1970 Buick GS455 Stage 1

1970 Buick GS455 Stage 1

When Mike Smith bought his dream car, this rare 1970 Buick GS Stage 1 convertible, he expected to have to restore it. But he never thought he’d be doing it twice…

Words: Mike Renaut

Photography: James Mann


Having a car restored can be hard enough, so imagine doing it twice. That’s what Mike Smith has experienced in the 38 years he’s owned his 1970 Buick Gran Sport Stage 1. “I always liked fast cars,” remembers Mike. “I couldn’t afford an E-type or Aston, but after a friend suggested trying an American car, just as fast but lots cheaper, I never looked back.

1970 Buick GS455 Stage 1

“First, there was the 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix with a 428cu in V8 that I owned for five years. A 1969 Barracuda convertible followed, then later a ’68 Chevy pick-up. But I really wanted a genuine muscle car. I’d read in a magazine about a couple of guys who owned 1970 Stage 1 Buicks and who’d drive to their local dragstrip, pull the slicks out of the trunk, thrash all-comers then drive home. The feature stuck in my head and a Stage 1 became my dream car; even better, a convertible model. Learning Buick only made 232 GS Stage 1 convertibles in 1970, I thought my chances of seeing one, let alone owning one, were very slim.


1970 Buick GS455 Stage 1

“I read the Exchange & Mart every Thursday, always going straight to the American cars section, and one week there was a ’70 Stage 1 convertible. My dream car was now for sale for £1500 in Croydon and I found it parked on a coal siding. It looked so sad my mates said: ‘walk away.’” The Buick was originally red, but had been repainted in metallic blue which was peeling off the doors. There was no boot floor and the drip tray was missing underneath the roof. “But it was the real deal, a genuine Stage 1 GS and still numbers-matching. I put a battery on it and it started, it even drove…

“My Buick was sold new in March 1970 to a Leeds doctor. I phoned him in 1985 hoping for stories, but all he remembered was it was fast, shiny and once had a replacement windscreen. There were three other owners after him that I couldn’t track down − I’d love to hear from them.” Mike had also been researching other GSs. “There were four brought into the UK; two Stage 1 convertibles – the other one was white − and two hardtops. The hardtops had rusted away, but I tracked down that white convertible and found it in a thousand pieces; it’s since gone back to America.”

Fully loaded

Mike’s Buick was built in Flint, Michigan, and its options include the custom interior with bucket seats; the driver’s being electric six-way adjustable, tilt steering wheel, heavy-duty shocks and traction bars front and rear as part of the Rallye handling package, plus power windows, steering and brakes. A three-speed manual transmission was standard, with optional Hurst four-speed, or the three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic which Mike’s car has.

1970 Buick GS455 Stage 1

Although he now owned his dream car, Mike didn’t drive it. “I knew if I didn’t restore it right away, then I never would.” Instead he contacted a restoration company which began work on the Buick’s body while Mike and friends Colin, Steve and Andy restored the chassis. “We did the chassis in a council lock-up garage. The frame was shot-blasted and everything was replaced. Meanwhile, I was sourcing body parts, the ‘shell got new front wings from year one, and rust repairs to the doors and numerous other bits.”

After six years and more than £12,000, in 1991 the Buick was finished. “I drove it everywhere,” remembers Mike, “to car shows around the country and raced it. I even won a Mopar shootout event and got a top-10 trophy – with a Buick! But there were a couple of things not quite right such as rust in the base of the doors. I always thought, ‘one day I’ll do it properly.’” Buick’s Gran Sport model debuted as an option on the 400cu in V8 Skylark in 1965, becoming a separate model, the GS400, two years later. For 1970, the optional 455cu in engine arrived and that model was christened GS455. Available only as a two-door coupe costing $3283 or a $3469 convertible, there was also a $199 optional Stage 1 performance package which included performance camshaft, 10.5:1 compression, four-barrel Quadrajet carb, Posi-traction 3.64:1 limited slip differential, high-rpm big valve heads with stronger springs, low-restriction dual exhausts, functional bonnet scoops and Stage 1 badging.

Buick said, conservatively, you got 360bhp at 4600rpm and 510ft-lb of torque at 2800rpm, making it one of the most powerful cars you could buy. Motor Trend magazine suggested it was closer to 400bhp when its team managed a quarter-mile time of 13.38 seconds, concluding the Stage 1 was: “the fastest American production car we have ever tested”. Zero to 60mph took 6.5 seconds and the top end was just shy of 130mph; not bad for a car weighing around 3600lb, although a 12mpg average was less welcome.

Driven and dragged

Not that fuel economy bothered Mike. When he says he drove his Buick everywhere back in the Nineties, he means it. “It raced at all the UK dragstrips, I’d installed a 12-bolt axle (after blowing up the diff in the 10-bolt at Santa Pod), an 850 Holley double-pumper, a three-inch exhaust with H-pipe, bigger cam and a higher torque converter. When I’d bought the car it had a set of Hooker headers fitted.

“It lived outside, it went out in snow, in the salt… that all took its toll. As did four house moves. It started looking tired. In 2008, I came into some money. I attended the GS Nationals event in America and made enquiries about who could restore the Buick once again.” That led Mike to Gran Sport Autobody in Quebec, Canada; a Buick specialist and likely the world’s biggest stockist of new old stock parts.

“They estimated it would take two years and about $100,000 assuming it was a good, clean example, but up to $150,000 if it was a basket case. At the time, £1 was worth about $1.96 so I shipped the Buick to Canada and put $96,000 into their account.” Considering the Buick had already been previously restored, the diagnosis that came back from Canada was surprising.

1970 Buick GS455 Stage 1

“They found rot in the bulkhead, that those new front wings had been bolted straight over and rust was falling from the door bottoms too. They just kept finding more problems as they stripped the car. I was emailed photos every time they did anything and they asked if I wanted to use repro parts or new old stock original pieces. I insisted on only new old stock parts.” That decision would result in a far better, more authentic car, but also a more expensive one. “It needed a new rear quarter, but there were just two known new old stock convertible rear wings in all of America and only one for sale at $6000, but I didn’t want a panel cut down from a coupe wing. Then it needed a new boot floor, the price just went up and up...”

New, old and stock

The engine was rebuilt. “They offered me a choice of stock or stock-appearing,” remembers Mike. “I went with the latter, everything had to look stock including the cast iron intake and exhaust manifolds. My numbers-matching SScode engine was blueprinted and fully balanced, getting extensive head work, a stronger camshaft and a set of original manifolds sculptured out to allow more air flow. The original BB-code gearbox was fully rebuilt, as was the original ON-code 10-bolt post axle I’d put in the shipping container.

“I flew to Canada to see the completed rolling chassis and that looked gorgeous. They were finding all these new parts; doors, glass, roof frame and hood, rear inner wings… but it took time. To be honest, had it been a UK firm I’d have probably got the car back, but being in Canada I just had to keep going. To be fair, they were honest and decent to me so I can’t get angry. When it was finished it looked beautiful in the photos.” After 11 years of work the final bill came to more than $233,000.

“Now I had to get my Buick shipped back,” says Mike. “I asked everyone’s advice about who to use, then, once I’d chosen a company, I was in touch regularly, checking the car would be properly looked after. Yet, at one point they sent photos of the Buick left outside with all the windows down, explaining this was so the keys couldn’t become locked inside… finally it arrived at Felixstowe in 2019 – just in time for Covid. As soon as possible, I drove down with a trailer to collect it. After a long wait, it was finally driven out by a guy in filthy overalls. The Buick was covered in dust inside and out, there were no seat covers to protect the interior, the paint had scratches where they’d leaned on it while moving it around. Everyone blamed someone else… I took it to a detailing company who thoroughly cleaned it and buffed the paint.

“For years I’d left my Buick anywhere and never worried; now, I appreciate how scary it is owning a really nice car. I want to drive it and to race it, but friends tell me it’s too nice to use. I still drive to local shows, but trailer it long distances; it takes a day to clean the underside. The first time the roof came down was for your magazine photos. I dreamed about owning a car like this and I love it, but never realised what it’s like to own effectively a brand-new car.

“To be honest,” admits Mike, “the sensible thing would be to sell it in the States and build a clone using a basic Skylark. But I don’t regret the time and money the restoration took, because after 38 years it’s still my dream car.”

Mike chose a Canadian firm to do the restoration as the restorers were recognised as experts and had access to some of the largest supplies of NOS parts and panels.

Detailed wing mirror. Period ad. Motor Trend took a Stage 1 0-60 in 6.5 seconds. This car hustles!

Doing a wedding for a friend.

Mike even managed to find NOS foam seals for the carb breather. Original-spec chequered boot liner and spare cover.

Many NOS panels were used in the resto’.

Snaps from the past

Body on rotisserie… … chassis in primer… … and powder-coated… … body in primer. Winning prizes in the 90s!

Interior was completely reupholstered. Full complement of gauges. Auxiliary gauges. Proud owner: Mike Smith.

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