TIME & SPACE For Buick fans, the GSX was the best launch of the Space Age
Museum Masterpieces by Geoff Stunkard
VEHICLE: 1970 Buick GSX
Engine: Buick 455 Stage 1
Transmission: M22 Rock Crusher by Muncie
Rearend: 3.46 PosiTrac
Interior: black vinyl
Wheels: Rallye type
Tires: Goodyear Polyglas G60-15
Special Parts: GSX package, Saturn Yellow paint, Stage 1 engine
Owned by The Wellborn Musclecar Museum
Astronaut Neil Armstrong talked of mankind's steps as he became the first person who ever walked on the moon, and for many musclecar fans, what was happening back on earth was also pretty far out, too. After all, the auto manufacturers had announced they would be pushing the limit for the 1970 model year. Chrysler's Six Pack and Hemi engines would be in a new line of sporty E-bodies, Ford had 429-cid engines in street (SCJ) and race (Boss) trim, and GM lifted its 400-cid limit in midsize performance models.
Buick was one of the more 'stoic' brands being built, just below Cadillac in the GM hierarchy of excellence. However, that had not kept the Flint, Mich. company from engaging in projects with a more youthful outlook. The GS-series models based on the Skylark had carried that banner forward during the 1965-1969 years, using the thin-wall cast Buick big-block at 400" for power after its arrival in 1967. For 1970, both the 400" and the 430-cid Buick luxury engine were superseded by a new package that pumped out a big 455" cubes. It should be remembered that the 455" used by Buick was not the same as the 455" displacements offered by Pontiac or Oldsmobile (which were also different from each other).
Buick made use of an over-squared (bore larger than stroke) design in the new engine, and offered it in different states of tune. In the new GS455 model, it was paper-rated at mere 350 horse at a lowball 4600 rpm, with 425 lb./ft. torque. Buick was notorious for underrating true performance numbers, perhaps to persuade buyers to consider other options in the GM line, and most likely to allow the division to fly beneath the 'respectability' flag of its banker and broker audience. Most people in the know will quickly tell you that Buicks could hold their own against most anything else that was factory-available once that 455" lung became the mill of choice.
Pontiac offered various states of tune for their 400” and new 455” mills (the Ram Air II,III, and IV packages), while Olds had what they called the W30 option . Buick used a hop-up they called Stage 1 available from the factory, and a Stage 2 that was dealer-installed. The Stage 1 program, begun in 1969, continued into 1970 with a hotter cam and reworked heads with larger valves. That got you another 10 horsepower at a mere 4600, to 360 hp on paper (with the true max rpm power ‘sweet spot’ someplace well north of 400 ponies) and a monstrous 510-lb/ft of torque at 2900 rpm. The cars were capable of times in the mid-13s, impressive when considering that these were fully-optioned machines with the same standard of quality that all Buicks were noted for.
But getting back to our space-age analogy, the names Saturn Yellow and Apollo White would be enshrined forever as special to Buick fans when the Chicago Auto Show opened in early 1970. Buick had pulled out all of the stops with a new model they called the GSX. Announced in the print advertising of the time as a Limited Edition, the X was a special $1195.87 option on the GS455 hardtop. Only the two aforementioned colors were offered, using black graphics and black-out hood, spoilers fore and aft, a hood-mounted tach, upgrades to the suspension, and more. Optional G60-15 Goodyear Polyglas tires, the last hurrah of OEM street bias-plies as the radial age dawned, made it handle. A fully-dressed GSX could come off the showroom floor with a sticker price of approximately $5,000, not small change in that time, but its appearance and notoriety were guaranteed to turn heads in any setting.
The car in the Wellborn collection is one of 188 that received the 455 Stage 1/M22 rock-crusher four-speed combo. There were only 678 GSXs produced in 1970, and the few examples produced after that first year suffered from the decline in compression ratios that affected all GM models. Like all other 1970 GSX models, the car in the collection has a black vinyl bucket seat interior, plus the Sonoramic radio.
“We wanted to have an example of all the midsize GM performance models from 1970,” remarks Tim Wellborn. “The GSX is a legendary example of just how extreme things became. I like driving this car because it really is a Buick in terms of its build and ride quality, but it is also a real musclecar in terms of performance.”
The 1970 GSX would be a true legend of the age; the relative few that were built were treasured by their owners and made no bones about their ability when put to the test during a stoplight or highway joust. As a result, it has a fitting home in the collection, and a most deserving vehicle of the title 'muscle car.' Even (or perhaps especially) as a Buick…