Home Car Stories One Owner 1970 BUICK GSX Stage 1 Apollo White- Helen and Bill
1970 BUICK GSX Stage 1 Apollo White- Helen and Bill PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Saturday, 08 December 2012 20:49

1970 BUICK GSX Stage 1 Apollo White- Helen and Bill

oneownercollectorcar.com

Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

70 gsx bill helen front

The decision to buy this 1970 Buick GSX Stage 1 occurred in a split second on October 21, 1970. Bill was returning from a rural job where the route home took him past Mowbray Buick Inc in Lincoln, Nebraska. Bill stopped his 1967 Buick Riviera GS to take advantage of his proximity to such a large dealership. Bill wasn't hunting for a new car, but he did track of the new models to keep an eye on new trends. Being a Buick man, he occasionally scanned the new arrivals at this large Buick dealer which was about an hour away from his house.

As usual Bill did a once over of the new models parked on the lot. Bill knew about the GS models and the Stage 1 option and the availability of the 455 in the intermediates. Like everyone he had noted that the new 1970 Buick Skylark and GS looked much better than they did in 1969. The impression of a major body restyle was accomplished primarily by opening up the rear wheel wells. The smaller rear fenders created a racier look, but the cars were still restrained and dignified as a Buick should be. Bill didn't have a clue that something called the GSX even existed. The GSX was the final icing on the cake after loading up a GS 455 to the max. Those final extra unique GSX bits transformed it into one of the best musclecars of all time.

MOTOR TREND May, 1970 issue on page 26 carried a small blurb and black and white photo of a GSX. It stated the car was available as of March 1, 1970.

The GSX bundled all of the good stuff into the WE1 A9 option. GSX buyers didn't have to order power disc brakes or the handling package or a Positraction performance axle or the chromed 15 inch wheels or buckets or a padded steering wheel, hood tachometer etc. It was already included in the GSX package. The GSX gave you every single good thing you would conceivably order to build the hottest GS 455 except for the Stage 1 which was bargain priced at a paltry $200.00 on the GS and only $113.00 extra if you already had a GSX. Not surprisingly, the Stage 1 appeared more often than not on GSX orders.

GSX didn't stop with hardware. It upped the ante with a wild appearance package that went where no Buick had ever gone before. The wild stripes and spoilers plus the billboard tires on 15 inch wheels looked stupendous. All the 1970 cars were either Apollo White or Saturn Yellow which bolstered the already strong identity established for such a miniscule production run. People who didn't know what it was never forgot it and those in the know couldn't mistake it for anything else.

The 1970 Buick GSX on Mowbray's lot had been there about 6 months already. All 678 of the 1970 GSXs had been built and shipped before the beginning of summer. In 1970 GM had about 5,000 dealerships so roughly one in ten received a GSX. Bill hadn't seen the few magazine articles raving about how great it was. Bill literally knew nothing about the GSX except that he HAD to own it. The instant he laid eyes on the 1970 Apollo White GSX on display he recalls,

"That car just blew me away."

Bill promised himself,

"I will own this car one way or another. Preferably today."

It was about 5 P.M. when Bill spotted the GSX so he didn't have a lot of time left to get this car into his garage before the day was over. One minute earlier, Bill didn't want a GSX; because he didn't even know they existed. Now he was a man possessed. Mowbray Buick was 60 miles from his home. With a racing heart Bill drove the 60 miles home, skipped dinner and turned right around again to make the journey back to Mowbray with his wife Helen in tow. He was on a mission to buy the GSX. Helen isn't a car nut but she tolerates Bill's car manias whenever they strike and supported his decision to trade-in their 1967 Riviera GS for the GSX.

Bill was prepared to trade-in and sign on the dotted line that night but his obsession with the GSX was so strong that the salesman sensed opportunity and pushed too hard on the deal. Bill and Helen drove back home not in a new GSX, but in the old Riviera. Bill was unwilling to accept the deal proposed by the Mowbray salesman; but this wasn't over. The next day, Bill told himself,

"I will have that car at my house."

Bill drove over to another dealership utterly determined to get that GSX. Nielsen's Chevrolet Buick in Columbus, Nebraska was a good choice because Bill had purchased his Riviera GS from them. Bill's prior transaction inclined Nielsen's to pull out the stops to locate a GSX. The GSX Bill saw on display at Mowbray was the closest available car showing on inventory lists.

The radical appearance and uniqueness of the car worked in Bill's favor. At this time, the GSX was virtually unknown, especially in Nebraska. This wild looking car was a hard sell outside metropolitan areas. Even in the big cities where the car was marginally better known the GSX was out of step with the clientele that normally patronize Buick dealerships. Another factor making the GSX 'salesproof' for Mowbray Buick Inc. was financial. The few people who did know what a GSX was and lusted for one simply couldn't afford it. It was a very expensive musclecar.

Regardless of Mowbray's hardball tactics the night before, the plain truth was that the GSX had been sitting on their lot for six months. They couldn't sell it. Mowbray readily traded it off to Nielsen's Chevrolet Buick in exchange for a pedestrian four door Skylark that promised to be a quick sell. See stories on Mowbray and Nielson in the DEALERSHIPS section of this website filed in the NEBRASKA section.

The deal was consummated over lunch hour. Less than 24 hours after first laying eyes on the GSX Bill was signing paperwork. Bill's GSX was on its way!

The cowl tag on the car indicates '10 10' for the Apollo White paint, and Flint as the assembly point. The code '5B' means it was built the second week of May, 1970. The build sheet below has the final VIN numbers removed as well as the key codes. Build date is Wednesday, May 6, 1970 which doesn't seem to line up with the cowl plate. However, the first two days of May, 1971 were a Friday and a Saturday. Often the 'week' was set according to a Sunday or Monday which makes May 3 or possibly May 4, 1971 the starting point for the 'second week' of May according to Fisher body scheduling theory.

70 gsx bill helen build sheet

Although the build sheet indicates that Bill's GSX was built at Flint, Michigan assembly on May 6, 1970 it didn't show up at a dealer for over a week after that. All GSX cars were sent from Flint to American Sunroof to have the spoilers installed which added a few days to the transport times. The GSX arrived in Nebraska and was charged to Mowbray Buick on May 14, 1970 where it sat for six months until Nielsen Chevrolet Buick initiated the transfer.

The list of options on the GSX is extensive, lifting the base 1970 Buick GS 455 two door sport coupe from $3,283.00 to an astounding $5,503.35. This was a huge amount of money for an intermediate sized musclecar at the time. A whopping portion of the car's price is traceable to the cost of the GSX option: $1,195.87. The GSX option was the price of an entire used car back then and included many desirable extras besides the appearance items. Goodies such as Rallye ride control and power disc brakes are listed on the window sticker for no charge 'included in A9 option'. Other options are bargain priced when added to the GSX package such as Stage 1 and TH400. Below is a summary of the option list taken from the window sticker.

L75 A1- Stage 1: modified high performance 455 engine rated at 360 HP (with A9= $113.75)
WE1 A9- GSX: hood, body, rocker panel stripes, front and rear spoilers, fight and left racing mirrors, hood tachometer, GSX headlight bezels, other GSX ornamentation, heavy duty cooling, special paint and options incl. special trim. ($1,195.87)
M40 B2- Turbohydromatic 400 transmission (with A9= $42.24)
D55 B4- Full length console (with A9= $24.23)
JL2 C1- Power disc brakes (included in A9= $0.00)
N41 C5- Power steering- fast variable ratio ($121.12)
U57 D0- Stereo tape player ($116.91)
UA9 D1- Sonomatic radio ($69.51)
U80 D6- Rear speaker ($16.64)
WD2 F7- Super oval white billboard lettered tires G60-15 including chrome plated wheels 15x7  (Included in A9= $0.00)
F41 H6- Rallye ride control package- heavy duty wheels, rear stabilizer bar, front and rear firm ride tuned shocks, rear firm ride springs, rear lower control arm assembly (included in A9= $0.00)
C60 16- Air conditioner ($375.99)
A01 L1- Soft ray tinted glass ($38.97)
W22 U3- Convenience group- trunk light and mirror map light ($6.32)
W87 U9- Instrument gauges and rallye clock (included in A9= $0.00)
W17 **- Custom trim- vinyl- bucket seats, rear compartment courtesy lamps, deluxe arm rests, custom foundation compartment shelf and rear custom seat back and interior door panel emblem (included in A9= $0.00)
Destination charge= $99.00
Total= $5,503.53

The window sticker below is intact with the exception of the final six VIN digits which were edited out for internet privacy.

70 gsx bill helen window sticker

Bill received $2,825.00 trade-in credit on his 1967 Riviera GS. He also had a clause written into the contract allowing him to retain the stereo system from his Riviera. The original contract can be viewed below. Bill and Helen's last name and city are removed for internet privacy, as is his signature at the bottom.

70 GSX Bill Helen nielsen chev neb paperwork

The Nielsen Chevrolet Buick paperwork is dated Oct 22, 1970 making the timing of the GSX purchase interesting. Bill's son Mark was born the day after the deal was struck on Oct 23, 1970. Counting back nine months, Mark was conceived roughly around the time the GSX first appeared in the public eye. The prototype GSX was displayed at the Chicago Auto show Feb 9, 1970 and production of the retail cars began in February. See photos of the prototype GSX on this website in Part 5 of the OOCC CORVETTE TRIP story in the DESTINATIONS portion of the TRAVEL STORIES section.

Aside from the synchronicity of the GSX timeline and Mark's personal history, the impact of growing up with the GSX hooked Mark on these cars. Once he was of driving age Mark knew what kind of car he was looking for. He found his own 1970 GSX which is Saturn Yellow. Mark channeled his GSX enthusiasm into a terrific resource for GSX fans and owners: the 1970-2 GSX REGISTRY. The GSX Registry has accounted for an astonishing one third of the total number of GSX cars originally produced.

There was no registry or any resource available back when Mark's father Bill was driving his 1970 GSX daily. All that he really knew about his new GSX was that it was a rare and flamboyantly special version of the GS. A few weeks after signing all the paperwork the trade-in was complete and Bill drove the GSX off Nielsen's lot.

70 GSX bill helen Protect O Plate

The Protect-O-Plate above has a metal plate with the information concerning the vehicle embossed in reverse so that it can be printed on a carbon whenever warranty work is done. The last digits of the VIN are removed for privacy.

Above the metal plate, the purchaser's information is entered on black strips that are adhered to the page. The first line had the owner's full name, removed for internet privacy. The next line contains the date (Oct 22, 1970) and mileage (230 miles) of the car when placed in service. The location of Bill and Helen's home is removed from the third line.

Soon after Buick released the GSX the car industry turned off the new muscle car faucet. Smaller numbers of musclecars dribbled out for a few more years but a lack of promotion left many of the final musclecars without much coverage. There was no internet and scant information in magazines and dealer brochures. We now know that there were only two GSXs sold in the entire state of Nebraska.

The GSX continued as an option in 1971 and 1972. The spoilers and stripes could be combined with various colors and interiors and drive trains. Much the way that Pontiac's GTO waters became muddied by Endura nosed base engine LeMans cars, the GSX of later years wasn't guaranteed to be a top performance model as it had been in 1970. Not that Bill or anyone else was worried that the image of the 1970 GSX was being eroded. They hadn't even come across one single other example of a 1970 GSX let alone the small handful of GSX cars produced in 1971 and 1972. The GSX name was used on a trim package on the 1974 Apollo which was similar in concept to the 1974 GTO but that car didn't make much of a ripple. Even if Bill had seen one of the 1974 cars he wouldn't have made the connection to his version of the GSX.

In the early days Bill's GSX was regarded as a special car but it also served as the family car and used for regular service right up until 1981. People asked about the car constantly, but Bill didn't have a wealth of information to offer. The GSX remained an enigma until the 1980s when the musclecar revival fueled clubs and car shows which brought GSX information to light. For that first decade of ownership the GSX was regarded as a 'one of a kind' unique vehicle that provoked frequent offers to buy the car along with the standard question,

"What kind of car is that?"

Bill didn't see another GSX of any model year until the end of the 1970s when a family vacation brought the GSX to Denver, Colorado. That night by coincidence another 1970 Buick GSX parked beside them at the motel which was a big surprise and thrill for Bill's family. Up to now they didn't know that the GSX was available in another color, Saturn Yellow.

That vacation also provoked a protective reaction from Bill when local police pulled him over for loud exhaust. When the cop threatened to impound the GSX Bill transformed into a cornered animal protecting it's young,

"Over my dead body is that car going into impound!"

When the cop insisted Bill stated his intent to accompany his car into the impound lot. In the end, he successfully argued that the straight through pipes weren't subject to any censure in his hometown back in Nebraska. He was allowed to escape with a warning regarding the different by-laws in Colorado. That was a close call for the beloved GSX. Bill knew that it was irreplaceable.

The biggest threat to the car actually came from Bill's work driving route. In the 1970s Bill commuted to a rural work location via gravel roads making stone chips in the paint inevitable. The GSX travelled to and from work about 15 miles each way per day. There was also gravel on the highway itself making it was impossible to avoid flying rocks. You can see the scars from those rides on the front headlight bezels. 'The paint is actually in decent shape as are the stripes. The car wasn't left sitting in the sun which accounts for the fresh color of the car.

70 gsx bill helen headlight bezel gravel scars

Within a few weeks of getting the GSX the front spoiler hit a gravel ridge and got bent. Bill bought a replacement but didn't install it since it would likely happen again anyways. The spoiler is still missing from the front of the GSX to this day.

70 gsx bill helen driver door handle

Above you can see some scars from the gravel and parking lot wars, but look at the trim along the door tops and rear window. The door sits straight. The hinges show no sign of sag. Of interest, the stripes which are the same ones applied at the factory are not in perfect alignment!

Bill's wife Helen quickly discovered the joys of the GSX and drove it frequently. Helen and Bill are both listed on the purchase order and both found the car an absolute pleasure to drive. They didn't abuse it, but as can happen there were a few encounters with other drivers where the Stage 1 had the opportunity to show off its titanic prowess. The GSX barked the tires in all three gears if you gave it gas. Bill remembers being quite impressed when the GSX chirped the tires shifting into third gear at 80 MPH. The GSX easily ran 120-125 MPH. At that speed it was revving a bit over 5,000 RPM according to the hood tachometer. Unlike most Stage 1 cars that are usually equipped with the steeper 3.64:1 Positraction rear axle ratio, the optional air conditioning in Bill and Helen's GSX mandated the retention of the 'regular' (if there is such a thing!) GSX Positraction axle ratio of 3.42:1.

On holidays the GSX ferried the family to various locations such as Denver, Colorado as mentioned above and as far away as Nashville, Tennessee. It was fast, dependable and offered ample room for the family without being too large. The entire warranty period was trouble free with two minor issues. Just before the warranty expired in 1975 around 50,000 miles the water pump started to leak and required replacement. The other problem was trivial. The under hood light lens melted due to heat generated by the bulb.

The exhaust has been replaced and the GSX rides on a set of 1980s era radials that were on the car when it was parked. Otherwise most original parts are still with the car including the alternator and brake master cylinder. The original spare is still in the trunk. It was mounted on the car once briefly when one of the tires on the car developed a bubble.

Bill bought various other cars including a 1975 Cosworth Vega, a 1987 Buick Grand National which is a natural successor to the GSX. He also owns a 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS. The GSX has been sitting out the last few decades, but Bill would never let it go and never let it deteriorate. The GSX was driven to the GSX reunion in Hebron, Ohio.

The GSX has never had a repaint and aside from the aforementioned gravel scars, the color and shine is still decent. The car wasn't left out in the sun during its daily driver stint and was protected from the elements once taken out of active duty. Because Bill and Helen had other cars to drive and the GSX was only used for 11 years, it has travelled only 95,000 miles.

Bill never expected to end up owning a collectible back when he bought his GSX. At the time he valued it for its Buick 'underdog' qualities. When everyone else had a Chevelle, the Buick performance buyer was taking a different road. That uniqueness was multiplied many times when you get into a GSX. No one else had the same car as Bill during his daily driver period with the GSX. Forty years later Bill has access to more knowledge about the GSX and has seen a few more along the way but the car is still a rare sight.

70 gsx bill helen rear wing and logo

 

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 17 October 2017 14:40 )