Though Buick is often thought of as a geriatric brand that only your grandparents would buy, the American automaker has a proud history of flying under the radar. The 1987 Buick GNX came out of nowhere to become the fastest U.S. production car in the world. While it’s far less publicized, this wasn’t the first time Buick silenced its critics and took the automotive industry by storm.
Seventeen years earlier, Bill Sanders from Motor Trend was putting a 1970 Buick GSX Stage 1 through its paces on a racetrack. Available only in flashy Saturn Yellow or Apollo White paint, the GSX looked very different from the rest of the Skylark Gran Sport lineup. An aggressive front air dam, trunk spoiler, black side panel, and hood stripes ensured the GSX wouldn’t go unnoticed.
With a tire-shredding 510 pound-feet, it had more torque than any American car ever produced at the time — a title that stood for 33 years until the debut of the 2003 Dodge Viper. According to Sanders, the car could accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in 5.5 seconds and blaze through the quarter-mile in a blistering 13.4 seconds at 105.5 miles per hour.
Its astonishing acceleration and quarter-mile times made the GSX the quickest production car Motor Trend had ever tested, leading Sanders to write that its horsepower rating “must be some kind of understatement record for the year.”
Sanders certainly wasn’t wrong, as Buick advertised its Stage 1 455 cubic-inch V8 with a 360 horsepower rating at only 4,600 RPM to keep insurance costs down. At the engine’s 5200 RPM redline, output was supposedly closer to 400.
Its corporate A-body siblings typically receive the most press in automotive publications and almost all of the attention at car shows. In the movie theaters, the LS6 Chevelle and GTO Judge often take center stage while the Buick’s cinematic legacy seems to start and end with YouTube.
Unsurprisingly, the GSX is rarely mentioned in discussions to determine the fastest muscle car of the 1960s and ‘70s. To be honest, I’m not sure Buick owners would have it any other way. Playing the role of the underdog is simply too much fun.
But in the November 1984 issue of Muscle Car Review, the underrated automaker finally got the respect it deserved after the 1970 Buick GS Stage 1 was named the third-fastest muscle car of all time behind only the 427 Cobra Roadster and 1966 427 Corvette. Soon after the issue was released, the publication received phone calls and letters from furious muscle car enthusiasts who couldn’t believe that a Buick was higher on the list than even the legendary Hemi-powered Mopars.
Like any good publication would do, Muscle Car Review decided to organize a shootout between the loudest Buick and Hemi rivals to fuel the fire. To determine the champion, Buick GS Club of America founder Richard Lasseter’s 1970 Buick GS Stage 1 would go head-to-head against Mopar maniac Roy Badie and his ’70 Plymouth GTX. Both cars were slightly modified with headers, different camshafts, and racing slicks.
In a letter complaining about MCR’s top-50 list, Badie wrote that “Buicks run like they’re tied to a tree.” So you can only imagine how he felt when Lasseter’s Buick demolished him in the quarter mile running a 12.30 to the Plymouth’s 13.03. Badie sold his GTX shortly afterward.
The ensuing chaos only got worse as the publication was flooded with even more letters demanding a rematch. After Lasseter and Badie’s run, a brewing rivalry was born that still runs strong today.
Three decades later, the historic race is almost all but forgotten. But Lasseter’s victory proved that a Stage 1 Buick certainly belonged in the muscle car conversation — if not at the very top.