100 Buick Muscle Car Facts
Fact 1: Apparently 1960s’ rock band The Doors front man, Jim Morrison, didn’t like Buicks. This is the story of how “C’mon Buick, light my fire” became “Sorry Buick, we’re not for hire.”
After his band mates agreed to allow Buick to adapt their hit song “Light My Fire” for use in a proposed (but never produced) TV advertising campaign in late 1968, Morrison (who had been MIA) returned and vetoed the decision thus killing the deal, despite Buick’s reported $100,000 royalty offer.
None of this stopped Buick from eventually following through with its well-remembered “Buicks to Light Your Fire” magazine print ads of 1970. Without using the actual song, there was no need to pay a dime to anyone and most observers got the pop music connection—for better or worse. On the one hand, The Doors hip image was a definite plus among younger muscle car buyers. On the other hand, it is doubtful the older folks who bought standard (non-muscle) Buick LeSabres and Electra 225s for luxury and comfort were enticed by any connection to The Lizard King.
Fact 2: Every Buick Skylark GS400 built in 1965 (16,548) and 1966 (13,816) was in direct violation of the corporate-wide ban on installing 400-plus-cubic-inch engines into intermediate platforms. That’s because the GS400’s 4.19 bore and 3.64 stroke actually delivered 401 cubic inches. Did management heads roll? Not at all. It seems nobody in Flint was worried about the one-cubic-inch infraction and life went on. Then again, when Buick redesigned its V-8 engines for 1967, the 4.040/3.90 bore/stroke retreated 1 cubic inch and its displacement truly totaled 400 cubes.
Fact 3:Was Buick’s habit of marketing its engines around torque output rather than cubic inches a way to divert attention away from the GS400’s 1-cubic-inch overshot? It’s an interesting theory, but you must remember the strategy was in place long before the 1965 arrival of the rule-bending GS400. The system accounts for why Buick offered engines such as the Wildcat 310, 355, and 445. None was an indication of displacement; rather the numbers reflected rated torque output. Starting in 1967, Buick quit this somewhat confusing practice and refocused on displacement and induction, giving us the mighty 455-4 of 1970 as the peak example.
Buick’s 401-powered 1965–1966 GS400 was a rule bender that could have caused a big stir. Marketing torque output rather than piston displacement may have avoided a showdown with GM management.
Buick’s 401-powered 1965–1966 GS400 was a rule bender that could have caused a big stir. Marketing torque output rather than piston displacement may have avoided a showdown with GM management.
Fact 4:Who built the first muscle car? Most folks say the 1964 Pontiac GTO launched the ship while others tout the 1955 Chrysler C-300. But if a large engine in a small car (with a performanceoriented marketing identity) is what it takes to make a muscle car, then the 1936–1942 Buick Century fits the bill. Mating the shortwheelbase Special with the luxurious Limited’s 320-cube straight-8 mill delivered a lively power-to-weight ratio.
While the normal Special engine was a 233-inch straight-8 with 93 hp, the Century offered an extra 87 cubic inches and 27 hp, with no other changes. Popular with middle management executives, the 1936–1942 Century was the first “banker’s hot rod.” Perhaps most intriguing is the Century nameplate, a none-too-subtle reference to the car’s 100-mph top speed.
Fact 5:Proving that the dual-quad 425 really was available in any fullsize model, U.S. Rubber ordered a unique car in 1964 for use at its 7,000-acre Laredo, Texas, tire testing facility. Highlighted in the September 1964 issue of Car Life magazine, it was a Wildcat four-door hardtop with a dual-quad 425 and four-on-the-floor! The magazine car was intended for use in high-speed tire testing (some of it destructive) so a full roll cage was installed. The stock dual-exhaust system was also replaced by a set of straight pipes and the twin Carter AFBs jetted richer for maximum performance.
In order to fi t smaller 14-inch rims and tires for test purposes, the fi ns had to be machined off the Buick’s massive 12-inch aluminum brake drums. The magazine story outlines how the car was intentionally overloaded (110 percent of rated tire capacity) then driven to the point of tire failure. With 2.78 axle gears, the deep-breathing Wildcat was regularly clocked at 141 mph.
General Motors was U.S. Rubber’s main customer so the choice of this exotic test Buick was a natural fi t. The Laredo facility also had a Chevy 409 sedan on hand. It’s likely this exotic four-door, 4-speed, dual-quad Wildcat was tested to death. But I personally saw another documented legit four-door, 4-speed, dual-quad, fullsize Buick at the Pomona, California, swap meet a few years ago. There were probably several dozen of these cars built.
Fact 6:Car Life magazine featured another full-size 1964 Buick with a 4-speed and the dual-quad 425 engine. This one appeared in the April 1964 issue and was a two-door Wildcat. And get this, it carried the optional 3.91:1 axle ratio to get the most from the 360- hp 8-barrel mill. With a test weight of 4,750 pounds, the Wildcat ran the quarter in 16.0 seconds at 87 mph.
Not a bad showing since the narrow 7.60-15 tires undoubtedly spun through most of first gear. Unlike the 140-plus-mph top speed of the U.S. Rubber Company’s four-door, the Car Life twodoor showed a 115-mph top speed—thanks to its drag strip axle ratio.
Fact 7:Full-size Buicks are great, but midsize models are better weapons for the traditional muscle car market. So was Buick brave enough to install the full-size 360-hp Wildcat 425 (dual Carters and all) into a special Skylark GS muscle offering? Unfortunately not. Though the market would have loved them for it, General Motor’s 1965 ban on 400-plus-cubic-inch engines in midsize/intermediate models snuffed the possibility.
This made the 401-powered 1965 and 1966 Skylark GS400 the biggest displacement midsize GS offering until the flood gates opened in 1970 with the lifting of the displacement limit—and the arrival of the GS 455. That said, plenty of Riviera and Wildcat 425 2×4 units (as well as loose over-the-counter kits) made their way into 1965–1966 GS400 engine bays from coast to coast. The swap only takes a few hours.
In 1967, Buick revamped its V-8s and very few parts (most notably the dual-quad setup) interchange with earlier Nailheads. So owners of 1967-up Buick 350, 400, 430, and 455 muscle cars can forget about adapting the 425 Nailhead’s dual-quad setup; it just won’t fi t.
Fact 8:The 1987 GNX turbo V-6 produced 276 hp and 360 ft-lbs of torque. In comparison, the 1987 Grand National and T-Type made 245 hp and 355 ft-lbs. Were the GNX’s 31 extra horses the result of hotter engine bits, perhaps a wilder camshaft? No siree. It’s a fact the GNX shares the exact same long block as its (ever so slightly) tamer GN/T-Type siblings. The added output was simply the result of McLaren Engines’ tweaking.
Changes included more aggressive computer programming, a ceramic turbo impellor, and better exhaust plumbing. One telling detail is that peak torque (360 ft-lbs) was reached at 3,000 rpm, a full 1,000 rpm higher than the GN’s 2,000-rpm torque peak. It just goes to show how much hidden potential is untapped by the extremely conservative factory tuning inherent in most modern computer-controlled vehicles.
The GNX used a different heat shield than the GN. The embossed logo was only part of the difference. It was also hand-made from several sections and coated with a ceramic fi nish.
The GNX used a different heat shield than the GN. The embossed logo was only part of the difference. It was also hand-made from several sections and coated with a ceramic fi nish.
Fact 9:It’s really a shame General Motors enforced its anti-racing policy in early 1963. Though Buick had not (yet) entered the Super Stock and Factory Experimental fray with race models comparable to the 19621–963 Chevy Z11, 1962–1964 Mopar Max Wedge, 1962–1965 Ford 406/427, and 1961–1963 Pontiac Super Duty, it’s likely they would have by 1965. The youth market and exploding popularity of stock-body drag racing was just too big to ignore.
Despite the ban, Buick still managed very well with its streetoriented Gran Sport muscle car models. But can you imagine the possibilities? How about a factory-built 1965 Skylark GS425 with the Riviera’s W5 dual-quad mill; trunk-mounted battery; NHRAlegal thin-gauge steel doors, hood, and fenders; aluminum brake drums; and a Buick “big car” rear axle adapted to the smaller Skylark A-Body. Who knows what might have been . . .
Fact 10:Turbo Buick fans will want to catch the 1991 movie F/X2 The Fatal Art of Illusion starring Brian Dennehy. I saw it in a theater when it was new, specifically because the preview trailer depicted a gray T-Type in action. Sadly, the bad guy driving the car destroys it in a final scene, thus chewing up a small bit of the movie’s $16,400,000 budget.
While watching, I did keep an ear open for the SFI turbo V-6’s trademark UPS-truck-on-acid growl and was pleased to hear it in full surround sound. At the time, the T-Type was more than just a used car and I give props to the producers for choosing it to support the bad guy driver’s sinister character. Much later, The Fast and the Furious action movie franchise also immortalized the Grand National in a classic tanker truck chase scene.
Fact 11:Despite General Motors’ formal 1963 retreat from organized racing (including NHRA drag racing) Buick stalwarts managed to field some impressive match-race machinery. Dick’s Speed Center of Yreka, California, built an altered-wheelbase doorslammer based on a 1965 Skylark pillar coupe (Gran Sport status is unconfirmed).
Following the Chrysler A/FX recipe, the privateer entry’s rear axle and wheel openings were moved forward a foot to put more static and dynamic mass on the slicks for traction. The front fenders remained unmodified but the weighty stock coil-spring independent front suspension was replaced by a straight axle and leaf springs—pushed forward several inches and jacked half-a-foot higher than stock. Power came from a Hilborn-injected Nailhead with super-long ram tubes jutting through an add-on Ford Thunderbolt hood blister.
A brave effort, it is likely the car’s lack of publicity (I’ve found only a single photo of it) was due to the Nailhead’s inability to keep pace with the deep-breathing Mopar Race Hemis, Ford cammers, and Chevy semi-hemis in the other lane.
Fact 12:Nailhead V-8 racing history is studded with numerous worldclass performances. The most notable drag racing highlight was Tommy Ivo’s Showboat dragster, which was featured on the cover of the December 1961 issue of Hot Rod magazine.
Packing four Nailheads (each swilling gasoline through Hilborn port fuel-injection units) its total power was 1,720 hp. Built during the infamous NHRA fuel ban, it took the multi-engine, gasburning rail platform to the extreme. Assembled before the 1964 advent of the Buick 425, Ivo started with a quartet of 401 engines and bored and stroked each one to 454 cubes for 430 hp apiece. The resulting package utilized four-wheel drive with the left-hand engines connected to an ex-Novi 4×4 Indy car Halibrand differential (reverse rotation) merged with massive steer-able knuckles and axles pirated from a 1-ton Dodge truck. The right-hand engines drove the rear slicks through yet another Halibrand/Dodge hybrid axle positioned between the driver’s knees.
Drivers included Ivo (when the producers of his ABC TV show Margie weren’t looking), Don “the Snake” Prudhomme, and Ron Pellegrini. The Showboat was fitted with a hybrid Buick Sport Wagon/Riviera body shell in 1966 to become the Wagon Master exhibition car. At 3,555 pounds, Ivo’s creation ran low-9s at more than 170 mph, proving the law of diminishing returns—and thrilling spectators with track-long burnouts.
The most famous Buick-powered drag car ever. But did “TV Tommy” use a quartet of 425s or something else?
The most famous Buick-powered drag car ever. But did “TV Tommy” use a quartet of 425s or something else?
Fact 13:Chicago drag racer Ron Pellegrini campaigned a 1967 Skylark funny car, it’s flip-top fiberglass body wearing Super Bird graphics. Though powered by a supercharged Chrysler 392 Hemi on nitro (the low-buck match-racer’s engine of choice by 1967), Ron’s flopper got a fair amount of magazine ink and helped represent the Buick brand on the strip.
The car’s Super Bird name had nothing to do with the Plymouth NASCAR racer of 1970 but, rather, was a call-back to the 1965 Skylark GS400 ad campaign. A skylark is the bird after which Buick named its agile midsize car line. So a hopped-up Skylark, whether in Gran Sport trim or as a fuel-burning funny car, could be seen as a Super Bird. Get it? Ironically, when Plymouth added a pointed beak and tail wing to its bird-themed Road Runner, the Super Bird moniker was once again . . . hatched.
Fact 14:The Buick Nailhead V-8 gave many respectable showings aboard Max Balchowski’s series of Old Yeller road race cars. Balchowski, who later went on to prepare the 1968 Mustang GT and 1968 Charger R/T for use in the legendary Steve McQueen movie Bullitt (count the flying hub caps!), was a successful Southern California hot rodder.
Using traditional backyard methods and potent Fireball V-8 power, he defeated the best factory-backed Ferrari and Maserati road racers, proving “cubic inches can defeat cubic dollars.” In addition to hopped-up Nailheads, his early Old Yeller racers relied on junkyard-sourced aluminum Buick brake drums. With more than 300 square inches of swept area and a race weight of 1,600 pounds, the 12-inch drums offered a perfect balance of fade-resistant stopping power and reduced-mass drums versus conventional iron drums.
Fact 15:Tommy Ivo had a long career as a child actor in Hollywood throughout the 1950s. His interest in drag racing arose from his purchase of a sleek new 1952 Buick Super at age fifteen and blossomed quickly. Ivo’s appearance on the cover of the December 1961 issue of Hot Rod magazine was a turning point in his career. The studio bosses at ABC TV read about how the Buick topped 170 mph and forbade him to drive it. As a regular player on the show Margie, losing him to injury would violate his contract, derail the production, and cost plenty of money.
Realizing he couldn’t do both (drive and act), Tommy pulled back from driving—temporarily. Instead, he enlisted Don Prudhomme and Ron Pellegrini to wheel the 32-cylinder beast. But as Tommy matured, he found himself as a thirty-something auditioning for teenage roles. He knew that couldn’t last forever. When it came to auditioning for adult roles, his youthful looks worked against him. So by 1966 he fell back on his hobby of drag racing and became a touring professional, racing Chrysler Hemi-powered fuel dragsters and flip-top funny cars for the next decade.
Fact 16:Tommy Ivo’s twin-engine Buick dragster was the direct result of the NHRA fuel ban of 1959–1963. Restricting the dragsters to gasoline instead of the more volatile nitromethane, racers doubled-up on engines and (often, but not always) went quicker and faster than the single-engine gas rails. Ivo’s take on twin-engine mayhem involved two Hilborn-injected Nailheads totaling 934 cubic inches.
The gorgeous red digger was built by Kent Fuller and was the sport’s first gasoline-burning rail to break the 9-second barrier and the 170-, 175-, and 180-mph barriers. The car was campaigned from 1959 to 1961 and is currently enshrined at the “you must visit it before you die” Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Florida.
Drag fan Norm Perkins relates to Ivo’s use of two gas burners to do the job of a single nitro burner.
Fact 17:One final Ivo tidbit is a look at how influential his dailydriven T pickup was on subsequent T-bucket street rod building trends. Appearing on the August 1957 cover of Hot Rod magazine, the bright red T featured a 402-cube Nailhead with Hilborn injection.
The killer detail (aside from its ultra-sanitary construction) was how Ivo presented the engine block and heads in white paint. Sweetly harmonizing with the wide whitewall tires, white pickup bed cover, white Naugahyde interior, and folding top, the white engine block was simply mouth watering when set against the red body and wheels.
That car has been revived and I last saw it at the NHRA Museum in Pomona, California, a must-see attraction for gearheads of every stripe. By the way, the original 402 mill in Ivo’s T was built by Ivo, with supervision from the Old Yeller road race legend Max Balchowski (a fact clearly touted in the August 1957 Hot Rod magazine spread).
Fact 18:The Buick 198-cubic-inch V-6 (which evolved into the mighty even-fi re 231-cube Grand National turbo mill two decades later) almost didn’t happen at all. The original plan called for the die-cast aluminum 215-cubic-inch V-8 to be used in the new 1961 Special senior compact offering. But high manufacturing cost resulted in Buick taking a loss on every engine produced.
With 86,868 Specials built in 1961, the losses were adding up. To remedy the situation Buick engaged on a crash course and took the V-6 from concept to reality a whole 12 months faster than any previous Buick engine development campaign. And so, in 1962, base Specials were powered by the new V-6 while the more costly aluminum V-8 was standard in the Deluxe and Skylark models. Of the 153,763 Specials built, 60,498 (about 35 percent) carried the less costly V-6 powerplant, a helpful boost to the bottom line. In 1962–1963, 198 V-6–powered Specials carry the letter A in the first position of the VIN, and aluminum 215 V-8–powered cars carry the number 0.
Fact 19:9Buick fans with a taste for Brit-pop, neo-glam, and early Bowie music will appreciate the song “Skylark” by Spacehog. You can find it on The Chinese Album, released in 1998.
If you haven’t heard of Spacehog it’s because the band quickly faded from the front pages after the initial success of its 1995 debut album The Hogyssee, best known for its radio hit “In the Meantime.” Spacehog vocalist Royston Langdon is also notable for marrying Liv Tyler, daughter of Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler, in 2004. Now you know. But do you care? You should. Check out Spacehog’s four albums.
Fact 20:“Who loves ya, baby?” Between 1973 and 1978 millions of American TV viewers loved TellySavalas on Kojak, as a hardhitting Manhattan street cop. As on many TV police dramas (Mannix, Rockford Files, Starsky and Hutch, Magnum P.I., etc.), Kojak’s wheels were a major part of the show. But instead of stuffing the kind-hearted tough guy behind the wheel of some unrealistic, made-for-TV glitz machine, producers chose an unassuming bronze Regal four-door sedan.
Cashing in on the phenomenon in 1975, British toy maker Corgi released a 1/36-scale replica of the Kojak machine (item #CC00501), complete with an articulated pistol-toting back-seat passenger. Many online fan sites incorrectly describe Kojak’s Regal as having a 455 mill, but after 1974, Buick eliminated the 455 from the Regal option sheet, leaving the 165-hp 350 4-barrel as the top power offering. A telling detail in support of this fact is that Corgi faithfully reproduced the Kojak machine’s single exhaust system— right down to the catalytic converter.
Fact 21:Unlike Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile, the Buick showroom models never turned to lightweight aluminum or fiberglass body panels as a means of boosting power-to-weight numbers in the muscle car era. All Buick performance models shared their steel body panels with lesser non-performance variants. Even the simulated dual hood scoops applied to 1967 Skylark GS340 and 400 were made of rugged die-cast metal rather than warp-prone and ill-fitting fiberglass or molded plastic. Clearly, Buick’s quality standards were not to be compromised.
Fact 22:Did you know Buick offered a full-size Gran Sport model? The year was 1966 and the massive Wildcat GS was the car. Gunning for the Pontiac 2+2, Chrysler 300, and 7-liter Galaxie 500 XL, the big GS packed a standard 340-hp 425 mill with chromed air cleaner housing, finned cast-aluminum rocker covers, Positraction (yes, Buick used that term in its advertising), and heavyduty suspension.
The Wildcat GS joined the smaller Skylark GS and Riviera GS for this single calendar year. At 220 inches long and riding on a 126-inch wheelbase, the Wildcat GS was 1 foot longer and 1/2 foot wider than the Skylark GS. Besides this one-year aberration (and the large-but-not-huge Riviera), the GS badge has not since been applied to any other full-size, rear-wheel-drive Buick platform.
Fact 23:The aborted Stage 2 Skylark drag race package of 1970 contributed a unique hood scoop, which (in reproduction form) has been adopted by hip Buick drag racers across the country. Loosely patterned after the steel scoop used on heavy Ford trucks (and adopted by Pontiac for its 1963 421 Super Duty cars), Buick’s fiberglass copy is roughly twice as large and lacks the truck’s metal inlet grate. Why this particular Ford scoop attracted both Pontiac and Buick performance development engineers is unknown. But Buick’s no-nonsense rendition has become a classic. Today, faithful reproductions are available from the aftermarket.
Fact 24:Ram-air hoods are a key ingredient in any muscle car recipe and Buick scored massive performance credibility by making ram air standard on every 1969–1972 Skylark GS. And not just on the top gun GS400 and 455 models. Even the entry-level 1969 GS350 and California GS got cold-air induction.
Checking in with the competition of the same 1969–1972 time frame reveals that buyers of Plymouth Road Runners and GTXs, Dodge Super Bees and R/Ts, Ford Torino Cobra Jets and Mustang Mach 1s, Super Sport Chevelles, Olds 4-4-2s, and Pontiac Firebirds and GTOs all had to pay extra to make their sexy hood scoops functional. But not the 1969–1972 Skylark; if it wore GS badges, it breathed cool, dense outside air at no extra cost.
Fact 25:The 1969 Skylark GS domed hood is one of the most attractive muscle car hood designs ever realized. Twin chrome grille inserts restrict the entry of leaves and kittens, but allow plenty of fresh air to enter the dual-snorkel air cleaner fastened atop the Rochester Quadrajet. Sealing the twin snorkels to the underside of the hood skin to prevent the ingestion of hot underhood air was achieved through the use of tall foam ducts. Unlike the rubber ducts and lip seals used by certain competitors, foam does not squeak as it oscillates against the hood while idling at a stoplight. This attention to detail justifies the ad slogan: “Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?”
Fact 26:The 1970 redesign of the GM A-Body platform brought with it a new, functional Gran Sport hood scoop. The 1969 domed treatment gave way to a pair of air inlets positioned slightly below the hood surface. Chromed metal grilles again prevented the entry of debris.
Below the skin, the same round air cleaner housing with twin snorkel box extensions used in 1969 mated to the openings through similar foam seals. Mounted horizontally, both systems were subject to accumulated snow and rain, but thanks to drain tubes and internal dams, the paper air filter element stayed dry.
Seemingly ready to collect rain water and snow, Buick thoughtfully designed the (always functional) 1970–1972 Skylark GS hood air scoops to keep the paper fi lter element dry in all weather conditions.
Fact 27:Before anybody singles out Buick for abuse stemming from the bogus non-functional hood scoops affixed to 1966–1968 Skylark Gran Sports (1965s used a standard non-vented hood), let’s not forget the equally useless fakey-doo scoops installed on the early GTO, GTX, Coronet R/T, 4-4-2, Chevelle SS396, and Fairlane GT, to name but a few. Interestingly, by 1969 they were all available with functional ram air, but again only Buick equipped its 1969– 1972 Skylark muscle offerings with air induction at no extra cost.
Fact 28:What about the 1968 Skylark GS? Was its one-year performance hood functional? The answer is no . . . and yes. Though Buick took a shortcut and equipped the GS with the same flat hood stamping used on non-GS Skylarks (with a metal scoop attached over the cowl vent and two chrome spears running the length of the hood skin), its open face allowed air entry through the cowl and into the passenger compartment rather than the engine bay. But according to a GS400 test appearing in the January 1968 issue of Hot Rod magazine: “Come January 1, the plenum scoop they now have on the hood will be reworked to put them in the same league with their sister divisions.”
Apparently an over-the-counter upgrade that tapped into the cowl plenum, it was quickly forgotten with the arrival of the domed GS hood in 1969.
Fact 29: Exhaust tip extensions are a staple on most muscle cars, sometimes offered as standard equipment, other times at extra cost. It took Buick a few years to jump on the bandwagon with the 1971 release of its E6 through-the-bumper exhaust tip extensions, but they got it right.
For a mere $26.33, the standard down-turned tailpipes were rerouted through a pair of rectangular holes pressed into the rear bumper. Matching chrome tips passed through the bumper and burbled loud and proud at idle. The E6 tailpipe option was a twoyear proposition, withdrawn with the arrival of the totally restyled “Collonade”-themed 1973 GM A-Bodies.
Fact 30:You walk up to you your new 1970 GS350. You’re excited to twist the key and spur its 315 hp into action. Pop open the door, slide in, and you’re set to go. But what’s this? A 3-speed manual transmission—on the steering column? Yep!
As goofy as it seems today, three-on-the-tree was the basic offering on more muscle cars than you’d imagine (not just Buicks). Sure, most folks paid $84.48 extra for the GS350’s B9 three-onthe-floor upgrade, but it was technically possible to order a treeshifted GS350 (or 455) in 1970. Records show that of the 9,948 1970 GS350s made, 224 were shipped with a 3-speed manual gearbox. Of those, there is no breakout on how many were column shifted, but I’d guess only a handful.
Fact 31:All 1968–1969 California GS Skylarks were equipped with automatics. There were no manual transmissions or bucket seats. A junior supercar (stationed below the GS350), the California GS was based on the Special Deluxe thin-pillar coupe with a fixed B-pillar, full door frames, and a front bench seat.
Buyers learned to live with the less-than-sporty columnmounted automatic transmission shift lever. One major difference was the arrival of the new 3-speed TH350 used in the 1969 California GS. Models built in 1968 made due with the inferior 2-speed Super Turbine 300 automatic transmission.
Fact 32:Every one of the 547 Buick Regal GNXs built in 1987 started life as a regular Grand National. After rolling off the end of Buick’s Pontiac, Michigan, assembly line, each was trucked to nearby Southgate, Michigan, for conversion at the ASC facility. Because the stock Regal wheel openings were too narrow to fi t the GNX-spec 16×8 wheels, ASC workers trimmed the stock wheel lips and covered their work with heat-molded plastic flares. In several instances, fl are removal has revealed unpainted bare metal. Exposure to salty roads will surely cause rust.
Incidentally, replacing a failed power antenna motor on a GNX is a major chore thanks to the ASC-installed fender flare brace. It’s riveted to the fender and difficult to remove for needed access. GNX owners know to keep their radio antennas lightly oiled to avoid failure.
Fact 33:Shining a flashlight against the right side of any 1986–1987 Turbo Regal digital instrument cluster reveals a neat surprise Illuminating the column of seven stacked indicator lenses highlight a “Power Injection” logo. Because the same warning-lamp cluster was also shared with Riviera models, the Power Injection marking refers to a never-released water-injection system that was under proposal for 1984-up turbocharged Rivieras to quell engine knock. The Power Injection lens is the fifth down from the top. As the dead warning lens is not equipped with a lamp, most 1986–1987 Turbo Regal owners never know it’s there, even though their eyes pass over it every time they drive.
What’s behind the plastic window? Let’s shine some light on the never seen 1986–1987 turbo Buick Power Injection indicator lens.
Fact 34:Earlier I mentioned that Buick never offered lightweight steel, aluminum, or fiberglass body panels during the original muscle car era. That’s true, but some lightweight goodies did appear for the second muscle car era of the 1980s. Particularly, approximately 50 Turbo Regal hoods were stamped of aluminum in 1986. Firsthand observations indicate they bore full resemblance to their steel counterparts—right down to the under-side bracing. Earlier, light aluminum trunk lids were fitted to select V-8 Regals in 1978 to save weight.
Fact 35:IROC-Z and Mustang 5.0 drivers quickly learned to differentiate between the non-intercooled 1985 Turbo Regal and its more potent intercooled sibling of 1986. If the air dam below the front license plate is uninterrupted, the race is on. But if there’s a 1-foot-wide gap in the dam (and DOT slicks are mounted), they know a 330-ft-lbs intercooled ass whooping was possible. Ducted to channel cool air to the air-to-air intercooler, these deflectors (as General Motors calls them) are easily damaged by parking blocks and curbs. Replacements are available as PN 25525980 (left) and PN 25525981 (right).
Fact 36: All 1986–1987 Regal T-Types and Turbo-Ts were built with lightweight aluminum front and rear bumper braces. Oddly, same-year Regal Grand Nationals were built with heavier steel braces . . . unless the buyer knew to check options VD6 and VD7 (front/rear) for the aluminum parts, for a 35-pound weight savings.
Fact 37:1987 GNX passengers had to be very observant to realize they weren’t inside a basic Grand National (as if any GN could be described as “basic”). Keen eyes spotted a subtle rectangular plaque affixed to the passenger’s side of the dashboard below the standard Buick logo. Each was hand lettered with a consecutively numbered plate bearing the GNX logo and the sequential number (from 1 to 547). Car numbers 001 and 500 were retained by Buick.
Fact 38:Buick Grand Nationals built in 1986 and 1987 are virtually identical in appearance and mechanical specifications. So how do you tell them apart? Look at the grille: 1986 models have a bright header band at the upper border that’s embossed with the word Buick. 1987 GN grilles are completely blacked out save for a small 4-inch-long chrome Buick logo positioned at the bottom righthand corner.
Fact 39:From the inside, the quickest way to tell a 1986 GN from a 1987 is to check the color of the door pull straps. Black straps were used in 1986. For 1987, Buick took notice of how the black straps contrasted with the standard gray door panel upholstery and switched them to a matching shade of gray.
Fact 40:In an effort to rival Pontiac’s GTO Judge, Buick released the Skylark GSX midway through the 1970 model year and sold 678 units. Priced $1,196 above the GS455, only two colors were offered Apollo White (187 built) and Saturn Yellow (491 built). Six additional color choices were added in 1971 but only 124 sold. In 1972 the ever-weakening muscle car market could only support production of 44 Skylark GSXs. Because the VIN and cowl tag codes do not differentiate a GSX from a GS or GS455, solid paperwork is essential to GSX verification. If the build sheet or original window sticker bears code A9, you’re off to a good start.
Fact 41:The Nailhead nickname applied to first-generation 1953– 1966 Buick V-8 engines was not the work of proud Buick marketing mavens; they preferred the Fireball moniker instead. Rather, the nickname was a critical jab at the way Flint powertrain engineers specified some of the smallest intake and exhaust (I/E) valves in the OHV V-8 field.
To illustrate, the 1958 364-cube engine used modest 1.87- inch intake valves and truly miniscule 1.43 exhaust valves. By contrast the new 1958 Chevy 348 used larger 1.94/1.65-diameter valves but displaced 16 fewer cubic inches. Buick’s goal was to accelerate low- and mid-range RPM port flow velocity for enhanced torque and fuel economy—very desirable qualities in a weighty passenger car teamed with an automatic transmission (as most Buicks were). Buick’s emphasis on torque explains why the division used torque output (rather than horsepower or cubic-inch-displacement figures) to market most Nailhead-era V-8 engine offerings.
Fact 42:The Nailhead was offered in an amazing variety of displacements and power ratings. Over its fourteen-year production run (1953–1966) Buick offered 264-, 322-, 364-, 401-, and 425-cubic-inch variants with horsepower ranging from 143 to 360. All shared the same basic external dimensions; there were no “big” or “small” blocks. This flexibility speaks to the foresight of Buick’s original engineering team, which built in plenty of room for future displacement increases.
Fact 43:The Nailhead’s meaty torque curve offered plenty of compensation for its limited top-end breathing characteristics. As Buick’s first modern OHV V-8, the division charted a unique path in its design as opposed to contemporary rivals from Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Cadillac.
To minimize engine width, Buick arranged the valves vertically over each chamber. This required specific rocker arms and pushrod architecture that placed the valvestems inboard of the rocker arm fulcrum, opposite of most conventional OHV V-8s, regardless of make.
Topping this exotica was a set of rocker covers that mounted flat atop each head, reducing overall width and making the engine a popular swap with builders of street rods based on prewar (narrow nose) vehicles.
Fact 44:Other novel features of the Nailhead V-8 were its pentroof combustion chambers and domed pistons. Each chamber formed a very small cone atop its cylinder with the intake and exhaust valves positioned vertically on the inboard side of the roof. Varying the size of the piston dome is how Buick adjusted the compression ratio for each vehicle application and power rating. The downside was that the pentroofconfiguration imposed physical limitations on maximum intake/exhaust valve head diameters, restricting high-RPM breathing capacity.
Fact 45:1967 saw a $50 million redesign of the Buick V-8, which set the stage (pun intended) for even greater things. Produced in 300-, 340-, 350-, 400-, 430-, and 455-cubic-inch variations, the new engine weighed 605 pounds fully dressed, which was 5 pounds less than the outgoing Nailhead family. In place of the previous reversed rocker arms and pentroof combustion chambers, the new engine program (headed by Cliff Studaker) utilized a more conventional valvetrain layout with semi-wedge chambers, generous port volumes, free-flowing intake and exhaust tracts, and most importantly, the ability to accept valves as big as 2.13/1.75 on the 1970 Stage 1 455. The Nailhead era was over.
Fact 46:Since the redesigned 1967 V-8s were equally comfortable making high-speed horsepower and low-end torque, Buick abandoned the Nailhead’s torque-centric engine marketing lingo for a simpler system based on displacement and induction. The new 1967s wore simple valve-cover and/or air-cleaner housing stickers that read (for instance) 340-2, 350-2, 350-4, 400-4, 430-4, 455-4, etc. Buick maintained this concise and logical engine labeling system for nearly a decade.
Fact 47:After several decades of painting its engines various shades of green, Buick bucked tradition in 1966 and switched to vivid red paint for all V-8 installations.
Fact 48:The original 1962 Buick 198-cubic-inch V-6 used an odd-fi re configuration, meaning no two successive combustion events took place on the same bank of cylinders. The 1-6-5-4-3-2 fi ring order created an unbalanced side-to-side shaking force that was unavoidable in the 90-degree V configuration. Adopting a 60- or 120-degree V could have cured the imbalance but would have made the engine too wide (the 120-degree layout) or incompatible with the pre-existing machine equipment on Buick’s V-8 engine assembly lines (which the V-6 had to share for cost reasons).
In the end, Buick dampened the side-to-side motion with extremely compliant, rubber engine and transmission mounts. Today it seems like a Band-Aid, but it worked well enough and Buick sold hundreds of thousands of V-6 cars from 1962 to 1967, with displacement bumped to 225 cubic inches after 1963.
Fact 49: A decade after selling the odd-fi re V-6 production tooling to Kaiser-Jeep, growing demand for fuel-efficient engines caused Buick to reacquire the engine program in 1974 for a 1977 production debut. Though some early 1977 Buick passenger cars were fitted with the lumpy odd-fi re variant (with massive, compliant engine mounts to tame the beast), midyear crankshaft revisions cured the shakes and the 231-cubic-inch even-fi re version was born.
In a foresighted move, Buick adapted an AiResearch T3 turbocharger in 1978 and the result was V-8 performance with V-6 fuel economy. In 1978 only, turbo Buicks came with the choice of a 2-barrel (150 hp and 6.9- to 7.9-psi boost) or 4-barrel (165 hp and 7.9- to 8.8-psi boost) blow-through carburetor. From behind, a single tailpipe identified 2-barrel turbo cars while dual outlets alerted the presence of a Rochester Quadrajet. The fifth digit of the VIN also tells the tale: 2-barrel turbos show a G; 4-barrel turbos display the number 3.
Fact 50:As a maker of cars targeted at the upper end of the mid-price field, postwar Buicks were exclusively powered by potent yet smooth eight-cylinder engines. Smaller six-cylinder motivation was left to the down-market offerings from Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile.
Before the 1953 debut of the Fireball V-8, Buick’s top gun was the massive 320-cubic-inch Roadmaster straight-8. In its final year of production (1952), Buick offered a 4-barrel-carbureted version utilizing a single Carter or Stromberg four-venturi jug in place of the previous 2-barrel induction. Power jumped from 152 to 170 hp. This unique 4-barrel setup was used on all Roadmaster models in 1952.
Fact 51:Novice (and experienced) engine spotters know to use distributor placement as a quick way to identify the make of any V-8 engine. Generally speaking, Fords, big-block Mopars, and 1967-up AMCs have their distributors mounted at the front of the engine. By contrast, none of the postwar GM V-8 engine designs deviated from the distributor-at-the-back layout except for the 1968-up Caddy and second-generation Buick.
Borrowing a feature first seen on the 1962 odd-fi re V-6, the revised 1967 Buick V-8 family moved the distributor from the Nailhead’s rear-of-engine location to the driver-side front corner. A novel die-cast aluminum front cover combined the oil pump, water pump, and distributor drive/mount for better underhood accessibility. Novices know they’re looking at a 1967-up V-8, not a Nailhead, when they see the front-mount distributor.
Fact 52:Buick’s optional 170-hp Compound Carburetion system of 1941 (with two 2-barrel Stromberg downdraft carburetors feeding the 320-inch Fireball straight-8) was one of Detroit’s first multi-carbureted production engines. Buick’s dance with multiple carburetion was short lived (1941–1942). The next twin-carb mill (the 425-cube, dual Carter AFB-fed Wildcat 465) didn’t arrive until 1964.
Fact 53:Buick induction was pretty conservative during the first Detroit horsepower race. Single 2- and 4-barrel induction was the rule as Buick ignored the sexy 3×2 induction offered by Oldsmobile and Pontiac and 2×4 units offered by Chevrolet and Cadillac. But 1964 marked the return of dual-quads as an option on any full-size Buick.
Identified by RPO W5, power-hungry customers paid a mere $144.43 ($107.25 on Riviera) to have their 425-cube Nailhead V-8 fed by a pair of Carter AFB 4-barrel carburetors mounted inline atop a cast-iron manifold. Power was 360 versus the 340-hp rating of the single-quad 425. Available on Riviera, Wildcat, Electra, and Estate Wagon models, the standard transmission was a 3-speed stick (except the automatic-only Riviera). Checking option box A7 teamed the 8-barrel mill with a proper four-on-the-floor, the wideratio Muncie M20, in its second year of production in 1964. Interestingly, the cost of the 4-speed upgrade ($177.43) was $33.10 more than the dual-quad V-8.
Fact 54:Buick never offered a Holley 4-barrel on its factory-built performance models; but in 1966, Skylark GS400 customers could choose between a pair of single 4-barrel induction arrangements. The standard GS400 carried a Carter AFB atop a matched cast-iron intake manifold and delivered 325 hp at 4,400 rpm with 445 ft-lbs of torque at 2,800 rpm. A few extra bucks got you the free-breathing Rochester Quadrajet, boosting output to 340 hp at 4,600 rpm.
Interestingly, the 445-ft-lbs torque rating remained constant though it came at higher engine speed—3,200 rpm (versus 2,800) with the Rochester Quadrajet. 1966 marked the solitary year in which the veteran Nailhead 401 could be teamed with the (then) cutting-edge, spread-bore Quadrajet 4-barrel.
Unfortunately, Buick’s VIN system at the time didn’t include specific engine installation data. Because the 325- and 340-hp GS400s shared the same 446 VIN prefix, the only way to confirm Carter or Rochester induction is through paperwork (window sticker, build sheet, etc). The Carter AFB induction was abandoned for the 1967 model year and beyond.
Fact 55:Just as we marvel at Buick’s intriguing addition of a 4-barrel carburetor atop the 1952 straight-8, 1974 saw the arrival of some truly kinky 455 induction and exhaust possibilities. As fuel economy concerns grew, Buick elected to offer its mighty 455 with a 2-barrel carburetor. Cars so equipped bear the letter P in the fifth spot of the VIN and are rated at 175 hp (versus 210 for the T-code 455-4).
But wait, there’s more. For customers wishing for a throaty dual-exhaust experience, the 455-2 mill could be ordered with factory-installed dual exhaust. These powerplants carry an R in the fifth spot of the VIN and gained 15 hp for a total of 190. This odd merger of the big 455 with 2-barrel induction was a one-year-only event, confined to 1974.
Fact 56:Buick’s 455-cubic-inch engine arrived in 1970, the same year the other General Motors divisions broke the 450-plus cubicinch barrier. Thanks to lessons learned from the 1961 die-cast aluminum 215 V-8 program, the thin-wall casting technique employed for the all-iron 455 delivered a very light end result. While sibling 455s weighed 636 pounds (Pontiac), 655 pounds (Oldsmobile), and 719 pounds (Chevy 454), Buick’s 7.4-liter bruiser tipped the scale at a mere 616 pounds.
Fact 57:1978 saw the arrival of Buick’s first mass-produced turbocharged engine option, which was based on the retooled even- fi re 3.8-liter V-6. Thirteen years earlier, Buick came that close to releasing a turbo option for the 1965 Wildcat. Based on the 425-cube Nailhead V-8, testing showed 360 hp at 3,600 rpm and an amazing 708 ft-lbs of torque at only 2,600 rpm. Its single Thompson, Ramo, Scott turbo breathed through a pair of side-draft carburetors using progressive linkage. Four-speed and Dynaflow automatic test cars were evaluated but the project was stillborn.
Fact 58:The legendary Stage 1 performance package debuted in 1969 as a pick-me-up for any GS400 (n/a with GS350). Paying an extra $199.05 got you a hotter .407/.454-inch-lift, 318/340-degreeduration hydraulic flat-tappet cam, 272-pound valvesprings, tubular pushrods, increased-diameter dual-exhaust system, enriched jetting, and a 3.64:1 rear axle gear set (3.42:1 with A/C). Buick claimed the Stage 1 bumped horsepower from 340 to 345, but the truth is more like 400 hp. Records indicate that 1,468 of the 9,378 1969 GS400 customers sought the Stage 1 package, which included specific valve cover decals and die-cast metal Stage 1 hood emblems.
Fact 59:Things got more serious in 1970 with the substantially more potent GS455 Stage 1, available by checking option code A1. The tariff was a higher $325.44, but you got big-valve 2.13/1.75 heads (versus standard 455 2.00/1.62 valves), 3.64:1 rear axle, richer carburetor calibrations, and a hotter 316 duration, .490-inch-lift cam. The end result was an advertised jump from 350 to 360 hp, but actual output was certainly in excess of 400.
Verifying any 1969–1971 Stage 1 car requires an original build sheet or window sticker. That changed for 1972 with the arrival of an engine code in the fifth space of the VIN. Legitimate 1972 Stage 1 455 cars bear the letter V, of which 809 were made.
Fact 60:The ultimate showroom 455 would have been the 1970 Stage 2, if Buick hadn’t scaled back the project due to a shrinking muscle car marketplace. Spearheaded by Buick engineer Dennis Manner, the Stage 2 program consisted of high-flow iron heads with round intake and exhaust ports, a matching aluminum Edlebrock dual-plane intake manifold, mechanical secondary Holley 850 carburetor, hot hydraulic cam, forged 12:1 pistons, forged steel rods, an oil pan windage tray, and deep-groove pulleys.
Initially slated to be a factory-installed package (in a limitedproduction homologation special), reduced priority made it an over-the-counter proposition, with several dozen released to the public for DIY installation.
The most recognized Stage 2 racer was the Reynolds Buick– sponsored 1970 GS455. Prepared by Jim Bell and Lenny “Pops” Kennedy (the famed Kenne-Bell Buick super tuning team), the white GS ran 10.70s at 123 mph. Pontiac’s Ram Air V and the Chevy LS7 454 engines fell into a similar “black hole” as the muscle car era began to fade.
Fact 61:Buick’s first midsize muscle car offering, the 1965 Skylark GS400, was factory equipped with a lower (numerically higher) rear axle ratio than non-GS Skylarks. Super Turbine automatic cars got 3.08 gears, while 3- and 4-speed stick shifts got 3.36s. The extra torque multiplication afforded by the steeper gears provided better acceleration and also gave the engine better mechanical advantage to recover engine speed lost on each upshift. Optional axle ratios included 2.78, 3.23, 3.55, and 3.73:1 and were available for a small extra charge.
Fact 62:Hot Rod magazine tester Eric Dahlquist was impressed by the brakes on his 1968 Skylark GS400 test car. In the January 1968 issue he wrote: “Buick’s brakes have been almost legendary in an industry more concerned (for the longest time) with making a vehicle go than stop, but these were better than ever—and they weren’t discs.”
Surprising words considering the Gran Sport’s modest 268.6 inches of swept area. Perhaps the critical detail was the way Buick used finned-aluminum front drums (with integrally cast iron liners). The quick heat dissipation likely prevented brake fade. Meanwhile, Chevy muscle cars used the same 9.5-inch drums, albeit made entirely of heat-retaining cast iron.
Fact 63:Aluminum brake drums were nothing new at Buick. Starting in 1958, full-size Buicks were equipped with massive 12×3 finned-aluminum brake drums (iron in the rear) as standard equipment (the Limited got them in 1957). Delivering 320 inches of swept area, hot rodders often adapted these massive binders for use on lightweight rods with exceptional results. All feature integrally cast iron liners and those made before 1966 have 45 fi ns, spaced 1-inch apart. 1966–1970 drums got 90 fi ns, spaced 1/2 inch apart. The rear drums were equally large, but always rendered in cast iron.
Fact 64:Buick’s interest in aluminum brake drums went dormant in the early 1970s. But with the arrival of the downsized 1978 Regal, aluminum drums reappeared. This time they were mounted on the rear axle; disc brakes were used up front. Shedding 10 pounds of unsprung weight, light rear drums were available on 1978–1987 Regals under option code J42 (as seen on the vehicle content sticker affixed inside the trunk lid). Turbocharged T-Types and Grand Nationals were fitted with cast-iron drums, unless J42 was specified.
Fact 65:The 1987 GNX rolls on highly specific wheels. Fronts and rears share the same 16×8 size but have different offsets. The front wheels are made with a 15-millimeter positive offset; the rears have 23-millimeter positive offset. Tire rotation, though possible, delivers ungainly results.
Fact 66:The plastic center cap on GNX wheels is actually borrowed from the Pontiac Firebird GTA parts bin—with an adhesivebacked GNX logo stuck to the center. If you dare peel it back, you’ll reveal a Pontiac Firebird logo.
Fact 67:Seasoned drag racers know that removing 100 pounds of rotating mass is likely to reduce ET by 1/10 second—or about one full car length at the finish line in a quarter-mile duel. While the chromed steel wheels fitted to mid-1980s Grand Nationals are attractive, at 30 pounds each, they are not light. The better choice are the cast-aluminum wheels used on 1986–1987 T-Types. At 17 pounds apiece, they’re much lighter and help explain why stock T-Types are generally quicker than stock GNs at the strip.
Fact 68:Street-racer stuff such as limited-slip differentials are not usually associated with the sleek and dignified Riviera. But when the GS package was ordered (available 1965–1975), a limited-slip differential ensured that both rear tires hooked. Lesser non-GS Rivieras came equipped with the standard open differential. A full-throttle standing start usually squandered most accelerative potential as the right-rear tire was incinerated. This is why a Riviera GS always gets to the other side of an intersection sooner than a non-GS.
Fact 69:Buick used two distinct differential designs under its rearwheel-drive models. 1957–1966 full-size cars and Rivieras employed a Hotchkis-type assembly with a stamped-steel housing (with integral axle tubes) and drop-out-style differential carrier. The senior compact and intermediate models of 1961–1987 used a Salisbury-style rear axle consisting of a hefty cast-iron centersection with pressed/welded axle tubes. These axle units are identified by their removable inspection covers. Buick abandoned the Hotchkis-style axle altogether in 1967 and devised a larger version of the compact Salisbury unit for full-size models.
Fact 70:The 1987 GNX utilized a novel approach to controlling axle hop. Instead of bolt-on traction bars, which can adversely affect ride quality, ASC/McLaren devised a 36-inch ladder bar that ran forward from the differential to a fabricated frame cross member. Unlike regular Regal Grand Nationals, the upper control arms were eliminated, the single ladder bar and laterally positioned Panhard bar controlling axle movement. On the drag strip starting line, the unique GNX rear suspension causes the back of the body to rise (rather than settle) when brake torqued as the tree counts down.
Fact 71:The GNX is the only production Buick ever delivered with a driveshaft safety loop. Doubling as the ladder bar mount, the cross member effectively traps the driveshaft inside the transmission tunnel, preventing drop-down in the event of a failed forward U-joint.
Fact 72:The totally redesigned 1966 Riviera shared few parts with its Bill Mitchell–designed predecessor of 1963–1965. Wheelbase grew 2 inches to 119 but, more importantly, the new rear suspension layout positioned the coil springs atop the axle housing, rather than to the lower control arms. The revised geometry allowed softer springs (105 versus 160 ft-lbs) but with a firmer ride. But when the Gran Sport package was ordered, rear spring rates reverted to 160 ft-lbs. GS front spring rates were also bolstered (from 130 to 180 ft-lbs) for even better handling.
Fact 73:A confirmation of the turbo V-6’s potency is seen in the fact Buick drivetrain engineers teamed it with the rugged 8.5- inch 10-bolt rear axle (with healthy 3.42:1 gears) in all 1982–1987 Regal applications. By contrast, Regals powered by the Oldsmobilesourced 307 V-8 (and all naturally aspirated V-6s) were equipped with a smaller 10-bolt rear axle, packing a miniscule 7.5-inch ring gear (and lame 2.14 or 2.56:1 gears). Durability testing must have demonstrated the 7.5 gear’s ability to cope with the V-8’s meager 255-ft-lbs torque output. But with the LC2 SFI turbo V-6’s 350 ftlbs, the small axle lacked the reserve capacity for warranty claims avoidance, forcing the switch to the 8.5.
Fact 74:A hidden detail that separates the limited-production 1987 GNX from lesser Regals (including T-Types and Grand Nationals) is the use of a seventh body mount per side. Non-GNX applications have six body mounts (spaced along each frame rail) to secure the perimeter frame to the floorpan of the body shell. But the GNX uses two additional mounts positioned above the rear axle kick-up, bringing the total count to 14. Engineers likely added these mounts to stiffen the frame/floor connection for better location of the unique GNX three-link rear suspension. That said, owners of GNs and T-Types have been known to adapt the GNX mounts for a noticeable reduction in chassis fl ex.
Fact 75:The specific three-link rear suspension used under the 1987 Regal GNX forced the need for a revised exhaust system. The single transverse-mounted crossflow muffler used on the GN and T-Type was positioned behind the rear axle housing and interfered with the GNX ladder bar mount. Switching from the (restrictive) crossflow unit to a pair of inline mufflers solved the interference issue and reduced back pressure.
This unique ladder bar rear suspension forced installation of dual inline muffl ers on the 1987 GNX. Standard Regal turbo GNs used a more restrictive single-transverse muffler.
Fact 76:Like most muscle cars, the Skylark GS rolled on standard pressed-steel wheels with decorative wheel covers. You paid extra for eye-catching rims. In 1965, option V2 replaced the faux spinner wheel covers with 14×6-inch chrome plated five-spoke wheels at a cost of $73.72. These beautiful 14×6-inch wheels were popular with GS and non-GS customers and enjoyed a long production run lasting into the late 1970s.
Fact 77:The 14×6 V2 chrome wheel got a big brother in 1970. Sharing the same five-spoke center “spider,” the 15×7-inch F7 wheel was standard on the GSX and optional on GS and GS455 Skylarks. The F7’s (then massive) diameter and width allowed fitment of equally large G60-15 belted tires that greatly improved cornering, braking, and acceleration, all thanks to each tire’s 81 ⁄2-inch contact patch.
The subtle addition of taller chrome hoops allowed the F7 sport wheel to step into the modern age of 15-inch tires. The year was 1970.
Fact 78:An unintended consequence that went along with the 1970 arrival of optional G60-15 tires was a significant reduction in the Skylark’s available trunk space. Two years earlier, when Pontiac added wide G70-14 tires to the 1968 GTO option list (standard tires were F70-14), somebody thought to also make available a collapsible “space saver” spare tire (RPO 702). Knowing the upsized G60-15 took up even more room, Buick thoughtfully added its own space-saver spare tire to the option sheet in 1970, available as RPO E9 for $15.80.
Fact 79:Full-size Buick LeSabres, Wildcats, Electra 225s, and Rivieras got their own chrome fi ve-spoke wheel in 1965. Measuring 15×6 inches and listing for $89.47, their design is similar to the 14×6 used on Skylarks, and they even share the same V2 ordering code. But a closer look reveals numerous differences, the greatest being their 5-on-5 bolt pattern, which prevents their use on the Skylark’s 5-on-4.75 stud pattern.
Fact 80:Though the massive 1958–1970 12-inch, fi nned-aluminum, front drum brakes were popular swap fodder among early hot rodders, they are not an easy swap onto Skylark GS muscle models. Besides using larger spindles, which do not fi t Skylark upper and lower control arms, their upsized 5-on-5 bolt circle mandates matching wheels. Pontiac GTO fans face a similar frustration The gorgeous eight-lug optional wheels used on the full-size Pontiac Catalina, Grand Prix, etc., are not easily adapted to the Tempest suspension.
Fact 81:With nearly 53,000 produced, Buick probably takes the award as the manufacturer of the highest quantity of ram-air hood/ air-cleaner assemblies of the entire muscle car era. Because every single 1969–1972 Skylark Gran Sport was fitted with a functional cold-air inlet assembly (regardless of engine size), that means Buick produced 52,947 cold-air hood/ram-air kits (not to mention service parts and crash replacement inventory).
Total production of the ever-popular ZL2 cowl-induction hood option fitted to the 1970–1972 Chevelle SS amounted to a “mere” 36,626 units (28,888 in 1970; 4,079 in 1971; 3,659 in 1972). Maybe this explains why Buick ram-air setups are seen at practically every swap meet on the planet.
Which carmaker produced the highest quantity of ram-air hood scoop assemblies in the muscle car era? Would you believe Buick?
Fact 82:112 and 116. Those are the wheelbase dimensions used under the redesigned 1968 Buick Skylark model lines. The lithe 112- inch span underpinned two-door coupes and convertibles while four-doors and station wagons rode the longer wheelbase. The same reconfiguration was applied to the entire GM intermediate line in 1968 and helped make the cars better muscle car performers than their predecessors.
In the January 1968 issue of Hot Rod magazine, Eric Dahlquist described how the wheelbase reduction was performed specifically to “eradicate freeway hop.” It seems the previous 115-inch wheelbase used under all 1964–1967 GM intermediates (two and four doors alike) was tuned perfectly—to amplify the annoying pitching motion caused by freeway expansion joints. Moving up to 116 inches or down to 112 inches got around the problem.
Fact 83:Three-to-one. That’s the ratio by which 350-powered Skylark GS models outsold 455-powered models in 1971–1972. Unlike during the 1970 model year—when the mighty GS455 narrowly outsold the base 350-powered GS (10,148 to 9,948)—the 455’s popularity slide was the result of harsh insurance surcharges. It certainly wasn’t the $200 difference between GS (350) and GS455 window stickers. For younger buyers, the GS455’s monthly insurance bill nearly equaled the car payment. But by opting for the 350, the surcharge was avoided, and only a few knew your GS wasn’t 455 powered.
Fact 84:340 cubic inches—isn’t that a Mopar thing? Newbie muscle car fans assume Dodge and Plymouth held a lock on the 340 displacement figure with the high-winding 1968–1973 small-block. But Buick was there first with its 1966–1967 340-cube V-8. Based on the 300-cube V-8, the 340 was available with 220 hp/340 ft-lbs (2-barrel with 9.0:1 compression) or 260 hp/365 ft-lbs (Carter 4-barrel with 10.25:1 compression). The 4-barrel version powered the 1967-only Skylark GS340, which was readily identified by its paint and graphics combination—White or Platinum Mist, both adorned with vivid red hood scoops, side stripes, and tail panel. This was Buick’s first junior supercar, and a total of 3,692 were made. For 1968, the 340 grew to 350 cubes and the GS350 replaced the GS340.
Fact 85:Mopar 340 versus Buick 340; what’s the difference? Let’s explore. Mopar created the 340 in 1968 by boosting the bore of its LA series 318 from 3.91 to 4.04. The 3.31 stroke remained unchanged (and was also shared with the diminutive Mopar 273 small-block). In Buick’s case, the 340 was derived by expanding the stroke of its 300-cube V-8 from 3.40 to 3.85 (the 300’s 3.75 bore was retained).
From a bore/stroke perspective, the Buick’s under-square (stroke greater than bore) dimensions favor low-end torque, while the Mopar’s decidedly over-square layout (bore greater than stroke) leans toward high-RPM horsepower production. The fact Mopar initially restricted the 340 to lightweight Dart and Barracuda A-Body applications (until 1970) confirms its torque-deprived nature. By contrast, the Buick 340 made enough torque to easily motivate even the 2-ton full-size LeSabre, in which the 340-2 was the standard powerplant.
Fact 86:1,250 customers per day. That’s how many folks signed on the dotted line to become owners of Buick’s midsize Century in 1977. It’s an awesome figure and speaks to the astonishing popularity of Buick’s smart combination of luxury, quality, and value.
Fact 87:Turbo 200 or Turbo 400. Which would you really rather have in your Buick GNX? Buick drivetrain engineers faced that decision while conjuring the 1987 GNX. More than a decade after production of the last 455 Stage 1 torque monster, there were concerns the recently designed Turbo 200-4R wouldn’t hold up behind the GNX’s proposed 300-net-hp V-6. In the end, modifications fortified the TH200-4R and all 547 GNX customers retained the glorious fuel-saving overdrive fourth gear and lock-up torque converter function provided by the “weak” 200-4R. Aftermarket builders such as Art Carrproved the Turbo 200-4R’s ability to withstand as much as 700 hp, with surprisingly few upgrades.
Fact 88:“The GS is available in three models—convertible, hardtop coupe and sport coupe—all of which have different grilles, side trim and ornamentation from normal Skylark models. Although relatively minor in the overall scheme of things, the trim changes lend the Skylark just a bit more fl air and dash, which should be just what the doctor ordered.”
So wrote a Car Life magazine correspondent in the April 1965 issue as part of a test of a 4-speed-equipped GS400. 0-60 acceleration took 7.1 seconds. Same-day tests of Specials powered by the 225-inch V-6 and 300-inch V-8 revealed 0-60 sprints of 16.9 and 9.9 seconds, respectively
These styled wheel covers were optional on debut-edition 1965 Skylark Gran Sports. Small center caps were standard for those seeking to save a few dollars, or put on a sleeper front.
Fact 89:Never known for his subtle driving, or writing, Cars Illustrated road tester Tony DeFeo had these words to say about the 1986 T-Type flogged in the August 1986 issue: “We quickly learned three things. 1) This car is fast—real fast. 2) You can’t just lay into it and expect it to react. You have to powerbrake it ’til she’s in boost and launch from there. 3) This is fun—a lot of fun. The kind of fun you want to have whenever another muscle machine is around. The kind of fun that gets you arrested, but you don’t care.”
Fact 90:Car and Driver magazine tested a pre-production 1978 Regal Sport Coupe turbo in its September 1977 issue and described the turbo engine’s development philosophy thus, “ . . . there are actually two turbo V-6 engines. Originally, the turbo was to offer standard V-6 power with a maximum fuel economy gain, hence the 2-barrel. Later, the thinking shifted in a performance direction with the 4-barrel: the aim was V-6 fuel economy with whatever horsepower could be obtained. Both were sent down the certification path just to make sure at least one would be legal for sale in 1978. Today’s plan is to offer the 2-barrel turbo as a base engine for both the Regal and LeSabre Sport Coupes, with the 4-barrel as an extra-cost option.”
Fact 91:Exactly how popular was the Regal Grand National and how did sales compare to the mighty Skylark Gran Sports of the first muscle car age? Let’s consider the numbers. GN production totaled 30,023 between 1982 and 1987 (215 in 1982; 0 in 1983; 2,000 in 1984; 2,102 in 1985; 5,512 in 1986; and a whopping 20,194 in 1987).
For comparison, total Skylark GS340, 350, 400, and 455 output was 122,339 (16,548 in 1965; 13,816 in 1966; 17,505 in 1967; 21,514 in 1968; 14,320 in 1969; 20,774 in 1970; 9,244 in 1971; and 8,618 in 1972—totals exclude the 1968–1969 California GS).
It appears the older GS was four times as popular as the hightech GN. But let’s not forget the equally potent Regal T-Type, of which 20,164 were made (0 in 1982; 3,732 in 1983; 3,401 in 1984; 2,100 in 1985; 2,384 in 1986; and 8,547 in 1987). All together, turbo Regal output was 50,187, nearly half of total Skylark GS output. That’s not a bad figure considering the anti-performance climate of the 1980s marketplace.
Fact 92:When word got out that 1987 would be the final year for the rear-wheel-drive Regal platform, orders stacked up so quickly Buick elected to extend production until the end of December. As a result, 29,288 turbocharged Regal muscle models were produced (includes 547 GNXs), exceeding the best sales year of the Skylark GS (1968) by almost 30 percent.
Fact 93:The final Regal Grand National was manufactured on December 11, 1987, and carried serial number 465288. Do you know where this car is today?
Fact 94:The 1963 Riviera was Buick’s most lavish personal luxury car since the limited-production Skylark of 1953–1954. But as is often the case, sales of this unique (and costly) halo model were miniscule compared to total orders for bread-and-butter Buick model lines. As a percentage of total division sales, the Riviera was a mere drop in the bucket.
Here’s a breakdown of the first decade: 1963, 8.73 percent; 1964, 7.43 percent; 1965, 4.96 percent; 1966, 7.82 percent; 1967, 7.85 percent; 1968, 7.78 percent; 1969, 7.95 percent; 1970, 5.61 percent; 1971, 6.03 percent; and 1972, 4.96 percent. The Riviera got customers in the door, then it was up to the sales team to sell them into the “right-priced” Buick.
Fact 95:So which Buick was the best-selling model during the 1960s? Before the 1961 debut of the senior compact Special, the fullsizeLeSabre was king. But as the midsize segment grew, the massive LeSabre took a surprising back seat—only to rally one last time in 1969. From 1970-on, Buick’s big sellers were midsize cars.
Let’s break it all down. 1960: LeSabre (60.16 percent); 1961: LeSabre (40.92 percent); 1962: Special/Skylark (38.49 percent); 1963: LeSabre (37.36 percent); 1964: Special/Skylark (33.48 percent); 1965: Special, Skylark, GS (36.57 percent); 1966: Special, Skylark, GS (35.98 percent); 1967: Special, Skylark, GS (31.08 percent); 1968: Special, Skylark, GS (32.27 percent); 1969: LeSabre (29.76 percent). The impact of the 1964 A-Body cannot be overestimated; and it wasn’t just at Buick. Corporate siblings Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile also witnessed a similar scenario unfold as A-Body sales undermined sales of full-size models.
Fact 96:Hi-Performance CARS magazine awarded the 1972 455 Stage 1 Gran Sport Skylark the Top Performance Car of the Year. In the April 1972 issue, journalist Martyn L. Schorr wrote: “It’s a dynamite package that meets all emission requirements in all states and which can be had with an automatic or manual transmission and even full power and air conditioning. It idles somewhat rougher than the normal GS-455 and is slightly shorter on low end throttle response, but it’s one hell of a street machine.”
Interestingly, Martyn’s public relations company (PMPR) represented Buick on the East Coast for eighteen years, starting in 1982. In 1987 he authored Buick GNX: A Performance Legend in its Own Time for General Motors.
Fact 97:Car Life magazine flogged a 1970 GS455 Stage 1 at the nowdefunct GM Mesa, Arizona, Desert Proving Grounds (DPG) in its December 1969 issue. Conducted before the car’s official announcement, the test was conducted within the secure walls of DPG.
The writer made this observation: “The new engine feels like a small-block Chevy grown up. It always leaped to life at the slightest nudge of the accelerator, and sounded perfectly happy with its revs up, something few engines of this size can brag about. Although it was perfectly willing to rev above 6,000 rpm, best times were recorded with the Turbo Hydro shifting automatically at 5,500. This would drop the engine speed right into torque peak, where there is enough leverage to straighten the Tower of Pisa.”
Fact 98:Another insightful quote from the 1970 GS45 Stage 1 road test published in the December 1969 issue of Car Life magazine addresses the means by which the various GM divisions arrived at their 450-plus-cubic-inch muscle car engines for 1970.
The story says: “While its corporate brothers had to increase crank stroke to reach the limit, Buick merely bored the block out to 4.31 in., leaving the stroke at 3.90 in. This not only gave Buick a 455- cid with a highly desirable bore/stroke ratio, but also seems to have unlocked some natural breathing area. Early attempts to increase the output of the 400 and 430 engines by increasing the valve size had all come to naught . . . but making the cylinders an eighth of an inch bigger apparently removed the major restriction.”
Indeed, the extra cylinder diameter moved the cylinder wall away from the valve heads, unshrouding them for better flow.
Fact 99:In 1971, Buick offered traction control in the form of the MaxTrac option. Initially available only on the Riviera, speed sensors were mounted on the left front wheel and transmission output shaft. If rear wheel speed (as calculated from driveshaft speed) exceeded front wheel speed by 10 percent or more, a small computer triggered ignition interruption for 10 milliseconds. The idea was to curb excess rear tire spin for better directional stability.
A factory service manual reads: “MaxTrac is available on the 1971 Riviera. It will be available at a somewhat later date on all Buick upper series models.”
Like many modern electronic traction “nannies,” MaxTrac happily included an override switch allowing the driver to shut it off at will. MaxTrac was discontinued at the end of the 1973 model year and unknown quantities were installed.
Fact 100:“The new Stage II heads are being listed as options by Buick and should be available over the counter (order special) from Buick dealers. However, should you have difficulty obtaining the heads, or any of the special parts, contact K-B (Kenne-Bell) for assistance. Whether or not the new heads will become standard equipment is not known at this time, possibly because of the new restrictions of smog laws.”
In the four decades since those words were published in Argus Publishing’s 1972 Hi-Performance Ideas, Buick performance fans have had plenty of time to realize the Stage 2 program died on the vine.