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Screamin’ Skylark

by Tommy Lee Byrd


The Buick Skylark was never a huge hit with performance-minded individuals, but Gary used the car’s lack of popularity to build a killer sleeper. He didn’t take the grandma route with full hubcaps and a flat hood, but the car is still surprisingly fast at the track, running in the 10s with no power adders.

Since its inception, the Buick brand has never been known for its performance, and while Buick had some powerful cars in the muscle car era, it still didn’t get much recognition from car guys. Buicks were usually purchased because of their creature comforts or smooth ride, as opposed to horsepower levels, so even the fast cars like the Buick Gran Sport played underdog in the muscle car era. The Skylark pictured here is a special case because it features a bare-bones appearance, but still looks very aggressive to a savvy car guy. It may not fool everyone, but novice car enthusiasts certainly fall for it because it’s so plain and simple.

Gary Steele owns the Buick and frequently drives it on the street. He also visits the drag strip with it on occasion, running a best of 10.97 at 123 mph, but feels a few more changes could result in much quicker times. That’s not to say the combination doesn’t work well together, but every car guy on the planet feels he can squeeze a little more out of his car. Gary bought the car in this configuration, only changing a few things to make it his own. The car features a very slick paint job that is the deepest black you can imagine, and the steel wheels wear a matching hue. It’s a combination that is sinister to the right crowd, but a bit tame compared to more well known muscle car trends, which allows it to slip under the radar in most cases.

Underneath, the 1972 Buick is mostly stock, but features QA1 coilovers on all four corners to help weight transfer. Rear suspension consists of Metco upper and lower control arms to help the factory-style four-link suspension plant the rear tires. The rear end housing is a Currie 9-inch, which features a limited slip differential and a 4.11:1 gear set, while the transmission is a GM TH400 3-speed automatic that relies on a 10-inch TCI torque converter (3,500 rpm) to transfer power efficiently. Braking consists of stock discs up front and drums out back, covered with black steel wheels and Dog Dish caps. The original front wheels measure 15x7 inches and wear BFGoodrich 215/70R15 tires, while the Stockton rear wheels come in at 15x8 inches and mount to Mickey Thompson 28x11.50-15 ET Street tires. These tires have the soft rubber compound and thin sidewall of a slick, and they’re still street legal.

Power comes from a Buick big-block, which was built by the car’s previous owner, Gary Paine. It’s a stock 455 block that has been bored to 464 ci, and equipped with a nice combination of speed parts. The bottom end is ready for serious abuse, with a set of forged Ross pistons (11:1 compression) and Howards 6.60-inch aluminum connecting rods. A stock nodular iron crankshaft resides in the big-block, as this is rarely the week link of the rotating assembly. The short block is topped with a pair of aluminum TA Performance cylinder heads, which feature 2.125-inch intake valves and 1.75-inch exhaust valves. Though potent out of the box, the TA Performance Stage 2 heads have been ported to flow 315 cfm, and feature a set of 1.65:1 roller rockers to go with the TA Performance valvesprings and hardware. The camshaft is also from TA Performance and it’s a hydraulic flat-tappet stick with 258 degrees of duration on the intake side and 272 degrees on the exhaust, at .050-inch lift. Maximum lift is .595 inch on the intake side and .601 inch on the exhaust. Topping the big-block is a Kenne Bell single-plane intake manifold and Holley 1,050-cfm Dominator carburetor.

The stock fuel tank has been modified to accept a large fuel line and in-tank pump, without the need for a sump and the racy looks of a fuel pump hanging below the bumper. Lighting the fire is an MSD 7AL ignition box with a matching Pro-Billet distributor and Blaster coil. When the combustion cycle is complete, a set of TA Performance long tube headers provide a smooth path into the 3-inch exhaust system, which features an X-pipe and MagnaFlow mufflers. Gary’s Buick has an aggressive exhaust note, but it’s still not enough to think this car runs 10s without the assistance of nitrous.

At 3,680 pounds, the Buick has a lot of weight to lug around, but it would be much heavier if it still had the factory power steering, air conditioning, and radio. The car could realistically lose more weight, but that would require lightweight race parts, and that’s not what Gary wants. He likes the fact that it can be street-driven, and he loves the car’s sleeper status, so he won’t be making a race car out of it anytime soon. And with the only signs of speed being the street-legal slicks and Stage 2 hood scoop, the bare-bones Buick still flies under the radar and looks good doing it.


Gary’s Buick sits a little lower than stock and has a wicked appearance with its black steel wheels, but this car is actually so nice that most folks underestimate it at the track. Gary takes great pride in the car, and doesn’t want to hurt it, but he doesn’t mind romping on the all-motor big-block from time to time. 

Taken from Tommy Lee Byrd Street Sleepers: The art of the deceptively fast car (published 2011)

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