Submission Thursday: TurboRodding: Wave of the FUTURE!

More than enough to get the ol' juices flowing. Or so they tell us.
More than enough to get the ol' juices flowing. Or so they tell us.

Commenter bzr, who has provided us with a plethora of goodness over the last few weeks, has opted to take on a bigger task this time. He’s waxing nostalgic about the performance version of his dad’s old Skyhawk.
TechieInHell, who designed our banner above, once had a Skylark of early-80s vintage, that he named “Baldrick” after the somewhat-useless manservant from the Blackadder series. While the Skylark shares absolutely nothing with the earlier Skyhawk, it nonetheless allows me to completely sympathize with bzr‘s views on this car. They were horrid cars, with virtually no redeeming attributes to describe them… and yet somehow, after knowing one, you can’t help but feel a little nostalgia for them. But let’s let bzr take over from here, shall we?

I'd hardly be able to restrain my enthusiasm to crack this magazine open!
I'd hardly be able to restrain my enthusiasm to crack this magazine open!

The 1978 TurboHawk, from Car and Driver, February 1978

Some cars have a certain appeal to certain people, no matter how piss-poor they are. My father’s Buick Skyhawk, which I’ve written about here, is one such example. A terrible car not only by modern standards but also those of its time, it nonetheless bestows a special place in my heart, and if I ever see one on the streets again that hasn’t been churned into toilet-seat hinges I will inevitably pay more slobbering attention to it than sanely necessary.

It is with this irrational love for the H-body that I direct your attention, dear readers, to this particular issue of Car and Driver. Dated February 1978, it seems to feature as many automotive oddballs as possible. We now know Subaru’s “weird” sports car and truck, teased semi-prominently, as the infamous BRAT, next to a brief mention of the AMC Concord. (Remember those?) But the weird, tape-striped and downsized Oldsmobile 442 proclaims “Best-Performing Intermediate?” with the same gusto as “Dewey Defeats Truman.” And that’s ignoring the six-wheeled, mid-engined, Cadillac-powered Panther 6, which is the subject for another day.

But TurboRodding is America’s Latest Kar Kraze!, evidentially. And the fact that some whackjob had bothered fitting turbochargers under the hood of the Buick Skyhawk makes it even cooler in my mind. Why didn’t my father spring for that? Why did he have to settle?

“TurboHawking,” as the article is entitled, sounds like a term for pushing wheelchair-bound physicists down steep inclines. What’s so different about this particular Skyhawk aside from the turbo snails?

For one, the high praise Car and Driver so lavishly heaped on it:

“If you were to very carefully program a computer to spit out one custom-made car best suited for all of today’s enthusiast’s obligations—striking appearance, stirring performance, mechanical sophistication, deep-seated comfort, economy and affordability—something very close to this Skyhawk would show up.”

Well that’s a bold-faced lie, C&D. For one, computers in 1978 were glorified calculators that couldn’t even run Freecell, for Pete’s sake. And clearly this computer hasn’t factored in the need for reliability, especially with the addition of forced induction on one of the most unreliable cars in existence.

And evidently this computer doesn’t have an artist’s eye. Note the enlarged front air dam, deep-seated fender vents behind the front wheels, and flared tea tray spoiler on the “fuselage” tail—hooked up to eye-searing red-orange paint practically screaming for the Stars N’ Bars to be painted on the roof. It all adds up to a disjointed look of plasticity and a hint of Euro-trash in the vein of the Tickford Capri. At least they kept the four Frankensteinian square headlights.

Yet it’s still discreet by 70s standards. No screaming chickens or velour upholstery from obscure Russian fashion designers, and the multi-striped seats are only acceptable because they’re out of sight when you sit in them.

Red, White and Bleugh.
Red, White and Bleugh.

As for the rest of the car, Car and Driver fills in the details for us: “…a kit developed by Doug Roe Engineering in Phoenix, Arizona, soon to be marketed by Kenne-Bell Enterprises.” The turbocharger, mounted atop the engine, pumps out 9 psi of boost in the interests of engine life. (The engine can blow up on its own, thank you very much!) No mention of an intercooler, though Roe promises future CARB certification against the nefarious 70s emissions laws.

And what does all of this performance net you? 150hp and a 0-60 time of 8.9 seconds. Can you feel the fury? On the other hand, a stock Skyhawk with its 231 cid iron-block Buick V6 and 2-barrel carburetor could push the envelope at 11.4 seconds, or the amount of time it takes to negotiate with a Las Vegas stripper. The turbo, then, was only good for 40 horses. TurboHawking? More like TurboPigeoning.

Remember when companies were proud of specs like these?
Remember when companies were proud of specs like these?

Buick would later introduce their own turbo Skyhawk when they would go T-Type crazy in the mid-80s, unleashing us the Grand National, GNX and Regal T-Type. But the Somerset, Century, Electra and Skyhawk T-Types are all different tales for a different time—as is this, this forgotten one-off was an interesting footnote for a car that is of itself an interesting footnote in automotive history. (Well, to everyone except me.)

TurboHawking3 TurboHawking4 TurboHawking2

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  1. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

    Crap turbocharged = turbo crap?

  2. CptSevere Avatar

    My same set of grandparents that had a Porsche 356, a two stroke Saab, a Jag Mark III sedan (the buggy shaped one, you know what I'm referring to), a Buick Wildcat, a '71 Riviera, and other badass cars, had a '76 or 7 Skyhawk and liked it. They drove it cross-country no problem. I guess that getting older made them care less and less about how trick their rides were, but, hell, they were car folks and liked their little Buick. Grammy died last April at 95 years old (should have heard her stories about Prohibition, whatta party). The October before, I remarked about how I thought the annual Corvette Club gathering here in Tombstone was so cool, I mean 'Vettes everywhere, and she sniffed "Corvettes aren't real sports cars." That's Grammy. She had a Skyhawk, so show some love.

  3. Alff Avatar

    I had a '78 (I think) Skyhawk that was a bone stock version of the car above. I loved it because I didn't have to give a damn about it. Turbocharging would only have upset that dynamic and I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have made the car any more enjoyable to drive as the suspension was far and away the weak link on that POS, not the acceleration.

  4. Maymar Avatar

    I can just imagine the coke-fueled meetings that came up with that fad. "TURBO EVERYTHING! Boys, we're putting turbos on the turbos, turbo the fabric, turbo heater, turbo stereo, turbo rear end, dammit, if it's got a part number, it's getting a turbo!" (Yes, I've liberally borrowed from Bill Cosby's Carroll Shelby impression)
    Still, having no experience with an H-body, I want one. I'm partial to an Olds Starfire with an Olds Aurora V8, but I love them all for that epic disconnect between theoretically great and realistically crap.

  5. BGW, Capt (Ret.) Avatar

    I can't look at any of these H-body variants without this springing immediately to mind:
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    1. SeanKHotay Avatar

      I was just looking for my pics of this car. Shows up quite a bit on the vintage circuit…