To most observers, those who were there and those who were not, 1970 was the pinnacle of the muscle car era. In that one golden year, a consumer with a few thousand bucks to spend could buy an LS6 Chevelle, any number of hot Mopars, Cobra Jet or Boss Mustangs, 429 Torinos, W30 442s…the list is impressive.
All three automakers carried on for one final year in high compression, leaded gasoline glory; all automakers continued to use insurance angering, inflated gross horsepower numbers. And for that year, a Buick was one of the fastest musclecars from the new car showrooms.
But not this one. While some GS Buicks carried the full-load “Stage 1″ 455, with a rated 510 ft./lbs. of torque, this “burnished saddle” ’70 carries the 350 small-block. Buick rated this 350-4V at 315 horsepower, which was only 45 rated horsepower shy of the mighty Stage 1. Of course, gross horsepower ratings of the time had more to do with throwing a dart at a map than any actual mathematics. For example, my 250-horsepower ’65 Skylark ran neck and neck with my dad’s 2004 Escape with the mighty 200-horsepower Duratec V6. Therefore, many of those horses may be fictitious.
That’s not to say that a 350 Buick can’t run. I’ve personally seen a near stock ’72 350 GSX run a 13.7 quarter at nearly 100 miles per hour. In fact, v8buick.com, where I found the above picture, stockpiles many threads from enthusiastic 350 owners.
I’ve always found it fascinating that General Motors offered four 350 engine architectures. The Buick was a long-stroke design based loosely on the old aluminum 215, which had relatively close bore centers. On the other hand, the big-block Buicks were designed with large bore centers, so the 455 used a relatively short stroke for its displacement.
The ’70 GS may be the most collectible Buick on the road; it’s at least in the top five. The above brochure image was quite out of character for Buick; not since the Buick Bug did they foster such a racing image. Those who found the ad copy hokey were forced to take the Stage 1 seriously as soon as magazines found that it could run with Chrysler Hemis with ease. Additionally, the Stage 1 exhibited Buick-like street manners, unlike the finicky Hemi, which was noted to be uncomfortable on anything but a racetrack.
Getting back to our featured GS, the current owners are doing their best to perpetuate the old Buick stereotype by riding on beaded seat covers. There are likely few ’70 GS Buicks with those little add-ons and a litter bag. Nevertheless, this GS is one of my favorite types of vehicles. While I’m not crazy about the ’68-’72 redesign, this Buick had a well-used but well-maintained aura that I aim for with my fleet. Cracked beltline trim, a few rust bubbles, and a little orange peel on an old paint job take nothing away from this car at all. It’s perfect.
Looking at the brochure, it’s obvious that Buick offered a choice of steering wheels for the GS. Our example wears the far more appropriate sport wheel that Buick offered for many years, for good reason. It’s one of the most attractive steering wheels from any manufacturer.
Buick arguably has a handful of cars that define its history: the original Century, the original Skylark, the Riviera, the Grand National, and this. The ’70 GS is the epitome of Buick muscle, and this is a great driver example of why people appreciate this model year and bodystyle. The GS came from a time when GM allowed their divisions to personalize similar architectures, and those divisions responded by creating four muscle cars with their own unique characters.
And while you are unlikely to see a Formula-style race car in the brochure for your new LaCrosse, it’s nice to know there was a time when staid Buick built a car like the ’70 GS.