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Crowning the King of 1970: Buick GSX vs Chevy Chevelle SS. vs Olds 442 vs Pontiac GTO Judge

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Yes friends, we're here to talk muscle cars. We absolutely need a ride (or two) for the porterhouse steak and french fry set. But as you know, we've got just 50 spots in our +10 Garage of Fantasy, so we need to choose with care. First we have to eliminate some contenders. So let's pick a year. 1970 seems like a nice round number. More than being round though, 1970 was the apex of not only muscle cars themselves, but of the muscle car era. Gas was $0.36 per gallon. 40,000 troops are to be pulled out of Vietnam, and an entire week went by without any dead American soldiers. Men are still golfing on the moon while Gary Gabelich drives the Blue Flame (in a very muscle car-like straight line) to a top speed of 1,014 kph. But life in the US had its downsides, too. The National Guard opened fire at Kent State killing four students. Police opened fire at Jackson State killing two. The Beatles called it quits and Elvis went back on tour. There has to be a single, burly car that encapsulates all that triumph and tumult.

1970 will always be very special for muscle car fans as it was the glorious year when GM decided to lift their self-imposed embargo mandating 400 cid as the biggest engine that could be shoehorned into a mid-size car. It also happens to be the year that saw the peak in gross horsepower for American muscle. Look at any engine-power timeline graph; thanks to emissions restrictions and OPEC it was all downhill from there. And finally, to further narrow our Fantasy Garage choices: for every lunkhead who has scoffed at my WRX because, "There's no replacement for displacement," we're eliminating all MOPARS and Fords. And the AMC Javelin, too. They are just not big enough. Look, we won't be kicking any R/T Charger 440 Magnum Six-Packs out of bed, but you got to draw lines somewhere, man. You got to draw lines. And that leaves us with these four big-blocked bastards from the General.

Buick GSX


In order to match their customers' shirts/cocaine preference, the GSX was only available in "Apollo White" or "Saturn Yellow." Whichever you chose, it came with big black stripes across the hood. There you will also find a pilfered-from-Pontiac tachometer, one of our favorite options ever. Seriously — screw heads up displays, just bolt the instruments right to the bonnet. Especially the clock. Still a brilliant piece of kit nearly four-decades on. Oh, and the car itself was quite the beefcake, too.

Coming correct with a gigantic 455 cid V8 and a Hurst four-speed, the GSX had all the grunt any self-respecting son of the seventies needed. Power figures are elusive and confusing. Officially, the factory quoted 360hp @ 4,2000rpm. No doubt this was true, but what did the mill stonk at say 5,2000rpm? At least 400 horses, if not a bit more (415 to 425 hp). GM fudged the numbers because insurance companies at the time were charging huge draconian penalties premiums based on horsepower. The corporate wink, wink saved customers from insurance payments bigger than their car payments. Luckily insurance companies didn't care about torque, as it is hard to hide 510lbs. ft. of the good stuff at a 2,8000rpm.

The GSX had a load of other performance tweaks besides the monster motivator. They included hotter cams, bigger valves (which really made the power difference in the higher rev range), a Positrac diff, beefier springs and a revised jetting for the carburetor. The transmissions (both stick and auto) were improved, too. Even better, Buick's big 455 V8 was designed smart, so the engine weighed 150lbs. less than its GM stable mates's. Though worrying about weight with this gang of four is like deriving Kirsten Dunst's IQ. Why bother?

All that twist and go-go fury made Motor Trend proclaim that the 455 GS Stage 1 is "the quickest American production car we've ever tested." Though as their quarter mile time of 13.38 is half a second faster than any other mag could muster and their zero to 60 time of 5.5 seconds is essentially unbelievable, MT was probably testing a ringer. Which was a very popular GM ploy at the time — see here. Still, 13.8 through the traps and 6.4 or so to 60 is nothing to turn your jaded 20067 noses up at. You try it on bias-plys.

But more than performance (and sound) we simply love the way the Buick GSX looks. In Saturn Yellow, of course.


Chevrolet Chevelle 454 SS

Like every other car here, 1970 saw the first time an engine larger than 400 cid went into a mid-sized Chevy. Long story short, the LS6 engine in the SS had higher compression (11.25:1) than the standard LS5 454, giving the top Chevelle the highest factory horsepower rating of any muscle car. 450 big block horses and 500 pounds of twist, numbers not beaten by a factory Chevrolet until the C6 Z06 (though the L88 Corvette pumped out somewhere in the neighborhood of 550 hp, the factory only claimed 430). Which is an impressive amount in 2007 and was quite literally earth-shaking in 1970. Car Craft got the SS through the quarter-mile in 13.12 seconds @ 107 mph. Other than all the pricks at my high school driving Chevelles, I can't think of much else to add. So let's just fanaticize about a red one with black stripes. Mmmm... muscle-y.

Oldsmobile 442 W-30


The Olds 442 started life in 1964 as a quick reaction to the runaway and unexpected success of John Z Delorean's tempest in a Tempest GTO. The technical name for the $285 option package on the Cutlass was the "B09 Police Apprehender" though no one ever called it anything but 4-4-2. The moniker stood for 4-barrell carb, 4-speeds and 2 tailpipes. And while the 442 started out life in 1964 with a relatively small 330 cubic inch motor, by 1970 Olds had super-sized the engine to a very satisfying 455 cid.

Officially the largest V8 Oldsmobile ever shoehorned into a car produced 365 hp. Obviously that's not enough so an option package was created - called W-30 - that offered up 5 more horses. In reality of course, both engines generated in excess of 400 muscular horses with the W-30 mill probably hitting 420 before valve-float became an issue. Torque? An even 500 ft. pounds of screw you, stump.

Of course the W-30 option was the only way to go. Aside from the 5 horsepower - achieved through a blueprinted engine, an upgraded cam, unrestricted exhausts and forced air-induction via the functional hood scoops - W-30 gave you a weight saving fiberglass hood and plastic inner-fenders, an aluminum pumpkin and less sound deadening material.

This added muscle and lightness made the 442 W-30 good for a 0-60 sprint of 5.7 seconds and 14.2 in the quarter-mile @ 100 mph. Interesting to me, those numbers are essentially identical to a modern WRX. Though the 442 is moving faster at the end of a quarter-mile. So, the performance is adequate for today and pretty damn special back in the year your father was chasing courting your mother. 1971 saw shorter connecting rods and reduced power. We'll take our Fantasy 1970 442 W-30 in blue with white stripes. And you know what? We'll take the convertible.

Pontiac GTO 455 Judge


And finally we get to the Judge, also known as "the Humbler." If names were all that mattered, the Judge wins this one in a walk. Besides Roadmaster, I dare you to think of a better car-moniker than the Judge. Sure beats the hell out of G6. But we'll save our "Why all modern cars have stupid names" rant for another day. We're here to talk Pontiac. And in truth, to us, the Judge is the quintessential muscle car. For not only did it have the displacement (455 cubic inches), the looks (Orbit Orange, Endura nose, fender creases, hood tach) and the lineage (it's a GTO - 'nuff said), the Judge nailed the zeitgeist of not only the muscle car craze, but of first-term Nixon America.

And since muscle cars really can be boiled down to their engines, let's examine what motivated the Judge. In truth, most Judges sold came with the Ram Air III 400 cid mill. Though for a few dollars more you could get the Ram Air IV option which boosted power to 370 horses. The 455 wasn't available on the Judge until the last quarter of 1970 and is therefore quite rare. True, the 400 cubic incher made a little bit more power than the bigger engine (4 to 10 hp, depending on who you believe), the 455 had it where it really counted - 500lbs. ft. of torque. And if you think the 455 V8 actually put out just 360 hp, I have a six-figure Countach-bodied Fiero to sell you.


And let us stress how rare these uber-Judges are. Fourteen shift-it-yourself hardtops were made, and just three convertibles, all automatics. Still not convinced? A 1970 Orbit Orange 455 Judge was the car bad guy Warren Oates drove in Two-Lane Blacktop. Case closed, your honor.


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[The Jalopnik Fantasy Garage appears every Tuesday. Readers vote the cars in or out. The idea is that we'll have 50 cars in our fantasy garage, the world's greatest mechanic and endless wads of cash. If you would like to nominate a car for our Fantasy Garage, email with the subject line "fantasy garage."]

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