As the ’60s Golden Age of piston-powered freedom drew to a close, it marked the end of an era characterized by dreams of unrivaled horsepower. Environmental concerns, energy crises, geopolitical shifts, and evolving societal values swiftly shifted the automotive landscape, temporarily putting the brakes on progress.
Reclaiming the performance glory of the ’60s took years of technological advancement, and it was no easy journey. Car manufacturers were forced to make significant compromises, even sacrifices, to continue their legacy, all while adapting to a new era of environmental consciousness.
Although the Malaise Era is typically associated with 1973, signs of the challenges ahead were already apparent in 1972. Cars began to exhibit weaknesses in crucial areas. Performance was curbed, first by the new Society of Automotive Engineering net ratings for engine outputs. However, the most significant blow came from automakers themselves, who had to preemptively adjust to a more environmentally conscious paradigm.
There were exceptions, but they were rare, confirming the prevailing trend. In 1972, Detroit made one last attempt to deliver high-performance vehicles, and Buick was among the few brands that stood their ground in the face of impending emissions regulations.
Despite being a luxury brand under General Motors, Buick was not averse to a performance challenge when provoked. This led to the creation of the Gran Sport designation, initially as a performance package for the Skylark and later as a standalone model. Between 1967 and 1972, the mere presence of the ‘GS’ badge on a Buick’s grille, front fenders, or trunk lid piqued the interest of drag racing enthusiasts.
The Gran Sports were respectable performers on their own, but Buick decided to raise the stakes with performance enhancements, aptly designated as Stage 1 and Stage 2 (the latter was rarely requested but offered as a dealer-installed option).
However, these hot cars were a rarity in the grand scheme of things. Buick was not primarily focused on setting sales records (a domain dominated by Chevrolet), so it’s no surprise that, even fifty years ago, Gran Sports were a rare sight among Detroit’s automotive creations.
Considering the natural evolution of automobiles on our planet, these cars are even scarcer today. And if we delve deeper, setting aside the surviving originals, we enter the realm of automotive unicorns. Now, add another layer of rarity by specifying the 1972 model year Buick Gran Sport Stage 1 vehicles. Furthermore, let’s narrow it down by engine size.
For our purposes, we’ll focus solely on the Buick Gran Sports with a 455-cubic-inch engine that meet all the criteria mentioned above. Fortunately, I can point to one such rarity, thanks to the passionate collector and former Buick dealer, Dennis Doerge. If the name sounds familiar, you may have come across his remarkable car collection featured on Lou Costabile’s YouTube channel.
Dennis Doerge’s latest acquisition is a triple-black 1972 Buick Gran Sport 455 Stage 1. The ‘455’ in the car’s name denotes the displacement of its V8 engine—7.5 liters of unadulterated Detroit muscle (albeit detuned to meet emission regulations).
This massive powerplant was General Motors’ heavy artillery during the later years of the horsepower wars, with the 455 cubic-inch engine producing a staggering 510 lb-ft of torque (692 Nm) in 1970. By 1972, emissions regulations necessitated detuning, resulting in a still-impressive 390 lb-ft (592 Nm) of torque. It’s important to note that this 390 lb-ft figure represents the engine’s performance with all ancillaries installed, not just its bare-crank output.
In terms of horsepower, the 1972 GS 455 Stage 1 boasted 270 hp (274 PS)—a remarkably high number for that era. However, due to the increasing scrutiny of performance by insurance companies, not many of these muscle machines made it off Buick’s assembly lines.
In total, Buick produced only 809 units of the Gran Sport 455 Stage 1, with the convertible variant accounting for 81 (10%, for statistics enthusiasts), leaving just 728 with the hardtop body. To put this into perspective, Buick’s total GS production for 1972 amounted to 8,575 units.
Now, let’s dive into the most intriguing aspect of Dennis Doerge’s unicorn: it’s not only a rare find but also exceptionally well-preserved, with fewer than 15,000 miles on the odometer. To be precise, it has clocked just 14,850 miles (or 23,893 kilometers) since June of 1972. The car was initially purchased by a Buick dealer and spent its entire life in climate-controlled storage. Recognizing its historical significance, the original buyer loaded this Stage 1 with numerous options. While the base price for a standard GS was $3,225.45, the long list of extras on the 455 Stage 1 added up to $5,091.45.
The late build date raises the possibility that this particular Buick could be one of the last Stage 1 models ever produced. History enthusiasts may shed light on this matter. Dennis Doerge acquired this exceptional Buick last year, and at that time, the car was listed for sale by a classic car dealer in Florida for $65,000.
Apart from the already-mentioned 455 V8 engine with its single four-barrel carburetor, this Buick is equipped with the Turbo Hydra-Matic 400 three-speed automatic transmission (a more common choice than the four-speed manual, which was found in just 627 hardtops). It also features a 3.42 Positive Traction rear axle and the Stage 1-standard dual exhaust. Additionally, this GS 455 Stage 1 boasts the ‘through-bumper‘ exhaust tips, a unique feature available only for one year.
The options list for this Buick is extensive (you can see it in the gallery), with the only missing items being the tires. Dennis replaced the original tires with new ones for safety reasons, although he retained the super-wide oval white-lettered tires for authenticity.
The current owner is effusive in his praise for this latest addition to his already impressive Buick collection. The A-body cars of that era were renowned for their road presence, and the power disc brakes and power steering on this survivor make every drive a joyous motoring experience.