A “granny car” is how Kyle Whitehead refers to his LS-swapped 1977 Buick Skylark. One might understand the low-key description of his beloved Skylark based on appearance alone. However, what you don’t immediately see is a turbocharged LS-powered dream machine pieced together in the most professional way possible.
Photos Credits: oyukiphotography
Why Four Doors, Why Not
When asked why a four-door ’77 Buick Skylark, “I chose my 1977 Buick Skylark sedan because I was already familiar with the 4th gen X-body platform, having owned a ’77 Nova as my first car,” Whitehead said. “I was looking for a family-friendly car to cruise with the kids or take to meets and races. My wife and I found my Skylark in Tacoma, WA. The car had the original paint, interior, and a 231 cubic-inch V6. It had a distributor failure, and the car wouldn’t run, so it was listed for sale at a fairly low price. I couldn’t say no to such a deal. The previous owner’s grandmother originally bought the car before being passed down to her and sold to me. This Skylark appealed to me because it’s such a rarity to see one in drivable condition on the road nowadays. The 4th gen X-body shares a similar front suspension to the 2nd gen F-body and rear suspension with 1st gen F-body/3rd gen Nova, so plenty of aftermarket parts are available if you know what to look for.”
Although not the only goal with this car, it has become a fine example of a sleeper. This is due to Whitehead being detailed with his work and having a focused plan for what he envisioned. In particular, he wanted a finely tuned and closely monitored system. Nearly every sensor you can think of has been installed on this machine, but he has done well to hide all of the electronics so the car’s appearance remains more factory sedan than high horsepower street car.
Another example of Whitehead’s thought process on this build was the installation of the coolant overflow tank and routing of the overflow line all the way to behind the rear tires. This way, in the rare event that the radiator cap lifts, not only will his computer system let him know, but he won’t risk creating a puddle of water/coolant under the tires that could cause him or others to lose traction. Details like this show this car isn’t your average backyard weekend LS swap.
Despite being a four-door sedan, the 1977 Skylark surprisingly has a curb weight of just under 3,400 lbs. Whitehead has made several modifications that also help shave that weight. Most modern aftermarket parts weigh less than the factory parts, so dropping a couple of hundred pounds off the car was easy. The aluminum tubular control arms (which Whitehead has recently started adding), an aluminum engine block, lighter wheels, a lighter braking system, and removing a few leaf springs, all help to get the Skylark down to a good fighting weight.
LS Swap Everything
We love seeing all makes and models of vehicles with LS swaps here at LSX Mag. In many cases, installing an LS engine in almost any vehicle has become relatively simple. This can, on occasion, result in LS swaps that lack attention to detail and thoughtful execution regarding the finished product. However, that does not appear to be the case with this Skylark. Everything under the hood has been coated or painted, and all the wiring and hoses are routed neatly. This LS-swapped engine bay looks better than it did from the factory. It is safe to say that Whitehead’s passion for this build shines through in all aspects of the car.
When choosing the power plant for his Skylark, Whitehead had this to say, “I chose to LS swap my first car (1977 Nova) back around 2010. The LS platform appealed to me because I could make 300-plus wheel-horsepower in a near-factory condition whereas a small-block Chevy needed significantly more modifications to hit that number. In addition, the increased reliability at higher horsepower drew me in. The LS swap was relatively new for fourth-gen X-body cars and not a lot of information was available for a bolt-in solution. This provided an interesting challenge to fit one in without modifying the subframe. I researched various oil pan dimensions before settling on a CTS-V oil pan and it fit like a glove. In 2017, I swapped the drivetrain from my 1977 Nova into my 1977 Buick Skylark sedan which is also an X-Body car, so it completely bolted in. I transitioned over to a sedan to have a family-friendly car as well as complete the sleeper look. As time went on, I craved more power and saw how easy it was to make power with a turbo. The build began to snowball into what it is today, a time capsule four-door granny car with modern technology under the hood.”
Modern Muscle For A Classic Chariot
Now that you understand the mindset behind this build, let’s move on to the technical details. This four-door family hauler is powered by a 5.3L LS paired with a VSRacing 78 mm turbocharger. Transferring power to the rear wheels is a 4L80E transmission that is connected to an Auburn limited slip differential and 3.73 rear gear. With the amount of prep work that has gone into this build, Whitehead knows that he is safe to shoot for 12 pounds of boost. With street driving being the main purpose of the build, he wants to keep the boost numbers in a comfortable and pump-92-octane-safe environment. He is currently running 5 pounds of boost as he continues to incrementally ramp it up with each test drive. A Holley Terminator X MAX ECU keeps everything under control.
This LS-swapped Skylark “granny car” is already a wonderfully built beast of a machine that couldn’t possibly be missing anything. However, Whitehead still finds more things to improve. So if you are interested in following this build as it evolves check out his Instagram for updates at ls_xbody.
Whitehead was generous enough to send us a specific list of the parts he is running in case you are interested in building your own “granny car” sleeper.
1977 Buick Skylark Granny Car Parts List
- CTS-V Oil pan
- Carshop Inc 1″ Setback motor mount adapter plates
- Calvert Racing 90/10 shocks
- Eibach lowering springs
- Proforged steering components
- Wilwood D52 Calipers
- Manualbrakes.com Manual brake conversion
- Calvert Racing 9-way adjustable shock
- Calvert Racing split-mono leaf spring
- Calvert Racing CalTracs traction bars
- GlobalWest Del-A-Lum shackles
- 3.73 rear gear
- Auburn LSD
- Strange Engineering C-Clip Eliminators
- Proform Reinforced Differential cover
- JEGS Subframe connectors
- Energy Suspension bushings
- Stifflers Chassis & Suspension Driveshaft safety loop
- Tanks Inc EFI tank
- Walbro 400 fuel pump
- Fore Innovations F2i Regulator
- Fore Innovations Fuel Filter
- Siemens Deka 80LB fuel injectors
- Holley EFI fuel rails
- Stock bottom End Gen 3 5.3L
- Sloppy Mechanics Best Cam (219/225 110.5LSA .595 lift @ 50)
- BTR .660 Platinum valve springs with Titanium retainers
- BTR Chromoly pushrods
- CHE Trunnion kit
- Hooker LS Turbo manifolds and crossover
- VSRacing Billet 7875 .96 AR T51r Mod
- VSRacing 44mm Wastegate
- VSRacing 50mm Blow-off Valve
- 31x12x4″ Intercooler
- Holley Hi-ram intake base
- 417Motorsports Lo-profile sheetmetal intake lid
- 102mm Throttlebody
- Motion Raceworks 4-port steam kit
- Motion Raceworks throttle cable bracket
- Motion Raceworks low-profile turbo feed
- Motion Raceworks FPR Bracket
- ATI Harmonic Balancer
- Custom homemade 304SS Hotside Cerakoted Glacier Black
- Custom homemade cold side piping, powder coated white by JC’s Powdercoating
- Derale 17″ H.O Single fan
- Custom Homemade -12AN Catchcan
- ARP Engine fasteners
- US Mags Rambler Wheels Gunmetal with polished lip
- Rear Wheels – 17×8
- Front Wheels – 17×7