There are at least three factors that influence the value of a car to a collector. The first is style, the second is the condition of the vehicle and the third is availability. The fewer there are, the more likely the value is greater. Other factors include its authenticity or perhaps a family connection with the vehicle.
After a lengthy search, John Odne found a classic that satisfied all those factors.
"I always wanted a Buick," he said. "My dad had a 1954 Buick. I started looking at Buick Skylarks five or six years ago, when they were really expensive. Their value peaked in about 2007, and then prices started going down."
The Walnut Creek resident found his 1954 Buick Skylark convertible (all 1954 Skylarks are convertibles) about three years ago advertised in Hemmings magazine. He paid just under $90,000.
"It's all original, and they are only original once," he said. "But that also means it is not perfect, but I didn't want a perfect car. I wanted something I could work on, something I could drive, put my dog in and have some fun with.
"The odometer shows only 75,000 miles, which I believe to be accurate. I usually drive it once or twice a week for errands, but never in the rain." He even lets his kids drive it without trepidation.
The owner has spent a few maintenance bucks on his Skylark since the purchase. "I had the engine worked on, installed a new water pump, generator, fuel tank and fuel lines, problems one
Odne doesn't know the car's complete history, but he knows it spent part of its life in Ohio. That state is part of the country's so-called Rust Belt for good reason.
"I took the seats, carpet and door panels out and went down to the bare metal to get rid of all the interior rust. This summer, I plan to remove the dashboard, strip it down and repaint it."
The Skylark has the traditional "waterfall" grille, which makes it easy to identify as a Buick, but it also has unique features. The most notable are the fender cutouts. They are longer than those of other cars, and the undersides of the fenders were painted a contrasting color. For example, Odne's white car has red fender cutouts.
The car has genuine Kelsey-Hayes 40-spoke chrome wire wheels. The brake drums, visible through the wire wheels, are painted the same contrasting color as the fender cutouts, adding to its elegant look.
On the trunk deck, there are twin ridges to simulate luggage straps of 1920-1930 vehicles. The ridges flow into the rear bumper guards. The large chrome encased taillights give a hint of what was to come later in grandiose tail fins.
The car has a Dynaflow three-speed automatic transmission, power steering, brakes, windows and seats. A button on the floorboard allows the driver to change the AM radio stations with his foot. The windows and the power top are hydraulic rather than electric as in today's vehicles. As Odne discovered, that means there are many hoses that can leak and cause rust.
The red leather interior design has a waffle pattern on both the comfortable bench seats and the door panels. The windshield was chopped 3 inches lower than other Buick convertibles, making for a sleeker appearance, especially when the top is up.
According to AutomotiveMilePosts.com, Buick introduced the 322-cubic-inch nailhead V8 with the 1953 Skylark. Nailhead, a nickname, comes from the appearance of small, vertically positioned valves that look like nails. At the time, this was Buick's most powerful engine, and it proved to be a good one. It was later used in the larger and heavier Roadmaster models.
Odne agrees. "I think the strongest part of the car is the V8 engine. The engine puts out about 200 HP, and it runs real nice on the open road," he said. He has a lot of confidence in his car and is thinking of driving it to Southern California this summer.
The iconic Harley Earl-designed Buick Skylark represented the top of the line, with most optional equipment in other Buick models as standard equipment. Some call the car a limited production model, but that really means it was a slow seller. Only 836 Skylarks were built for 1954, and Odne believes about 120 are still rolling.
According to the website, the anemic sales may have been at least partly attributable to the decision to change the size of the car from the larger Roadmaster/Super chassis to the shorter Century/Special chassis. In the 1950s, bigger was definitely considered better.
But the slow sales in 1954 contribute to the worth today. The owner estimates the current value at $115,000 to $120,000 and said if it was perfect it could be worth up to $180,000. But don't go knocking on his door with your checkbook. He is not interested in selling.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com.