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Buick Wildcat Gran Sport Convertible Is One Rare Sight; This Example Doesn't Disappoint

If we were to compile a list of Detroit’s Most Wanted and started filling in the blanks in the ‘Muscle Cars’ section, one certain General Motors Division wouldn’t have much trouble sleeping at night. The High-Performance special ops hunting squad would certainly not knock on Buick’s door in the dead of night to look for tire-smoking, police-evading culprits. Unless they would be looking for a GS-badged marauder, in which case 1965 would be the model year to begin their search. However, in 1966, one seemingly out-of-place full-size Buick snuck below the radar and put on a performance garment - the Wildcat Gran Sport.
1966 Buick Wildcat GS Convertible 45 photos
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
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Released in 1963 in full-model form, after its mid-year introduction in 1962 as an Invicta sub-series, the Buick Wildcat nameplate was by no means strange to America. The GM division had a history with the name, beginning in 1953, with a concept sportscar. In ’54 and ’55, two more ‘dream cars’ came around – both in two-door, two-seat architectures – but none of them ever saw the light of metal.

However, the name stuck, and some years later, it was brought back – but not on a sportscar, but on a sporty model. Except Buick wasn’t exactly the most famous athlete in the GM lineup – that honor went to Pontiac and its John DeLorean cavalier demeanor towards corporate politics (and policies). Coincidentally, Pontiac and Buick chose 1966 as the cornerstone year to launch their muscle icons: the GTO became a separate model that year, and the full-size Wildcat received a Gran Sport option.

Notice the lack of a ‘d’ in ‘Gran’ – for whatever reason, the badge would resonate some Italian vibes, just like the GTO was largely believed to stand for ‘Gran Turismo Omologato,’ after the Ferrari 250 GTO. (Truth is the GTO stood for Grand Tempest Option, and it did bear some remembrance of the Prancing Horse – a Daytona race in which a Buick Super Tempest trotted over two high-brow Ferrari 250 GTOs).

1966 Buick Wildcat GS Convertible
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
Also, 1966 saw another birth of a superstar: the Charger from the Chrysler archrivals – and it was no joke, armed with a mighty 426 Street HEMI that gave everyone a reason to ask their doctors for insomnia pills prescriptions. Buick had a tough feline to send on the frontlines, although it wasn’t nearly as impressive as the Dodge and its cataclysmic hemispherical-heads V8.

The Gran Sport option was a step up from the 401-cubic-inch V8 offered in standard Wildcats (that would be the 6.6-liter Wildcat engine). In a somewhat confusing manner, all the Buick engines were named Wildcat, and the torque rating served as a separator mark between them. The GS package meant the engine grew in size to 425 cubes (seven liters) and offered two carburetion variants.

The standard single four-barrel gave the driver 340 hp (345 PS) and 465 lb-ft (631 Nm) to play with, tamed by a close-ratio four-speed manual. At extra cost, the Gran Sport offered the three-speed Super Turbine automatic, and for some more money, the column-mounted shifter could be replaced by a console stick.

1966 Buick Wildcat GS Convertible
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
The hot GS (option code A8) was the two-four-barrel one, with the same 425-CID V8 that produced 360 hp (365 PS), but the torque rating remained unchanged at 465 lb-ft. Incidentally, this is the rarest Wildcat Gran Sport assembled – only 21 Buicks got the wildest engine of the pack. Not that the rest of them were roaming about in heaps – the 1966-only Wildcat GS badge went on 1,224 automobiles. 242 convertibles – or thereabout, other sources indicate 239 (see the gallery) – and the rest were hardtops. Regardless of the roof construction, the Gran Sports only came in a two-door shape.

Naturally, this is one of the most collectible Buicks ever. On rare occasions, the examples that braved the last six decades and are still in working order make public appearances at special events. Since November is the month for muscle cars (and American sportscars) to gather around and tell their stories, here is one rag-top Wildcat GS.

Seen and filmed at the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals in Rosemont, Illinois, this week, the Buick doesn't say much about its past other than that it’s a restoration. A complete, frame-off type of renovation that is well-suited for a car of this unique breed. The 60,346 miles (97,097 km) on the clock are the only indicators that this Wildcat is not a showroom example kept in a vacuum-sealed environment since 1966.

1966 Buick Wildcat GS Convertible
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
Apart from the powerful engine, the Wildcat Gran Sport Performance Group option included a heavy-duty suspension and the Positive Traction rear end, available in various gearing ratios. For the automatic transmission (like the one moving the car in this story), the differential came with 3.07 standard gears, and Special Order Axle options went from cruise-friendly 2.78 to 3.36, 3.42, or 3.58.

Not the best for quick accelerations – the Wildcat Gran Sport might have been a performance-oriented Buick, but it was still a full-size boat with 4,360 lb. of body mass to move around. A two-ton convertible with a knack for athleticism – albeit not on the same level as the muscle cars of its day. That’s not to say that the Wildcat GS was an actual muscle car, but more of a compromise made to customers who still appreciated the luxury of a Buick but also wanted a taste of V8 rumble.

One curious – if nearly useless – feature of the Wildcat GS is the odd-mounted tachometer, proudly sitting far out of sight, right next to the console stick shifter. Luckily, the driver of a Gran Sport wasn’t precisely the hot-action addict that would rub shoulders with dragstrip regulars. Better still, the automatic gearbox rendered the presence of an RPM indicator nearly obsolete.

But it looks cool; I’ll give that much to Buick designers who didn’t go the full lengths of creating a new dash altogether just to integrate an engine speed gauge. Another wow-factor multiplier on the ‘tuned car’ –the advertisers referred to the 1966 Buicks – is the four-tone horn. The Wildcat Gran Sport was more about presence than leaving the scene in a cloud of acrid white rubber smoke.

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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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