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1970 Buick GSX Stage 1: The Muscle Car That Was Far Cooler (and Faster) Than Any Hemi

1970 Buick GSX Stage 1 50 photos
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
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‘These things are really high torque and they really run. It’s a beast to drive, I’ll be honest with you. It’s unbelievable. It’s scary sometimes.’ It’s also very cool – in more ways than one. So cool, in fact, that even the apex predators steered clear of its way when it came out to lay claim on the street or strip. But what is it? Of course, it's a muscle car.

Picture this following scenario: it’s 1970, and you’re driving the single most feared four-letter word Detroit has ever produced. (No, Ford fans, it’s not ‘Boss,’ but you get points for that, too). It’s the original four-letter word tailgating a three-digit magical number. If you’re thinking anything else other than ‘426’ and ‘Hemi,’ I’m afraid we can’t be friends. I’m joking – I’m not afraid.

Anyway, imagine you’re driving a 426 Hemi anything, and it’s a beautiful 1970 day – you pick the season, location, and occasion. All of a sudden, a shiver creeps up your spine, paired with the throaty grunt of something unheard of until then.

One second later, the unthinkable happens – the Hemi is flat-out tailgating the new king of the street. It takes a few stupefied gazes to realize that’s not a Chevelle 454 LS6, but its bigger, meaner, classier brother. No, not a Pontiac GTO 455, the other brother. Not the Olds older brother (the 442 W-30), The Other muscle brother. What do you mean, ‘What Buick?’ when you already know the GS 455 answer? Except it’s not entirely correct – it’s the rowdy variant, the GSX.

1970 Buick GSX Stage 1
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
The events pictured above might have never happened in reality had it not been for GM’s liberating decision to free up all its intermediates from the shackles of a 400-cubic-inch maximal displacement. In 1970, with muscle cars throwing one final push into the horsepower fray, General Motors sounded the trumpet of performance and summoned every division to war.

Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile were more than happy to oblige, finally getting the chance to even the odds on the big-block mockery suffered at the expense of Chrysler and FoMoCo. On the other hand, Buick had little business in the muscle car arena, but it sent its legions, nonetheless. And man, oh, man, did they pack a punch!

At 510 lb-ft of torque, the Buick 455 V8 was the unchallenged ruler in this crankshaft-twisting class. That 692 Nm is the reason cited in the opening of this story for the hard-to-believe frights experienced by an insatiable Buick collector.

1970 Buick GSX Stage 1
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
Dennis Doerge is his name, and he has quite a collection of cars (mostly Buicks, some of them being high-performance examples from the Golden Age). His latest pride and joy is a 1970 Buick GSX – the one he’s driving in the video while telling Lou Costabile what it’s like to have a locomotive under the right foot.

The car recently came out of a restoration—the 455 V8 (7.5-liter) is not even broken in yet—but it was an original car when Dennis bought it a decade ago. It would probably be better to mention that the engine's actual displacement is 462 cubic inches because it was bored 30 over. That’s 7.6 liters, from an increase in cylinder bore by a 0.03-inch margin (0,762 mm).

In 1970, when the Buick GSX appeared as a hotter variant of the Gran Sport 455, the manufacturer built only 678 examples, just 12 more than the Plymouth hemicuda, which was also new for the model year. Unlike the nefarious Mopar, Buick only offered two liveries: Saturn Yellow and Apollo White. The moon landing reference is strong – Saturn was the rocket that propelled the Apollo missions into space in the sixties and early seventies.

1970 Buick GSX Stage 1
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
491 Saturn Yellow examples were assembled. Interestingly, the GSX – already a mean machine, with only one engine size offered, the mentioned 455 V8 – came in two variants. Two hundred seventy-eight customers ordered the standard setup, while 400 absolute gearheads chose the Stage 1 option.

It was a ‘performance’ alternative with a hotter cam, a slightly increased compression ratio (10.5:1 as opposed to the standard 10.0:1), and 90 degrees of camshaft overlap (instead of 67). With a .490 valve lift (12.44 mm) for both intake and exhaust and with 316 degrees or intake duration and 340 for exhaust, the mighty V8 fired a broadside of 360 hp (365 PS) on paper.

Buick engineers were inclined to say ‘four hundred,’ but this was the day's trend to keep it under the radar (and that magical ‘one hp per cubic inch’ ratio that set insurance policies on fire). Quite interestingly, the standard 455 was rated at 350 hp (355 PS) and the same 510 lb-ft. Here’s where it gets all nuts: in a Buick Electra, Wildcat, or Riviera, the non-GSX V8 was credited with 370 hp (375 PS).

1970 Buick GSX Stage 1
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
Whatever the output might have been, the GSX earned a dreaded nickname, ‘The Hemi Killer.’ Cool name for a cool car that was also very hot. Only on the outside - because the GSX had something no Hemi could dream of: air conditioning. Also, a 13.38-second Elapsed Time at 105.5 mph (169.79 kph) trap speed in the quarter-mile was another something to put the Hemi to sleep on.

Dennis Doerge’s car is one of those examples that came with a factory air-cooling unit (and this option required a 3.42 rear gearing). The regular GSXs had the same axle ratio, but the GSX Stage 1 without A/C offered an optional diff with 3.64 gears.

Out of the total 400 GSX Stage 1 Buicks assembled in 1970, 280 received the three-speed Turbo Hydra-matic gearbox (as an alternative to the four-speed manual standard transmission). With so much torque available, the car was – and is – two handfuls, not just one, so power brakes with discs upfront provide the driver with control over the monstrous output of the engine.

1970 Buick GSX Stage 1
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
However, not all Buick GSXs – Stage 1 or not – came with power steering (maybe Buick’s wrench hobbits thought it robbed power away from tire-burning applications?). Sixty-five units were specified without the turning aid, giving a new meaning to the phrase ‘muscle car’ and letting the driver really work the wheel to turn the wheels.

Regardless of this aspect, the GSX of 1970 was introduced as a mid-year offer, with the entire 678-example production running between February and June. Out of that already small volume, only 246 are still accounted for today, and one of them is just one click away (literally watch it below).

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About the author: Razvan Calin
Razvan Calin profile photo

After nearly two decades in news television, Răzvan turned to a different medium. He’s been a field journalist, a TV producer, and a seafarer but found that he feels right at home among petrolheads.
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