photos by: the author
A Forgotten ’65 Buick GS Convertible is Rescued for the 21st Century
When high-performance comes to mind, one of the last brands most people think of is Buick. Often overshadowed by their Chevrolet and Pontiac cousins, as well their Ford and Mopar rivals, the Tri-Shieldmuscle of the ’60s never really caught on during the muscle car boom of the ’80s or ’90s. Sure, you could make a case for the ’70-72 Stage 1 cars and the GSXs in particular, but the mid-60s iron was left largely in the shadows. Literally.
Such is the case with Charlie Fatseas’ ’65 GS convertible that we were lucky enough to spot during the 2015 Buick GS Nationals, in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Sporting a striking shade of red from DuPont, in a more modern base coat/clear coat formulation that far outshines the factory white lacquer that once adorned the body panels all those years ago, it certainly caught our attention.
“What makes the ’65 Gran Sport a milestone muscle car, in our own eyes, is the fact that it not only pushed the limit of cubic inches set by General Motors’ own the ’60s, it actually exceeded it by one…”
What makes the ’65 Gran Sport a milestone muscle car, in our own eyes, is the fact that it not only pushed the limit of cubic inches set by General Motors’ own the ’60s (400 cubic-inches, max, for intermediates), it actually exceeded it by one, despite its “400” nomenclature. Further taking a route unique to Buick in those days, is the “Nailhead” cylinder head arrangement, that allowed for the valves to operate from a vertical operating position. It produced a stout 325 hp and an even more impressive 445 lb-ft of torque – which became the callout on the air cleaner assembly – and confusing some enthusiasts in the process.
However, when Charlie and his friend Dick Walker found the car back in 1993, the once captivating muscle car had long since lost its luster. The original powertrain had seen better days, the paint was faded, the interior well used and the convertible top wasn’t much of one. The Buick was discovered in a field, in the Midwest and largely forgotten by its current owner.
It took quite a while to bring it from its delipidated starting point to the car you’re looking at on this page, but it’s a tale of trial and tribulations that are often too familiar to many enthusiast who desire a premium restoration. The years, tears and hard work were well worth it, though, because this is one of the most beautiful ’65 Buicks we’ve seen in a very long time.
Under the hood, you’ll find that the 401 block that had originally lived in a ’64 version of Charlie’s car was ditched for a larger and more powerful 425 cubic-inch Nailhead, sourced from its larger Rivera GS brother. With it, came more power and torque through a dual-carb induction setup, courtesy a pair of Carter AFBs. Charlie’s car is so equipped, lthough he took it a step further.
The ’64 Riviera block was punched out .030 over with the help of a set of larger JE pistons and a forged Buick crankshaft, giving the GS mill a total cubic capacity of 433 cubic-inches. The vertically positioned heads were massaged, assembled and stuffed with a TA Performance 1.920 intake valves and 1.550 exhaust valves, and 1.6 roller rockers with the trustful hands of Folks Machine in Norman, Oklahoma.
Giving the 425 some additional oomph through the loud pedal, is a custom grind bumpstick from COMP Cams. The oiling system was left largely stock, save for a Sealed Power oil pump. Although Charlie kept the final dyno numbers to himself, the car ran great while cruising through the show field at the GS Nats. Of course it should, being a fresh out of the shop restoration!
“…the GS exhales the spent fumes through OEM ’65 GS manifolds, Gardner mufflers and dual 2-1/4 inch diameter stainless tubing. The soundtrack is that of how a traditional classic muscle car should sound!”
Rounding out the engine mechanicals, is an HEI distributor, coil and ignition box from our friends at MSD Performance. The dual-car air cleaner houses a low-restriction air filter, while the GS exhales the spent fumes through OEM ’65 GS manifolds, Gardner mufflers and dual 2-1/4 inch diameter stainless tubing. The soundtrack is that of how a traditional classic muscle car should sound!
The Nailhead is shifted effortlessly, courtesy of a Tremec TKO 600 5-speed with a Hurst shifter. It’s been fortified with a RAM clutch, Bendsten’s flywheel, carbon blocker rings and was assembled by Hanlon Motorsports of St. Peters, Pennsylvania. It provides Charlie with the manually shifted action that he prefers, but in a more stout packages than the original gearbox ever could, plus an overdrive gear for better fuel economy.
Out back, sits a Moser Engineering 12-bolt rearend; stuffed with Moser axles, Richmond 3.42 gears and an Eaton Detroit TruTrac differential. This not only supplies a solid rear axle to withstand the power, but provides longevity in the process of rowing through the gears at wide-open throttle.
But this isn’t a ham and egger; all muscle but no grace, because this classic A-body rolls on 17-inch versions (17×7 front, 17×8 rear) of the Buick “Magnum” wheels, a design that it both tasteful and functional, from Circle Racing Wheels. The idea is to provide the vintage Buick with modern tire sizing, handling capabilities and many more tire options. Have you tried to source 14-, 15- or even 16-inch tires lately? They’re out there, but the options have substantially dwindled in the last decade or so.
While some may scoff at their larger diameter, they actually offer the benefit of housing much larger disk brakes that were simply impossible with the factory rollers. And that’s exactly what Charlie had done with his car; installing a set of Wilwood binders at all four corners.
Helping the 17s cope with modern handling needs, is a complete Ridetech suspension kit; featuring upper and lower control arms, adjustable coil-overs, sway bars and a AFR Performance steering box. Believe us when we say this thing corners!
On the inside, the Buick has a nice blend of vintage style and modern luxury. The gauges are throwback AutoMeter units, with a Sun tach sitting on top of the steering column. The aforementioned Hurst shifter is also in place, but the upholstery has been upgraded with real leather from Action Seat Covers, of Longview, Texas.
The killer bodywork is what sets this beauty off, there’s no doubt about it, and Charlie credits both Clint’s Restoration of Norman, Oklahoma and RR Restoration of Longview, Texas for the show-stopping looks. Its was a standout among the crowd at the show, and even made your author stop in his tracks as I walked by it – no easy feat, if I say so myself.
“It’s a testament of never giving up and never counting out the underdog, because when it’s their time to shine, they do it more brilliantly than most.”
So what makes this car so special? The looks and its packaging are a huge part of it, but it also comes down to what it represents. To your author it’s a testament of never giving up and never counting out the underdog, because when it’s their time to shine, they do it more brilliantly than most. In Charlie Fatseas’ Buick’s case, the risk and wait were well worth the reward.
Rick Seitz is the owner and founder of AutoCentric Media, and has a true love and passion for all vehicles. When he isn’t tuning, testing, or competing with the brand’s current crop of project vehicles, he’s busy tinkering and planning the next modifications for his own cars.