Published: 12-Oct-2011 14:07
The 1970 Buick GS is one of the more desirable muscle cars ever made. It’s also one of the least known.
As life members of the American Muscle Car Club, John and Peni Murray have owned some cool cars over the years. With a penchant for all things rare and powerful, the pair have sat behind the wheel of some seriously desirable muscle cars. One such car was an Oldsmobile 442, which they’d owned for five years when, in 2007, they decided to move it on. But before doing so, a suitable replacement was required.
“I was just browsing the internet, looking at what was available, with no real intentions to purchase anything,” John says. That’s met with a disbelieving “yeah, right” and a chuckle from Peni, who knew full well that the hours John had recently been online weren’t spent updating his Facebook profile.
After stumbling upon a 1970 Buick GS that looked to be in fantastic condition, he was quick to point it out to Peni. “She had to like it or I knew it would never happen,” he says. Thankfully for John and the Buick, Peni approved and a deal was done.
Why replace a sought-after Olds with the Buick? When it was released the 1970 GS was noted by the leading publication of the time, Motor Trend magazine, as the fastest car it had ever driven. When sales of the high power GS (which stands for Gran Sport) fell in 1969, Buick decided to go against its own policy of limiting engine capacity to 400ci and step the 1970 model up to 455ci, making that the most desirable year to own.
The new motors were rated at 360hp in the base model GS and 390hp in the Stage 1 variant, which is the one in John and Peni’s car. With the Stage 1 cars running quarter-mile speeds of 105mph, power was very obviously underrated, and it’s believed the real figure is somewhere above 420hp.
Despite that figure being SAE gross rather than ‘as installed’ (with the addition of full exhaust and accessories fitted) that’s still a fair chunk of power, especially for 1970.
The cars set the motoring world alight, with journalists around America all commenting on the unbelievable torque the engines produced and how easy it was to spin the tyres. That’s something which kept them close to the mind of those who followed the 1970s muscle car scene.
Aiding in the Stage 1’s power output was an aggressive camshaft, higher compression, unique cylinder heads and a unique four-barrel carb. These features, combined with more aggressive ignition timing, a higher final drive and a firmer-shifting Turbo 400 transmission, made for an impressive package. At the time, that package would cost only an extra US$199 over the floor price of the US$3283 base vehicle.
While $3283 — now roughly NZ$4600 — may not sound like much today, at the time the Buicks were GM’s highest-priced performance cars, second in the GM hierarchy only to Cadillac.
This particular vehicle was highly specced with options such as power steering, power disc brakes, a Rallye steering wheel and an AM/FM radio (which at $105 makes the Stage 1 package seem cheap!) included. Factoring in all the vehicle’s options together with the power upgrade, the total price tag would have been US$5516.81.
Although there is lots of power, John is keen to point out how nice the car is to drive, unlike many others of that era — and he would know, since he’s owned a bunch of them.
Because they were produced in limited numbers, and Buick didn’t have the huge following of the big three brands, the cars caused controversy in 1980 when they were listed on the ‘50 Fastest Muscle Cars’ list above any Chrysler Hemi-powered vehicle. Upsetting Mopar fans further is the fact there was an even more limited run of Stage 2 Dealer Option GS cars with a greater power output. The Stage 2 package was never advertised; if you ordered one it arrived as a pile of parts in the vehicle’s boot, which were then fitted at a dealer level.
While little is documented or known of the Stage 2 cars, it’s believed only 15 or so were made, and most headed straight for the drag strip.
Sales and production dropped after 1970 due to reduced engine compression ratios and a change from gross to net power ratings. In later years, air quality regulations further limited the power, with the addition of catalytic converters and single exhaust pipes.
This leaves the 1970 Buick GS Stage 1 as one of the most powerful and most collectable, yet relatively unknown muscle cars ever to be produced, so it’s no surprise that John quickly had the car transported to New Zealand.
With Good Comes Bad
The Wisconsin-based seller of the car had spent many years and many more dollars restoring the vehicle’s mechanical aspects to as-new condition.
The exterior was also tidy, and armed with numerous photos taken before shipping, John and Peni were like expectant parents waiting for their new baby to arrive.
Upon first sighting the car, however, Peni was unimpressed. There were a number of small dings in the panel-work and the front bumper that were previously not there. Thankfully, insurance had been taken out on the shipping, although the ‘sort it out yourself’ attitude of the freight company left John and Peni with a sour taste.
Good friend and fellow muscle car owner Dave Loose and his son Dane helped out with the repairs and all the little bits and pieces required when a car like this first lands, before it was handed over to Moselle Panel and Paint for a respray
Little did John know just how hard it would be to source the factory colour code for the little-produced 40-year-old car. He’s keen to acknowledge that without the help of Raine Kirby from PPG, the exact colour makeup might never have been known, as the hue it had previously been painted was a few shades off.
While Steve and Charlie at Moselle were returning the car to its former glory, Otahuhu Chrome Platers repaired and rechromed the bumper and the car was once again as good as new.
John is quick to point out that it wasn’t he who groomed and buffed the car to perfection, but Alan Williams from Adam’s Polishes who spent hour after hour getting it well beyond anything John expected.
During the vehicle’s American restoration the motor was rebuilt by Westech Automotive in Wisconsin. Although it may look stock, the internals have been revised slightly and rare Stage 2 alloy heads fitted. With dyno sheets to prove it, the car now puts out a very respectable 535hp and 786Nm. To try and harness as much of that power as possible, 255/65R15 tyres have been fitted all round. That hasn’t entirely solved the problem. “It does a pretty good skid,” John says, “fries them up really well.” He doesn’t seem in the least upset about it…
Being involved with the organising of the annual Father’s Day Drags, John gave the car a run down the strip last year that saw it net a 13.1 at 106mph, which isn’t bad at all. When fitted with slicks and a 3.42:1 (currently 3.08:1) diff ratio in America, the quarter-mile time was an amazing 11.9. In a 1970 street car with stock disc and drum brakes, that’s seriously moving.
With those kinds of numbers from an essentially standard car, combined with its tough looks and immaculate restoration, the Buick GS Stage 1 is a vehicle that most muscle car owners could only dream about. Of course, first they have to know that such a beast even exists. And, of course, the knowledge that there are so few others out there makes owning one even more rewarding.
For more photos and full specifications, visit the NZV8 website.
Words: Todd Wylie Photos: Adam Croy