Car of the Week: 1965 Buick Gran Sport convertible

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1965-GS

Story and photos by Brian Earnest

Buick came out with its hot Gran Sport package for 1965 as its first foray into the exploding muscle car segment. Ironically, Oleg Shmuylovskiy wound up with a ’65 GS because he wanted something civil and subdued.

One man’s muscle machine is sometimes another man’s family cruiser — perhaps that was part of the secret to the Skylark Gran Sport’s success. It could fill many roles well, and was a darn nice car no matter how you sliced it.

Shmuylovskiy, a resident of Round Lake, Ill., found that out after he had to get rid of his 1967 Chevelle because his wife wasn’t fond of its personality and manners. “She stopped coming for rides in it with me, and she got kind of quiet it about it,” Shmuylovskiy says. “I said, ‘What’s wrong, you don’t like the car anymore?’ She said, ‘Well it’s loud, it’s fast and it’s a stick shift.’ And I said, ‘What does that have to do with it?’ She said watching me shift all the time was freaking her out and she didn’t like it.

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“Long story short, I said, ‘What would you prefer we have?’ Because I wanted to spend Sundays driving the car, and she said, ‘I want something quiet and something automatic and, of course, a convertible.’ So here is my 1965 Skylark Gran Sport convertible.”

Indeed, the Illinois couple has found a lot to love in the classy, muscular Buick droptop. So far, it has been the perfect weekend getaway and joyride car — which is exactly what Oleg had in mind when he tracked the car down in Atlanta, Ga. “The gentleman I got this from was a Buick collector. He had a warehouse with about 50, 60 of them,” he said. “I was looking for GM. It was just something that caught my eye. I did some research into what the GS was about and what the Buick brought to the table at the time.

“Probably about 40 days later I sent him the check and he sent me the car. I did my due diligence. I paid someone to go and inspect it. He was very nice and drove the car and put the car up on a lift and gave me some video and some pictures. I could tell how nice the car was.”

According to the extensive paperwork Shmuylovskiy got with the car, the GS was originally bought by a dentist, then sold to another man who owned it from 1969 until 2007. From there it went to a restorer who did a meticulous frame-off rebuild on the car, then later sold via auction it to the Atlanta collector.

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“It’s actually a four-owner car,” Shmuylovskiy said. “The previous owner had it for about eight years, but it just sat in his collection. He hardly touched it. But I suppose when you have 50 or 60 cars, it’s hard to use them all.”

Shmuylovskiy took delivery of the car on a snowy January day, but admits he didn’t begin to fully appreciate the big Buick for several months until he was able to get it out in the sunlight and get a look at the gorgeous green metalflake. “I think the first week of April the weather turned nicer and I drove it down to a gas station and the sun came out and I realized that in the sun it is one of those cars that looks very special,” he said. “It’s actually an original-color exterior and it has [original style] white interior and white top, exactly like it came from the factory in 1965 … The top is canvas now instead of vinyl, so it’s a little nicer. They didn’t offer that at the time, but it’s the correct color combination.”

Owners like Shmuylovskiy may be in love with the Gran Sport’s combination of looks, comfort and fun factor, but the GS package was actually Buick Division’s answer to the mid-1964 introduction of the Pontiac GTO, which jump-started the muscle car wars and had every manufacturer rushing to the drawing boards to conjure up something hip and fast.

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“There is mounting evidence that our engineers have turned into a bunch of performance enthusiasts,” said one Buick ad. “First they stuff the Wildcat full of engine. Then the Riviera Gran Sport. And now this, the Skylark GS, which is almost like having your own, personal-type nuclear deterrent.”

The 401-cid/325-hp V-8 that got the nod as the engine of choice was already in the Buick lineup and being used on the Wildcat and Electra 225. The battle-tested “Nailhead” drank through a four-barrel carburetor and a produced a 10.25:1 compression ratio. (The “445” label on the air cleaner lid was a reference to the engine’s torque rating, not its horsepower or displacement.) The setup was tested by Motor Trend in May 1965 and cranked out .81 hp per cubic inch with the two-speed Super Turbine 300 automatic transmission with a floor-mounted shifter. A floor-mounted three-speed stick shift was standard. The magazine reported that its 3,720-lb. test car reached the 60-mph mark in a mere 7.8 seconds. It did the quarter-mile in 16.6 seconds at 86 mph and had a top speed of 116 mph.

Buick engineers said that the Skylark GS was completely different than the regular Specials because all three body styles — coupe, hardtop and convertible — used a beefed-up convertible-type frame that resisted torque flexing. Naturally, it was fitted with heavy-duty shocks and springs and a stiffer anti-roll bar up front. Buick’s marketing people claimed that the Skylark GS was like “a howitzer with windshield wipers.”

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Other features of the first Skylark GS included heavy-duty upper control arm bushings, dual exhaust, 7.75 x 14 tires and a choice of 2.78:1, 3.08:1, 3.23:1, 3.36:1, 3.55:1 and 3.73:1 rear axle ratios. To show what a Skylark Gran Sport could do when set up with 4.30 gears and cheater slicks, Motor Trend mentioned that Lenny Kennedy’s race-prepped example clocked a 13.42-second, 104.46-mph quarter-mile run at the Winternational Drags.

By far, the hardtop Gran Sports proved to be the most popular that first year with 11,351 assemblies. Only 2,281 of the thin-pillared coupes and 2,147 of the convertibles were built — with more than 1,400 carrying the automatic transmission.

In addition to the somewhat unusual color, Shmuylovskiy’s GS is the rare convertible with factory air conditioning. “It came with a few things — power steering, power drum brakes, moldings … a deluxe steering wheel, a remote control mirror on the driver’s side. That’s about it. On the GS there really wasn’t that many options because it was almost a top-of-the-line [car].”

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Shmuylovskiy’s car shows about 90,000 miles on the odometer and he is happy to add some more whenever he can. He recently made a quick 500-plus mile solo one-day round trip from his home to Wisconsin Dells, Wis., for a big weekend show and was smiling in the sunshine all the way. “It drove flawlessly. It is a flawless driving car,” he says. “It’s so soft and comfortable. It’s a great cruiser. I get my tan out of the convertible. I usually don’t tan very well, but this is a great way to do it!”

The Gran Sport’s best trait, according to Shmuylovskiy, is that his wife is thrilled with it. The beautiful green Buick has made weekends more fun for both of them.

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“She loves it. Every time I take this out for a drive — it’s probably a bad comparison — but she’s like a happy puppy. She jumps in the car and says, ‘Let’s go for a ride. She’s a very happy woman when we drive it.”

“Sometimes with classic cars it takes a few tries to get it right. I’m only 41 years old and the car is older than me and I came from a completely different country. I was born in the Ukraine and we never had these things before. It was only seen in the movies.”

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