Rich Quinn was pretty certain he was in the market for a hot Chevrolet of some kind when he was out poking around looking at cars at a local show about three years ago.
But things changed quickly when he saw “the magic words.”
“I just saw ‘factory 4-speed’ written on the windshield,” recounts Quinn, a native of Scandinavia, Wis. “It was like a magnet. I had to go look at it!”
The car in question was not Chevrolet, but a Buick; a 1968 Gran Sport 400 to be exact. Quinn had his heart set on another Bow Tie, but the four-on-the-floor big-block GS reminded him of a car he loved many years ago.
“I had a ’68 Chevelle, 396. That was probably my all-time favorite car that I’ve had,” I had it back in ’70, 71 … I traded it for a Corvette. That was a mistake! The Corvette was nice, but I drove it in the winter and kind of wrecked it.
“Basically, this is a Chevelle. I just liked it and I wanted it!”
The GS 400 had a great combination of goodies that was hard for any muscle not to like: 340 horses under the hood; four gears; a splendid Medium Teal Blue Mist paint job; cool white upholstery and dual exhausts that let out a lovely growl.
“Right before this I had a ’67 Camaro, but I wasn’t really happy with that,” Quinn admits. “It was a small-block automatic, and it had some issues. It looked nice, but I just wasn’t real happy with it. I wanted a 4-speed, big-block car.
“This car is probably a step up. I would say so. I like the bench seat with the 4-speed. I think it’s a cool. I really like it. I will probably have this one until I croak!”
A GRAN PLAN
If Pontiac officially popped the cork on the muscle craze in 1964 with the launch of the GTO package, then its GM cousin Buick can at least take credit for escalating things in a hurry with the arrival of the Gran Sport version of the Skylark just one model year later. By selecting the hot Skylark, buyers were opting for 401-cubic-inch V-8 that was the hottest thing Buick had going in its intermediate lineup.
The muscle car crowd welcomed the 325 horses under the hood with the big Nailhead and snapped up 15,000 GS models. Two years later, in 1967, the GS 400 nameplate was officially unveiled. In 1968, the GS was given GM’s new redesigned A-body, with a sleek new Fisher body on a 112-inch wheelbase.
The Skylark GS 350 sport coupe replaced the Skylark GS 340 for ‘68. At $2,926, the new budget muscle car was slightly pricier, but more popular. Production hit 8,317 units, compared to just 3,692 for the 1967 GS 340 hardtop.
The GS 350 was based on the Skylark Custom. The 350-cid Buick V-8 had a 3.8 x 3.85-inch bore and stroke and was equipped with a GM Rochester Quadrajet. In the Gran Sport model, it ran a 10.25:1 compression ratio and brake horsepower was 280 at 4600 rpm. The torque figure was 375 lbs.-ft. at 3200 rpm. In basic form, the GS 350 came with a column-mounted three-speed manual transmission. Options included a two-speed Super Turbine automatic with column or console shifter or a choice of three- or four-speed manual gearboxes with a shifter on the column, floor or consolette. The only available axle ratio was 3.23:1, except on a special California GS model.
The California GS was a midyear addition to the Skylark line intended for California motorists only. It was dressed up with a vinyl roof, extra chrome trim, styled wheels, a special steering wheel and “GS California” emblems. The California GS used the same engine as the GS 350, but came only with the Super Turbine automatic transmission. Buyers could chose between a column- or console-mounted gear shifter and either a 3.42:1 or 2.93:1 rear axle. Buick manufactured 8,317 GS 350s, but there’s no breakout for California GS sales.
The 1968 Gran Sport 400 For customers who wanted the top dog in the Buick lineup. Styling revisions included an overall swoopier look with an S-shaped body side feature line. A huge air scoop was integrated into the trailing edge of the hood and chrome finned ornaments decorated the area immediately behind the front wheel openings. Motor Trend described the car’s rear view as reminiscent of the limited-production 1954 Buick Skylark sport convertible.
The GS 400 again used the 400-cid/340-hp V-8 introduced in 1967 models. There were no changes in the horsepower or torque ratings. Standard equipment included a three-speed manual transmission and a 3.42:1 rear axle. A heavy-duty three-speed manual transmission was $84.26 extra and a four-speed manual gearbox was $184.31 extra. Cars with sticks had 3.64:1 and 3.91:1 rear axle options. Ordering the Turbo-Hydra-Matic automatic transmission added $205.24 to the price. A 2.93:1 rear end was standard with automatic transmission and options included 3.42:1, 3.64:1 and 3.91:1 axles.
“Buick makes all kinds of cars because there are all kinds of people in the world,” said a two-page color advertisement appearing in the fall of 1967. “So we thought we’d cater to the person who truly gets a thrill out of driving. The GS 400 is our contribution to his hobby.”
GS 400 equipment was now available on only two models, a hardtop that was base priced at $3,127 and a ragtop with prices starting at $3,271. Buick built 10,743 of the 3,514-lb. hardtops and 2,454 of the 3,547-lb. convertibles. Motor Trend tested a convertible with a bunch of options. Its total weight was 4,300 lbs. At a drag strip it clocked 16.3 seconds at 88 mph. Zero-to-60 performance for the GS 400 hardtop was charted as a snappy 7.5 seconds.
Hot Rod magazine’s Eric Dahlquist did a little bit better with a well-equipped hardtop he wrote about in January 1968. His car had an as-tested price of $4,505 and weighed 3,820 lbs. By using the hood scoop as part of a homemade cold-air package, Dahlquist got the car’s quarter-mile performance down to 14.78 seconds and registered a terminal speed of 94 mph. He noted that beginning January 1, 1968, Buick would begin making two factory cold-air packages available. These Stage 1 and Stage 2 valve train packages were offered along with forged aluminum pistons, a special intake manifold gasket that blocked the heat riser, oversize rods, fully grooved main bearings, 6 percent richer carburetor metering rods, special spark plugs and exhaust headers.
Motor Trend found the ’68 GS 400 to have “surprisingly good” performance and said it was “very tight and hard to excel.”
‘I HATE TO MESS AROUND WITH IT’
One of the things Quinn liked best about his GS 400 when he scooped it up three years ago was that it was pretty much turn-key ready. The car had been appeared to have been nicely refurbished at some point in in the recent past. Quinn got some photos of the restoration in progress, but never got a lot of details on who had done the work or how extensive the restoration was.
The car had been repainted its correct blue and carried some aftermarket gauges inside. Quinn added a tachometer and then swapped out the front drum brakes for some power discs. “What a difference that makes!” he said.
The engine is original and unmolested, as far as Quinn can tell. “I’d like to put a nice aluminum manifold on it, but I hate to mess around with it because it runs so good. The wheels I’m sure are original. I’m not sure about the mufflers. They are Magnaflow, I think.
“I haven’t touched the [black and white] interior. It looks sharp and I get a lot of compliments on it.”
Unlike the Corvette, Quinn saves his GS 400 for nice Wisconsin days when he can take the muscular Buick out for some spirited exercise. He has no plans to do anymore car shopping anytime soon. He’s almost to the point where he can call himself a Buick man instead of a Chevy man.
“I’ve been driving Chevys for 50 years. I never thought I’d even look at a Buick. Just because I had my heart and mind set on a Chevelle or Camaro.
“I thought Buick was for old men! Of course, I’m past 70 now so I can drive and old Buick, I guess!”
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