A quick peek at Buick’s website today or a drive by a GM dealer reveals a delightful lineup of luxurious yet attainable SUVs and crossovers. There’s nothing unusual about that, given that the sedan is quickly becoming a thing of the past, much like the VCR or the home phone. But there was a time, not too long ago, when Buick was producing sleek, sexy sedans that were the envy of the driving world.
If that seems too far-fetched to be true, remember that Buick has a long history on the racetrack. Performance has always been important to the brand, and it just so happens that since Buick was founded in 1903, many trends have come and gone. Buick, as a top competitor in the auto manufacturing world, had no choice but to keep up.
Therefore, in scrolling through decade after decade of historic Buicks, it just so happens that you’ll find a few gold nuggets that stand out from the rest of the smooth, luxurious lines and capable, responsive drive style that we’ve come to expect from the brand. Take a look at three of the hottest, coolest, and most unexpected Buicks of all time…so far.
1987 GNX: Rad and Rare
The 1987 Buick GNX is one of those cars that, if you saw it on the street, you’d likely shout, “Wow! Did you see that!” regardless of whether or not you had anyone in your car with you. It starts with the squared-off, boxy Buick lines you’d expect from the 1980s, then adds a little secret agent, and then you look at the tires and realize this thing can probably haul. And that is what makes a Grand National Experiment.
The fact that the X stands for “Experiment” gives it plenty of cool points on its own, but the GNX is truly a very cool car. By 1987, it was clear that the Buick Grand National and the G-body type was over, so Buick pulled together an all-star team that included McLaren Performance to make the curtain call memorable. Produced in a limited batch of 547 (500 for the Indy 500 and 47 for dealership specials), Buick churned out the Grand Nationals, then sent them to McLaren for the coolness.
McLaren then gave them a Garrett T3 turbocharger, a larger capacity intercooler, a performance suspension with torque bar, and a 3.8L V6 paired with a Turbo-HydraMatic 2004R transmission. What does this mean in layman’s terms? 276 horsepower, 360 lb-ft of torque, 0-60 miles per hour in less than 5 seconds, and a 13-second quarter mile. It went fast and dressed in all black, it got noticed. In fact, given that there are so few GNX’s in this world, they still are very much noticed, especially by those searching the auction pages for their chance to buy one.
1970 GSX: Buick’s Hard Core Muscle
For anyone who interacted with the very square, very deluxe Buicks of the 1980s and 1990s (remember the velvet upholstery?)The concept of a Buick muscle car may be hard to fathom. Known for many years as “doctor’s cars” or “banker-mobiles,” Buick was appropriate for gentleman and lady drivers. Except in 1970, when Buick realized that even the older upper-middle-class drivers were ready to hammer down and get some wind in their hair. Thus was born the 1970 GSX.
The GSX is an extreme version of the GS 455, which is very much a cool vehicle, but not “the most luxurious muscle car of its day,” like the GSX. Inspired by Shelby Mustangs, SS Camaros, and Hemicudas, only 687 models were built. All of them were painted Saturn Yellow or Apollo White, which helped differentiate them from the GS models.
Measuring 112 inches in length, the GSX included a 455 cubic inch V8 engine that supplied 360 horsepower and 510 lb-ft of torque to speed-hungry drivers. 488 of these vehicles were custom-built with the Stage 1 upgrade, which added a Positraction axle and other performance modifications that made it “the quickest American production car,” according to MotorTrend, due to its 13.38 second quarter mile during their test drive.
At its core, however, it was still a Buick and included air conditioning, tinted glass power-operated windows, power-adjustable seats, and the driver’s choice of radio to make those cruising tunes sound even better when seated in those Laredo-grain black vinyl bucket seats. Because that is exactly how Buick would do a muscle car – in style.
1971 Riviera: The World’s Longest Sports Car?
The 1971 Riviera is not as rare as the GNX or the GSX, but it still offers plenty of cool. Imagine, if you will, a Buick styled after the famous 1963 split-window Corvette Sting Ray. This was the magnificent boat-tail 1971 Buick Riviera.
Though it rode on the brand new B-body perimeter frame and its 122-inch wheelbase, the Riviera measured a whopping 217 inches long. Just for general comparison, the 1963 Sting Ray had a 98-inch wheelbase and came in at 175.3 inches long. There’s no way the Riviera was going to be mistaken for a Corvette, but that didn’t mean it was any less gorgeous, in an elegant, yacht-like way.
The force behind the 71 Riv was the now-familiar 455 cubic inch engine, though EPA requirements asked that it be toned down to just 255 horsepower. Still, the Riviera had many things the others didn’t, including the AccuDrive system, the name given to the suspension engineering, which reacted against centrifugal force when cornering. In a nutshell, it was big, but it drove with an almost eerie smoothness. Power steering was standard, as was tilt steering, which gave the illusion that the Riv, for all of its hulking, sweeping mass, was practically driving itself.
The inside was known for its spaciousness, with plenty of room for five grown adults to stretch out. The 1971 Riviera included a wrap-around control panel, which, while it comes as standard on many vehicles today, was a pleasant change from the flat-faced dashboards of days gone by. While critics tried to figure out the styling, drivers sped along on those massive flanks with giant windows and a whisper-quiet ride.
Modern cars are technological wonders – there’s nothing uncool about the high horsepower crossovers and SUVs offered by Buick today. They are safer, faster, and more efficient than vehicles have ever been, thanks to the amazing and innovative engineering approach the manufacturer has taken to production.
However, there are some cars that will live on forever in our memory as having that special “something” that makes them uber-super-cool. The 1987 GNX, the 1970 GSX, and the 1971 Riviera will go down in history as being truly unique vehicles, which in the case of the GNX and GSX is very true. It’s cars like these that remind us that it’s not just about getting behind the wheel and going to your destination. It’s about the experience you have getting there. It’s the feel of the wheel in your hands, the perfectly broken-in bucket seat, and the way that engine revs when you push that pedal. For Buick, it’s always been about going places in style. But for these three cars, it’s about how much coolness you exude on the way there.