Cars We Remember / Collector Car Corner; Buick club founder responds and a pair of impressive Pontiacs

Cars We Remember / Collector Car Corner; Buick club founder responds and a pair of impressive PontiacsThe 2024 Buick GN Club will hold its annual Nationals event May 15 to 18 in Bowling Green, Kentucky. It will be held at Beech Bend Raceway and allow for both show and go fun. Info can be found on their Facebook Page, Buick GS Nationals, or on the club’s website at (GN Club Photo)

By Greg Zyla —

We’re trying to get caught up on our mail, and thanks to my loyal readers who take the time to correspond.

Buick muscle club founder chats it up  

Q: Greg, I’m a 75 year old “Golden Era” muscle car enthusiast, and to my pleasant surprise I recently came upon your article on Buick muscle cars (p. 36 and 37) in Classic Car Round-Up magazine while at the “Books-a-Million” store here in Valdosta, Ga. 

Considering the many aspects of the car hobby that you must be involved with, I thought you did a great job with that article. I bought my 1970 GS Stage 1 new in March of 1970 and my GNX in October of 1987, so you might say that I’m a Buick loyalist. I do have a couple of later model high performance “appliances” including a 1995 ZR-1 and a 2005 Ford GT.  

I’m usually drawn to the more unusual “stuff”, and I really like “sleepers”. My GNX was purchased directly from Buick due to my affiliations with Buick engineering back in those days. 

“You’ll be getting a GNX at dealer cost, so what dealer would you like it delivered to,” was how the conversation went back in 1987. Mine was the only GNX to ever be sold that way, and before I even got the car I had agents from (Hotel CEO) Bill Marriott, (Baseball legend) Reggie Jackson, and (investment guru) Charles Schwab try to buy my “contract” for the car. Of course, that was a “no-go”.

Cars We Remember / Collector Car Corner; Buick club founder responds and a pair of impressive Pontiacs

Buick of all kinds will head to Beech Bend Raceway this May and support the 2024 event, which in its 43rd year promises to attract both fast race cars and collectible street driven Buicks from all decades. (GN Club Photo)

With Buick’s generosity, I would never be so mercenary as to do such a thing. Brand spanking new with the paper dealer plate still on the car, it ran a 13.33@105.04 mph on those “big-for-the-day” P255X50-16 Goodyear Gatorbacks at Gainesville Raceway. I also know all about the 13.38 @ 105+ mph 1970 GS Stage 1 that you mentioned in your feature article covered in the January 1970 issue of Motor Trend. 

My GS is #1 with me because that’s where all my youthful memories lie. I enjoyed your comments about its performance parity with the various 426 Hemi models. You see I have proof positive of that statement from back in 1984. But that’s an old, long story in itself. (Greg Note: Please let us know, as my readers and I would love to hear your story.)

I founded the Buick GS Club of America in 1981 and we will be having our annual meet once again this May 15-18. It’s our 43rd such event, always held in Bowling Green, Kentucky. So, I “know” my Buick muscle cars very well, and most of the others, too! 

You mentioned Kenny Duttweiler (the noted Buick turbo engine builder, racer, Bonneville record holder). He and Marge used to attend our Buick Club of America Nationals back in the 1990’s. A quiet and humble gentleman, he is. 

Best Regards, Richard Lasseter, Valdosta, Ga.

A: Richard, thanks so very much for your interesting letter, and congrats on the success of your Buick GS Club of America. I’m sure your May event will be a big, well-attended hit. Whenever I mention Buicks in my column I receive numerous letters from thrilled owners of those Buick “sleepers” you speak of, especially cars like GNX and GS Stage 1 cars you own. 

Thanks again Richard, and I am honored you took the time to write. As for your other “appliances”, ala your Corvette ZR-1 and Ford GT, all I can say is “wow.”

Cars We Remember / Collector Car Corner; Buick club founder responds and a pair of impressive Pontiacs

Towanda, Pennsylvania’s Mike Sena is the proud owner of this 2003 Pontiac Vibe, still looking great with over 228,000 miles on the odometer. Sena knew of the car’s true DNA, as it was built alongside the Toyota Matrix at Toyota’s plant in Fremont, Calif. It was a Pontiac in name only, thanks to an agreement between GM and Toyota. (Sena Collection)

Two Pontiacs worthy of note; one fast, one a ‘Toyota’

Q: Greg, I just read your article on Pontiacs in this morning’s Daily Review in Towanda, Pa. It’s a shame the Pontiac division got the axe from GM in 2010, as Pontiac made some great cars over the years. Muscle Pontiacs are probably best remembered for John DeLorean’s brainchild, the GTO.

I also think the “rope drive” 61-63 Tempests (Greg note: “rope drive” known in relation to a very thin and uniquely flexible drive shaft the size of a small “rope” that transferred engine torque to the rear) were a great concept with their rear mounted transaxle and chopped in half 389-V8 turned into a 4-cylinder. I still remember those engines shaking around in their motor mounts under the hood. Just think what a balance shaft could have done for that.

I’m also very fond of the 69-72 Grand Prix, another DeLorean brainchild. The man was truly a genius. The 1988 Fiero GT was a great car, too. Like the Corvair; when Pontiac finally got the suspension woes ironed out, they went and ceased production.

I personally have owned only two Pontiacs, probably performance-wise at the absolute end of the spectrum. I had a 1989 20th Anniversary Trans Am with the Buick turbocharged V6, that thing was a rocket! I still have my 2003 AWD Pontiac Vibe that I bought a couple of years back for a “winter beater”. 

Seeing the picture of the Vibe in your article is what prompted me to write this letter. It truly is a great little car as you have mentioned, being a mechanical twin to the Toyota Matrix. Underpowered with only 123-horsepower on tap from the Toyota 1.8, she’s no speed demon! A 180-horsepower variant was offered with the Vibe GT with a 6-speed manual. I imagine that makes for a fun little car but was not available in AWD configuration unfortunately.

I think where the AWD Vibe shines versus its FWD counterpart is in the handling department. The FWD versions have a solid beam axle in the rear. The AWD versions, however, have an independent rear suspension set up sourced from the Toyota Celica GTS and will bolt right in the Vibe / Matrix. 

Cars We Remember / Collector Car Corner; Buick club founder responds and a pair of impressive Pontiacs

One of Sena’s past muscle cars include the rare, Buick V6 Turbo powered, 1989 20th Anniversary Pontiac Trans-Am. This car was one of the true “sleepers” of the decade thanks to the Buick power. Sena is the owner of The Villa Sena restaurant in Towanda, known for great food and excellent ambiance. (Sena Collection)

Being a “gearhead”, I cannot help but wonder how much fun it would be swapping the 180 HP Vibe GT engine under the hood. However, from what I’ve read, the AWD transmission is not up to task with the increased horsepower and torque.

The Vibe I own has 228,000 miles on the clock, still runs and shifts like new, and goes really well in the snow. No squeaks or rattles, doors all open and close perfectly, clearly a testament to Toyota build quality. I’ll probably keep it as long as it passes inspection.

Unfortunately, the rear subframes on the AWD models are especially prone to rust here in the “salt belt” region. When you see an AWD model for sale, there is almost always a problem with that. Not many AWD versions were sold in the southern or western states.

In closing, I always enjoy your articles each week and I read every one of them! Keep up the good work. On a side note, your same article in today’s paper mentions the Packard V12. My father had a 1934 Packard V12 when I was very young. It was prone to vapor locking, as I remember. When the thing would quit my dad would pour some cold water around the fuel bowl on the carburetor, and it would fire right up.

Thanks again for all the great articles and reviving an old memory with the Packard. Sincerely, Mike Sena, Towanda, Pa.

A: Mike, what a wonderful surprise. I must let my readers know up front that we know each other quite well. As publisher of the Daily Review from 2008 to 2015 I ate at your fine dining establishment, The Villa Sena, at least once a week, sometimes more. Whatever reason presented itself, I was a happy customer. (Check Mike’s Facebook Page, Villa Sena, for everything you need to know about this fine food establishment.)  

As for your past and present Pontiacs, you had one very fast muscle car in that 20th Anniversary Trans-Am back in 1989. In a decade not known for fast muscle cars, once enthusiasts found out it had a Buick Turbo V-6 under the hood they knew buying one ensured a truly fast car.

Your 2003 Vibe proves what a great car this Toyota in Pontiac dress really is. That’s why I highly recommend to any and all used car buyers to check these Vibe models closely, and if they pass the rust test that Mike pinpoints try and park it in your driveway. It’s a secure daily driver with excellent owner reliability records. Your Vibe is fine-looking thanks to the chrome wheel treatment and your overall impressive car care. Considering it’s 21 years old, it still looks great sitting alongside today’s vehicles.

And thanks again, Mike, for your kind words.  

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated automotive writer who welcomes reader input on auto nostalgia, collector cars and motorsports at or Snail mail goes to 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840.)

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