You know, Kris could have really messed this thing up. But his brains, his sense of tradition, and a large capacity for fun to build a damn Buick took over straightaway. His younger and very patient brother, Kirk, was his monitor, his fail-safe device. "He can see the big picture a little better than I," said Kris.
To old hands like us, there's no better way to spend money or time. Our world is way too polarized around the trite and the mundane. Dream something. Build something. Do something different. Make people react. They'll either dig it or not, but at least they've been poked, shaken rudely from some impossible Bow Tie reverie.
Underneath the midsize A-body sheetmetal, the chassis could have been for a Chevelle (in this case, it's from a '70 GTO), so if you put the car on a hoist, it would be difficult to tell what the sheetmetal was. All the easier to slip in a Rat or some other Chevy V-8, thereby bastardizing the entire project. This car is from back in the day, kiddos, before the confusion and embarrassment of the let's-win-a-lawsuit "corporate small-block," a Chevy by any other name. When the dinosaurs were scourging the primitive landscape, they did it with an engine specific to their breeding and idiosyncrasies, unique and unto itself. That was brand loyalty at its most fervent.
On the other hand, anything that can be done to a Chevy can be done to a sister Oldsmobile, Pontiac, or Buick chassis, so Kris didn't have to creep around at night sourcing "special" Buick stuff.
"I was going to do a major transformation with a completely different look and style, but I decided instead that I wanted to bring back those cherished memories I have of Graddy," said Kris. Graddy was granddad Earl Herbert Kyle, Kris' link to the past, his mentor, his pal. "Graddy and I shared a very special relationship. He was a major influence in my life. He taught me how to golf, mow the lawn, work on cars, and so much more. I remember him as a WWII vet, a retired postal service worker, and an award-winning Buick mechanic, but most importantly, my grandfather."
In the beginning, the Skylark Custom raggy was just wheels. Graddy had walked the ragtop home from the Buick store where it became another member of the family. It was Kris' high school ride and then summarily passed on to other family members. The change of keepers brought disparate habits, and over time and elements, the Skylark did naturally suffer. It was no longer a special car. It was just a beater--but a beater with history and a tangible connection to grand daddy Earl. In Kris' mind, it was Earl. "Graddy suffered in his later years, but before he died, I was able to share with him my extensive plans for his old car," he said. "I maintained much of the original interior look and color scheme, but added quite a bit of muscle and an aggressive stance to give more of a hot rod feel."
Back in the Nailhead days, we have a fond remembrance of a pal's '55 Special, a big pink-and-white bomb that coalesced around a 236hp 322ci engine and three-on-the-tree. It was the only Buick clutch combination we ever saw, as the preponderance of them were equipped with the rotten and worrisome Dynaflow automatic. My first thought about it was how long a tire patch (yes, peg leg) the big Bu' could lay with relative ease. Our hot-car partner had one, too, but it was an automatic. We drag raced the clod, plumbers' pipe exhaust cutouts and Atlas Bucron drive tires (whitewalls, naturally, and once made by Exxon) notwithstanding. We never won anything with it.
Kris isn't in Graddy's old car for nothing. Though elapsed timeslips aren't a prime motive, he still built it around a kickin' 464ci Buick big-block. Since ragtops, especially vintage ragtops, aren't known as pillars of stability, as a hedge against torsional and bending forces, Kris had the frame fully boxed. That soon led to mini-tubs to encapsulate the fat 18-inch Pilot MX3s hugging either end of the narrowed 9-inch.
Kris drives the balls off his project, so he sought the most efficient way to make the car handle and corner like a whiz, and there's nothing better than suspension pieces purposely crafted for that assignment. Aside from shedding unwanted weight, the Global West tubular control arms correct the factory steering geometry with negative roll to keep the outside tire straight up and down on hard cornering to eliminate bumpsteer, and to prevent front tire tramming on uneven road surfaces.
You bet your ass that ain't...
You bet your ass that ain't a Chevy Rat. Kris' fine sense of history and tradition dictated that the Bu' begin with a vintage 455 block. Output is estimated at 600 hp and 580 lb-ft of grunt, and rightly so. T/A Performance Products and advice figured heavily in the build.
These new bones work right along with Hotchkis components, including one of John's fat antisway bars. Thank those QA1 coilover shocks for the Bu's dead-on stance ... and ground clearance of just four inches. Considering Kris' ultimate disposition, air springs might have been a better idea with their near-infinite adjustability, but he actually likes the strictly mechanical bent of the coilovers and manually adjusted ride height.
Adjunct to the enhanced suspension, Kris chose an AGR Performance quick-ratio power steering box. It has a straight 12:1 ratio and race-like valving that provide a very linear and perfectly weighted feel. Since most factory equipment includes a 14 to 16:1 ratio, the quick ratio box's reactions are immediate, almost intuitive, yet steering effort is minimal (as we discovered for ourselves in PHR's own '68 Chevelle with a similar 12:1 Saginaw-sourced steering box from CPP).
As a firefighter, Kris is always bound by other people's agendas. He felt that doing the car himself wasn't something that would fit with his schedule or pocketbook. His one day on and one day off schedule availed him lots of elbow grease time with the Skylark. As it was, the project took nearly three years to consummate. Those involved with Earl's rising include brother Kirk (encouragement, wrench turner), Joe Dahl (Joe's Hot Rod Shop, Mesa, Arizona), Mike Henry (Henry's Restorations, Mesa), Art (Art's Antiques & Classic Auto Services, Tempe, Arizona), Chuck and Kim (Metro Plating, Mesa), and Doug (All American Upholstery, Tempe). Joe Dahl let Kris use his facilities to clean and sandblast, and to hold costs down.
Can't you see granddad feathering this thing down Main Street, a couple of hotties perched on the boot, throwing kisses to the crowd from their bee-stung lips and their ample bosom? Nah. Earl wasn't that kind of guy. Neither is Kris. "I wanted the interior to be like it was when I was a kid."
Although it has been revitalized down to the last stitch, it deviates little from the old days. A repro Buick Rallye steering wheel and but three Stewart-Warner gauges in a blacked-out panel are in that niche between the stock console and the bottom of the dashboard. Kris remembers Graddy's hand on the original horseshoe shifter, but now it's his hand making the upshifts on the modern 700R4 overdrive. Kris: "The pot metal shifter literally fell apart one day, and Kirk spent many hours revitalizing the unit, making a new gear selector handle in the image of the original piece."
If the moon and stars are right, Kris might be out burning rubber two or three times a week, but only if the streets are dry. Living on the outer hub of Phoenix, Arizona, that's mostly a done deal (except for the summer monsoons, of course). At this writing, he'd racked up 875 miles on the reborn Buick.
Kris' big Buick hunkers four...
Kris' big Buick hunkers four inches from the road surface. Even with the whimsy of a white gut, the formerly unassuming Skylark (now a GS clone) has gained a powerful presence. Even the Halibrand-like Budniks fit the tableau.
The broad-shouldered Buick,...
The broad-shouldered Buick, especially in dark blue livery, demands a rim and tire combination that's just as uncommon as the car they grace. Budnik Muroc III rims coddle bulbous Michelin Pilots.
Fat 275 Michelins frame Global...
Fat 275 Michelins frame Global West control arms and a hollow Hotchkis antisway bar. Note the rugged torque chain.
See, you really can fit those...
See, you really can fit those 345 fatties and that back-braced 9-inch under there--with room to spare. The frame was boxed for torsional and bending forces, then powdercoated. Flat Spin Tech muffs help to provide extra ground clearance.