Skylark, Have You Anything to Sing to Me? The Joy and Pain of Buick's A-Body

When pretty girls write prose poetry about your old car, the back roads of Contra Costa County and a comet that inspired mass suicide a decade after the fact, it might be worth revisiting said vehicle. Such a prose poem was sent to me today, and got me thinking. My 1970 Buick Skylark was both the best and the worst car I ever owned. The guy I bought it from was planning to make a GS clone out of it, so he installed a Turbo 400 trans with a fairly aggressive shift kit. Then he put orange reflecto-tape where the emblem between the taillights was supposed to go, in what I can only assume was an attempt to make it look like a Lincoln Mark VIII. 15x8 Chevy Rallye wheels and shaved trim earned the car parking tickets from non-auto-enthusiastic Berkeley cops that read "Chevelle," and since I always had something on my dash covering the VIN plate, I realistically could've fought the law and won.

I only owned it for about two years. But 20 to 22 is a key time in a young man's life, and a lot happened in that car. I took my first road trip in it, a 13-hour slog to San Diego from Sacramento at around 45mph when the radiator took a dirt nap 100 miles south of Sac. I smoked my first cigarette in it. My friend Sarah called it "Dave's Fresh Ride" and consented to late-night makeouts on the bench seat after snacks at Eppie's. I scared the crap out of a fellow '68-72 A-body owner hooning it over Redwood Road between Moraga and Castro Valley. I later nearly slid his '68 Chevelle into the back of the Skylark and understood exactly why he was so frightened. Disc brakes, fat tires and swaybars make a difference. Then again, I also remember said fat tires contributing to a 45-degree angle hydroplaning incident on I-80 around Dixon that lasted for roughly a quarter mile. It's a miracle those cars didn't kill more people, frankly.

The interlocking three-point belts ruled, because girls could never figure out how to make them work, so I always got to lean over and do it for them. Unfortunately, guys had the same problem.

One of the most profound rock 'n' roll moments of my life was sitting in the parking lot of the Lafayette Starbucks listening to Jawbreaker's 24 Hour Revenge Therapy and watching the sky get light, heater on, drinking the first cup of joe of the day; Kerouac preaching about the beautiful puff of clouds floating by from Oakland to the gates of Marin.

I once spun it across a suburban street in the rain with the woman most responsible for my writing career. I got rear-ended by a bunch of teenagers in a Maxima. I had red paint on my bumper; a bumper which may be one of the most magnificent examples ever fitted to any car, ever. It punched through their bumper cover. It went through the bumper itself. And the headlight. It cut into the hood. It wasn't just a bumper, it was a weapon. And you could fit a Marshall 4x12 speaker cab in the trunk. Barely, but you could. And of course, there was plenty of room for your Les Paul and amp in the back seat.

My Irish cousin Pierre, who occasional does stunt driving for movies and owns a Mini parts, repair and modification business in Dublin, came out to visit. Bombing down Van Ness after a 15mph tour of Lombard Street he exclaimed, "This is great! I feel like I'm in Bullitt!"

My friend Jeff and I would do what we called "The Loop" in it. We'd go from Moraga to San Francisco over the Bay Bridge, through the City and then across the Golden Gate, stop for a smoke at the vista point and then back over the Richmond Bridge. It was a late night thing. We'd get annoyed or frustrated and say, "Fuck it. Let's do the Loop." Sometimes we wouldn't get home until sunrise. One night, I forgot to put the gas cap back on on a pre-Loop fill-up. I left roughly a half-tank of Chevron Premium on the hills of San Francisco.

It nearly caught fire on the way to the shop to have the electrical system fixed. I was stuck in traffic with wisps of smoke seeping out of the cracks in the dash. The Petaluma PD pulled up during a parking session. I saw him go by out of the corner of my eye. We had just enough time to get dressed before he asked for our licenses and asked, "Are you okay, Miss Larson?" I suppose I wasn't doing that badly because she replied in the affirmative.

Not long after that, the transmission let go — the one part of the car I'd always had faith in. My parents were getting rid of their eight-year-old Legend and offered it to me. Meanwhile, my apartment-complex manager forced me to have the car towed onto the street. My pal Fabrice had offered to buy the car from me. The county had decided to rebuild a section of sidewalk. The selfsame small section of sidewalk where the Skylark was parked. I was getting ready for work when the CHP officer knocked on my door and asked me if I could move the car. I told him that it wouldn't move and I had to get to work. Fabrice called the next day and I told him that he could have it for whatever the impound fees were.

He turned around and sold it to our friend Marcus, who in turn fixed the trans and the dents, redid the suspension bushings and took care of an exhaust leak. He took me for one last ride in it before he sold it to a couple of Mexican guys at the Goodguys show in Pleasanton. It ran strong, but it didn't feel like my car anymore. Four years later, I was at the Rockridge BART station with my then-fianc . I saw a white Skylark and said to her, "Hey! That's just like the one I used to have." Then I looked at the plate. 2TBX 575. They'd replaced my Poot "Girls Kick Ass!" sticker with a K&N decal and added big slashcut exhaust tips, but it was undoubtedly my old car. "That is the one I used to have." She said I should leave a note. So I did. I hope somewhere somebody's still taking care of the automobile formerly known as the Millennium Falcon, a fast, white, kitbashed monstrosity that was generally dirty, broke a lot and offered up more smiles than any car I've ever owned.

What car couldn't you quit?

Related:
Oh No! Wrong Buick on eBay [Internal]