By Chris Lee's own admission, he was once a die-hard Chevy guy, complete with the obligatory First-Gen Camaro-a raucous '67 with a Powerglide trans and 4.88 gears. Sure, it ran 10.70s down the quarter-mile, but it was a pain to drive on the street. Then one day he was introduced to a Buick. A friend of a friend was looking for someone to drive his newly completed '70 GS Buick down the track, and soon Chris was off to Carlsbad Raceway towing a beautiful red Buick GS. Chris tells PHR, "I buckled up and staged the car. I'm thinking high 12s, since the car had a bench seat and was pretty quiet with a smooth idle. The light turned green, I hit the gas and thought, 'Holy crap! This thing hauls butt!'" This seemingly sedate ride knocked down an impressive 11.06 on its first run-not much off his barely-streetable Camaro. Chris had seen the light. Turns out the ride was owned by former NHRA World Champ Dave Benisek. Chris says, "At the time I didn't know his history, but I knew I wanted a Buick."
After a year of searching, Chris came across a '70 GS 455. The Gran Sport option was one of Buick's most potent offerings, and the only thing better was the Stage 1 package (Buick's way of hopping up the GS even more). It came off the assembly line in Flint, Michigan, with a high-lift cam, larger Quadrajet carb, freer-flowing exhaust, heavy-duty valvesprings, and a more capable cooling system. It even had a specific hood with functional scoops. At the time, it was rated at 360 hp at 4,600 rpm, and 510 lb-ft of retina-detaching torque down at 2,800 rpm. This was one of the highest torque ratings of any production car-even more than the legendary street Hemi. So the GS was just what Chris was looking for.
The car had 90,000 miles on the clock, and at $4,500 it was a deal. Immediately upon bringing the Buick home, Chris bolted on some slicks and ran a 14 flat at the dragstrip. After a few suspension mods, a bumpstick, and headers, the otherwise stock GS managed to snatch a much better 12.50 timeslip. But it still wasn't fast enough, and at this point Chris's friends Dave Benisek and Bruce Kent started to hound him to build a more potent mill. A 455 was sourced from a '73 Le Sabre for the budget sum of $500, and torn apart by Chris and his brother Tim for a complete rework. As the engine was in great shape, there was no need to bore out the cylinders. The stock crank was dropped back in place, and the Buick rods were shot-peened. For better durability and a touch more compression, Kenne Bell 11:1 forged pistons were added to the mix. The factory Stage 1 heads received some mild port work from Performance Machine, along with Buick valves and Kenne Bell valvetrain components. Topping off the big-inch Buick is an Edelbrock Performer dual-plane intake, and a Holley 850 carb. To keep things firing in the right order, the stock distributor was teamed-up with an MSD 6AL, with the timing locked at 32 degrees. The big-inch Buick exhales through Kenne Bell headers that dump into a 3-inch Hedman exhaust, and it's all good for 450 hp and 525 lb-ft of torque. In the end, the torque output isn't much more than the factory achieved back in '70-looks like those Buick engineers knew what they were doing.
Backing up the new 455 is the same Buick 400 trans as the '73 Le Sabre. It was rebuilt with fresh internals, and backed with a 3,500-stall, 10-inch Kenne Bell converter. The factory trans cooler has been retained, and a Hurst Quarter Stick Shifter helps ratchet though the gears in a hurry. Bringing up the rear is a 12-bolt with 3.73 gears, and a Moroso posi unit. All in all, it's a well thought out package that has knocked down a best ET of 11.65 at 115 mph. Moreover, it's consistent, and that's what it's all about when you bracket race like Chris. "I added a Meziere electric water pump specifically for bracket racing. It lets me control the engine temp easier, and it cools down quicker between rounds." With over 1,000 passes under his belt, Chris feels he has the ride dialed-in perfectly. Given how the GS performed at our test track in Fontana, California, we would have to agree. The Buick launched like it was rear-ended by a freight train, and even under less-than-ideal conditions it managed an 11.84 at 111.96 mph with a 1.69 60-ft time. Chris tells PHR, "The Buick generally traps 4 to 5 mph slower than a smaller car, like a Nova, but with the same ET." We think this is mostly due to the Buick's high-torque launches.
The body is just as it was when it left the factory, and wears a black paint job that Chris doesn't have to worry about scratching. The dog-dish black factory steelies are wrapped in weight-saving skinnies up front, and sticky Mickey Thompson ET drag radials in the rear. At first glance, it almost looks factory. Almost. The interior is still the original white vinyl, and other than the Hurst shifter and Auto Meter gauges, it looks like the brochure. There used to be a six-point rollbar, but Chris got tired of crawling around it, so it was cut out when the NHRA dropped the requirement down to 11.49 and quicker. One accessory we like is the OEM Buick tissue-dispenser mounted under the dash. We're sure it comes in handy when the surprised competition is feeling a bit weepy after a spanking.
Chris has thoroughly enjoyed his Onyx Black Buick, and has raced it all over the country (including the Buick GS Nationals in Bowling Green, Kentucky). He's made some money winning bracket races, but mostly he's made a ton of memories, and more than a few friends. Chris told us: "This was also the car I went on my first date with my wife in. We were driving in a shady area, going out to dinner, when all of a sudden it quit running and I coasted over to the side of the road. I didn't know what was wrong, but the fuel pump switch felt very hot, so I took the switch off with some Leatherman pliers-the only tool I had with me. I pulled the wires off, held them together and heard the fuel pump come on. With the wires twisted together, we drove to dinner for our first date. She was hooked at that moment." And like any good story, the hero gets the girl in the end.
Since new cars from the factory...
Since new cars from the factory are getting so fast , the NHRA rule book writers lowered the minimum for a rollbar down to 11.49 in the quarter-mile.
In its day, the oversquare...
In its day, the oversquare Buick 455 was (next to the larger Cadillac), the most torquey V-8 on the planet.
"We invited Chris Lee to drag...
"We invited Chris Lee to drag test his '70 Buick GS at Fontana, and figured he'd have a hard time running 11s in front of the camera. It might look like a bag lunch with a baloney sandwich, but boy were we wrong..."-Johnny Hunkins
Chris prefers to run the Mickey...
Chris prefers to run the Mickey Thompson ET Street radial tires, rather than the more traditional tube-type "cheater slick.