Buick is the brand famous for its portholes that has kept Todd Miller in this obscure corner of the musclecar marketplace. Over all those years, Todd felt like something was missing. He tried a Camaro and even a Mustang along the way, but that same nagging feeling remained.
The salient day occurred after a car show Todd attended with his good friend Kurt Anderson, who owns AutoKraft Race Cars & Restorations. On the way home, Todd got a chance to drive an AutoKraft-built LS1-powered '69 Camaro. Todd couldn't get over the tasty blend of modern technology and the classic lines of that first-generation Camaro. That was when he first considered combining the words handling and Buick in the same sentence.
Since good ideas are often found abandoned in the dust of procrastination, the buildup began immediately. Todd had the common sense to look for a car in the warmer climates away from his Wisconsin home, and the Internet made the search for a low-key Buick easier. Soon, there was a '70 Skylark sitting in AutoKraft's shop, stripped bare, beginning a process that would take only 11 months to complete.
Todd played with the notion of having a '70 GSX 455. But owning one of these rare beasts would preclude the enjoyment of open-road adventures laced with tire-smoking, wide-open-throttle runs. That's not the usual fare for rare 30-plus-year-old musclecar survivors. Todd's plan involved building a Buick that could pass the cursory visual test for a GSX but one he could have fun behind the wheel with. It would perform closer to a Corvette than your grandmother's plastic-wrapped couch.
AutoKraft began with the chassis, blasting and powdercoating the stock frame and tickling the front suspension with virtually the entire Global West catalog, including QA1 coilover shocks that allow the luxury of fine-tuning the front ride height with a few simple twists of the spanner wrench. Wilwood disc brakes on all four corners added to the functionality, but it still wasn't enough. Conceptually, there was still something missing.
The problem with a Buick Pro Touring car is that a true-blue Buick would be powered by a torquey yet bulky big-block. Todd's previous Buick was a '70 GS Stage I car with Stage II pieces that was the classic sleeper running 10.30s at 130. "That was a great car 'cause I could beat other guys with slicks and open headers in a car I drove to the track. It was great because it was so stock looking. But it was only good for one thing: going fast in a straight line." In a move threatened by the spectre of scorn by Buick traditionalists, Todd chose a smaller yet powerful and high-tech 6.0L LS2 with a few improvements. "I'm somewhat of a purist," Todd says. "And I was a little concerned as to what the die-hard Buick guys would think of an LS2 under the hood. But I also figured being a Buick guy shouldn't keep me from the Pro Touring craze. I think they would have frowned on me more if I would have [given] up on the Buicks and built something else."
The promise of Gen IV small-block power netted a desire for great performance with a much more refined engine package. That led to the LS2-based, 366ci, all-aluminum engine. The guys at Wheel to Wheel Powertrain in the Detroit suburb of Madison Heights, Michigan, worked their magic, eventually squeezing more than 500 hp out of this Gen IV motor. That's as close to the actual horsepower number as Todd was willing to admit. "There are a bunch of guys around this area in Wisconsin who stay up at night trying to figure out how much horsepower we make, and I'd just as soon keep them guessing." We'll give you a hint-it's a lot more than 500.
The LS2 swap went even easier when AutoKraft added its custom aluminum oil pan swap that works in conjunction with the billet motor-mount kit for both GM A- and F-body musclecars. With the motor firmly in place, AutoKraft worked with Hooker Headers and got the very first set of LS1 Hooker A-body engine-swap headers that look like they belong on this car. This made the entire LS2 swap almost pain free. Todd then added the 4L60E automatic overdrive with the plan that both the engine and the trans would be controlled by the same Big Stuff 3 computer. This integrates control of the entire powertrain in one box.
In classic car crafter style, Kurt, Todd, and the rest of the AutoKraft gang finished the car just before the Car Craft Summer Nationals in St. Paul. "We didn't even have two miles on it when we showed up at the Nationals," Todd says. Of course, the CC staff (both of us!) jumped on the car immediately, and the rest is photographic history. It's clear that Todd long ago drank freely of the musclecar nectar to become a Buick true believer. So much so that he's turned his fervor into an Internet business, as the owner of diecastmusclecars.com, where you can find a plethora of 11/418-scale cars of all descriptions. If you want even more information on his GSX along with a ream of buildup photos, you can find them on the Web site.
If nothing else, Todd's GSX retrofit forward is on the leading edge of a wave of Gen III and Gen IV engine swaps that is about to engulf the performance scene. As the Doobie Brothers once put it, "What were once vices are now habits." What's in your engine compartment?
What: '70 Buick ersatz GSX
Owner: Todd Miller
Hometown: Eau Claire, Wisconsin, which is French for "clear water." What, you don't remember that from high school French?
Engine: This is the centerpiece of Todd's effort, with a complete yet far from stock LS2 engine. Production LS2s are 6.0L displacing 366 inches. This 402ci all-aluminum version was built by Wheel to Wheel Powertrain in Madison Heights, Michigan, and starts with a Callies forged 4340 steel 4.00-inch-stroke crank along with 6.125-inch-long Callies forged rods connected to a set of Mahle 4-inch-bore forged pistons. Rather than use stock heads, W2W went with a set of ported 225cc Dart heads to increase airflow with the 2.05/1.60-inch valves. Matching the airflow potential is a HiTech Motorsport hydraulic roller camshaft. Controlling the fuel and spark is a Big Stuff 3 EFI computer. Finishing this gem off is a set of Hooker headers leading to a Torque Technologies 3-inch cross-pipe system employing Flowmaster mufflers. Integrating all these high-tech electronics into a solid performing package comes by way of HiTech Motorsport in Anoka, Minnesota.
Transmission: In keeping with the high-tech theme, Todd added an Automatic Transmission Design-built 4L60E four-speed automatic along with a Performance Torque Converters 9.5-inch converter with a 3,600-rpm stall speed to give the launch that extra push. It's all controlled by a stock Buick shifter converted to the four-speed pattern.
Rearend: A new Moser 12-bolt takes the place of the 10-bolt stocker fitted with a set of 3.73 gears, an Auburn limited slip, and Moser axles.
Suspension: This is one area where Todd's Buick really shines. The frame-off resto gave Todd plenty of room to work on adding the complete Global West front-suspension package, including tubular upper and lower control arms and the Global QA1 coilover-shock conversion. Combined with a quick-ratio steering box and a larger 111/48-inch Global West front antiroll bar, everything was powdercoated, including the frame. In the rear, Edelbrock adjustable upper arms complement a pair of SpeedTech lower control arms, QA1 shocks, and Global West springs.
Brakes: Since the brakes are one of the few items that play into both good impressions and solid performance, Todd went with a complete set of Wilwood discs front and rear. Actuating all this is an AutoKraft-installed hydraulic boost kit for power brakes that pulls pressure from the power-steering pump.
Wheels/Tires: Here's where the Buick revels in its dual personality. At first glance, the wheels appear to be a set of stock steel Buick GSX Rally wheels, but upon closer inspection, you discover 17x911/42-inch front and rear Wheel Vintiques Todd obtained as the first set from Newstalgia mounted with 245/45R17 BFGs up front and a sticky pair of 275/40R17 Mickey Thompson ET Drag Radials in back.
Body: The rust-resisted original body went through a complete frame-off blasting and massage on its way to AutoKraft's paint booth where the crew laid down the original tint for the GSX Saturn Yellow and black stripes. Todd nixed any custom body mods in favor of retaining the Buick GSX visual cues.
Interior: Again, Todd wanted the initial impression to be one of a simple, restored musclecar, including a factory GSX steering wheel. But he did make a couple of distinctions, including a Vintage Air heat and A/C system and DynaMat sound deadening. The Buick also features power windows because all Buicks should have them.
Crew: Kurt Anderson and Paul Nowak of AutoKraft Race Cars & Restorations (autokraft.org) can take all the credit for this blend of old Buick and new