like the crisp, clean styling, but I also like the styling of the K-cars, which a lot of folks think looks like the box that a car was shipped in rather than the actual car itself.

This was the velour era and GM had a combination of plastic, velour, vinyl, and all sorts of other materials inside. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I expected to see power windows here even though these weren’t exactly luxury cars. The backseat looks new as does almost the entire interior.

As we’ve come to expect from craigslist ads, there are no engine photos of this car. I imagine it looking new but who knows. Maybe the seller would email or text a serious tire-kicker (is that an oxymoron?) a photo of the engine. This one has GM’s famous and/or infamous Iron Duke 2.5L inline-four with around 92 horsepower. They were not the most sophisticated engine and the 2.8L V6 would be much nicer, especially for a Buick. But, with fewer than 44,000 miles, I hope it runs as well as the rest of the car looks. Have any of you owned a GM X-body Skylark or any GM X-body car?

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Comments

  1. Bakyrdhero Bakyrdhero Member

    I can almost smell that interior through my phone, including the cigarette butts that may have been tamped out in those ashtrays on the backs of the front seats. Nice find, and those seats look fresh, though the design looks dated even for 1985.

    Like 13
  2. angliagt angliagt Member

    I had an early ’80’s Skylark.I bought it from a co-worker,
    when it was just a few years old.He was going down the freeway,
    when something gave in the engine.Seems he was doing 65+ mph,
    & third gear wasn’t working in the auto trans.I gave him $500 for it.
    I put another engine in it,& had the transmission rebuilt.Sold it for
    $2500.
    The interior was one of the cheapest looking/built ones I’ve
    ever come across.The window winder mechanism was a plastic strip,
    which I had to replace.It took a special pop rivet gun to replace.
    I have no desire to ever want another one.

    Like 12
  3. Mitchell Gildea Member

    If you squint it kinda looks like a first-gen Cadillac Seville sedan

    Like 8
    • SubGothius

      Because that Seville pioneered the look that set the tone for GM styling for a decade-plus to come after it. IMO it’s still the best example of that theme.

      Like 5
    • Steve S.

      Or a Cimmaron.

      Like 1
    • stu

      Come on guys…This is a lunch box with wheels…No styling what so ever!

      Like 2
  4. Arby

    It’s not a has-been.
    It’s a never-was.

    Like 13
  5. Mike

    Very Buicky!

    Like 5
  6. Brian Berger

    Under powered, but comfortable for 80’s malaise era cars. The next size (Century) was nose heavy and on snow the left rear tire would swing while braking.

    Like 6
  7. Tom

    Oh how I don’t miss 1980’s cars….

    Like 9
  8. RJ

    LeMars Iowa is also home to Wells’ Blue Bunny ice cream.

    Like 13
  9. DrillnFill

    I don’t know, I kinda like it, but I’m weird like that. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen one of these. Is it possible to schuzz-up an iron duke? Or can we do a supercharged 3800 swap for some stop light shenanigans 🤣

    Like 6
  10. Matt K

    85 was the best year of the X, as by then they had received all of the improvements that came along with the (identical under the skin) A-Body. Ive had a few Xs (Citation X11) although never a Skylark, and all of them were decent and reliable for the most part. The 2.5l Iron Duke was also much improved for this year, gaining a roller camshaft and stronger head.

    Like 6
    • nlpnt

      It was finally the car it should’ve been five years before.

      Like 9
      • SubGothius

        As tended to be the case with nearly anything GM built in that era and for some time to come. The early model years were basically open betas that then got sorted out in production, then when they finally get it right, they axe that model for another new beta version.

        Like 11
  11. JoeMac JoeMac Member

    Wish it was a T Type.

    Like 5
    • SubGothius

      I don’t think these were ever offered in T-type trim, of if that was even a thing while these were in production.

      Like 1
  12. Andrew M Pappas

    Grew up riding in two citations and then a celebrity. All had the 2.8 as God intended. I remember the citations rusted out quick, while the celebrity had galvanized floors so it took a while for the doors to rot through. They were roomy and decently quick for the malaise Era. The celebrity had 180k on it when my parents offloaded it

    Like 2
    • GCS Member

      My wife had a silver 83. It was very very slow but that made it a good car in the snow simce it had no torque to spin the tires. The steel exhaust manifold rusted out. Went through 2 replacements. Did not enjoy that car but my wife liked it. She got a 92 Grand Prix next that was much worse.

      Like 2
  13. Keith

    Junk Junk Junk!

    Like 7
    • Richard

      I bought one new in late 1980 and it gave me 5 years of pure hell until someone passed a red light and totaled it, that moment was one of the best of my life and my nightmare was now over!

      Like 5
  14. Rhett

    By 85, the X body was well sorted and I always thought the Buick was the most handsome of the bunch. Yes, the 2.5 is underpowered but this car could be a terrific daily driver. If no one else, I appreciate it.

    Like 11
  15. Jim

    Always love when these “common-in-their-day” cars show up on Barn Finds, as we hardly ever see them on the road anymore. Good find, though I’ll never understand people who advertise a car with no price.

    Like 13
  16. daniel wright

    Neighbors had a Citation they called Tweety…It was a bright shade of yellow…A combination of knocking rod and hail storm sent it to the junk yard.

    Like 2
  17. Bakyrdhero Bakyrdhero Member

    I see J-body in the side profile also.

    Like 1
  18. MarveH

    I think of the 70’s as more the malaise era than the 80’s. The 1970’s was a decade of decline, cars in 1970 were generally better than they ended up in 1979.
    The 80’s, however, saw continual improvement. A car in 1989 was demonstrably better than it started out in 1980, or it was replaced by a better model. Every manufacturer improved in every way during the 80’s.
    What started off the decade as carburated, vacuumed, smog chocked wheezers ended up reliable, fuel injected modern cars by 1990.

    Like 7
    • Bakyrdhero Bakyrdhero Member

      @MarveH
      That’s a great point and I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone say that before. You are correct though.
      Compare a 1980 Toyota Cressida to a 1989 Lexus Ls400 or a 1980 Ford Fairmont to a 1989 Taurus. Those cars are from different planets. Then do the same with a 1970 Chevelle and a 79 Malibu…or any car for that matter. Maybe the 80’s were about taking a step back to take two steps ahead.

      Like 3
      • MarveH

        I see so many great cars from the 80’s that I’d like to have, the Toyota MR2, BMW 325, Notch back Fox body Mustang, tons of hot hatches, the late C4 Corvettes, and by 1989 the Miata was hitting the showroom floor.
        I just can’t look at the 80’s car-wise they way I look at the 70’s with it’s opera windows, Broughams, Signatures, and 150 HP 350 V8’s. By the end of the 80’s the T-bird Turbo Coupe would dust any V8 from the late 70’s.

        Like 1
    • S

      This is totally true in my experience. We had an 81 X car with the Iron Duke and automatic, then a 90 A car with the same powertrain. The X car was fine, but the A car was better in many ways – fuel injection instead of a carburetor, more power, and more reliable.

  19. Ben T.Spanner

    These were marketed as “Buick’s little limousine” in LTD trim. I rented one over turkey day in 1982 to see if I would like it. I didn’t, and bought a V8 Gran Prix.
    My company had a fleet of 15 or so of Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles in 1981 or so. Most had major problems. They then went to Ford Escorts which at least held up. They got me a new 1983 Escort, and I quit

    Like 1
  20. Mike Hawke

    This car’s genesis is a result of the 1973-74 Oil Embargo and the subsequent effects on the American auto industry and consumer. Can’t be understated how much that event changed things. Kind of like if we’d gotten a mandate to electric cars in 2000 and had to quickly adapt in a few years.

    Like 3
    • S

      It was also critical that GM succeed here with the X cars at this point in history. They did in some ways and not in others.

  21. oldsoldie

    I’ve never figured out why people hated on these cars so much. Sure it wasn’t a big V8 powered car, you should have figured that out before you plunked your money down. I’ve owned 4 X bodies over the years and am considering buying the Skylark Limited version of this car now. The 2.5 was called the Iron Duke for a reason. I came home from work in my 81 Phoenix, opened the hood to find the leaky intake gasket had it running so lean the cylinder head was glowing cherry red. That would have cooked any other engine. She started and ran great again after I replaced the gasket. Sure, they could have delivered a bit better mileage for such a small car, but always were dependable for me. But then I don’t need to smoke the tires every time I go to Kroger lol

    Like 2
    • S

      What other X cars did you have besides the 81 Phoenix? What engines did they have? Glad someone else liked them and would consider buying another.

  22. S

    I have owned 4 of this generation of the Buick Skylark. An 81, an 84, and two 85s. Two had the 4 cylinder, two had the V6. I currently have two of them. I’ve always liked them. I learned to drive on one and it was my first car. One of them went well over 200,000 miles. Another went 154,000. I do not understand why these cars are believed to be so awful. They’re not. The 1980 models (first year) had issues with quality control, and after that they never recovered their reputation. They kept getting better each year. This is a very comfortable, roomy, quiet small car. OK not powerful – but you wouldn’t be disappointed if you like American luxury cars and prefer them on the small side. The car in the ad is the base model (Custom) the nicer model is the Limited. The paint color on tis is called “russet”, sort of like autumn leaves, maybe. No power windows because at the time you ordered that separately. These cars are classy and are nicely trimmed out inside and out. I like chrome + wood + color inside. It looks great! I think being related to the much cheaper Citation hurt them. Also by 85 GM hd so many other similar sized offerings (A and J body cars were out and the A cars were selling much better). My friend used to tell my my 81 Skylark Limited reminded him of a “junior LeSabre”. I’d say that’s pretty accurate. By 85 these were so much more refined. Whoever gets this is going to be happy with it.

    Like 5
  23. Dennis Zozula

    I recall thinking the Iron Duke sounded like marbles rattling around the inside of a metal garbage can. I inherited it from my mother after she gave up driving. A classic case where it was only driven by an old lady to the grocery store on days that it didn’t rain. She had a lifetime muffler replacement that charged ten dollars for a replacement. As the car never went far enough to get hot and the muffler was at the rear it went through a lot of them. The only rea downside was the paint failure.

    • S

      My 81 with the Iron Duke isn’t like that. It’s very quiet. It always has been. I’ve never figured out why it’s so quiet while other Iron Dukes aren’t.

      Like 1
  24. quen047

    I grew up with my parent’s ’81 Pontiac Phoenix five-door (chosen over a Plymouth K-Car wagon) with the same automatic/iron duke combo as this one. It was slow but generally reliable over the four years that we had it, but the interior gave an awful, nauseating smell due to the combo of velour and stale cigarette smoke courtesy of my mom. We sold it for a Pontiac 6000 wagon in 1985 after my parents had a fourth child and after a terrifying incident where the rear brakes locked while we were slowing down at normal speed— an infamous X-car fault. That, the 6000 turning out to be a pile of crap (it needed an engine rebuild at 30k miles!, and my dad’s ’83 Trans Am being almost undriveably unreliable, AND our local Pontiac dealer treating us terribly led to a future of Japanese cars in our Detroit-bred household. We were like a case study for how The Japanese conquered even the most loyal American buyers.

    Like 3
  25. Chuck

    Cars like this are what helped the Japanese auto makers take more market share. Especially after 3-5 years, these cars were getting long in the tooth, while a Toyota or Honda still drove like new.

    Like 4
    • JCA

      Exactly. Just drive this side by side with a Honda Accord and the difference is apparent. In 85 we bought a new 4 door Accord and it was a huge leap forward than what this old tech dinasoar was offering. Honda was building motorcycle style engines for cars that were smooth, reliable and rev happy. Compared to the Iron Duke that sounded and felt like a tractor engine.

      Like 3
      • Howebrad460 Member

        Well this brings up the age old discussion of American vs Japanese quality. I own the 1980 Skylark Limited shown here along with several 80’s Hondas including an 85 Accord and there are distinct differences.

        The Buick is a much more thoroughly engineered car in terms of material quality, ie glass, steel, fabrics, plastics, etc. Very very durable and long lasting items. However GM cars of this era suffered from indifferent (at best) build quality. Either you got one well made, or junk. Mine appears to be well made and my 2.5 iron duke is the quickest starting engine of any vehicle I own. 1/4 crank and it’s running.

        My accords, however are ALL impeccably assembled, but the quality of the upholstery, plastics, glass, and especially steel is of very very poor quality. If not meticulously maintained the interiors and bodies disintegrate in front of your eyes. Yes they run well, but I’ve yet to own a honda from the 80’s to early 90s that didn’t require a head gasket replacement.

        My Skylark, however is a totally different feel than the Accords. Very quiet, smooth ride, more akin to a shrunken Park Avenue. Close the doors and you know you have something there. The Accords doors are paper light and thin, again well assembled.

        I like both, and each had/has their place in our automotive history. GM was trying to catch it’s breath with the fuel embargo, union squabbles, pollution regulations and quickly changing consumer tastes. My Skylark is a car that looks backwards in a sense. They tried to take their big cars and shrink them down.

        The Japanese brands, however were already on top of the assembly game, and were working feverishly to impart more luxury, features, and eventually material quality into their cars. By the time GM fixed their quality issues, the market had moved on. Some folks switched for good, others wanted different styles of vehicles that the Americans weren’t making at that time. This is why I like collecting particularly 80’s cars as you can see what the engineers and the companies were trying to do.

        If you look close in the photo you can see my Prelude (though not the accords) in the background

        Like 2
  26. Charles D. Schultz

    Ordered a Skylark Limited the day they were announced. waited 5 months for it because they had not planned on a V-6/stick shift Limited. Was a very good car for me. Drove it 7 years and only got rid of it because the steel tubing on the V-6’s emission system rusted through.

  27. JCA

    Yes, I would kick it out of my garage…

    Like 2
  28. Mike

    A well-preserved example of the worst GM has ever offered

    Like 1
  29. Jeff DeWitt

    This was my favorite of the X cars. Buick was running an ad showing a dark blue one of these climbing though snow, and the idea of a car that looked like a big Buick sedan but about 2/3 size seemed like a great idea, and the car in that ad was really appealing.

    If I found a nice one with a V6 and a stick I’d even drive it now!

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