Bahn-bound Buick
Bulgari takes on Bavarians

By John Matras


This 1970 Buick Skylark GS-455 convertible is one of 67 originally equipped
with a four-speed manual transmission.

Warning: BMW and Mercedes drivers on the autobahn, you're about to
experience Detroit iron in a way you have never known it before. Nicola
Bulgari, third-generation scion of the Italian jewelry company that bears
his family name, will soon do it to you in a Buick!

In collections in Rome and Allentown, Pennsylvania, Bulgari owns about 100
mostly American cars of different vintages, including: 1934 LaSalle coupe
and 1941 convertible, 1936 Packard coupe and sedan, 1939 Packard convertible, 1950 Oldsmobile convertible and a 1969 Z/28 Camaro. Buicks have always been his favorites, dating back to his childhood when they were the cars of choice for diplomats, military attachees and even the Vatican. His oldest Buick is a 1928 seven-passenger limousine; the newest is the last
retail-sale 1999 Riviera Silver Arrow. He is particularly enamored, however,
with a 1970 Skylark GS455 Stage 1 convertible he bought from the original
owner more than 15 years ago.

One day we decided to make it into something special, explains Bulgari, as
if it weren't already. Entrusting the Buick to Keith Flickinger's Precision
Auto in Allentown, who has restored a number of cars for Bulgari, the
Italian jeweler had the engine blueprinted and subtly modified. A Stage 2
intake was matched to stock heads with the ports cleaned and flowed. The
1970 carburetor was replaced by a 73, which actually has higher airflow.
Oil starvation problems at the rear of the crankshaft plagued the 455 during
extended high rpm use, explains Flickinger, so new lines were tapped to keep
the crank lubricated. A dry sump oil system and oil cooler were also added
to enhance durability. Because top speed earns bragging rights in Europe,
the four-speed was replaced with a six-speed Richmond transmission. This
helped, but had the Buick running out of revs about 135 mph. So the original
3.62 final drive ratio was replaced by a 3.08 Positraction rear differential. With 27 percent overdrive, a top speed of more than 150 mph
should be possible. The original speedometer was refaced and recalibrated to
160 mph, just to be sure.

Rack-and-pinion steering, Koni shocks, four-wheel Wilwood racing disc
brakes, a roll bar and four-point front belts with a Buick logo neatly
inserted in the latch were added. With an eye to European operation, amber
lenses for rear turn signals were grafted into the GS taillights. That
eliminated one brake lamp per side, so a LED high-mounted brake lamp was
incorporated into the roll bar, positioned to be visible through the
backlight when the top is raised. Goodyear Eagle RS-A 225/70 tires are rated
for the speed but, mounted on stock-styled steel wheels, give little clue to
the Buick's greater than usual potency. Nor does the car's operation. The
clutch, the transmission and even the engine (a duplicate has been prepared)
are compliant and docile for urban use, but launch the car with authority
when asked. Which is exactly how Bulgari wants it when he takes the Buick
home to Italy.
They'll think it's coming from another world, Bulgari says, the glee
evident in his voice as he imagines shocked Benz and Bimmer drivers on the
autobahn. You're absolutely right, Nicola. It's called the New World, where
they build some fearsome Buicks.

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