IT IS COLD dark on the edge of Newtown, but the icy wind that signals the first cold front of the year does very little to curb my excitement. Soon I will have 455 cubic inches of Detroit Muscle at the disposal of my right foot. There are worse things but, for once, Sunday is the best day of the week. I get handed the keys and assume the position behind the beautiful three-spoke steering wheel of this 1970 Buick GS 455. Buick’s famous three shields displayed on the horn button remind me that this car is something special. (In certain clued-up car circles, these three linked shields stir just as much passion as Ferrari’s prancing horse emblem.) This is a rare beast indeed. I turn the key and she explodes to life in the way American buffalos bash heads. Spectacular, unforgiving and with bucket loads of testosterone.
I pull back on the shifter and slide it into drive with a solid click. I rest my anticipating right foot on the gas pedal and we start rolling forward as if the car weighs nothing when, in fact, it weighs over two tonnes. ‘Man, this feels right,’ I thought. They don’t make them like they used to. It has been said a million times and I will say it again: there is no replacement for displacement. Cut, print, that’s a wrap.
One thing that Buick is famous for is the humongous power output and torque its big-block V8s produce. This time around were talking 510 foot-pounds (690Nm) of twist and that monstrous amount is made at a mere 2800rpm. In other words, the Rochester carburettor barely tastes the Johannesburg smog-filled air and already you have all the power you need. Needless to say, throttle response occurs in a split second – you don’t even have to try, it’s just there – so imagine for one second just stomping on that ‘go fast’ pedal as hard as you can all the way to the floor! Sounds like a good idea to me…
I made a left turn into a nice, quiet road and gave the motor some horns. The 12-bolt limited-slip differential hooked the black stuff like crazy glue and I get pushed back into my seat. The tubular three-inch (75mm) exhaust system reverberates in my ears like a World War II air raid and the theatre and drama of it all is all-consuming. Steering is super light, almost too light, and demands my attention, which is probably a good thing. In its day, this was known as a luxury muscle car, which explains the smooth ride and solid feel. Every single onlooker, be it in a car, taxi or on the sidewalks, stare in unison as I go blasting past. This street bruiser attracts attention like a naked streaker running across the field of a packed football game.
The Turbo 400 automatic transmission hooked second gear with authority and the surrounding graffiti-ridden street scenery started to blur. Around six seconds after take-off the red needle is pointing at 60mph (96kph) and she’s pulling hard all the way. A pesky traffic light seemingly out of nowhere decides to end my low-flying power trip and I have to motivate this steel stallion to slow down. Luckily, the Buick has good brakes and I was surprised at how easily she stopped. I have driven many American Cars and most of them had (for the lack of a better word) crap brakes, so this was a nice change. But let’s face it, muscle cars are about passion, going fast and looking good doing it. Slowing down is not on the ‘to do’ list and rates as something to worry about only when you absolutely have to. I’m trying really hard not to mash the gas pedal to the floor every chance I get, but it’s no use and I find myself craving the effortless power more and more. I must admit that I don’t blame myself for one second.
Graeme Saul, the owner of this big block beast, is sitting in the passenger seat and looking as calm as a Hindu cow, though he assures me that very few people have ever had the privilege of sitting where I’m sitting right now. I can relate to that. Graeme has been collecting big-body GM cars for a long time and his collection includes a few Chevrolet Impalas, an extremely rare ’62 Chevrolet Bel Air Bubble Top, a ’72 Pontiac Le Mans GT37 and a Pontiac GTO to name a few. I’m jealous.
Graeme found this GS 455 in 2006 on a plot near Johannesburg, stripped and in a bad state. The plot owner found the car in Daveyton and used it as a daily driver until eventually he decided to start restoring the car but it ended up stripped and standing bare for five years. Graeme knew he had to have it. He bought it on the spot and towed it home. The engine was rebuilt with all the good stuff and to Stage 1 spec by Wolf. ‘Stage One’ is a Buick High Performance term meaning high-compression pistons, revised cam profiles, bigger intake and exhaust valves, bigger four-barrel carburettor and a few other go faster bits.
Body preparation and paintwork was left in the capable hands of Phil Heck from Phoenix Race Track in Mafikeng. Phil got creative with the GSX stripes, leading them back up to the rear window. He really did an awesome job and in my opinion it looks even better than the original stock stripes flowing over the boot lid wing. Front and rear seats were refurbished to factory fresh condition by Yusuf from Super-covers. Even vinyl texture and stitching are exact to the last detail. The rest of the build was completed after many man hours by Graeme in his garage, which was no small feat.
These GS 455 cubic inch (7.5-litre) V8 torque titans were rumoured to make over 400 horsepower (300kW) and I can believe it. The Buick Skylark GS 455 and GSX were among the most powerful muscle cars ever to come out of Detroit, and the last of the true brute power thoroughbreds. That’s quite an accomplishment for a luxury orientated manufacturer. Forty years ago the race for the ultimate muscle car was on and every manufacturer wanted its piece of the black-top action. The body lines are powerful, flowing and curvaceous, very easy on the eyes while the colour-coded bumpers accentuate the overhangs. Seating is very comfortable and the interior as a whole wraps occupants in retro Yankee comfort with a black-on-black finish and almost cubism-like styled instrumentation. All dials are well laid out and easy to read. All-round interior build quality is of a high standard typical of the Buick division.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and I had to give the keys back. Rolling along derelict downtown Jo’burg streets in a car like this, it’s easy to become lost in a permanent state of euphoria, feeling absolutely untouchable with high levels of rock star attitude coursing through your veins. I had a lot of fun driving this amazing car, a model that made history for Buick as one of the fastest and highest torque-rated muscle cars ever produced by Detroit.