TIME & SPACE For Buick fans, the GSX was the best launch of the Space Age

Drive GSX
On the road? Actually, the GSX is making tracks at an airport with Roger Gibson driving. The styling of this particular car may have scandalized the dealerships it was sold through, but it cemented the legend of Buick in the minds of the performance enthusiasts. John Stunkard photo.

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.

GSX engine
Under the hood are 455 inches of Buick big-block in Stage 1 trim. Buick's casting technology made this engine almost 150 pound lighter than the Chevrolet 454" that also arrived in 1970.

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 For 1970, both the 400" and the 430-cid Buick luxury engine were superseded by a new package that pumped out a big 455" cubes.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.

GSX carb
Ironically, Buick stayed with tried-and-true Rochester-design Quadrajet, even in Stage 1 trim. Replacements are hard to come by if you need one, to say the least.

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.

GSX above rear
From behind, the biggest visible change was the trunk-mounted wing that stretched from fender to fender, coupled to a black stripe and special GSX logos. Cool...

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.

GSX interior
Inside, the GSX models all had black interiors; this one used the front bucket seats and special consolette with four-speed Hurst shifter. Options on these model were minimal other than radios…

“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…

GS options included on the Wellborn GSX

* A-X (included Stage 1 performance 455” engine, plus A-9 parts – GSX exterior trim, paint, hood-mounted tach, and color-coordinated mirrors and headlight bezels.

* B-M (included B-3 Manual transmission, B-4 consolette, B-8 floorpan with shift opening)

GSX tach
The hood-mounted tach, which has been introduced by Pontaic, was a fantastic touch to the image of the GSX. Black-out time, body-color outside mirrors, and spoilers completed the look.

Other options

* C-D  Quick ratio steering and power disc brakes

* D-1   Sonoramic radio

* F-7   G60-15 Super Wide Oval raised letter/chromed wheels

* H-6  Rallye Ride control package

* U-9  Gauge Cluster & Rally clock

* 3-N   Special paint – Saturn Yellow

432nd unit produced in 1970 invoiced 5/22/70

GSX low
The G60-15 tires on styled wheels, heavy-duty suspension, and spoilers gave the GSX a real sense of all-around purpose, and all agreed that that this last hurrah of the high-compression GM era was much more than a stripped-down drag strip beast.