Dale McBain represents the eclectic car builder in all of us. When you were a kid, how many Rat Fink-esque cars did you glue together that were a bit off center? Most gearheads started with model cars and eventually moved up to the fullsize toys when plastic became boring. True to form, this isn't Dale's first attempt at something different. Before the Skylark, he wrangled a '46 Chevy pickup, a '37 Plymouth sedan, and even a '50 Pro Street Studebaker. Based on that diverse collection, it would be hard to call Dale anything more specific than "a car guy.
But that doesn't mean there's no style inherent in Dale's little Buick. It's just all hidden under the hood. The recurring theme that seems to accompany any oddball engine swap is the combining of two completely oddball bedfellows. "Well, I had this car, and I had this engine, and I decided they could go together," Dale says.
See, he had discovered a minty little Skylark suffering from a missing engine and trans, which instantly reminded him of his aunt in Stillwater, Minnesota. She had planted two Cadillac Eldorados on her property but had only succeeded in growing spicy weeds. The combination of those two wholly unrelated situations led to Dale's creating his own musclecar version of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup TV commercial. "Hey, you got peanut butter in my chocolate." While the commercial may be cheesy, the sugary result is plenty tasty. Dale's mix of sweet and sour, however, took a little more time and engineering than just a quick dip in chocolate.
The swap seemed easy enough in the beginning. Both car and engine were of GM origin, so how tough could it be? The reality started to sink in with the first test fit. It seems that Cadillac engines are pretty fat, both internally and externally. Dale discovered that the 500-incher is a full 2 inches wider and 2 inches longer than a typical Buick, Olds, or Chevy big-block. Where lesser car crafters would have folded and settled for "just" a 455 Buick motor, Dale decided to press on. Eventually, the swap necessitated a Cadillac-sized crater in the firewall resulting in the stainless steel sheet directly behind the engine. He also had to relocate the heater box. Neither of these moves was all that difficult compared with the engineering exercise it took to relocate the steering column a couple of inches to the left to clear the headers. That required more than a few head-scratching sessions and resulted in a new steering-column support. The move affected driver ergonomics as well, since now the steering column is angled slightly outboard, which Dale admits took some seat time before it became acceptable. Even then, with the engine in place, Dale faced further sheetmetal surgery when he discovered the TH400 would not clear the older A-body's rather tight floorpan.
Once all the squeezing and stuffing work had been completed, the rest of the buildup went much more smoothly. The whole idea of the Cadillark was to simply build something no one else had tried. That concept fits a lot of different definitions, but in this case, it was more an exercise in engineering effort than visual impact. In many ways, that attracts the car crafter more than perhaps the Sunday afternoon car-show wannabes. That's as it should be. The true car crafter appreciates the effort, perhaps even more so when it doesn't look any different to the casual observer. Dale knows-and now, so do you.
What: '66 Buick Skylark that is more than it appears
Owner: Dale McBain, a man who's not afraid to do something different
Hometown: Mounds View, Minnesota, where it gets cold enough in the winter to hatch crazy ideas like this
Short-block: Here's where Dale breaks from tradition. Rather than a typical Buford big-block or even a throw-caution-to-the-wind small-block Chevy, he chose to cram a 500ci Cadillac motor between the fenderwells. There aren't a whole lot of tricks in the rotating assembly, starting with a stock-stroke '70 Cad crank that pushes a massive 4.304-inch stroke along with an almost square bore size of 4.300 inches. Dale retained the stock Cad crank, pistons, rods, and the engine's impressive 10:1 compression ratio since he figured all that displacement would make more than enough torque and horsepower, especially with 286 degrees of advertised duration and 0.549-inch lift.
Heads: These are also stock iron Cad pieces, but Dale dived in and pocket-ported both the intake and exhaust then added 2.19/1.90-inch stainless steel valves to help the horsepower a little. He also added Stage 4 rockers and used pushrods from a 7.3L Ford Power Stroke diesel.
Induction: This was easy with an Edelbrock Performer dual-plane that positions a Barry Grant Road Demon 850 carb along with a custom-built, Cadillac logo'd air cleaner. As for ignition, Dale went with a PerTronix Flame-Thrower HEI-style ignition system and matching PerTronix wires with the timing set at 36 degrees.
Exhaust: Here's where Dale learned just how much fun it is to swap engines in a GM A-body. He started with a set of big-block Chevy headers, when he discovered that the Rat motor exhaust flange is somewhat close to the Cadillac exhaust layout. Then he removed the mounting flange and welded on a pair of Cadillac exhaust flanges. Once the headers were on the engine, Dale discovered that the starter could not be removed without completely removing the headers from the car. So, once again, he pulled the headers off and relocated two tubes to allow the starter R&R clearance.Whew!
Transmission: While his 500ci Cad motor came out of an Eldorado, the trans was toast, so Dale opted for a TH400 from a '74 Buick. It has served him well so far, equipped with a Hughes 2,800-rpm stall speed converter and controlled with a Hurst shifter.
Rearend: The beauty of working on a GM A-body is that parts from all kinds of different GM cars will work. Dale pulled a 12-bolt out of a '68 Olds fitted with a cruising 2.73 gear ratio for the Buick. After all, with all that Cad torque, you don't need much in the way of gear ratio to get this beast moving.
Suspension: Dale added big-block springs to the front clip along with a set of Monroe shocks and a brutish 111/44-inch front sway bar just to keep the front end pointed in the right direction. Braking performance isn't all that great, since he has yet to swap over to a set of disc brakes, relying for now on the stock Skylark's 911/42-inch front and rear drums.
Wheels/Tires: Dale likes the traditional look, which means a set of timeless 15x6- and 15x8-inch Cragars mounted with a pair of 225/70R15 front and 255/60R15 rear Yokohamas.
Body: What is not traditional is what Dale added to the Buick to give it a little street cred. What first caught our attention was the hockey-stick stripe down the length of the body ending with Cadillac script. Once we realized what it said, we looked at the engine, but not before we noticed that Dale had added a tasteful rear spoiler with an integrated LED third brake light. He also liked the idea of a hoodscoop and a Buick hood tach (redlined at 5,000 rpm for a long-stroke motor). The rest of the body is painted in PPG Ivory White with a black center stripe.
Interior: Other than installing a new headliner and carpet, Dale was able to scrub his way into a really nice stock interior and avoid the cost of replacement pieces that are hard to find for a Buick anyway.
Crew: Dale's wife, Wendy, along with help from Tony Rome, Rick Proehl, Greg Aas, and Arnie Kraft.