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Buick Gran Sport – Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review

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Written by Elise

8th October 2020

Buick Gran Sport – Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review
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Buick Gran Sport – Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review

By Jamie Wills

The Buick Gran Sport poured chilli powder onto the American muscle car scene of the 1960s and 1970s. Arriving in 1965 as side models of the Buick Skylark and Buick Riviera, the Gran Sport placed the biggest engine General Motors would permit in a medium-sized car and announced the company as a player in the golden age of icons in classic American open road.

Over the next decade, Buick would produce an array of heroes under the Gran Sport or GS moniker. Aided by GM’s lifting of their self-imposed engine restrictions in 1970, Buick became a style and drag racing leader on the muscle car scene. Consequently, models such as the Gran Sport 455 and upgraded GSX were swift entries into the American muscle car canon.

This casual car review aims to provide muscle car enthusiasts with a clearer view of the muscle car family tree, with Buick as a long-standing but initially shy relative. 

History of a Champion

Today it seems incongruous that Buick, builder of American casual luxury sedans and soccer mom SUVs, was once a force in the muscle car world. Yet back in the 1950s when car grills were all smiling faces, the company was very much about both luxury interiors and coupés suitable for the drive-in (hence the Buick Invicta being ‘the banker’s hot rod’). 

Stepping into the world of muscle cars, albeit late, was easy when it already possessed the engines, the style and the customer base, all lying around like parts.

Thus it was that in 1965 Buick put its ‘nailhead’ 401 cu in V8 engine into the Skylark and Riviera models, giving birth to the Gran Sport. 

Pictured: 1965 Skylark GS

A year later, the 1967 Buick Wildact got the same treatment. Deemed successes, 1967 saw the GS became its own man worthy of a unique history. The Skylark Gran Sport morphed into the Buick Gran Sport 400 (or GS 400), complete with a new engine, and it too had offspring, namely the California GS and GS 340, more economical ‘junior muscle cars’ for those who lacked the wallet power but wanted the look and big performance. 

Yet, the introduction of two concepts in particular were to elevate the Gran Sport above the crowd. The first was the new line of post-1970s engines, with the 400 cu in replaced by the 455, thereby granting the world the Buick GS 455

The second was the offer of upgraded package options, particularly Stage 1 (from 1969) and GSX (for the GS 455 from 1970, and all Gran Sports from 1971). Suddenly, customers could request the add-ons and parts needed to turn their new purchase into the supercar Buick’s engineers had always wanted.

Buick Gran Sport Specs

Having existed as several iterations, the Gran Sport proved to be an evolving beast.

Its first generation might be defined by its 401 V8 nailhead engines because it is here that the desired muscle sprouted. Although Buick had previously used V8 nailheads, this new version lifted the horsepower count to 325 (with additional cool points for being the engine used to ignite the SR-71 Blackbird). Purchase the Stage 1 option, and you got 340hp. 

The Gran Sport, therefore, had a strong punch. Yet definitions can be flexible because Buick’s parallel running of the milder GS California and GS 340 (then GS 350) meant Gran Sports with 340 and 350 cu in engines were also zipping around.

In 1970, the parameters changed when Big Brother got its 455 cu in engine, with a whopping 510 lb-ft of torque. Yes, the ‘gentler’ cars continued until 1975, but the GS 455 and GSX – plus the Stage 1 upgrade – took the specifics of a Gran Sport to another level. 

Pictured: 1970 GS 455 Stage 1

For one, the GS 455 incorporated cast steel engine mounts because the Skylark’s standard stamped sheet metal mounts versions could not take the strain. The ‘sweepspear’ body was eliminated. Its horsepower when granted the Stage 1 option was listed at 360hp, but believed to be closer to 400. It is said to have been the third-fastest muscle car of the era, a car to rival Pontiac’s GTO Judge and Chevrolet’s Chevelle SS.

The GSX, initially available to GS 455 owners for an extra $1196, provided black bucket seats, quad-link suspension, quick ratio steering, a 4-speed manual transmission and wide tires. It owned a floor shifter and anti-sway bars, and – vitally – a black stripe that ran the full length of the car to say ‘mortals, behold my car and tremble.’ 

There were also power disc brakes rather than the GS 455’s front drum brakes, although these were sometimes reverted by fiends racing on tracks. Initially available in only Saturn yellow or Apollo white, it was a rare monster, figuratively and literally: only 687 were built in its first year.

The GSX Stage 2

The cars above remain headline acts in Buick’s Gran Sport golden era, and a pristine 1970 GSX 455 Stage 1 can now cost between $150k and $220k. Yet, there exists a level even beyond this, as hard to find as the Garden of the Hesperides, because Buick also produced a near mythological Stage 2 package. 

Certain to fail the incoming emissions regulations, and not quite road legal, only two factory prototypes were ever made before parts were quietly made available via dealers. Every superhero needs an aura of mystique, and the GSX Stage 2 – with over 500hp – approaches folklore. 

Pictured: 1970 Buick GSX Stage 2

Buick Gran Sport: Outside of Pop Culture

Unlike, for instance, a Ford Mustang, the Buick Gran Sport has always shied away from Hollywood. Indeed, when loans company TitlePro counted cars that appeared in films, it found Buick lagging in 17th place, well behind sexless names such as Peugeot, Nissan, Volvo and Opel. 

Even GM’s own press page only lists seven Buicks in movies, weakly including a scene in Pearl Harbour and the sedan the McCallisters drive in Home Alone. Disappointingly, none of these vehicles are a Gran Sport. As The Drive points out: “If the LeSabre is the most common Buick in films, then some PR work may be in order.”

This lack of contemporary pizazz has become a joke even Buick has acknowledged: its 2019 Mistaken Identity advertising campaign appears to involve insulting its own cars, the same year it erased its own name from its new models. 

Yet, oddly these recent splats emphasise the excellence of the Gran Sport, a totem from a time when the company was hitting it out of the park. Videos of GS455s drag racing are not on Youtube by mistake; driving a classic American muscle car with Buick’s name proudly displayed shows that the driver takes lasting quality regardless of trends and chatter.

Pictured: Still from Home Alone

Which Buick Gran Sport Model Year Should I Buy?

The ease of buying a Gran Sport from the 65-75 age very much depends on which model is being chased. 

Anyone after a 1970 GSX Stage 1 will have their work cut out, as only 678 were made in that first run (491 yellow, 187 white). The same year’s GS 455 Stage 1 was not bred much more: under 2500 were built. 

A six-figure sum is common for a 1970 GSX Stage 1 in good condition, while the 1970 GS 455 Stage 1 is $50k+. 

However, these models are very much the sweet spot in terms of cost: altering the year, engine size, model or package puts the car in the range of $20k and $50k, including the 1965 Skylark and Riviera versions. 

Additionally, from 1971 onwards, GS and Stage 1 became spread over a variety of Buick cars, muddying the waters further. Essentially, overall 1970 is your starting peak from which to roll.  


Pictured: 1970 GSX Stage 1

When the Buick Gran Sport smacked the 1960s in the cheek, it declared that America’s oldest car company was ready for the muscle car challenge. 

As seen in this short car review, what started with an engine soon became a game-changer, with automatic transmission adaptations and packages combining to produce one of the most powerful cars of the time, and is now a highly collectable classic car even across the pond in the UK. From the Skylark Gran Sport to the GSX Stage 1, via the Wildcat and the 455, these were lions that looked dignified yet roared like thunder. 

In short, a classic GS is a worthy entry into the muscle car pantheon.

Author: Jamie Wills

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