In many ways, the story of the Jones-Benisek 1970 Buick GS is the story of the car(s) that it is not. It is not the Stage 1 car that its flanks and badging indicate. It is not the lost Stage 2 GSX prototype. Instead, the GS that heads to auction next month is the car once considered the world’s fastest Buick as well as one of the last remnants of the Stage 2 ultra-high-performance program.
At the height of the muscle car era, pretty much every American carmaker that offered a high-performance vehicle had some extra-special engine on the drawing board, ready to go for the Seventies. Chevrolet investigated overhead-camshaft and hemi-head big-block V-8 designs, Chrysler took a good look at the ball-stud Hemi, and Dennis Manner at Buick had designed the Stage 2 version of the division’s 455.
Nothing so exotic as some of the other prototypes in development, the Stage 2 represented a simple evolution of the Stage 1. As Manner told Hemmings Muscle Machines for an article in the April 2007 issue, the Stage 1 already took in as much air and fuel as it needed, but it didn’t pump it back out as efficiently as it could. So, in an effort to focus on the exhaust side of things, Manner designed new heads with massive 2-inch-round exhaust ports that added 50 horsepower right off the bat. The entire Stage 2 package — which included a revised camshaft, an 11:1 compression ratio, a Holley 850-cfm carburetor atop an Edelbrock intake manifold, and Mickey Thompson headers — added about 100 horsepower total and shaved a half-second from the best Stage 1 quarter-mile times, Manner said.
The plan called for a Stage 2 rollout sometime in 1971, so Manner and his cohorts at Buick built two prototype Stage 2 cars: one for his development purposes, and an Apollo White 1970 GSX that Buick sent out to California “for exposure and evaluation for the dealers, the racers, and the magazine writers,” he said. The latter looked more or less like a regular Stage 1 GSX save for the airscoop bolted to the otherwise flat hood that sealed to the air cleaner.
It went to California due to the influence of Bill Trevor, a drag racer and an instructor at GM’s training center in Burbank, California, who worked with Buick’s marketing department to promote the division’s high-performance vehicles. Trevor also recruited Southern California drag racers like Len “Pop” Kennedy and Jim Bell for Buick and served as a conduit for high-performance Buick racing parts for them, so when Manner needed somebody to track-test the Stage 2 package, Trevor made sure Kennedy and Bell got a set of heads.
Then, in April 1970, with the impending switch to unleaded fuel, Manner canceled the Stage 2 program. Buick wouldn’t build any Stage 2 production vehicles, but it would make the Stage 2 components available as service parts through its dealers, according to a memo that Manner penned. Buick cast no more than 100 of the Stage 2 heads and reportedly made zero mention of the heads in its marketing materials.
In addition, as Manner clarified in a letter to Hemmings Muscle Machines, the prototype GSX, after it returned to Michigan, suffered a mishap that sealed its fate. “We were about to retire the vehicle, (when) one of our Buick engineers missed a shift driving it at our GM proving grounds and put a rod through the side of the block,” he wrote. “It did not catch fire. We then disassembled the car and scrapped it out.”
Meanwhile, Trevor remained busy in California. According to Diego Rosenberg’s Selling the American Muscle Car, he arranged for the duo of Doug Jones and David Benisek to purchase a four-speed Buick GS Stage 1 then have a complete Stage 2 package installed at Clark Brothers Buick in Torrance, California. With an “automobiles to light your fire” slogan in use at Buick dealerships that year, Jones and Benisek had the car flamed then went racing in both NHRA and AHRA Stock Eliminator classes. They even added the Stage 2 hoodscoop from the prototype GSX Stage 2 after Manner and his team parted that car out.
While the GSX was good for 11.70-second quarter-mile times, the Jones-Benisek GS reportedly earned timeslips a full second faster at close to 130 mph. The duo kept racing the car for years afterward, going undefeated in NHRA competition throughout the 1972 season. Not until the late Seventies did they retire the car.
Following a restoration sometime in the 1990s, the Jones-Benisek GS returned to drag racing, though with an automatic transmission in place of its original four-speed. It has also crossed the block at least a couple times in recent years, bidding up to $145,000 at Mecum’s Kissimmee sale in 2016, up to $115,500 at Mecum’s Kissimmee sale last year, and into the $60,000 to $65,000 range at a number of Mecum sales last year and earlier this year. It is now scheduled to appear at Mecum’s Indianapolis sale next month.
The Mecum Indianapolis auction will take place May 14 to 19. For more information, visit Mecum.com.