Ron Cherry: Long-term relationship with a ’73 Buick Grand Sport Stage 1
June 22, 2018
Back in late 1972, Rick Zlaket was living in SoCal and decided he wanted a new performance car. Emission laws had gutted the muscle cars of the late '60s and early '70s of their asphalt-ripping horsepower, but some still had decent performance.
"I was looking for a big-block Corvette," he said. "My dad asked me if I'd rather have a big block Corvette, that rattled because it was made so poorly, or a Buick Grand Sport Stage 1. My friend had a '70 GS Stage 1 I liked, so I chose the Buick."
The only problem was that it was very early in the 1973 model year and, with about 728 of them made that year, they were hard to find. His dad checked with the local Buick dealer and found they didn't have any, but two had been shipped to the General Motors Training Center in Burbank. One had gone to the boss of the center and the other was used for training and evaluation.
"I contacted them about buying the test one when they finished with it, but they said they weren't a dealer, but would ship it to a local dealer who would," he said. "I got it at cost in September of 1972."
The Buick GS Stage 1 had a 455 cubic inch engine rated at 270 horsepower net and was both loaded with options and not loaded. It had power steering, brakes and windows and a Turbo 400 auto trans, but a bench seat rather than buckets with center console and air-conditioning delete.
"I can only guess why it had no air conditioning," Rick said. "It takes abut 25 HP to run it and they wanted to have good results when they did their tests, so they did not want it."
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Uncovering the issues
It was painted two-tone, Apollo Red and Arctic White, with rally wheels. The car looked great, but had some hidden issues. One of them was that 7,000 miles on the clock were hard ones, quickly evident the first night Rick parked it in the driveway and it leaked a large puddle of oil. Rick's dad took it back to the dealer who replaced all the main bearings and main seals.
The Buick had no other major problems and Rick used it as his daily driver until 1976. Buick had changed the body of the GS from the smaller, sportier Skylark to the bigger, heavier Century in 1973.
"I traded in a Firebird 400 when I bought it," he said. "My friends ribbed me, saying, 'What did you buy your old man's car for?' They thought it wasn't sporty."
But Rick liked it so much that when it stopped being his daily driver, he stored it instead of selling it. Then he pulled it out of storage and drove it on a regular basis in 1981 for a few years before storing it again.
When he moved up here in 1986, he drove the Buick, but stored it again. During all its time out of storage, the Buick needed no major repairs. About seven years ago, he decided it was time to get the Buick back in tip-top shape.
Putting the life back into the Buick
Since the Buick had been stored for much of its life, it wasn't in horrible condition. Rick had Steve Matthews strip the body for a repaint.
When Steve set to work, he found the car had old damage to the right front fender, like it had hit a guard rail during the testing years ago and had been repaired by slapping bondo on it. He did the repairs correctly before shooting it in the original colors.
Since the Buick is relatively rare, finding a correct reproduction seat cover was impossible, so Roman's Upholstery in Auburn custom made ones in leather, as well as installed new carpets and headliner. The dash was still in great condition. All the glass was still good, so he left it alone.
Rick did most of the mechanics himself, rebuilding all the suspension and assembling the engine. When he had the machining done on the engine, he found a few interesting hidden changes that must have been done when it was at the GM Training center.
The pistons and cam were the same as the hotter 1970 GS Stage 1 and alterations were done to improve oiling. He kept the engine itself stock except for boring it to 462 cubic inches. For better performance, he changed from a Quadrajet carb to throttle-body fuel injection and added headers.
"I took some liberties," Rick said. "But it looks the same as when I got it, but better paint and fit and finish of the body. I replaced the wheels with reproductions because the originals were stolen a while back, but the spare is the same one as when I bought it. It still holds air."
Although he found the build sheet for the car under the rear seat, Rick thought it would be nice to have a reproduction of the dealer window sticker that was not on the car when he bought it. Buick gave all its records to the Sloan Museum in Flint, Mich., and they will print them for Buick owners from the VIN.
However when Rick ran his VIN with them, it came back that the car was never to have been sold. It was supposed to have been used for testing and learning, then crushed! In a sense, it was the car that never was and no sticker could be made since it never had one originally.
Last August, Rick's oldest son asked if he could buy the Buick.
"I didn't know he liked it that much," Rick said. "I said, 'No, I was going give it to you when I croak. I'll give it to you now so I can see you drive it.' I gave it to him last Memorial Day and now I get to enjoy watching him drive it."
Then he added, "He has a son, my grandson. Maybe someday my son will give it to him. Maybe I'll even get to see him drive it. It's all about keeping it in the family."
Rick's long term relationship continues through his son and, someday, his grandson.
Ron Cherry's books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His new book, "The St. Christopher Murders," is a Fourth of July mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills that is remarkably similar to Nevada City and is now out in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. Check out his website at http://www.rlcherry.com.
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