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1977 Buick Nighthawk

Nkleftsidedark It was love at first sight. 

There I was, reading The Truth About Cars instead of doing something work-related, when, lo and behold, they pushed out a capsule review of the 1977 Buick Nighthawk. I was immediately smitten; I fell head over heels.

The black paint. ... The gold hawk and the gigantic stripe on the side. ... The gold wheels. ... Those lines, evocative of a mutant offspring between a Datsun 240Z and an AMC Pacer... or was that an RX-7 crossbred with a Pinto? I couldn't decide, but it didn't matter. Is that a clam-like rear taillight? Why yes. Yes it is. Is it winking at me suggestively? Why yes. I think it is.

Then I was told about the paint.

Imagine, for a second, that a standard-issue household Twinkie represents the normal amount of awesomeness and cool in a normal automotive paint job. The amount of awesome in the Buick Nighthawk paint package, with apologies to Ghostbusters, would correspond to a 35-foot-long, 600-pound Twinkie. You see, the paint changes color depending on whether light is shining on it or not.

See that picture up top? That's what a Buick Nighthawk looks like during the day with only regular sunlight shining on it. If you take a picture with a flash, on the other hand, you get our next picture.

Nkleftsidelight See that stripe that just magically came out of nowhere? Does your car do that? Does any car made in the past 25 years do that? Of course not--and do you know why? 

It's because you don't drive a Buick Nighthawk. In fact, I can safely say that nobody drives a Buick Nighthawk--at least, not for very long. The Buick Nighthawk was nothing more than a Buick Skyhawk with fancy paint, and a Buick Skyhawk was nothing more than a rebadged Monza, which we've had mixed feelings about in the past.

The good news, at least for those that yearn for a Skyhawk, was that it never came with the Vega's uber-destructible four cylinder engine; Buick *Hawks only came with the Buick 231 V-6. The bad news is that it did come with the exact same level of fit and finish that America had come to expect from GM's H-Body platform, which meant that it could do 0-Rust faster than it could do 0-60.

The worst news was that, owing to the 231's early '60s pedigree and the underlying design philosophy that thought creating a V-6 was as easy as taking a V-8 and chopping a couple of cylinders off (a philosophy which I deal with daily in my '93 Dakota, by the way), it ran roughly and moved slowly. This would almost certainly explain why the speedometer only went up to 80--anything past that and the sympathetic vibrations would have caused the rapidly rusting speedometer cable to disintegrate.

Even so, I still admire those funky lines and the mystery paint. Sure, if I had one, it would almost certainly have to be hermetically sealed at this point to prevent it from being naturally recycled, and yes, the antiquated engine would leave me pining for the performance and reliability of my significant other's Malibu, but no matter. If only for the briefest of moments, I would be able to say that I have a car that changes color in the light, and nobody, save for certain oxidizing chemical reactions, would ever be able to take that away from me.

Now, if only I could find a car that changed color in the rain...

(Pictures and details about the paint are courtesy of As an aside, I'd like to shake the hands of whomever it was at GM that decided that everything should be a fastback. Genius.)

--David Colborne


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i didn't own the nighthawk...i owned the olds equivalent...the starfire with v-6... wow...that was the worst car i've ever rattled and shaked so bad that i'd have to put it in neutral every time i stopped at a light... it was in the shop 20 out of 30 days for months... oddly enough...the first few purred like a kitten... anyway...after 9 months...i got rid of it...

I'm an unabashed fan of these cars. First off, I think they're gorgeous - I love the silhouette, I love the detailing, I love the lines. In their era, they were smooth, sleek rocket ships.

Dynamically they were quite nice as well. When people bash the Vega, they forget that it was attractive and a nice handler for its time. The Monza and its clones were judged superior to the competition for handling, ride, and general friendliness.

I don't doubt that they've aged badly, and I'm under no illusions that they were durable, reliable vehicles, but I'd still own one. It's just really hard to find a nice one.

Oh, and David is right. That paint is *awesome.*

I wonder if it's related to the paint that frequently gets used on the endurance racers that race at the 24-hour races at Le Mans and Daytona. In the sunlight the cars look normal - but at night when they're racing and you get a flash picture, you get fantastic reflections from the stripes, racing numbers, and designs on the car.

A few examples:

I couldn't find an example, but it makes for an especially cool picture if you're using a slow shutter speed for an artistic speed blur, but the flash gets a sharp return from the reflective paint/tape.

I understand it was pretty difficult to find a nice one in 1977, too. *grin*

Oh, Christ in heaven, not the 231. Think it sucked in the Monza and brethren? Imagine it stuck in a Buick Century twice that size. What an absolute disaster. Talk about underpowered. . . .I drove back from eastern Washington once and despite having the pedal to the floor, I could NOT get above about 57 mph. On completely flat topography. Was something wrong with the engine? Did it lose power for some reason? Why no, there was a STIFF HEADWIND.

It also had a nasty habit of stalling out after the first 15 minutes or so after starting it up first thing, and then would flood itself and not start again for half an hour or so. Oh yeah, that's lots of fun, especially when you find yourself at a busy intersection and the _($*^@_(^@$@)($& thing stalls and won't start.

I would compare it to six hamsters running on exercise wheels under the hood, but that would be an insult to rodents everywhere.

Do I sound spiteful? Like I hate hate HATE that engine with the fire of a thousand suns? If so, I have failed miserably to convey my true feelings.

Ah, that legendary Lordstown build quality (*snort* *guffaw*) and the awesome power of the late-70s General Motors V-6 (*snigger*).

If you are interested in cool paint Jobs, The best I have seen is from Alfa Romeo. They do a turquoise-green paint option that looks one colour at one angle and another shade at different Angles. You have to see it- Its just cool. Its not the most pretty shade but everyone did a double-take when it passed in any sunshine. Also Audi did an Audi A8 Saloon at one car show (the body is made from Aluminum) in polished form so it looked like it was all-chrome. It was illegal to sell as in sunlight it would blind everyone. Rumor was that some Middle east oil sheik was so smitten he asked for one to be made anyway at considerable cost. Must have had a private track or maybe you don't complain about your Prince if you are blinded! Check out BMWs flexi-skin concept roadster. Its a subframe with a flexi-skin that can be altered to suit the Cars use.
Small tit-bit. One English Car maker went to buy a car body from the Japanese factory that makes the Lexus. He was asked what body gap he wanted. When he wondered what the hell that meant, they said there was three options- Lexus Gaps, Merc level and then "standard", the finer the gap, the more it cost him!!

Ford has done the Mustang with that sort of paint (they called it Mystic) and maybe other models as well. Don't know if they still make them, if it's an available option, or what. Always wanted one though.

I've certainly never seen a Nighthawk in my lifetime. And for some reason seeing that made me throw up in my mouth a little.

The Ford Mystic color I remember well from the mid-90's. It was also available on Thunderbirds at the least, and maybe Contours too.

I'd rather have a Trabant. Seriously, that Buick 231 is all kinds of awful. My Cutlass Supreme used to be "powered" by one, and it was amazing for it's utter lack of acceleration. Yes, it was so slow, that a Trabant really IS faster to 60 (Trabant: 21 seconds. V6 G body: 22 seconds). I can remember my technique for getting up the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in St Petersburg FL. Step one: Floor it and get the car to it's terminal velocity long before you hit the bridge approach. That would be 78 mph with wide tires, 85 with narrow ones. Step two: keep your foot in it all the way to the top. By the time you reached the peak, you would be going 40-45mph, flat out!!! I still have the Cutlass, but I fixed the problem with a carburated Chevy 355. Triple the HP, and more MPG too. If I can do that using mostly GM parts, why did GM bother to build cars with this putrid excuse for an engine in the first place?

Wanna know a little secret? The styling for the rear side windows and roofline for the Buick Nighthawk/Skyhawk/Olds Starfire/Chevy Monza et al was taken from the Ferrari 365-GTC4, circa 1970. The Ferrari did not have chameleon paint.

Great article, David... thanks for bringing a forgotten car back to life.

Color-shifting car paint is not dead! If you want to dazzle and stupify humanity (And don't we all), Dupli-Color can help. I want to try this on a model some time!

Color-shifting car paint is not dead! If you want to dazzle and stupify humanity (And don't we all), Dupli-Color can help. I want to try this on a model some time!

I had a '77 Skyhawk in silver with a red stripe on the side and a big hawk on the hook, similar to the Firebird on the Pontiac Firebirds of the era. My 'Hawk has a sunroof, and the gasket was totally f'd. Fortunately I lived in the Bay Area at the time so only had to worry about leakage during the winter and I learned that it I parked it facing uphill, rainwater wouldn't leak in. I drove that thing from DC to Cali and back, alone, and didn't have a lick of mechanical trouble.

I sold it in around '81 for a J-car, a Pontiac IIRC and then quickly got rid of that for a small Buick when it first came out. Then came a Toronado in around '87 or so. Man, I had a lot of crappy GM cars in those days.

That is not color-shifting paint, it was special coated decals (I think 4 per side).

As for DC Thunder's 77 Hawk with the red striping--that was known as a freedom edition.

In '79, the Hawk was given a silver & charcoal paint job with some extra touches and it was dubbed the RoadHawk.

The reason the V6 was so bad is due to the design being from prior to all the power-sucking, tree-hugging regulations of the early 70's being put in place. All the new emissions requirements were a drag on all the motors of the day that were designed prior to the requirements being put in place.

Loved the article! I have recently acquired a 1979 Skyhawk with an astroroof. I've found information stated this was the least chosen option for this car but have not found how many were made with this option. Thought about turning it into a drag car but don't want to mess up anything that might be rare.

Oh yeah, this was my first car in high school. My Dad bought it for me in 1981. Even then I was a bit appalled by the cheese factor! In addition to the color-changing decals (and in real life, those "nighthawks" on the side REALLY stood out), someone had added FAKE quick hood releases. And to think, I was a proper young lady of 17, racing around town in this. I took it to my preppy college - you should have seen the looks of the other students driving their nice new 1983 Saab 900's. Priceless.

Sold it around 1986. Always wondered what happened to it...

wayne. thank god someone knows what they're talking about.not paint.STICKERS! 3 on each side.3 on the hood and 1 on the trunk. i had a nighthawk for 25 years until katrina took it and contrary to what everyone thinks it wasn't that bad. definitely had problems but they were all fixable. hell,i'd like to find another one. so if there are any out there for sale,please let me know.

DCThunder do you have any pictures of your SkyHawk? How about any info on the Freedom Edition Wayne is talking about. I have been collecting info for many years on the Buick SkyHawks from 1975 to 1980. I always try and follow any new info I find on the net about these cars. Any help is appreciated!

I do know from Buick info that only 1383 Nighthawks were made. There were no stripe packages for 75 but for 76 to 78 there was the Hawk Accent stripe package. 76 to 77 The Free Spirit stripe package. Of course the Nighthawk option for 77 and the Roadhawk and Designers Accent Hawks for 79 and 80. I have not found the 78 and 79 production option breakdown totals but for the years I have all were close to 1500 to 2000. Except the Free Spirit just over 900 for 76 and then just 385 for 77.

If anyone out there could share any information about these cars please contact me at Thanks, Brian

Yeah i was readin all these comments I dont know bout them a whole lot I am only 18 but my Grandma owns 1 and itis an 87 she thinks but it has a blown motor in it and it has the turbo on it and she said I could have it and fix it all up the inside is in perfect condition. The paint job needs 2 b redone and it needs a new motor.

Sorry Brian, but my memory must've slipped when I wrote about the Freedom Edition--I did mean the Free Spirit edition which you already know of.

Wayne that is cool! You know the Free Spirit for 77 only had decals in either black or white. There wasn't a Hawk decal on the hood just two blister decals on either side of hump. On the hump was another long decal.

The 76 FS Hawk had a Vari-color decal in shades of red down the side just like the Buick pace car for 76. DCThunder might be describing a pen stripe or a 76? I've been told dealers put their own stripe creations on some H bodies to try and help sales so I always try and follow up on posts like these. I would love to see a big Hawk on the hood!

There are a few of us who try and find all the history we can and a lot of progress has happened with that this year. I like it all so send it my way if you have some! Thanks, Brian

My parents had a 75 with a 4 speed manual, it could move out OK. About the same as our 65 Stang with I6 and 3 speed.

And yeah, it wasn't a high quality car, it started to age rapidly after it was 4 years old. Water pump, clutch, alternator, doors sagged. But it was average for the time.

I have a 79 Roadhawk, with the rotton 4 speed, and a high rear end gears so the car rides 4000 rpm at 65, plans are to rid the 3.8 for a buick 350, to keep buick. Only 1500 cars over 2 years on this and only aprox 25 are known to exist in parts and drivers this date. Car handles ok with bigger sway bars, and better than stock suspension. but car creaks and is not real solid type of car, rides ruff with hard suspension. Roadhawk homepage is another H body site for this car only.

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