Dream cars for the family garage
As the booming postwar era got rolling, GM design vice president Harley Earl decided to offer the public a limited run of hand-built dream cars in the spirit of the concepts in his fantastic Motorama shows. Sports car fever gripped postwar America with Nash, Kaiser Fraser, Chevrolet, Ford, and even Hudson offering special models. Earl and his styling staff set out to design a series of heavily modified production models with sporty pretensions.
Each GM division produced its own special convertible: the Oldsmobile Fiesta, Cadillac Eldorado, and Buick’s Skylark that far outsold the other two. Not forgetting Chevrolet’s exciting new Corvette that appeared the same year, but that’s outside the scope of this article.
Based on Buick’s top line Roadmaster convertible, the Skylark was a custom featuring its own fenders and doors, chopped top, special wraparound windshield, full cut-out wheel openings, chrome wire wheels, a 12 volt electrical system and V-8 power. It sold for over $5,000 when a well-equipped Roadmaster convertible was out the door for $3,200.
The Skylark was heavily reworked for 1954. Based on the smaller Special body, it featured radically cut out wheel wells in a contrasting color and chrome-plated fins carrying taillights flanking a radically curved trunk lid. The overall effect was even more dramatic than the '53 model, but the marketplace wasn't impressed and sales took a dive. The Skylark name disappeared from Buick's line-up next year only to reappear as a special luxury model of the compact Special in 1961.
Oldsmobile’s Fiesta was cancelled after a single year. The Skylark lasted two, and Cadillac’s Eldorado went on to become a staple at the top of their line.
Recognized as milestone cars, GM’s limited-production dreamboats occupy a unique place in automotive history. Rare when new, sightings are naturally few and far between today, even at auctions and shows. The Motorama inspired near concept cars remain classic examples of American industrial art, irreplaceable artifacts of a robust, optimistic country strong enough to put radical dream cars on the street.
Written by Jim Cherry