OOCC CORVETTE TRIP Part 5 Buick Performance Group, National Trails Raceway, OH Print
Written by Double Dragon
Friday, 23 December 2011 21:16

One Owner Collector Car- CORVETTE TRIP Part 5 Buick Performance Group, National Trails Raceway, OH

oneownercollectorcar.com

Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

Buick Performance Group Nationals

The theme for this year's Buick Performance Group show was a celebration of the amazing Buick GSX. The GSX is one of my favorite cars of all time, so my excitement level was high. Like many car guys my first exposure to a GSX was through magazine pictures. So few were made that the legendary GSX was rarely spotted on the street.

I first became aware of the GSX because of an old lady! My next door neighbour cleared out her adult son's magazines when he moved out of the house. Included in the magazines I received was the April, 1970 issue of Car & Driver. It had a trick photography cover of a Plymouth Superbird being compressed between the hands of an insurance agent. A full color one page ad for a Saturn Yellow 1970 GSX inside grabbed me. What an amazing car!

I was a few years behind the times when I first saw that picture of a GSX. My copy of the issue was several years old. I deduced that the GSX had been on the streets since February, 1970 based on the cover date. Magazines usually hit the stands a few months prior to their official cover date.  And yet I'd never seen one in real life! I soon found road tests and some nostalgic coverage of the GSX in other magazines.

But it wasn't until I was on a road trip in South Western USA in the 1980s that I finally saw one for real at a distance on the move. My first closeup of a GSX occurred at the Survivor Show when I had a chance to examine Bill Sales' 1970 Apollo White GSX. In addition to providing my first up close view of a GSX; Bill also hyped me up in anticipation of the BPG show. Thanks, Bill!

After years of the GSX being mysterious to many and certainly legendary to everyone the BPG people were aiming to gather more GSXs here in one spot than at any other time since the cars were first produced nearly 40 years ago. They also promised to have some of the different colored GSX's built in 1971 and 1972.

 

OOCC trip buick perf group 70 GSX portotype front

Showcar 1970 Buick GSX

As seen above, Brad Conley's original factory showcar 1970 Buick GSX was on hand for this edition of the Buick Performance Group get together. Note the body colored front spoiler which is pointier than the black ones on the production cars. The showcar uses a hood made of fibreglass to allow designers to install bigger scoops than regular production cars. Brad's showcar has a leather interior done in a wild combination of colors not found in the production cars. Club members generally refer to Brad's GSX as "The Prototype GSX" but this is slightly misleading. The production GSX was already mapped out when this car was specially cranked out for the show circuit. After the shows it was sold. In 1978 with around 60,000 miles Brad Conley bought it. Brad restored it after he himself logged 20,000 miles with the GSX.

Prior to the Buick Nationals I decided to revisit the Volo Museum.

_______DAY 35_____________________________________________________________

Volo, IL

Volo Museum

I got to Volo, Illinois early. The Volo Museum food court was located right at the admission gate. After a good turkey sub sandwich I perused books. Volo Museum displayed a really great selection of car books in racks at the front admission area. I bought a pile of books which was a bit of a strategic error as I had to haul them around in addition to my camera equipment when photographing cars.

Jay and Brian Gram

The friendly staff directed me to Volo Museum owners Jay and Brian Gram. The pair invited into the office. After explaining my website to them I was granted permission to document the ONE OWNER cars they had on hand. These guys know their inventory! Despite literally 100s of cars onsite they remembered each and every ONE OWNER car. Paperwork that came with the cars filled in and corroborated the history the Grams could recall right off the top of their heads. Thank you again guys for taking the time and for providing access to your collection.

1970 Mustang Boss 429

The most striking car was a Mustang Boss 429 which had remained a ONE OWNER car until the owner decided he needed a new truck. He traded it in on a modern pickup truck! The dealership didn't really know what to do with it. The Boss was low miles and original.

Parked nearby was a 1966 Coronet station wagon that had become frozen in time when the first owner stopped driving it. It is no longer a ONE OWNER car because a collector picked it up prior to Volo acquiring it, but a very interesting car filed in my 20 YEARS PLUS section of the CAR STORIES section of this website.

Low miles 1979 T/A

The Volo Museum also had a 1979 Trans Am anniversary ONE OWNER with minimal miles and stellar paperwork related not only to ownership but original factory documents about this special edition car.

Volo also had an all original 1973 Mercury Cougar XR7 convertible that was a ONE OWNER. See the stories on these cars in the ONE OWNER section of this website's CAR STORIES section.

I was still rabidly reading paperwork and photographing cars when closing time descended. I headed north to Marie's house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Tom and I were awaiting a shipment of power steering hoses for the Corvette.

_______ DAY 38_______________________________________________________________

Milwaukee, WI

VetteCo from Bogart, Georgia shipped 4 power steering hoses to Marie's house. Tom replaced the power steering hoses. Thanks to Tom, this fix negated the need to constantly refill the awkwardly placed power steering reservoir. He ended up using a gigantic plumbing wrench to stabilize the body of the pump while threading on the new hoses. Cessation of leaking power steering fluid saved me a lot of time on future trips.

_______ DAY 39______________________________________________________________

Milwaukee, WI

_______ DAY 40________________________________________________________________

Milwaukee, WI/ Gary, Lafayette, IN

I headed to the Buick Performance Group Nationals on roads hugging the western shore of Lake Michigan which brought me south to the bottom of the Lake, then curved around the bottom of the lake going east.

At 3 pm I paid 50 cents to the Indiana Toll Road in Gary. Having map pockets on the doors of the Vette was very handy on toll roads. The maps are invisible to people scoping out a car. The map pockets are held closed tight against the base of the door with velcro.

Around 6 pm I pulled into Lafayette, Indiana for dinner in a Bob Evans restaurant. I filled up with gas at a BP Circle K around 7 pm and continued into the night.

_______DAY 41________________________________________________________________

Springfield, Columbus, Hebron, Dayton, OH

At 9:30 am I bought some milk from a Springfield, Ohio gas station named Hank's BP. Like so many other stations I'd encountered in the USA the magazine selection was tremendous. I picked up a Corvette Trader. Interstate 70 flashed through Columbus and I quickly made it to the Buick show.

It was very humid as the Vette rolled down a country road deep in corn fields of Hebron, Ohio. A big green grassy field still wet from a rainstorm opened up to reveal classic Buicks on the side of the road. The registration table sat one hundred feet in from the road beneath a shade tent. Very friendly officials outlined the highlights of the show to me and generously issued a ONE OWNER COLLECTOR CAR website guest pass to their event. Thanks again guys, and I hope you enjoy my coverage of the show.

Buick Grand Nationals

I drove into the grounds of the National Trails Raceway and parked my Corvette beside a 1986 Grand National. It occurred to me that I was parked beside the only General Motors Corvette performance rival during the 1980s. Car magazines compared the smoking fast Grand Nationals with the C4 Corvettes several times. Although the Grand Nationals were given lower spec ratings than the Corvettes, brutal acceleration was the domain of the GNs, while finesse remained the Corvette specialty. Car magazines that tested the GNs questioned the Corvette's spot at the top of the GM pyramid.

The C4 Corvette had morphed into a true world class sports car with modern chassis and high tech handling capabilities. The Grand National was using old school sedan suspension, but car magazines evaluating cars in straight line acceleration discovered that the Grand National was seriously fast in the quarter mile. It was just like the 1960s all over again when a Pontiac Tempest GTO was capable of trouncing sophisticated European supercars in a straight line.

Wrong place wrong car again

The 1970s era Trans Am/ Corvette feud actually carried through the mists of time to land some animosity on my head when I drove my Vette into a sea of Pontiacs last month at GTO Nationals. Could the Grand National/ Corvettes contest still be on anyone's mind here?

Before I gave serious thought to the laughable possibility that once again I had shown up in the wrong place in the wrong car I reasoned that my car was a C3, so it was effectively removed from a direct pipeline back to the late 1980s comparison. My Corvette is clearly of another era with its extravagant 1960s body evoking a curvy swinging sixties babe or possibly a sinister Mako shark coming to menace James Bond in the film Thunderball.

By contrast, the Corvette C4 is a stripped down purposeful tech-mobile cast in the space age era RX-8 mode. Granted, the C4 is bigger than some foreign whiz-machine, but it is just as advanced and of course faster. Despite being smaller and lighter, foreign cars couldn't dethrone the Vette, but the Darth Vader Grand Nationals won 0 to 60 and quarter mile contests against C4 Vettes and obliterated every other car out there in the 1980s. A speed governor on the Grand Nationals left the Vettes as top speed and handling winners.

The owner of the Grand National parked beside me began telling me about some of the turbo tricks he had performed to tighten up his game. I noticed the entire spectator parking lot was awash in Grand Nationals. Other GN owners standing around joined us in a detailed discussion about popular stealth turbo modifications and other invisible tweaks.

Keep it Six

I told them about the time I got shut down in a street race by a tubbed, roll caged Grand National with back tires the size of steamroller wheels.

"Did the guy keep it six?"

"I'm not certain of that, but he definitely kept it turbo because I heard the spool up hissing at me like a mean snake."

A tubbed GN didn't sit well with the guys. Just like 1960s muscle car guys, no one likes to see a nice car cut up. They were in favor of pulling more performance out of their cars while maintaining a factory appearance. This level of appreciation is a solid indicator that Grand Nationals enjoy true full collector status just like the 1960s musclecars.

GN collector status

I pointed out some interesting time frames,

"The GNs are now the exact same age that the original 1960s muscle cars were when the muscle car collecting revival took off. Funny to think that the GNs were brand new cars when the first wave of muscle cars became collectible."

There were some nods of agreement, but one of the guys pointed out that,

"It's a little different, because a lot of guys recognized the collectible nature of the GNs right out the gate. Back in the 1960s no one thought of the future, but there are a lot of low miles original Grand Nationals out there."

"Hmm, but from the looks of the drivers in this parking lot most of them lived a full life just like the 1960s musclecar cruisers and daily drivers. I think they have reached the same point the first wave of muscle cars hit back in the 1980s. They are still drivable but due for restoration."

He hemmed and hawed. "Yes and no. You're right that the daily drivers have reached the same wear points that the sixties musclecars hit during the 1980s. But that is just from the looks department: seats are worn, the doors are sagging, paint and undercarriage is tired. But fuel injection engines don't need a rebuild every 60,000 miles like the old carbureted musclecars do."

I saw where he was going with this. Fuel injection measures out the exact amount of gasoline needed, keeping extra gas out of your crankcase so it can't dilute the oil and wear out your cylinder walls. Modern cars easily pass the 100,000 mile mark without anything more than a new set of plugs.

He continued, "If you can get by with a repaint and your drive train is ok, why take it down to a frame off? Besides, guys still like to tinker with them and improve their times. No one really wants to go back to factory spec. It's just like the third gen Camaros and Firebirds. No one saves those 305 smog motors. They all switch it up with crate motors to make them into real musclecars the way they should have been first time out."

"I've seen a lot of hot rodded F bodies as well as G bodies out there, that's for sure. The unique thing about the GN is that there is no need to swap engines to bring them up to snuff."

"Yep. Not only that, but these were the first high tech daily driver musclecars. They can go fast all day long without overheating or fouling plugs and give you good gas mileage in a work commute. I get 16 to 18 city miles out of mine with A/C on. It's a usable musclecar."

I agreed with the Grand National owner's warranted pride in the car. Aside from the user friendly owner experience, the GN image is really important. It was all black every year once the Grand National identity was established. It had seats reminiscent of the seats used in the showcar GSX known in club circles as "The Prototype GSX" from back in 1970. The body recreates the classic lines of an intermediate musclecar from the mid 1960s just on a slightly smaller scale.

The ponycar Mustangs, Camaros and Trans Ams were quick and eventually became the sole muscle machines of the 1990s, but they were much smaller cars inside, with small trunks and virtually nonexistent backseats. Hatchback F bodies helped the cars achieve more utility but still didn't fully solve the space issue.

GN rules G cars

The 'G' cars evoke the original 'intermediate musclecar formula' of a fast but practical daily driver. A GN combined those classic intermediate proportions with unique sinister all black kick ass looks.

The other GM 'G' bodies had the shape, good looks and some performance, but lacked the full constellation of factors merging into a singular image that the Grand National enjoyed. That powerful image is the secret to the instantly recognizable Grand National.

The 1980s Monte Carlo SS relied on a smog motor 305, except for those really early rare Montes that used a Buick turbo. The Monte Carlo was a highly successful good selling car with a really good line from the nose over the fenders but lacked the instantly recognized identity of the GN.

The Monte Carlo Aerocoupe and the Grand Prix 2+2 had a NASCAR tie-in, but even with that wild fastback window, the image didn't really dent the public consciousness like an all black GN.

The Hurst/Olds and the 4-4-2s also had the looks and started out right in the 1980s with a 350 when everyone else had 305s. Later Olds made it work with only 307 cubes. When the G body was killed off and Olds later came on with a quad 4 pip-squeak engine the connection to the old days was scant. Olds did manage to drag 160 horsepower out of a mere 2.3 L displacement engine. But by that time the connection to the old days was too tenuous.

The blank looks I got when I mentioned the other GM 'G' bodies drove home the point that out of the batch, the Grand National prevails due to its powerful image with performance to back it up. Of course, this crowd was slightly biased because we were standing in an all Buick show, but these guys know all about Hemis and Cobra Jets. The G body 'almost cars' of the 1980s that didn't register on their radars are forgotten cars for reasons beyond Buick bias.

The Grand National stood out. That turbo V6 engine in a mean all blacked out Grand National is capable of blowing the doors off just about any new car of the time period. The last gasp GNX which was named in honor of the GSX set a high water mark for muscle cars of the 1980s.

Speaking of the original GSX cars, these cars set the muscle car high-water mark for 1970. Word was out that about seventy GSXs made it here including some cars from the rarer 1971 and 1972 model years which were available in other colors aside from Apollo White and Saturn Yellow. I wanted to see them all, but was sidetracked by other interesting cars as I made my way through the grounds.

This was a huge mistake because a thunderstorm took a lot of cars off the tarmac later on. But for now I sauntered into the show slowly enjoying each and every car as if I had all the time in the world.

Buick Skylarks

Having owned and driven various Buick Specials, Skylarks and GS's, I had to stop at just about every Skylark and GS enroute to the central area of the show where the GSX cars were gathered. One Skylark owner made an interesting comment,

"Every single 350 Skylark I've owned was able to do a true 120 mph in totally stock set-up."

This might be due to the extra care Buick took in engine assembly and pre-installation testing. The factory put compressed air into the cylinders of newly assembled engines to ascertain proper compression balance across the board. It also could be due to the typical owner of a Buick being older and more careful with break-in and general driving habits. I agreed that I'd also seen a true 120 mph in a Skylark 350 that didn't seem to be working hard to do it.

I mentioned a local car I'd seen around in the 1980 and 1990s. It was a gold 1967 Buick Special two door post that the owner told me was painted a special gold as a tie-in car to the 1967 Expo. The car had buckets and console and had originated in the interior of British Columbia, Canada. No one at BPG had heard of such a car.

Buick GS 340

The "Junior Musclecars" of the 1960s have always been overlooked. Back in the 1960s they sold minimal copies as compared to their big block brothers. The Junior Musclemachines only became somewhat popular in the early 1970s when it became impossible to afford insurance on a big cube thumper. Collectors nowadays similarly overlook these very cool cars.

I chatted with Doug Davis who brought his 1967 Buick GS 340 convertible clone to the show. Doug's clone was built to replace a long lost much loved car. Doug had owned a 1967 GS 340 that he chose off his father's car lot at the start of the new model year. Doug had so much trouble finding another one nowadays that he had a recreation built to re experience his lost GS 340. See a story about Davis Buick in the DEALERSHIPS section under OHIO.

What made it so hard to find now was also what drew him to the car originally. He liked the fact that it was different. His original GS 340 had appeared on his father's Buick dealership lot in late Sep/ early Oct 1966 for the start of model year 1967. At the time Doug was 20 years old. Doug took his original GS 340 with him when he was stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Golesboro, North Carolina as an M.P. sentry and dog handler. He recalled a sedate 17 second E.T. his car posted at a drag strip that was actually the winning time against a 289 Mustang. Doug collected his winnings which he needed to pay for his gas back to the base.

In March, 1968 Doug was forced to sell his GS 340 when he was shipped overseas to Vietnam.

When the big block musclecars took off, marketing guys at GM became aware of the rising cost of muscle in general and thought the answer might be a "Junior Musclecar". These cars would include the same image and excitement as the big blocks but cost less to buy, operate and insure due to use of smaller engines. These were not regular passenger car small block engines however. The high performance small blocks were truly sweet engines. But when a kid could hold out for a big block for just a few dollars more.... that relegated the Junior Supercars to modest sales. When the stripped super inexpensive 1968 Road Runner appeared with a 383 with 440 heads as the base engine this diverted sales further from the small block Junior Supercars.

Chrysler had a great little engine with the 340 which had been engineered ground up as a high performance motor. A 340 Dart had stripes and buckets. Pontiac offered the Tempest 350 H.O. as little brother to the GTO. Pontiac even fiddled with a 350 GTO concept until Pontiac General Manager John DeLorean shot it down and re-visioned the car as the Pontiac GTO Judge which had a 400 RA III standard. Olds had the "Ram Rod" small block Olds high performance F-85 and Cutlass for those who couldn't afford the 4-4-2. And Buick offered the GS 340 for those who didn't want to go all out to a GS 400.

The GS 340 had stripes and scoops and identification just like the GS 400. Doug's GS 340 clone was Platinum Mist with red stripes and a Hurst 4 speed hooked up to the 340 which had received a cam and full buildup with slightly larger carb. The Buick mags and stock sized tires looked really good with the car. It had some stealth modifications such as polyurethane bushings in the suspension while retaining a factory correct appearance. Doug graciously offered to let me drive his GS 340 for a run down the country highway adjacent to the show. I was unfortunately wearing rubber flip flops and had to be very careful during gear changes to ensure the flip flops didn't bend or slip and crunch a gear. The car rode really nicely on the highay and it was a lot of fun on a summer day with the top down.

Doug pointed out some differences between his Buick Special and the Skylark model. The Special had a wider front seat and lacked the rear armrests found in a Skylark. Doug's Buick Special was originally a Florida car with Powerglide that he converted to 4 speed. Doug said he feels like "he's home" now that he has a copy of his old GS 340.

 

I had something to eat at the Sunset Inn Restaurant on National Road SE.

At 9 pm I gassed up at Certified Oil 423 on 10257 Lancaster SE in Hebron, Ohio and jammed the gas pedal down hard making incredible time to Dayton, Ohio where Lynn was waiting. I drove through the narrow opening to her building. The Vette engine announced my arrival. There was no doubt she was happy to see me. Her head popped out the window with a loud whoop. Before I could finish my car routine (hiding stuff under a black blanket that made the interior look empty) she had raced downstairs and leaped on me wrapping her arms and legs around me. We had a great reunion.

______DAY 42_____________________________________________________________

Dayton, Springfield, Millersport, Hebron, OH

Lynn had to go in early to help with an inventory and supplies run at her restaurant. I explored some small towns. At 9:30 am I loaded up on fruit at a Kroger on S. Limestone Street in Springfield, Ohio while waiting for my film to get developed in Walgreens nearby.

By 5 pm I was famished and ate a buffet meal in a Country Market in Millersport, Ohio.

Around 8 pm I gassed up once more at the Certified Oil and blasted out to Dayton again to spend the night with Lynn. The headers howled like banshees as I willed the landscape to vaporize in my hurry to get to her. I passed through Kierkeville and soon came rumbling up to Dayton. The familiar streets passed by as I closed in on her place.

______DAY 43_________________________________________________________________

Dayton, Paris, OH/ Remington, IN/ Braidwood, Niles, IL/ Milwaukee, WI

Saying goodbye to Lynn I ate a good omelet with her at her kitchen table. She was working at 11. At 9:30 am I picked up a pint of milk at the Petro gas station in New Paris, Ohio and had some cereal in the hot sun.

Around 1 pm I gassed up at the Petro 75 Stopping Center in Remington, Indiana.

At 3 pm as i idled through Braidwood, Illinois a Dollar General attracted my attention. I had been conditioned by Lynn to spot them now!

At 5 pm I stopped for some food at Old Country Buffet in Niles, Illinois.

At 7 pm I gassed up at Sunrise on Howell back in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

 

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