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1953 Skylark


GlenL
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Hi folks,

 

just joined as I’m looking to buy a restored 53 Skylark that’s sitting in a collection mostly non-driven.  It’s a lovely car but has been in storage in a collection for 7 years. I’ll be driving it in a few weeks.
 

I’m mechanically inclined, have been restoring motorcycles for some time, and am a mechanical engineer. However, I don’t know much about these old Skylarks other than they are one of the prettiest cars ever made, and that old things need maintenance. 
 

What do you recommend I look for when climbing around the car and driving it for hidden issues?  The seller has indicated he believes the shocks need to be rebuilt. I can handle extraction and sending out for rebuild. What else?

 

Thank you one and all for allowing me to join this community. BTW I have a 57 C1 Corvette that I’m touching up after sitting for many years in the Mecum and another collection with little maintenance. It’s going ok. 
 

Cheers,

 

Glen

Edited by GlenL (see edit history)
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Congrats 1st !!!

The trans rear boot will most likely seep .

I would be more concerned about the hydro electric system

not working properly .

If an old Buick starts , your on your way !!!!

Keep us posted

Bill

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2 hours ago, GlenL said:

Hi folks,

 

just joined as I’m looking to buy a restored 53 Skylark that’s sitting in a collection mostly non-driven.  It’s a lovely car but has been in storage in a collection for 7 years. I’ll be driving it in a few weeks.
 

I’m mechanically inclined, have been restoring motorcycles for some time, and am a mechanical engineer. However, I don’t know much about these old Skylarks other than they are one of the prettiest cars ever made, and that old things need maintenance. 
 

What do you recommend I look for when climbing around the car and driving it for hidden issues?  The seller has indicated he believes the shocks need to be rebuilt. I can handle extraction and sending out for rebuild. What else?

 

Thank you one and all for allowing me to join this community. BTW I have a 57 C1 Corvette that I’m touching up after sitting for many years in the Mecum and another collection with little maintenance. It’s going ok. 
 

Cheers,

 

Glen

Are you familiar with the Dynaflow transmission operation?

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7 hours ago, GlenL said:

Not specifically. Most of my experience is with Chevy autos. 

 

Ok. Are you aware that with the Dynaflow in drive it seems like it does not shift from first to 2nd gear?  And that is by design?  And I only mention this because it is a common cause for concern when introduced to a Dynaflow for the first time. 

With the Dynaflow you may experience what looks like massive oil leaks especially in one that has sat for a while. Many times they will be a quart of fluid low and be extra sluggish and at two quarts low they may not even work.  It can be scary to think about but the good news is regular use for a few weeks may reduce the leakage to minimal and topping off the oil returns the unit to full service.  

There is one more issue worth.  mentioning too.  Make sure the engine is warmed up enough to step down the fast idle before putting a Dynaflow in reverse.  From personal experience I can report there is a chance the strut that holds the reverse band in place can be jarred loose and fall out of place if one does not heed this warning... I laugh about it now but it wasnt funny back then. Lol

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Great feedback John. Thank you. My 57 C1 has burped tranny fluid on occasion, especially if not driven for awhile. Appreciate the guidance. I’m open to all as I have a lot to learn!

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On 6/6/2021 at 7:31 PM, GlenL said:

. . . What do you recommend I look for when climbing around the car and driving it for hidden issues? . . .   

 

A few more tips to check out a car that is complicated to restore:

 

1.  If you’re fussy about originality and authenticity, bring a 1953 Skylark owner with you that has worked on his own car and knows 1953 Skylarks. If not, it might be okay to bring a Chevy, Ford or Mopar guy with you since a few of the tips below would not apply. :rolleyes:

 

2.  Spend at least a couple hours checking out the car, talking to the current owner while checking out the topside (doors-hood-fender fit and gaps and workmanship), taking it for a test drive and reviewing restoration receipts plus additional time with the ’Lark in the air and hood up at a knowledgeable auto repair shop checking out the underside to get a look-see understanding of what the current owner’s definition of a “restoration” is. Are there receipts for engine and transmission rebuilds? If not, get the shop to check engine compression and transmission read-outs at the least.

 

3.  History: how long ago, who did the restoration work and why has it been sitting in a museum for seven years?

 

4.  If an old Buick starts, you're on your way — but will it stop?  Troublesome system #1: first-year power brake system. OEM or replaced hydraulic soft and hard brake lines, OEM or replaced power brake cylinder, working check valve or added backup electric vacuum pump, wheel cylinders, etc.?

 

5.  Troublesome system #2: the Hydro-Lectric power system that operates the 4 side windows, the two-way tilt-away front seat and the convertible top. Lot of items to go haywire including 7 window switches, 7 hydraulic cylinders, convertible top control switch, convertible top/rear quarter-windows’ control solenoid valves, rubber hoses and hard hydraulic lines.

 

6.  Hard to find parts: non-pitted, not cracked front upper grille bar (mustache), one-year Skylark-only fender-mounted electric radio antenna with toggle switch.

 

7.  Fussy substitutions #1: were the OEM trim, convertible top and paint color codes now on the car available as standard color choices back in 1953?

 

8.  More substitutions: do the engine and transmission numbers and codes indicate 1953 vintage or have they been replaced with late units?

 

9.  Wheels and tires: OEM 6 1/2" wide wire wheels with bias-ply tires running inner tubes?

 

10.  Non-matching numbers:  different states used either the Car Serial Number or the Engine Serial Number for titling a car — two different numbers. If it's titled using the C.S.N., can the owner prove that what's on the title card matches what’s stamped on the frame and the driver’s door metal tag, or if the Skylark was titled using the E.S.N. that is stamped on the engine in two different places, can he prove that those match? Do both numbers fall within the known production month ranges? Good restoration documentation/records should have pictures of these numbers. 

 

Good luck.  

 

Al Malachowski

BCA #8965

"500 Miles West of Flint" 

   

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Just a comment on the hydrolectric system. I have the same in my 49 Super convertible and 53 Roadmaster Riviera. It is a little annoying, but pumps can be bought new on ebay for around 500 usd and new window and top hydraulic cylinders can be found, too, for around 130 usd each. To replace them and eventually the lines is not really a fun job, but even I, born with two left hands, was able to do it myself. I had every switch apart for cleaning, but then the system works absolutely fine. For a car as much worth as a Skylark this is not a real cost to consider.

My 53 Roadmaster engine and tranny were rebuilt maybe 10 years back and the car runs like a modern car, very strong and comfortable. Only had two stuck valves needing a valve job earlier this year. The car is not even loosing any ATF as most dynaflows do. Single circle power brake had been changed against two circle for safety reasons. 

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Have to admit, I’m impressed with the enthusiasm which Buick folks approach their cars. Also, it’s been great to hear from a variety of folks around the country as I network out by phone. Lots of smart people who seem like a lot of fun. 
 

After I drive and inspect the car, and make a decision I’ll let you know how it turns out. Though not as smart as this whole bunch, I’m getting better informed which will lead to a more informed decision. If this does work out, I suspect I’ll be pretty happy in this community. Thank folks!

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Which car is it? After 65 years the cars are pretty well known and the histories well documented in the minds of the old guys.

 

Something like driving in the gate of your first show and the guy says "Oh, you bought that car".

 

A friend bought a nice looking 1930's Buick convertible years ago and the previous owner sent him a picture of the car with a tree growing up through it. That relationship went south. Sort of like getting a picture of Matt Dillon and Kitty and your new girl in the background at The Long Branch.

 

Use all the resources of the BCA to buy the best car you can.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Good evening guys,

 

I looked at the car today, in, over and under. Here are my observations and questions for you:

 

1. This car had a frame on refreshment some years ago.  New paint, new KH chrome wheels, engine rebuild. No rust but interior is original. Looks pretty good but could stand a thorough cleaning. 97k miles, maybe original. Some gauges don’t work. All 7 relays in electric hydraulic system work but nothing moves. Hydraulic pump isn’t work though it has power. Thus none of windows, seats, or top could move. 
2. Car is very pretty Matador red but chrome needs cleaning. Everything is there and from 20’ is drop dead gorgeous. Up close it needs lots of attention visually. Everything is there. No rust anywhere after crawling under the car and poking around under carpeting. 
3. Engine oil and tranny fluid looked amber and pink. Radiator needed 1/2 gallon of fluid so I tipped it up. A little oil in air filter bath but not much. The engine and tranny look too clean to be original but not clean enough for a rebuild in last 7-10 years. 
4. Driving it: Front end seems very very loose. It wandered all around bumpy roads, had a hard time staying in a straight line on smooth roads, and it was surprisingly not comfortable. When starting from a dead stop, and especially if going up any incline, the tranny whined like a big dog. The whining went away at 5-10 mph. After that it was fine. Seemed like plenty of power. 

5. Top is a canvas replacement top with a very small glass back window. Apparently this is an option some top guys offer. 
 

I really like the 53 in general but something tells me this tranny has pending issues, at least the front suspension needs a complete overhaul, and the electric hydraulic system needs some work at the pump. Maybe a new solenoid or a pump. Some chrome may need to be refreshed. Paint is fine for a pretty driver which is what I seek. 
 

Your thoughts?

 

Thx

 

Glen

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1 hour ago, Hans1965 said:

In what price range is it? 

 

I'm no expert on the Skylark, though I've admired a few.  I'd say that the price range is very important in making your decision.  Front end work, transmission work, and hydraulic work (which was discussed above) are all fairly easy to estimate.

 

The sneaky one in your description is "Some chrome may need to be refreshed".  The Skylark has some massive pieces of chromed trim, and chrome work these days is hideously expensive.  I could see a "freshening" of chrome on such a car to be ten thousand, fifteen thousand, more if you have to do it all...

 

Sounds like a good driver quality car, should be priced accordingly judged against well restored cars and their pricing.

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I LOVE the 53 Skylark.  I've posted a dozen times on here that my dad owned a 54 and he doesn't understand the 53.  I've told him why the 53 is better 50 times.

 

Random thoughts:

 

1.  A bad car to buy is the one you pay a "restored" price for but with needs that end up pushing the price buying one that is perfect.

 

2.  A "partial" restoration can be fine and even a decent deal but I worry when the restoration was superficial cosmetics that don't fit with the whole.   For example,  fresh paint with original beat chrome.

 

3.  Dead stored cars are always a problem and should be discounted accordingly.   I consider anything that has sat more than 2 years "dead" stored.   At a minimum the gas has caused all kinds of problems.

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New KH wire wheels would be exceptionally rare. If new they may be the Wheels Vintique 40 spoke repops, which can be good, or some other brands which may not look quite right but are also good for daily driving but will cost points in judging.  Of interest to the front end  looseness comment is the age of the tires. I assume the car has bias ply tires.  If you have never driven with them they can seem difficult to handle. Catch every crack in the road, tend to gravitate to the right side of the road, and a harsh ride.  New tires may help.  But from what I've read, heard, and experienced radials and WV wire wheels with chrome spokes (as opposed to stainless steel spokes) do not mix well. And I am not certain if there is a difference with the stainless steel spokes too. 

Meanwhile, you may want to have a friend drive behind you during another road test just to see if the 53 tracks straight or if it may have a bent frame. 

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Appreciate all the comments. The seller wants 90k, what he paid for it 7 years ago. Assuming all worked correctly then, that seems too high to me given a 10-20k cost waiting to correct all. 

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I have a body-off restored Matador Red '53 Skylark for sale that's turn-key for less than what it will cost to buy this raggedy one and fix all the issues...

 

https://www.harwoodmotors.com/vehicles/inventory_details.php?id=1271

 

 

 

Edited by Matt Harwood (see edit history)
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1 hour ago, GlenL said:

Any thoughts about the whining tranny?

I had the 56 out on Sunday and specifically listened to the transmission sounds.  I note that there is a bit of a whine when I first start out and it disappears as soon as the next driveway when I am doing about 10 mph.  It is one of the things I like about the car and am expecting.  But it is very low. I doubt others hear it at all.   It may be that in the subject vehicle there is some issue with isolating the trans on its mount.  Either the mount is broken in that the rubber pad is deteriorated or missing,  and there is metal to metal contact?  Or a long bolt somehow connects the trans directly to the frame without the benefit of sitting on the rubber pad?  It certainly bears investigation.  But if the trans seems to be operating correctly I would not let that kill a deal.  Another thing to look for is if the exhaust system which runs through the frame is touching it anyplace.  That will make a lot of noise you only hear inside the car. It may enhance the tranny noise when the engine is under a load, such as starting out from a stop or putting your foot into it on a hill.  I believe the muffler has ball and socket connections so that the system can be adjusted but I could be wrong about that.  And I have seen several mid 50's Buicks where these sockets have been replaced by welded or clamped connections.  

As for the price being asked, it is up to each of us to determine if that is a valid entry point for the specific vehicle.  From my perspective I try to measure the asking price against the potential long term value minus the costs of necessary repairs.  Of course your plan to make it a driver will impact it's long term value significantly.  Then again, they don't make any more of them.  

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1 hour ago, Matt Harwood said:

I have a body-off restored Matador Red '53 Skylark for sale that's turn-key for less than what it will cost to buy this raggedy one and fix all the issues...

 

https://www.harwoodmotors.com/vehicles/inventory_details.php?id=1271

 

 

 

My contractors rule of thumb: 50% materials/50% labor works pretty well on that one. $20,000 for the raggedy car, 500 hours of labor, and $50K for materials is close, maybe short.

The quality of a project to be completed is an unfulfilled promise. The finished one is there to see.

 

The difference would be based on how many promises you have experienced.

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Hello GlenL  Take your time, spend more and most time on chassis and  the body ,

on Skylark one of the most critical areas is where the door front edge meets the front fender

areas, many 53 76x, are not fitting correct ,especially when and if they have been stripped and 

restored by unprofessional body persons,   and while i remember you mentioned  convertible tops

rear window, 53 was the first year Buick used vinly  and fitted large back window,---small window and canvas

was not a option,---but was used somtimes by persons that did not no better.

I could write a book on bad restorations of the 76x ,from my days ,early nineties ,when i restored my

number body number 546,and  ,---was a front cover  feature april  1992 BCA bugle,

Shipped to New Zealand,2 year restoration,then shipped back to US, and stayed there 10 years,

was 2nd place at BCA National--1991,many first place,  in CA, Silverado,  St marys,  and Sacramento

shows.

Glen  let me know if you require any more finer details info for these wonderful classics.

couple of photos day i purchased,and when finished.

001.JPG

002.JPG

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16 hours ago, Wayne R said:

Hello GlenL  Take your time, spend more and most time on chassis and  the body ,

on Skylark one of the most critical areas is where the door front edge meets the front fender

areas, many 53 76x, are not fitting correct ,especially when and if they have been stripped and 

restored by unprofessional body persons,   and while i remember you mentioned  convertible tops

rear window, 53 was the first year Buick used vinly  and fitted large back window,---small window and canvas

was not a option,---but was used somtimes by persons that did not no better.

I could write a book on bad restorations of the 76x ,from my days ,early nineties ,when i restored my

number body number 546,and  ,---was a front cover  feature april  1992 BCA bugle,

Shipped to New Zealand,2 year restoration,then shipped back to US, and stayed there 10 years,

was 2nd place at BCA National--1991,many first place,  in CA, Silverado,  St marys,  and Sacramento

shows.

Glen  let me know if you require any more finer details info for these wonderful classics.

couple of photos day i purchased,and when finished.

001.JPG

002.JPG

Hi Wayne R

I remember that issue of the Buick Bugle very well, it was my first issue when I joined the BCA. I did not realize till now that it was the same car. That is a beautiful restoration. Do you still have the car?

Steve

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Thank you  Steve,  no i sold the Skylark about 1994,  went to a owner in Philadelphia,

and he i think sold it about a year later,  after that i have never  found out  where it went.

Original  colour was Reef blue no 77,  i painted it Imperial blue no 53.---yes i know should never 

have sold it,was a fabulous car--was a classic i  wont ever forget.---regards---Wayne.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Oh and another thing to consider regarding chrome.  If the chrome pieces on the car are original or had been chromed again back in the 90's or later the process used would of been via hexavalent.  Starting in the late 90's / early 2000's a less toxic process known as TriValent was beginning to be used.  Why does that matter?  TriValent is basically a dye process as a finishing touch in an attempt to mimic the original blue tone of hexavalent.  At best close but no cigar.  Trivalent when set beside a true hexavalent piece will appear a cold flat white to the hex mellow blue tone and will not match and will look different in reflection and tone.  Also TriValent does not hold up to the elements or abrasion that true hexavalent does.  I could go into a lot of chemistry here but the above info should make one aware that simply attempting to replate hexavalent chrome in a piece meal fashion with newly TriValent pieces will not end in happy marriage.  There are still a few places that still do the hexavalent process and one of them is Van Nuys Plating in Van Nuys, California.  I have no affiliation with them but know of the quality of their work and they are 2nd generation family owned. Good luck with your negotiations and purchase.

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