Deceptively Hot: Buick’s beautiful 1960s Gran Sports

By Angelo Van Bogart

When General Motors introduced its new line of intermediate-sized cars for 1964, Pontiac and Chevrolet were quick to include hotter versions with hot-sounding names, and the reception was more than lukewarm. Pontiac’s hot LeMans was the GTO, and Chevrolet’s hot new Chevelle Malibu borrowed the hallowed  Super Sport designation. Oldsmobile followed suit in mid 1964 with the 4-4-2, based on its intermediate F-85 Cutlass. All of these cars were limited to a maximum engine displacement of 400 cubic inches under an edict by General Motors.

Buick was late to the mid-size performance party. The company didn’t introduce its hot intermediate until mid 1965. That car, dubbed the Gran Sport, was based on the Skylark, the upscale version of the Special/Special Deluxe. Since the displacement of Buick’s engines jumped from 300 cubic inches to 401 cubic inches, and its 401 just barely exceeded the 400-cube limit imposed by its parent corporation, use of the 325-hp, 401-cid engine was permitted.

When the GM intermediates were mildly restyled for 1966, the Gran Sport became more than a set of GS emblems and a 401-cid engine. A meaner-looking hood with dual simulated air intakes plus body stripes and blacked-out rear panel and grille were added to the Gran Sport package. Production declined from 15,780 in 1965 to 13,816 in 1966.

Despite the sales downturn in 1966, a second Gran Sport was added for 1967, causing the model’s name to be slightly altered to GS-340 or GS-400, depending on the engine ordered. The new GS-340 continued similar image features from the previous year, but included the new 340-cid engine, good for 260 hp. At extra cost, the GS-340 could be had with heavier-duty suspension components in the Sport Pac, which included heavy-duty springs, larger-diameter stabilizer bar and specific front and rear shocks. Although the Gran Sport had been available as a two-door hardtop, two-door sedan or convertible since 1965, the GS-340 was only available as a two-door hardtop. Base price for the GS-340 was $2,845.

The 1967 GS-400 was essentially a revised version of the previous year’s Gran Sport, although the hood was more aggressive with twin hood scoops and there was a new 400-cubic-inch engine under the hood. The new powerplant now exactly met the corporate displacement ceiling, and although one cubic inch smaller, coaxed 340 hp out of the V-8 — up 15 horsepower from the bigger 401-cid it replaced. The added cubic inches over the GS-340 resulted in a price tag of $3,019 for the GS-400 hardtop, $175 more than the GS-340. The 400’s torque rating of 440 lbs.-ft. was laying the foundation upon which Buick performance was earning a reputation. Production of all 1967 Gran Sport models and body styles totaled 13,813, almost exactly the 1966 figure.

As the performance war heated up in 1968, Buick was ready with fire. All GM intermediates were completely restyled with semi-fastback styling on closed models that, like the convertibles, appeared lower, wider and just plain meaner looking, although the wheelbase was shortened from 115 to 112 inches. Buick, generally considered a conservatively styled car, had what is probably the most controversial, love-it-or-leave-it styling of all the 1968 GM intermediates. Quad headlamps flanking a soft-edge retangular grille, deep bumpers that incorporated thin, vertical tail lamps at the rear and a concave Buick “swoosh” along the sides of the body that mimicked the side trim of 1950s Buicks were incorporated into the new design. The rear fender openings were skirted, but actually allowed the small number of drag racers flogging Buicks down the quarter mile more space for wider tires than the previous design.

Under the hood, Buick Gran Sports grew hotter. The one-year-only 1967 GS-340 evolved into the GS-350 for 1968, which, of course, featured a new 350-cid V-8 that pumped out 280 hp — up 20 hp from the 340. The GS-350 was again available as a hardtop, but a convertible was also available. A two-door sedan version of the GS-350 was based on the Buick Special intermediate and dubbed “California GS.” The GS-400 continued the new hardtop and convertible body, and with a carryover of the 340-hp, 400-cid V-8. All Gran Sport models featured a GS-specific thin scoop across the rear edge of the hood, aggressive grille and GS ornamentation. Muscle car fans must have liked the changes, because GS-400 production alone nearly matched all 1967 GS production at 13,197 GS-400s; the GS-350 added another 8,317 sales to the 1968 Gran Sport total.

Gran Sport styling and engines were carried over with little change for 1969. A new, fully functional scoop on the middle of the hood forced air into the carburetor while faux vent trim was removed from the front fenders. While the 280-, 350- and 340-hp 400-cid engines were now cold-air-inducted, Buick’s horsepower ratings were unchanged, although the company said the horsepower increased 8 percent and torque (375 lbs.-ft. for the 350 and 400 lbs.-ft. for the 400) increased 6.5 percent with the system.

Street and strip Buick performance fiends had plenty to get fired up about in 1969, if they paid attention to the what the “suits” at Buick were up to. A Stage 1 performance package exclusive to the GS-400’s engine added a high-lift camshaft, special carburetor and larger-diameter exhaust, which brought horsepower up from 340 on the standard GS-400 to a conservative factory rating of 345 hp with the Stage 1 upgrade. Cars factory equipped with the Stage 1 package received a “Stage 1” emblem on each side of the hood scoop, in place of the GS-400 emblem. Production of Gran Sports was slightly down for 1969, totaling 17,296 cars, a figure composed by 9,764 GS-350 and 7,532 GS-400 sales.

Today, the 1968-’69 Buick Gran Sports offer a relative bargain. They are often overshadowed by their higher-horsepower successors, which also sport more popular styling. However, the 1968-’69 Gran Sports pack the torque for which Buicks are famous, and they’re rarer sights. Quality GS-350 and GS-400 drivers usually sell in the $15,000-$25,000 range; 1968-’69 Gran Sports in No. 1 condition are very uncommon. Around 1,500 Stage 1 GS-400s are believed to have been built in 1969, and they generally command a premium of at least 50 percent over a standard GS-400.

Want more good stuff on Gran Sports? Go to my Under the Hood blog to download Buick GS data and images from the 1969 Buick features book — for free!

 

Buick bonus: Also check out our Standard Catalog of Buick, 3rd Edition CD

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