My Buick's History

A very short X-body history

The X-body design encompassed the Buick Skylark (1980-85) Chevrolet Citation (1980-85), Oldsmobile Omega and Pontiac Phoenix (1980-84).

The original concept for these cars began as early as 1974 as GM designers went to work to design smaller, lighter vehicles but still maintain a reasonable passenger compartment and trunk space.

The result was a traversed mounted engine and a combination of a transmission and drive axle which coined the term "transaxle" in our vocabulary. This made for a smaller engine compartment and freed up space for passengers, while at the same time reduced the overall weight and outside dimensions. The goal was to meet the higher fuel economy standards that were mandated for the 1980's.

The engines that were used was the Pontiac 2.5L 4 cylinder known as the "iron duke" and a brand new design V6 with 60 degree spacing between cylinder banks. The size of the engine compartment had already been decided and any new engine had to fit within this requirement. The result was the 2.8L V6, which over the years has proven itself as a reliable and efficient power plant.

So, in the Fall of 1979, the first X-bodies rolled off the assembly plants in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Tarrytown, New York and Willow Run, Michigan. Actually the first car (Chevrolet Citation) built at the OKC plant was on April 29,1979 and is displayed indoors at the Fairgrounds. My dad's Skylark was built at the Tarrytown, N.Y. plant.

My dad was looking for a new car and decided to wait a couple of years before buying a 1982 Buick Skylark. His idea was to wait until the "bugs" have been worked out of a new model before purchasing.

The vehicle was purchased at Gandara Buick of Oklahoma City on February 20, 1982 for the purchase price of $7695.00. For the next nine years, the little Buick did its duty, without notice or fanfare, only a couple of problems over the time span. A faulty A/C system which had to be replaced and a torque converter clutch solenoid. Other than a 2.8L V6, A/C and rear window defogger, it was a bare-bones no-thrills automobile. 

The Buick's first "baby" picture Mar 1982

In the early summer of 1991 I was looking for a replacement for my aging and increasingly difficult to find parts for 1973 Plymouth Duster. My dad was talking about selling the Buick. After much talking he would not come down off his $2000 selling price, so I gave in and bought it. Little did I know at the time that this would end up being on the the greatest bargains I have ever purchased, and that the future modifications I would do will have an lasting impact on my life. At the time the Skylark had 74,428 miles when I took possession.

At first I wasn't too crazy about the car, it was not as exciting to drive as my 1978 Camaro, but the fuel economy and interior cabin noise level was much better than the ole' Duster. For the next 5 years, I maintained and drove the Skylark as a daily driver. It was turning out to be one of the most dependable vehicles I had ever owned.

First Upgrades

The first upgrade on the vehicle was installing cruise control, this was in March 1992. Then the following year I decided to add power windows and door locks, which to my surprise, turned out much easier than I had anticipated. That same year I added a host of other add-ons as the local pull-your-part yard had parts cheap and I could pull the best of the bunch. The power seats, instrument gauge package with a dash upgrade to allow me to install a AM/FM/CD radio, dual horns, vanity mirrors, remote r/h mirror, trunk release,  cruise control and tilt wheel were added on between 1993-95.

First major milestone

The Buick turned 100,000 miles on August 3, 1993.

First  (and so far -only) major accident!

The Buick nearly met it's end on a sunny day in December 1993, when another driver decided to pull out from behind a semi at an intersection into my path. Going about 35 mph, I t-boned his 1985 Buick Park Avenue across the "C" pillar straight on. My Buick suffered minimal damage, pushing the left front fender back into the door and rendering it to open only partially, the core support and radiator and front end was not even damaged. That's what I call a very tough, well built car!  The other driver's vehicle went to the salvage yard. When mine was in the repair shop I decided to have it repainted. As of Feb. 2005, it still has the same paint, although I need to have it redone within the next year or two. Still looks decent.

Performance bug bites

At the same time, however, I had a performance itch that needed to be scratched. I had been looking and saw several 2.8L V6's with the HO option (VIN "Z"). I knew if I was going to take full potential of this, I would need not only the carburetor and the ecm chip, but the high flow cylinder heads and special cam to make this work. My parents had bought a 1986 Celebrity Eurosport 2 door brand new that had the hi-tech 2.8L multi-port fuel injection system, and I knew in the back of my mind that the Skylark and Celebrity shared the same basic engine and that a conversion over to fuel injection would be possible, but at this time, I had not even seen a 2.8 MFI Skylark until the fall of 1993 and that's when I knew that it could be done.

The Skylark was a 1985 model and the last year of the "X" body, and a optional fuel injected 2.8 was offered. Physically, my '82 an the 85 shared a lot in common as for as the body and engine compartment and the layout of the engine, and its supporting hardware would fit without any modifications. Sadly, I was still intimidated by the fuel injection system and at that time passed up an opportunity to buy what I need for a reasonable price.

Two years would pass before I would decide to take that leap forward, in at least researching the peripherals and the wiring requirements.

Entering the Fuel Injection Era

Then in the fall of 1995, I decided to go ahead and purchase the hardware and electronics to make my MFI conversion a reality. I went to my local yard and searched but couldn't find a MFI engine anywhere. I told the manager what I needed and he told me of their other yard 90 miles away near Tulsa that was having a "all you can carry for $25.00", he said there may be a possibility they had what I needed.

So, I made my way up there and sure enough, it was an all you can carry, one load was what ever you can carry up there in one trip, in your arms....$25.00 per carry. I looked around and found a 1985 Old's Omega and a Chevrolet Citation with the MFI option. I spent the next three hours pulling what I needed and that I could carry in one trip. The entire plenum with throttle body and injectors, air cleaner assembly, maf sensor, wiring and various other parts I needed to get started. The $25.00 price was a super deal and was the catalyst that got me rolling ahead. 

I spent the next several weeks, obtaining wiring diagrams and other small parts, such as brackets, pulleys, fuel lines and other small items when a couple of cars did show up at the local yard. I had to make sure the firewall connector wiring through the bulkhead matched the existing wiring on the Skylark and for the functioning of the check engine, cold start circuit, park-neutral switch and various fused connections that had to made properly.

The time I spent making wiring connection swaps and pin matches was worth the effort, and as it turned out the electrical would be the easiest part. The mechanical swap began on April 4, 1996 and was completed on April 6 1996.- 1300 HRs. Then the moment of truth,,, firing it off for the very first time. As I twisted the key to the on position, I could hear the fuel pump come to life and prime the system. I did this several times until the pressure came up to 42 psi. Then I turned it to start and it startled me when it roared to life! . The engine at this time had 133,890 miles on the clock.

After doing minor adjustments and settings, I pulled out onto the street for its first test run and was utterly amazed on how smooth and responsive it was. Colds starting was a snap, although after a few hundred miles, I noticed it was hard to start when hot. Further investigation showed I had two leaky injectors. What did you expect for salvage yard parts? This problem was quickly solved and the next set of injectors (used) lasted until my next engine swap in June 2002.

The mfi ran well even on the small valve heads, mileage was up 2.5 mpg, I estimated through the Desktop Dyno I was pushing 124 hp and 155 ft/lbs torque. I could feel the difference. The stock 2 bbl was rated 112 hp/145 ft/lbs.

I drove the Buick during the next six years with no major mechanical problems. I did do some upgrades along the way. Adding a modified second generation speedometer face that registered 130 mph, a speedometer head that had a trip odometer and having it professionally calibrated. Also I added the tri-color taillights found only on the 1980 Skylarks, for that "euro" look in 1997.

Picture of engine compartment taken Mar 25, 1998. Note the original  emission hose diagram on the shock tower for the carbureted 2.8L V6

Rear Disc Brakes

 

On February 17, 1998 came another major upgrade, when I swapped the rear drum brakes over to rear discs. The hubs, backing plates, calipers,  rotors, brake cables, master cylinder were donated by a 1986 Pontiac 6000 STE. The swap took some time as I had to modify the rotors for the wheel bolt pattern on the Skylark and modify the hub brackets to bolt on. also I found out the 13" wheels would not clear the calipers, and this is when I stumbled upon a full set of 14" aluminum wheels from a 1986 Cavalier Z24. I cleaned and painted the wheels to match the body color and spent a couple of days swapping the brake system.

First Major Preventive Maintenance

In late April of 1999, I pulled the engine and replaced camshaft, lifters, pushrods, rod and main bearings, seals, gaskets and the cylinder heads from a  a salvage yard that had been freshly rebuilt that costs me $30.00. They were still the small valve heads, but I couldn't complain, as the seals in the old heads were blowing by at first start up. The only thing not touched on the engine as the cylinder and pistons. This was at 174,867 miles on the clock. The only "mod" done was adding a set of Comp Cams roller tip rockers for the 2.8L. I'm sure this freed up an additional 5 hp.

On September 19th of that same year the original transaxle quit without warning at 179,953 miles. I had purchased a rebuilt transaxle from my local yard for $50.00 about a year earlier, and glad I did. The new gear ratio was 2.84 compared to 2.53 for the original. This transaxle had its problems but would work for the next three years. This transaxle would remain in the car until June 2002, with the 3.4L swap project.

Preparing for engine upgrade

I knew during the next couple of years, that a engine upgrade was needed, but what engine?, size? , Gen I or Gen II or even a Gen III? I began investigating the possibilities.

At first I was wanting to upgrade to a 3.1, cast iron head engine, as this would allow me to retain all my equipment with no mods. I had at one time, a '86 block that had the larger journals that would have allowed me to use a 3.1 crank. I had a couple of 3.1 cranks in my possession, the only problem would have to purchase the 3.1 pistons for a VIN "T" engine. I also had a Gen II block, which would have allowed me to use the DIS if I desired.

By early 2000, I had enough research done, that I decided a 3.4L OHV engine would be my ticket to performance in the Buick. I started to wait patiently as one would show up. I had just became a Ebay user and stumbled across a complete 3.4L from a 1994 Camaro for sale. I asked the seller questions, obtained the VIN to do my title and mileage search, and ended up being the highest bidder at $550.00 for a engine with a little over 22K miles.

The engine was complete from intake to oil pan. I got it home and pulled everything apart to check it out. It was indeed a low miles engine. Of course, judging by the look of the oil, it had been sitting around for a long time, so I flushed the block and added new main and rod bearings, new oil pump, timing chain and gears and gaskets. The pistons, rings and cylinder were in beautiful shape.

I did have to make some mods to the block for a FWD application. The starter bolt holes had to be relocated, along with a mod to the block bell housing to clear the transaxle housing and making a special bracket so I could use the original power steering pump. Everything else bolted right on, my intake, brackets and manifolds. I did some very minor mods such as ported head, port match intake and added the Comp Cams roller tip rockers. Everything else is bone stock.

Buick turns 200,000!

The Buick rolls over 200,000 miles on June 5, 2001.

The quest for power begins

During the time the 2.8L has been in the car, it has done its duty. For the last six years and over 76,860 miles, it has been the most reliable engine I have ever owned. Of course, I have done more than the average maintenance over this time, but the piece of mind knowing that day or night, rain or shine I could go out and twist the key and it starts every time, was time and money well spent, not to mention my accumulation of knowledge over this time period.

My acquisition of knowledge on fuel injection would carry over when I converted my 1978 Camaro over to a 355 TPI system and it too, fired right up without a hitch.

The 3.4L conversion begins

Over the last three years of the 2.8L, it had been getting slower and slower. Not because of any mechanical problems, but the cold hard facts, that over the last several years, the auto makers have been improving the performance of even their 4 cylinder engines. Combined with more powerful, efficient power plants that were hitting the roads, the days of the Buick's 2.8L MFI being a road warrior were coming to an end. 

 

Then in May of  2002, a sudden change in performance told me something was seriously wrong. The engine would start right up, the the exhaust note told me I had a valve problem.

In late June 2002, I decided to pull the old 2.8L. at 210,750 miles. It was time to say good bye to an old friend that had occupied the engine bay for over 20 years. 

The old engine coming out Jun 21, 2002

I bolted the new transaxle onto the 3.4L and dropped it into the engine bay. I did have to replace the transmission mounts, as they had turned to mush. I bolted everything back and hooked the the electronics. I had decided to see if the original ecm and prom would calculate the fuel properly as it was a MAF based system.

With the only exception of having to re-drill the starter mounting bolts on the opposite end of the engine flange, and cutting of the bottom 1/2" of the bottom of the right side flange so the transaxle housing would clear, everything else is a bolt on with no other modifications needed. I did port match the heads and intake to the gaskets and added a set of Comp Cams roller tip rockers to enhance performance.

When I turned the key for the first time, it did not fire right up. I cranked it long enough to know it would not start on its own. I checked fuel pressure and for spark and checked the timing of the distributor and still wouldn't run. Then I pulled the fuel rail off the intake and with a remote starter, cranked it to see if the injectors would spray. All of the 3.4 injectors were clogged. I took a chance and went down to my local yard to pull a set of injectors from a Buick 3.3L V6. They ohmed out okay and when I installed them and checked them out, all 6 worked! I was back in business!

On June 27, 2002 at 1900 HR, the 3.4 fired up for the first time. It was probably one of the most exciting moments in my Buick's history.

After letting it warm up and adjusted the timing and idle and checking fluids, it was time for a road test. As a backed out of the drive way onto the street, and placed it into drive, I could feel the difference. As soon as I hit the throttle, it leaped forward with an exuberance I had never felt before. I could feel a grin growing on my face! Yes!, the performance was back!

The throttle response was amazing. Combined with the Buick's light weight and the engine rating of 170 hp-205 ft/lbs torque (Desktop Dyno) it will smoke the tires, even with the A/C on. Vehicles that would pull away from me with ease with the 2.8, suddenly became a bottleneck to me. 

Sadly, I decided to sell my Skylark in on July 21, 2007. I had just bought a more practical vehicle- a full size 2006 extend cab Silverado 1500, and I did not have any space available to store her. She took up residence in a new home in Kansas, which her whereabouts are unknown today.

It broke my heart to sell an important part of my history, but I did keep the "birth certificate", her build sheet, which I will always treasure.

 

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