The Buick Skylark 80X was the second major promotional car I did for Buick as Performance Design.
Performance Design (see The Early History of the Buick Grand National and Performance Design) was created as an assumed name for freelance activities with Herb Fishel and Buick’s promotional efforts in the late ’70s. The 80X was featured in Hot Rod Magazine, October 1979. It was called the 80X because the Skylark was build on the new X-body platform for the 1980 model year.
Keep in mind that in the late ’70s the whole idea of what a performance car was, changed because of federal regulations, corporate downsizing, smaller engines, emission and fuel economy standards. Until computerized fuel injection engine management systems would become mainstream, new car performance was very modest by ’60s standards. Buick was struggling with image and an aging customer base, and needed to try and come up with ways to appeal to a broader market. Performance promotional vehicle creation was part of that strategy. Because these vehicles needed to be real cars that magazines would evaluate, they needed to preform much better than stock. That gave Buick the excuse to develop the unlikely V6 as a performance engine. This engine development produced factory performance parts that saw competition in a variety of racing venues, and eventually did see its way into production as the 3.9 liter turbo in the Buick Grand National and Pontiac Turbo Trans Am, and later in an even-fire configuration as the 3800.
Another thing worth noting is that Buick didn’t have any performance platforms like Chevrolet or Pontiac. So we were trying to make a performance car from an up-scale luxury car with conservative styling. It was no easy trick to take a stiffly sectioned boxy notchback and turn it into a performance car. If success is measured in lasting historical significance, then the 80X and the ’79 Century Roadmaster were not successful. But they were building blocks that helped lead the way out of the fog of the late ’70s.
80X concept sketch.
The modeling on the Buick 80X was done at Diversified Glass Products in Pontiac, Michigan by a group of very talented GM sculptors, mostly from Buick Studio. Larry Brinker acted as chief modeler. Other talented sculptors that helped on the project were Al Holgerson, Ted Klein, Dan Curtis, Dave Curtis, and Claudio Bertolini. If I’ve left anybody out, please let me know. We would meet at Diversified and work in the evenings and on Saturday. It was not the best of environments to work in, as it was a working (read: dusty) fiberglass fabrication shop during the day.
This is how these things start. Pretty scary and hard on the sheet metal.
Larry Brinker working on the front fender flare.
Models always go through ugly stages that tests the designer’s convictions. This car was no exception.
The sculptors were the best anywhere.
The hood blister came out nice. I felt free to break away from the stiff sections of the car and create a more organic form.
The finished model.
Two-page spread as it appeared in Hot Rod magazine, October 1979.
Publicity shots of the 80X.
Considering that these add-on panels were going to be offered to the pubic, I thought about ways to make the panels easier to install. I came up with the idea of attaching them with a C-shaped rubber molding with rivets instead of a lot of extensive and expensive body work. The C-shaped molding slipped over the flange designed into the body panels The lower leg of the molding went under the flange, and the upper leg of the molding covered the rivets that held the panels in place. The molding also added a visual, graphic element to the panel design. The idea was that the installation would be easier and far less expensive than traditional panel installation methods. I learned later that the shop that installed the panels and finished the car had a difficult time getting it perfect. Oh, well.
I imagine these are rare parts. Like none, maybe.