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).
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.
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.
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.