Someone's been messing with grandma's Buick. Perhaps junior's been spending his allowance at Pep Boys instead of at the candy store. How else can you explain a Sunpro tach ending up on the steering column of a granny'd-out '72 Skylark? After all, there's no way a stock-looking two-door-post sedan-complete with a bench seat, column shifter, and possibly even a Social Security check stub in the glovebox-could possibly have the requisite hot rod hardware to warrant such a device. Of course, all this is assuming you'd even notice it nonchalantly vegetating in the staging lanes in the first place. That usually doesn't happen until it rips off a series of 10-second passes at 123 mph. This, folks, is no ordinary sleeper. So deceptive is its innocuous appearance that it won't just leave you sleeping at the light. It will leave you as incapacitated as an A-list actor at a Malibu rehab center.
OK, maybe that's exaggerating a bit. In truth, Gary Steele's Skylark is so unassuming, so easy to overlook, that it's never successfully suckered a victim into a street skirmish. From its Vader-black paint to its steel rollers, the sleeper effect is so extreme that it's almost counterproductive. Nonetheless, it's this wickedly covert vibe that seduced Gary from the instant he saw it posted for sale online five years ago. The owner claimed it ran low 10s with a 700hp 528, but it was out of Gary's price range. "When I first saw this car, I thought it was the baddest thing I'd ever seen," he recollects. "I sat there staring at the pictures, dreaming of owning the car, thinking, that's exactly how I'd want to build a car like this. I saved the photos on my computer, and opened them up to lust over the car every now and then."
Two years later, just as he was about to put the Skylark out of mind, it resurfaced on the V8Buick.com message board. The 528 had been pulled for a milder 464, but it was for sale once again with an asking price $10,000 less than before. "I somehow convinced my wife Angela that I needed this car," Gary explains. "She agreed under the condition that I sell one of my other cars and that she could race it, too. I do let her get behind the wheel at the track, but I still haven't sold one of my other cars yet. My daily driver is a four-door '72 Skylark, and I also have a '72 GS and a '67 396SS Chevelle."
As someone who prides himself on building his own cars from scratch, buying a finished car required Gary to step out of his comfort zone. The son of a mechanic, Gary's been restoring muscle cars since he was a kid. "Whether it's doing paint and bodywork, welding, or building motors, my family has taken pride in the fact that we do everything ourselves," he says. "I felt so guilty about buying a finished car and am embarrassed that the first car I'm getting into a magazine is the only one I haven't built myself, but when I saw this car, I just couldn't resist. All I've done to it is change the oil and spark plugs, and put on a lot of polish."
It's tough to argue with logic like that, and a quick rundown of the car's specs makes things much more clear. An original 32,000-mile survivor, the car's factory 350 was dumped long ago and is now powered by a race-bred 464. The Skylark's former owner, Gary Paine, built the mill from used parts out of his race car. Like all big-block Buicks, the motor is based on a production 455 block and is fitted with a stock crank, Howard's aluminum rods, and Ross 11:1 pistons. TA Performance aluminum heads-rubbed to 315/230 cfm-a Kenne Bell single-plane intake, and a Holley Dominator carb feed the bores. Valvetrain actuation is handled by a TA Performance 258/272-at-.050 hydraulic flat-tappet cam and 1.65:1 rockers. Although the motor has never been dyno'd, based on the A-body's hefty 3,680-pound race weight and 123-mph trap speed, we'd conservatively put the guesstimate over 550 hp. "I was concerned about running aluminum rods on the street at first, but the engine builder said he had a set that survived 998 passes before they needed replacement," says Gary. "Buick blocks aren't very strong, but reinforcing them with a girdle costs $1,200-$1,500 because it requires cutting the main caps. A better solution is to have a lightweight piston and rod combo."
Funneling the power rearward is a GM TH400 trans and a TCI 3,500 stall converter that, according to Gary, is surprisingly tight. A custom steel driveshaft and a Currie 9-inch rearend with 4.11:1 gears and a limited-slip differential complete the driveline. Stopping duties are handled by stock front discs and rear drums. Metco billet control arms and airbags on each side help plant the rearend.
As Gary admits, he hasn't done much to the Skylark, but the few tweaks he's made have paid dividends at the track and on the street. During his first trip down the strip in the car, it ran a traction-limited 11.20 at 122 mph. With the addition of adjustable QA1 coilovers at each corner, Gary was rewarded with respectable 1.57-second 60-foot times and a 10.97/123-mph timeslip. "I haven't played with the carb jetting, timing, or shift points yet, so I'm sure there's some room for improvement," he says. "With a looser converter and different rearend gears, my goal will be to get the car in the 10.50s while still being in street trim." Speaking of streetability, the Skylark's exhaust system-which used to exit in front of the rear wheels-was giving Gary's eardrums a beat-down on the freeway. Consequently, by installing a 3-inch X-pipe, and new MagnaFlow mufflers and tailpipes, he reduced the noise significantly and eliminated resonance altogether.
An ongoing mystery that Gary has yet to solve is who exactly built the car. He'd like to thank him for his excellent work, since they obviously have similar taste, but his efforts to track him down have been unsuccessful. "I have a huge folder full or receipts, but on every one of them the person's name is either cut off or blacked out," Gary explains. "I found the person who owned the car when it was still stock, and he said he sold it to someone in Chicago in the mid-1990s who didn't care about the engine, just the body and interior. I'm pretty sure that's the guy who did the full frame-off restoration, but being that he's from Chicago and impossible to find, maybe he's in the mafia!"
Although Gary makes that remark as a joke, he could be onto something. Granted, the Skylark has failed miserably at luring victims on the street, but it has all the earmarks of a consummate getaway vehicle. Whether it's the current 464 or the former 700hp 528, the car has the speed requirement thoroughly covered. Then there's that massive A-body trunk, capacious enough to swallow up big loads of Tommy guns, money bags, liquor bottles, and a different kind of "victim." It's black, clandestine, and no one notices it. And that's exactly the way it's supposed to be.
Gary isn't a fan of sumped...
Gary isn't a fan of sumped stock tanks and the bulky external pumps and filters that go along with them because he thinks they look too racey. Consequently, he still relies on a stock tank and a 1/2-inch pickup. This requires running at least a half tank of gas, but Gary is more than happy to make that concession to retain a stock appearance.
The only deviation from the...
The only deviation from the sleeper motif takes an extremely keen eye to spot. The fiberglass hoodscoop is a reproduction of the extremely rare Stage II scoop Buick offered in 1970. Gary plans to make a functional ram-air-style air cleaner that mates with the scoop.
The Skylark was originally...
The Skylark was originally equipped with power steering, power brakes, A/C, and a radio, but all that has since been deleted. Gary replaced the Grant steering wheel that was on the car when he purchased it with a stock unit. The door panels, headliner, and seat vinyl are all original.