Buick wasn’t shy when it came to research and development in the late 60’s. What follows is the story of an extremely rare 455 cubic inch 4 bolt Buick V8 factory experimental block which up until recently was owned by John Fritz. John was kind enough to allow most of an article which he wrote for BuickPerformance.com to be reproduced here along with a few new facts which confirm the blocks authenticity. Did you know there is another famous Buick which also runs a 1970 Stage III 4 bolt motor? The Buick Blackhawk Concept Car uses one which produces 463 @ 4600 rpm and 510 lb-ft @4200 rpm … “Its powertrain is a 1970-vintage 455-cubic-inch Buick GS Stage III V-8 engine…” read more…
This 4 bolt block is an important part of Buick Performance history and John has included some extra photos which have never been seen before (a BuickStreet.com exclusive!) which add to the fascinating story of this Big Bad Buick Block which obviously should have been standard equipment in every Stage ‘x’ Buick in 1970. Read on…
4 Bolt 455 Stage III Block
The Missing Link
Story by John Fritz
“That is our Experimental Work Order number, You’ve got a very rare piece there, we only made a handful of those, take care of it…”
This is one of two Buick 455 blocks with 4 bolt main caps. There were two blocks cast as experimental designs for Research and Development purposes. The picture of the factory “X” cast into the block designates it as an experimental design item.
In the photo I’m pointing to one of the first castings I saw on the block which hinted at it’s historical significance. According to Mr. Dennis Manner (who was the project engineer for Buick during this time and Headed up the Stage Program) The “X” designated Experimental. To the left and up in the 11 o’clock position, is a cast number “4”, which again according to Dennis Manner was the code for the 4 bolt main caps.
I’ve referred to it as ‘the missing link’ over the years, because a lot of folks believe the weakest link in the Buicks, has been the 2 bolt bottom end. I mean face it, the production GS bottom end was no different than Grandma’s Electra (! – ed). When I contacted Kenne-Bell about it, he said Buick also called it the “Pro-Stock Block” All the other manufacturers had the big 4 bolt main “bullet proof” bottom ends. Even though a Buick would stomp most of them straight off the showroom floor, and gives years of dependable service, this particular motor was no “regular motor”. It was officially called the “Stage III” by the Buick Engineers who built it!
When this beast was complete, it was a force to be reckoned with. It was hand delivered one sunny day by a group of Buick Research and Development men to the racer I purchased it from (he had an “IN” with them for some serious assistance on the old Dynaflow trans. (mis-pronounced Dynaslush). This was at one time a complete and running motor! It was a zenith for the 1970 Buick 455 motor. When delivered to the only other person than myself, and Buick to own it, it was “Loaded for bear”. The motor was filled with oil , ready to install, and RUN, and run it did, with the tire technology at the time, it was still able to run in the mid 10’s according to the man who ran it.
The motor had a custom sheet metal tunnel ram intake, equally rare Stage 3 cylinder heads, Stage 3 cam, Stage 3 pistons (13 or 13 1/2 to 1)a Gilmore oiling system, and of course,the foundation of it all ,the Stage 3 4 bolt main block. This block has solid webbing (production models were cored out for weight savings) and thicker mains (in addition to the 4 bolts main caps) to endure the flex and strain of this powerful mill. The webbing in the lifter area has also been fortified to endure flex in serious applications.
History: I discovered this block by total luck back in the late 80’s. I had advertised a fiberglass Skylark hood for $125 in a local paper, when the ad came out it said $25. Needless to say I had a flurry of calls. I had always grown up around GS’s, and spoke with Richard Lassiter at the very beginning of his starting the GS Club in the early 80’s, so I was more than happy to talk to any, and all, the Buick guys who called about the mispriced hood.
One of the callers, after a long talk of sharing GS information, gave me a phone number to call. He said the “Old Man” had Stage 1, Stage2, Stage 3 parts. I probably paused too long after he said that, but I was thinking “OH NO, not another one!” Another person you think knows Buicks until they say something like “Yeah, my “Grand” Sport had a 454 with four bolt mains, vinyl top and was actually a real GSX”. Uh Huh. Not to be rude and say “There is no Stage III” I took down the number. I almost didn’t call then I just decided to go for it, maybe he had something I needed.
This guy KNEW his stuff. When I sheepishly said I’d never heard of a Stage III, he about hung up on me for second guessing him. He blasted out every part that was on it, the Buick engineers who delivered and identified it, and topped it all off by telling me “it even had oil in it, and was ready to run”.
I was standing in his shop the next morning! Getting into “The inner tomb” of his shop reminded me of the people who explored the pyramids but on a car level. I lost count of the gates, doors, twists and turns, and attention grabbing carnage of Buick parts that were scattered everywhere, leading to the Experimental Block.
Finally under the buzz of a single flickering fluorescent bulb, I stood over the block and focused my light on a puddle of water resting in the transmission area of the block which stood on it’s end toward the wall. I focused my flashlight on the puddle of water, from the leaking roof, that had been there for a good while. I made some small talk about the roof leak before he finally told me to “spin it around”.
There they were. Factory four bolt main caps. I stirred up the water when I moved the block, as I reached down to scoop the water out, I saw a large “X” cast into the area, Buicks sign for Experimental products. I believe these were on the Proto-type Detroit Auto show 1970 GSX ,which gave away it’s history. I was literally shaking, I was so excited about finding this incredibly rare, and forgotten part of Buicks “Stage Program”.
I bought it on the spot, and started the process of trying to document it. Many of my calls were extremely frustrating, with people “enduring” talking to me thinking I was some wacko wasting there time with something that doesn’t exist. I had my first break through when Kenne-Bell acknowledged that they had heard of it. There was a dry spell of information until I got a call out of the blue from one of the Head men in Buicks Stage Program. An engineer I had been speaking with told me he was friends with him, and he’d try and have him call me. Then one day out of the blue he actually called me! I went through several minutes of questions on experimental casting marks, date codes (1970) codes designating the four bolt mains etc.
Finally came the “Coup De Graus” John he said “Are there ANY other STAMPINGS on the motor”. I said “yes, but couldn’t those just be done by anyone like you see at machine shops when you get an item back?” He asked again for the stampings, and the location of them. I read them off, told him the location, he told me to wait a moment, and then I listened to him sifting through several papers. It was finally identified by the Head of the Stage program as one of there original R&D pieces. He said ” That is our Experimental Work Order number, You’ve got a very rare piece there, we only made a handful of those, take care of it.” He asked me if there was anything else he could answer but since he called me, caught me off guard, and floored me with the confirmation, all I could do was say “No Sir, and Thank You!”.
Hope everyone enjoys the info. Before anyone asks, all the scattered parts the original owner had are gone. Someone went in and cleared him out shortly after I plucked the Experimental block out. Today it sits safely in a special display case, being treated with the respect it deserves. I hope one day to be able to show it at the GS Nationals. It would definitely give us something new and different to look at and think about, “What if this whole package had made it to production before the 70’s gas crunch?” That’s one GS I’d love to drive!
John, thanks for allowing me to document this rare piece of Buick history. The block may change hands in the future but this story will be here for every one to enjoy. It’s a real privilege to be able to tell the story here at BuickStreet.
Note: August 2002 – This block has now been sold. It is in the hands of the Buick Performance Group who will ensure that it gets displayed for all to see at their upcoming events.