The General Motors A-Body platform is one of the most versatile in the pantheon of American automobiles, with the possible exception of the K-Car (GM didn’t turn the A-Body into a limousine, as far as I know). Last September, three great examples of 1971 and 1972 A-Bodies reminded me of the infinite variety of this long-running and popular midsize menagerie of cars, and although I’ve never been in the market for an A-Body of this vintage, I’d have a tough time choosing which one I’d like best.
My gut tells me it’s this 1972 Buick Sport Wagon. Even with a nondescript paint color and basic, plain wheel covers, this is the car I’d want to take home. Reliable, convenient, and handsome, why would anyone want to drive anything but an old Buick?
This one is in spectacular condition, and it might even be original. Sport Wagons (and indeed all Skylarks in 1972) came standard with Buick’s small-block 350 V8, a relic of a time period where GM’s volume meant that four completely different 350s were affordable and expedient.
A brown vinyl bench seat with no air-conditioning will certainly leave one’s thighs regretting the choices of Buick’s fabric department, but rugged durability was the primary concern in such a workaday grocery getter.
The Sport Wagon lost the neat glass roof it shared with the Vista Cruiser somewhere along the way, but an old wagon will always have a certain charm, regardless of its styling gimmicks.
The “Buick Motor Division” stamped wheel covers make a clear claim that this car is here to work, not to pose. Knowing Buicks as I do, I would not be a bit surprised if this car is still powered by its un-rebuilt original driveline, still ready to take the family on an adventure.
A-Bodies were good about that kind of thing. I’m not much of a beach guy (I’m fair-skinned and modestly freckled), but something about this Sport Wagon makes me want to go for a swim on a nice, hot day in July. I’ve spent enough time behind the wheel of an old Skylark to know how it drives, and with its ’70s tallish rear gear, it will easily cruise with modern traffic. But what if I weren’t a guy in his 40s?
Parked a couple cars down from the Sport Wagon was this very orange 1972 “Heavy Chevy” Chevelle. A belated answer to Plymouth’s successful-for-a-time Road Runner, the Heavy Chevy was similar in concept to Pontiac’s GT-37 and Oldsmobile’s Rallye 350.
To keep the more well-heeled Chevelle buyer in an SS, the Heavy Chevy was only available with V8s ranging from the lowly 307 to a Turbo-Jet “400.” The “Turbo-Jet” moniker in the brochure tells us that it is not the small-block variant but the big-block 402, as Chevy’s naming schemes in the early 1970s were baffling. Needless to say, the Heavy Chevy was mostly an appearance option, and it looked great.
The interior is as basic as the Sport Wagon’s, with a hot bench seat and a column shifter, both of which emitted a sleeper image but also explained why a Heavy Chevy was cheaper than a comparable SS model.
The ’68 to ’72 Chevelle hardtops are understandably among the most popular collector cars in the country, and it’s easy to get burned out on seeing them. You don’t, however, see too many “Heavy Chevy” versions from 1971 and 1972, and this one was immaculate. Kudos to the owner for keeping it stock (at least on the outside – those tailpipes look rather large).
As a counterpoint to the belief that all Chevelles are SS hardtops, this 1971 model reminds us that Chevelles too came as a complete line of cars, most of which were basic transportation. By the way, an easy way to tell the difference between a ’71 and a ’72 model is the parking light design: the ’71 used a “split” parking light and the ’72 used a one-piece design (with a lens that was more obviously orange).
Like Chevrolet, Buick made the A-Body into a muscle car, although none were as inexpensive as the Heavy Chevy. This 1971 GSX (which was an appearance package in 1971 and 1972) was extremely rare, with only 124 being built (according to Hemmings). Unlike the 1970 models, which were only available in Saturn Yellow and Apollo White (Get it? They’re out of this world!), the 1971 model came in a variety of colors. It could also be ordered with the GS’s base 350 small block, unlike the 1970 model, which came standard with the 455.
There are a lot of people on this website who appreciate cars with a story to tell, just as I do. This car (with an Arizona plate) has the marks to prove it’s been around, and I think the overall effect is fantastic. It would be tough to decide what to do with it; as a rare and valuable Buick muscle car, a restoration would probably be worth the money. On the other hand, it’s so cool the way it is that I’d certainly leave it. Obviously, we all have different opinions about this kind of thing.
This GSX even has a trailer hitch, along with some reproduction Firestone Wide Oval tires. I don’t remember seeing the hood open to verify if this was a 350, a 455, or a 455 Stage 1 GSX, but it was one of my favorite cars of the event because I like originality, I like imperfections (to an extent), and I like Buicks.
Regardless of whose A-Body you might prefer, they all stand as a reminder that General Motors once sold something for almost everyone. I’m not so sure that’s still the case, but the classic A-Body is still available in large numbers for those who want to give a collector car a try.
Great collection of cars, Aaron. I’m with you on your choice of the Sport Wagon. Best-looking American wagon of its time, IMO. I’d love one from a couple of years earlier when they still had the vista roof, but this 72 does look mighty clean.
Great way to start out the day!
Thanks Jeff…it looks like ’69 was the last year for the glass roof. Too bad – it would be a nice addition to the ’72.
The wagon strikes me as unusually bare bones for a Buick. I’m guessing you could get a Chevelle 350 wagon with A/C for about the same money as the stripped Buick cost.
I agree, how did this one leave the factory without air? I bet it sat on the dealers lot until it was practically given away. Your average Buick customer probably thought “no air? No way!”.
I don’t know, here in Michigan, I’d bet the take rate for air conditioning wasn’t nearly as high as it was elsewhere. My ’65 Skylark doesn’t have air, nor does my ’74 Firebird (it is a Michigan car from new, and I believe that over half were sold with air).
Heck, even my ’63 Riviera doesn’t have air, and it was sold new in North Carolina with a black interior. THAT had to have been an anomaly.
Regarding the Skylark vs. Chevelle comment by Evan: I took the picture of the wagon in Flint, and that is obviously a Buick town. I think many citizens would have bought the Buick even if it meant they had to skimp on options.
Yes, it seems strange to think of a Buick so plain. It positively invites the question of what the buyer was getting for their money (besides the mighty Buick engine!), compared with your hypothetical Chevelle. I suspect the answer would be a lot of marketing mumbo-jumbo. Obviously the buyer of this one thought it worthwhile.
Up until 1969 the Sportwagon was the top of the line wagon for Buick. Based on the intermediate A body it rode on a longer 121″ wheelbase as opposed to the 116″ of the sedan and the Special Wagon. In 1970 Buick created the Estate Wagon based on their full size cars and the Sport Wagon became the economy wagon, even going back to the shorter sedan wheelbase
Why do you make the choice so difficult Aaron? These all resonate with me. My first car was a ’72 Chevelle and I have always wanted another. The Heavy Chevy is a cool rare version that no one ever sees. Then there is the ’72 Skylark, one of the cars I learned to drive on, albeit a 4-door hardtop. Like this wagon it was also a fairly low optioned model with no A/C. I still remember the rhythmic tick of the bad lifter in that old 350 Buick V8. Then you show that very sweet GSX, one of my all time favourite “over the top” muscle cars. Even with a 350, I’d happily take it, although I’d probably repair the roof. I might just have to take them all!
On the Heavy Chevy, the big difference was that that option package was only available with the base model Chevelle, while the Z15 SS option was only available with the Malibu. Both option packages came with a bench seat as standard, but the SS had the round gauges. The SS was more performance oriented and also had other extras like the sport suspension, disc brakes, sport mirrors and 15×7 wheels over the 14×6 wheels on the Heavy Chevy. Like the GT-37, the Heavy Chevy was an insurance special and it didn’t sell overly well.
The dearth of Heavy Chevy sales was almost certainly the death knell for the ‘kid-car’, bargain-basement, Road Runner type, big-block musclecar.
Here, you could effectively get a base SS396 (if optioned properly) for a lot less coin, with a chance to circumvent high insurance surcharges, yet it just didn’t go over. Savvy musclecar buyers were now flocking to the Mopar A-body 340.
But even then, once the Oil Crisis hit, anything that even smacked of cheap muscle (the GM f-body ponycars were a little pricey) was a goner, and it wouldn’t be until the return of the 302 bargain in the 1982 Mustang things would improve a bit.
I’d argue that the Heavy Chevy was not actually a bargain basement performance car. It was more the next generation stripe package car that was more show than go. The vast majority of these Heavy Chevy’s were lo-po SBC powered (130-175 hp net) and the top dog 402 was not real strong performer compared to the competition, at least out of the box. Even the SS package for 1971 and 72 were mostly sold with 350’s. The saving grace with the Z15 package was the SS454, which still offered good performance in 1971-72, but it was expensive and not many were sold.
The difference with the Roadrunners is that they offered real performance, with a strong 383 as the base engine. By 1971 and 72, the speed freaks went for the 340 Dusters, because like the original RR, it was cheap and offered real performance out of the box.
This might make you cringe, Vince, but I remember flat towing a ’71 Chevelle home with a high school classmate back in ’95. He drove his dad’s squarebody Chevy with a six-cylinder, and another classmate sat behind the wheel of the Chevelle and steered it straight behind the truck. I followed in my car in case we needed flashers/taillights.
It had the usual Michigan quarter rust, but the frame was solid and you could have probably built it into something nice. The worst part? He paid $100 for it and I’m going to bet it eventually went to the junkyard. I lost touch with him after high school.
Unfortunately many cars that we might have saved now ended up in the scrap yard then. That’s where mine ended up too. I sold it to a mechanic friend for parts and it eventually was scrapped. Realistically mine was too far gone to be worth saving, even though I tried my best.
Your comment about the flat towing makes me laugh. I was actually just reminiscing with family about the flat towing I used when I was young when a family member’s or friend’s car broke down. The ’86 Fifth Ave held the record for needing the most flat tows.
It is funny how this piece features the A bodies that did NOT figure in my life, as I was surrounded by Oldsmobile and Pontiac variants. I always liked the details on the 71-72 Skylark. The Chevys get so much love that they don’t really need mine, so I will stick to the less traveled path here.
If only the sedans had gone with the rear door window shape found on the wagons (with its faster slope) they might not have been so ungainly looking. My pick of that body is the 4 door hardtop (which you did not come across) but the close runner up would be the wagon.
My only problem with this one: there is something about that uniquely-70s light brown interior that has always rubbed me the wrong way. It was universal among GM and Chrysler cars of the time (Ford’s was a little darker). I don’t mind a rich brown interior, but that nasty diarrhea shade is just too much. But this car is nice enough that it would make me have to think really hard about turning it down for that silly reason.
Peanut butter, the interior looks like peanut butter. Which goes nicely with the butter yellow exterior. I’ll take the wagon, and a sandwich.
Also, if it was a Riviera or Centurion it needs the great rallye wheels, but I actually prefer those covers on a Skylark.
“Peanut butter, the interior looks like peanut butter.”
Yeah, but are you talking before or after? 🙂
Today, I appreciate the ’78-72 Buick A-Bodies, for their conservative, and tasteful contemporary styling. As a small kid in the 1970s, that hungered for modern styling, I found they possessed too many dated ’60s styling cues. They didn’t pique my design interest at the time, I simply found them too bland. Vent windows, too much chrome use around the B-pillar, and door posts. The dated C-pillar curve, and other details, that busied (and aged) the styling IMO. When the Colonnade wagons were introduced, I found the cleaner exterior design, more reflected my tastes then. At least, as Detroit mid-sized wagons went.
Compare, the rear quarter panel areas. Less seams, smoother body, lot cleaner on the Century. Though, the earlier bumper designs were more attractive.
The third pic is neat. I find the lighting, and faux stitching, lends the illusion of heavily padded vinyl cargo area walls. As opposed to hard plastic. Padded vinyl cargo walls would have been welcomed for comfort, as I rode back there often, in the pre-seat belt era.
* ’68-’72 Buick A-Bodies
I’ll go for the underdog here, the ’71 Chevelle 4-door post. Especially since there’s a good chance it has cloth seat inserts.
One point about the ’72 Chevelle turn signals – they started out clear with amber lenses and went to all-amber at some point in the model year.
“One point about the ’72 Chevelle turn signals – they started out clear with amber lenses and went to all-amber at some point in the model year.”
Good to know!
Forty-six years ago, and I still remember the guy on the unicycle, and the early ’70s Olds Cutlass, seen in the closing credits of Welcome Back Kotter. 🙂
That’s funny…I’ve often mentioned to my lovely bride that I’d like to buy a unicycle to ride around the driveway. A couple years ago, she was out on a walk with her friends, and she texted me a picture of a guy on a unicycle. The text said, “notice how alone he is on his unicycle, and likely in life.” Therefore, a unicycle is one of the few areas in which she has definitely put down her foot. 🙂
As a unicycle rider, I’m not sure exactly what her point was? We’ve been happily married for 45 years despite my unicycle. But FWIW, Stephanie does not like riding a bicycle by herself, so we have a tandem, which makes us very much together when we ride it.
Speaking of, I meant to get my unicycle out for my 70th birthday last week and ride it, but then we ended up going to Port Orford. I want to ride it one last time before I donate it to a kid who wants it.
They are not easy to learn how to ride, but like a bicycle, once you’ve got the hang of it, you can’t unlearn it.
Ha ha…well, if there was one offensive comment I could make today, I wouldn’t have dreamed it would be about unicycles! It’s gotta be your charisma, Paul. 🙂
I don’t think she meant anything by it…she’s the nicest girl in the world. She doesn’t want me to have a unicycle (especially in addition to everything else I have).
So you don’t like unicycles, eh?
Having actually owned a ’72 Chevelle Concours wagon along with several Buicks, this post feels like I’m coming home (sort of)! I’ll pick the Buick wagon of course but can see the conundrum this group presents, i.e. the others would make you want to constantly tell everyone you’re going to get Aerosmith tickets with Wooderson.
Alright, alright, alright!
That GM “A” body from 1968-1972 is one of my all time favorites. Good looking, good sized, reliable cars!
I’m going for the GSX. It’s a car that reminds me of the fact that cars are meant to be driven. It’s far from an over restored trailer queen that only comes outside a couple of days a year, I wish more cars remained this way.
I had the 72 GSX 455cid back in its day, and boy was it a blast! Blew up damn near everything in it too, lol
Really like that GSX in that condition; hopefully it will stay that way.
The Heavy Chevy was a pretty rare sight in its day.
The Sport Wagon on the other hand was a reasonably common sight in Suburbia. Someone’s dad told them they really should stick to Buicks.
…The ’68 to ’72 Chevelle hardtops are understandably among the most popular collector cars in the country, and it’s easy to get burned out on seeing them….
YUP – Have been since about 1970. Hasn’t gotten any better either.
Love the long roofs. My Dad bought a new ’64 Pontiac Tempest wagon to replace a Corvair Greenbriar van that he bought out of curiosity. Later he bought a four year old ’68 Pontiac LeMans wagon. I got to drive this one. Both wagons appealed to me, they were sporty looking, in my eyes, and they were just the right size. 326 and 350 V8s with auto gave them adequate performance. My Uncle ended up taking over payments on his nephew’s (not me) ’68 Pontiac GTO Judge. It was an unusual choice for him, he’d always bought a straight six and Powerglide in his Chevys. I guess that it was a good deal for him. That bright orange Judge, Man! that was a car!
Those A bodies had something for everybody.
I like the Heavy Chevy over the SS if for no other reason that I like side stripes better than hood/roof/trunk stripes. Way too late for a package like that though, intermediate muscle was over the hill, and with lower spec engines available(that most presumable were ordered with) didn’t stand a chance against the new “compacts” like the Duster 340 and various ponycars with their giant killer small blocks.
You answered a question I never had bothered to look up, and it was why the 70 GSX was so revered but not the identical looking 71s, I hadn’t realized it became a appearance package with smaller engines available. The argent colored grille seems very disconnected from the wild stripes and spoilers, on the 70 it was appropriately black but there’s a little too much buickness bleeding through with that change. For that matter I feel that way about the 71-72 Chevelles; they have that racy semi-fastback body and even sprouted round taillights like a Corvette or Camaro for 71, yet the front end went more formal like a Monte Carlo homage
The wagons looked cool in the 68-72 generation but I think the 4 doors are very frumpy, it doesn’t surprise or sadden me really that they’re so uncommon now a days as there’s a very awkward quality to them due to the longer wheelbase where they look like stretch limos made from the coupes. I think more credit is due the Collonades in this respect over the 68-72 generation in that they made for very attractive 4 doors, and the reason is they were deliberately designed to look different from the coupes in the greenhouse.
I agree with you on the four-door versions, although I like the hardtops a lot better than I once did. Back in the early 2000s, I found a 1970 Skylark four-door (can’t remember if it was a hardtop or not) for not a ton of money. I just couldn’t warm up to the droopy rear end when coupled to the long wheelbase.
Love how car makers unashamedly cribbed so many very basic design ideas from each other. Knowing, most car buyers would have no idea. Or really care.
Five years later, Chrysler used a virtually identical wheel cover design, as their standard hub caps on the Dodge Aspen from 1976 to 1978. The crest Dodge popularly used at the time, inserted in the centre.
Wow, those are similar. Who wears it better? 🙂
On the Volare and Aspen, I thought Chrysler designers found too much inspiration in competitors early ’70s design work. For example, the mid-beltline chrome and vinyl insert Custom trim package on the Aspen, appeared inspired by the very similar Maverick LDO trim from 1972.
Hey, I bought one of those new in 72. Medium Yellow Gold.
The Ford Maverick, my favorite non muscle car muscle car! I always liked the styling, and the short wheelbase and rather low curb weight makes for a fast street car.
My choice would be the Buick wagon. Of course I’d like it better if it was a more interesting colour, and was more hot-weather-friendly. No air-con and vinyl seats seems almost alarmingly undressed for a Buick. It makes me wonder about the person who originally specified it.
My second choice would be the GSX, because a striped high-performance Buick just seems so wonderfully odd. The concept is positively dissonant, though I have to keep reminding myself silver wasn’t necessarily boring in those days.
The Heavy Chevy? First time I’ve seen one. Not bad. I get the idea, and a hat-tip for the name, but somehow it seems… underwhelming. Which it probably was.
As an aside – if Chevy called ‘400’ a Turbo-Jet, what was left for them to call the 454? 🙂 Ah, those mad days when every feature had to have a name…..
The “Turbo-Jet” name was given to any big-block Chevy back then, so the “400” (actually 402) and the 454 were both called “Turbo-Jet.” The small blocks were called “Turbo-Fire” engines.
What the Sport Wagon might have looked like if they’d kept the vista roof. This from Matchbox. (I’d be happier if it didn’t have the Di-Noc, like Arron’s example).
ok, let’s try that again…
I love how spartan, no-nonsense, and utilitarian the wagon is. It’s like a substitute teacher on wheels. On the surface, not at all my cuppa, but I really like it. I like all three, in fact.
Love the wagon, and that stripper ’71 Malibu sedan in the one pic, I prefer Plain Jane cars. So when did Sport Wagons lose their glass roof windows, ala Vista Cruiser which kept them right up until the ’73 A-body re-design?
The GS-X is awesome! A fancy package in a sedate color scheme, so it’s not advertising itself from blocks away like the orange Chevelle is doing. The wear and tear is relatively even, across the car, with no no big primer patches, big dings, or color mismatches.
As to the powertrain, does it really need to contain a big block to justify itself? I bet that car would drive quite nicely (for its age) with the small block up front.
That GS-X tells me a story of constantly having been looked after, though not always garaged or babied. IMO it would be a crime to lose that graceful aging.
This piece gives me an excuse to post pics of the Buick wagon that appears around my neighborhood from time to time. It is a lower end model with dog dish caps but is in beautiful condition and appears to be in frequent use.
I’ll take the Buick thanks. I do love me the A bodies. Lots of choice there!
The Heavy Chevy, Rally Nova and Pontiac counterpart T-37/GT-37 were a response to the harsh economic conditions of the early 70s, combined with escalating insurance rates. So yes, these were often paint/stripe packages only, but you could get one with a larger engine and – at least until the insurance company caught on – lower rates than the SS or GTO.
Give the 72 LeSabre a little love too. Owned by our family since it was new.
Beautiful car Chris! I’ve lusted after one of those for some time. Glad to see that your family has held on to one for half a century.