When most people think of the muscle cars of the 1960s and ‘70s, the Buick name doesn’t immediately come to mind. But it definitely should.
Proof positive is the 1970 Buick GS 455 owned by Bill Wills of Youngstown. The 455-cubic-inch V8 found within is rated at 350 horsepower and a pavement-shredding 510 lbs.-ft. of torque at only 2,800 RPM. It was the most of any stock engine, save Cadillac, from a particularly muscular era.
With its factory ram-air induction and automatic trans, the GS will run quarters in the low-to-mid 13 second range in its current, near-stock form. But it used to run faster.
Fact BoxCRUISING CALENDAR
* Cruzin the River in Lowellville, from 5 to 9 p.m. at 224 E. Water St. 200-300 cars, food, prizes, DJ Lee Martinell, vendor nights, and more. Call Al at 330-536-9009 or Cindy at 330-540-3517.
* Chick-Fil-A, 1051 Boardman-Poland Road, Boardman, every Tuesday (weather permitting). Benefit Hospice of the Valley. Music by "Two's Company" DJ’s, dash plaques, door prizes, trophies. Call Bob at 330-545-9313 or visit www.mvocc.com.
* Drake’s Landing Restaurant, 2177 W. Western Reserve Road, Canfield. All through summer, from 5 p.m. to dusk. Raffles, door prizes, DJ’s.
* Westside Ice Cream and Grill, 3003 Mahoning Ave., Austintown, from 6 to 9 p.m. every Thursday. DJ, 50/50 raffle, door prizes and more.
* A&W Drive-In, 680 Youngstown-Boardman Road, Boardman, from 6 to 10 p.m. Special theme nights throughout the summer, music by Two’s Company, T-shirts. Call 330-792-2444. Now through Oct. 14.
* Shepherd’s Self Storage, Boardman (the old Sam’s Club) on South Avenue, one mile south of U.S. 224, every Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. Vendors, music and more. Hosted by Valley Cruzers. Call 330-533-4911.
* Quaker Steak and Lube in Austintown, Interstate 80, Ohio 46 exit, from 5 to 9 p.m. Music by DJ Big Rick, discount to cruisers, hosted by the “Chicken Coupe Cruisers.” Call 330-668-4767.
*June 12 - 20th annual “Happy Days” classic car cruise on Seventh Avenue in downtown Beaver Falls, Pa. Club hats and T-shirts, DJ’s, dash plaques, raffles and door prizes. Call 724 843-6401 or 724-846-1862.
*June 18 to 20 - 34th annual Pittsburgh Parts-A-Rama at the Butler County Fairgrounds, on U.S. 422, from 8 a.m. to dusk. Parts flea market, vehicle sale corral, collector toys, car stereo and neon light competitions, swimsuit contest. Call 412-366-7154 to reserve a space.
*June 19 - Father’s Day Car Show at Beeghly Oaks, 6505 Market St., Boardman, from 2 to 4:30 p.m. First place and people’s choice awards, raffle, auction, music by Two’s Company DJ’s. Call 330-884-2327 to register.
*June 20 - 28th annual Father’s Day Car Show, East State Street, Hermitage, Pa., from noon to 4 p.m. Trophies and dash plaques, 34 judged classes, door prizes, music, and more. Call 724-981-1653 or visit www.svraaca.com.
*June 25 to 27 - Steel Valley Super Nationals, back at Quaker City Raceway, 10359 W. South Range Road, Salem. Cruise in downtown Salem, Diesel Wars, fireworks and more. Call 724-658-2005 or visit www.SteelValleySuperNationals.com.
*July 16 to 18 - Canfield Swap Meet and Car Corral, hot rod and classic car sale, at the Canfield Fairgrounds, hosted by Dave and Ed's Auto Events, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit www.autoevents.com.
*July 17 and 18 - LX and Beyond Nationals annual late-model Mopar musclecar event. Open to all 2005 and newer Dodge Chargers, Magnums and Challengers, and Chrysler 300/300C's, at Quaker City Raceway, 10359 W. South Range Road, Salem. Visit www.lxandbeyondnats.com for info.
*July 22 to 25 - 21st Annual Packard Car Show at the Packard Museum, 1899 Mahoning Ave., Warren, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Packard show, the W.D. Packard Concert Band, all-makes cruise-in. Call 330-394-1899 or visit www.packardmuseum.org for information.
*July 23, 24 and 25 - 5th Annual Rock ‘N Race at Dragway 42 in West Salem. Featuring live rockabilly bands, quarter-mile drag racing, swap meet, burnout contest, nostalgia, more. Call 419-853-4242 or visit www.Dragway42.com.
*Aug 1 - 32nd annual Cars in the Park antique car show at Boardman Park, hosted by Mahoning Valley Olde Car Club. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine. Pinewood Derby race for kids, door prizes, awards, dash plaques, D.J. "Two's Company". Call Dave at 330-544-0242 or visit www.mvocc.com.
*Sept. 6 - Classic Car Cruise-In at Center Road during Buhl Day, Labor Day, Sept. 6 at Buhl Park, 730 Forker Blvd., Hermitage, Pa. Food, music, kids’ petting zoo and more. Visit www.buhlfarmpark.com/specialevents/buhlday.
*Sept 17, 18 and 19 - Canfield Swap Meet and Car Corral, hot rod and classic car sale, at the Canfield Fairgrounds, hosted by Dave and Ed's Auto Events, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit www.autoevents.com.
Wills purchased the car used 30 years ago and modified it for racing with a different intake and rear end, headers and the like. “I did nothing but race it early on,” he said.
Since then, he has restored the car to stock and taken it to the Supercar Showdowns that were held at Quaker City Dragway in the 1980s and ‘90s, as well as the Hot Rod Supernationals in Canfield. Unfortunately, Wills recalls some anti-Buick bias from these events.
One year, he and some friends from the Penn-Ohio Chapter of the Buick Performance Club proudly displayed a lineup of 12 gleaming muscle Buicks at the SuperNats. “They didn’t take a single picture of them,” he said. According to Wills, photographers resolutely ignored the Buicks in favor of the usual GTOs, Chevelles, and so on.
Still, you can sense Wills’ pride in his car’s sleeper status and what he calls its “sneaky” engineering. An example is the car’s low stance in the rear compared to its more steeply raked contemporaries. This may not have been as stylish a profile, but the suspension settings that accounted for it greatly increased traction over cars with the rakish look.
Wills’ appreciation for Buicks goes back to 1971, when he received his learner’s permit and began racing his mother’s 1965 Skylark. From there, it was on to a 1967 GS 400, which he and his brother ran in Pure Stock Eliminator (street tires or narrow slicks, full exhaust, stock manifolds) in the early ‘70s. This low-13-second car, which Wills drove to drive to high school every day, began his racing career in earnest.
He raced four nights per week, twice on Sunday, mostly at local venues including the old Ohio Drag City near Meander and Quaker City Raceway. He also raced at Norwalk Dragway and Thompson Raceway Park. With minimal preparation to the car, the prize money from such “work” went a long way. “I always had money in my pocket during high school,” Wills said.
His efforts paid off, netting him the Stock Eliminator crown at Ohio City for seven years. He took his show on the road, racing all over the country and in Canada. From his experience, Wills feels it’s no coincidence that Buick won the NHRA Stock Eliminator class in 1970, ‘71 and ‘72.
While those days are largely behind him, he still maintains a presence on the drag strip with another Buick, a 1978 Skylark with a 455 from a 1970 Electra. The engine is mostly stock, with changes limited to items like an MSD ignition and 850 cfm Holley carburetor. Replacement connecting rods were only installed after one broke during a recent run. Power flows through a Carl Rossler-built THM 400 to a 12-bolt rear axle with 3.90 gears. Running in the foot-brake class, his best time so far is an 11.18 at 122 MPH.
Of course, with all this talk of keeping an open mind, it should be noted that Wills doesn’t confine his auto appreciation to Buicks. He also owns a couple of old Ford Mustangs, and voiced his appreciation for the new 2001 Mustang and Dodge Challenger. “I’m a car person, I enjoy seeing all makes of cars,” he said. "If you’re totally closed-minded about a certain brand, you don’t know what you’re missing.”
But don’t ask him about getting rid of the GS anytime soon. Though he’s received many offers to buy it, Wills says, “I don’t know what it would take to buy it, I really don’t.” He plans to enjoy the car as-is for now, with the possibility of fresh paint and other restoration down the road.