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GM puts performance and high mileage into its '83 Buick Skyhawk

Was this a General Motors J-car - a car with an image of being unable to get out of its own way, let alone satisfy the motorist who is looking for more than just four wheels and 35 or 40 miles to a gallon of gas? A subcompact with subperformance on the road?

Well, we're not talking about the 1983 gutsy Buick Skyhawk T-Type.

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GM has put a lot more kick into its J-cars in the current model year after a disappointing launching of the J-car a year and a half ago. The T-Type Buick Skyhawk gives the kind of performance that no one can sneer at, yet it also gives a good account of itself on the fuel issue as well.

In a 292-mile road trip - limited-access but with slippery conditions and heavy stop-and-go traffic for perhaps 40 miles - the Buick Skyhawk T-Type coupe gave a firm 32.8 miles per gallon of fuel. Without the slowpoke traffic, the figure would have been much higher. Buick puts the highway mileage potential in the low to mid-40s.

Its competitors on the road? The Nissan 200SX and Toyota Supra as well as the Volkswagen Scirocco and rotary-engine Mazda RX-7. Then there is the Honda Prelude, a brand-new model that's due to hit the highway in mid- to late March.

All T-Type Skyhawks look alike, a 2-door coupe with silver metallic body paint except for a wide swath of charcoal paint along the bottom of the car and with black accent stripes. High-intensity fog lamps are mounted below the front bumper.

The single available engine is a fuel-injected 1.8-liter overhead-cam ''4'' rated at 84 horsepower at 5,200 r.p.m. Standard transmission is a 5-speed manual overdrive unit with 3.83 final drive ratio. A 3-speed automatic with 3.18 final drive is an extra-cost option.

The gran touring suspension includes larger stabilizer bars, special front strut and rear shock valving, and specific steering gear.

Instrumentation should suit the wishes of most motorists.

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The big fuss, I suppose, could be the price. Air conditioning is listed at $ 775. Hardly a low-priced car, even by today's standards, the T-Type Skyhawk carries a list price of $7,952. But oh those options! The options - 6-way power seat as well as power steering, brakes, windows, radio antenna, and door locks, plus a dozen other extras - run up to $2,899 and, including everything, the test car I drove is list-priced at $11,230. The car, remember, is a subcompact.

Yet, after digesting the price, the T-Type Skyhawk does its job well. Car buyers these days are figuring more on what the car costs a month to buy than on the total price, plus financing charge, of the car.

The T-Type Skyhawk is a fun car to drive, including the hills and curves; gives a pleasantly surprising ride on the road; and, its job done, comes to a stop without a fuss.

Ever since the mid-1970s, the Buick division of GM has been nurturing an image of performance, not only on the racetrack but on the highway as well, and has become one of the world's major producers of turbo-boosted automobiles.

Enlarging on that growing step-out-and-go image on the road, Buick for 1983 came up with its T-Types all across five of its car lines - from the subcompact Skyhawk to the sleek Riviera, compact Skylark, Century, and Regal.

The Skyhawk is carrying the flag at the low end of the Buick line.

Low end?

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