Ron Grabbe's 1964 Buick Special might be the Belmont of the Buick world, but there's nothing budget about its performance
This article on Ron's Buick Special was originally published in the October 2016 issue of Street Machine
WHAT’S a bloke to do when he’s already got one ’64 Buick Special in the shed with a 565ci big-block Chev, a healthy dose of nitrous, massive tubs and low nine-second timeslips? He builds a more streetable version of the same car, of course!
While the twin 3.5in exhaust on Ron’s example might give the game away a little bit, you’d never guess there’s over 1600hp under the bonnet!
That seems to make a lot of sense, and Ron Grabbe has done a superb job of fulfilling that dream – except for one small detail. Ron’s street car has about 600hp more than his race car, and his race car is pushing out around 1000hp! Yep, you read that right, get out the abacus and work it out yourself; this sedate-looking Buick A-body is pumping out over 1600hp at the crank.
You’d figure with that kind of grunt there’d be something sticking out of the bonnet, but this car is all about looking stock on the outside, but upgrading all of the stuff underneath.
The 1964 Buick is what the Yanks call an A-body, which is their mid-size offering. If it was a Chev, it would be a Chevelle, but I gotta admit, I kinda like the Buick styling a lot more
To make it happen, Ron used Shane Hudson from World Classic Muscle Cars in Kawana, Queensland. “The whole car was built in the one suburb, one little sleepy town on the Sunshine Coast,” Shane says. “The only thing that wasn’t done here was the electroplating, all the chrome work.” That’s probably more to do with the local council not wanting all those nasty chemicals in the area than anything else.
It’s quite a long car, but a lot of that length is behind the rear wheels for an extra-large boot – good for at least three dead bodies
As you can imagine, ’64 Buick Specials aren’t exactly thick on the ground, and Ron spent a lot of time looking, eventually turning up what he thought was the perfect candidate: a super-low-mileage little old lady’s car in bog-stock condition – as in it was stock as a rock and had plenty of bog in it. But the car drove beautifully and only showed 24,000 miles on the clock, which Shane believes to be correct. “I took it for a drive and it went like a dream,” he says. “I pulled it apart and it looked good – and then we blasted it. Oh my God, it was a mess, an absolute mess. The nana who owned it just drove by feel and parked with all four corners of the car. Like all cars, at one stage in their life they’re worth 1500 bucks; flog ’em and bog ’em – that’s how they were treated when they were worth nothing.” Now all these cars are worth something, people go to town on them doing full rotisserie rebuilds!
There’s no mistaking this for anything other than a Nelson Racing Engines twin-turbo donk, with that distinctive billet ‘alien’ intake that’s been polished to a mirror shine
With the body blasted back to its bare-naked shell, it was clear the car needed some serious work. The floors were shot, the boot floor needed replacing, one of the quarters needed a lot of work and the sills and doors were pretty rooted too. The good news was, the car was complete and had all of the trim pieces and interior, which was just as well, because the aftermarket on these is pretty much non-existent; most people prefer to restore the more upmarket Skylark models. A mountain of time and effort went into fixing all of the stainless and anodised aluminium pieces, including the grille, which is cast aluminium and took a lot of work to get looking brand new again.
Underneath all that plumbing is 427ci of small-block Chevy goodness that makes over 1600hp and 1600lb-ft of torque! Below 3000rpm it’s pretty docile, with a little over 500hp on tap, but after that – hold on!
Given the planned motor for this car, the stock chassis was going to need a fair bit of work to get up to scratch, so Shane got busy with the welder: “They’re a full-chassis car, but we’ve boxed and cross-braced it, ground out all the original welds and re-welded everything. We’ve probably added six-to-eight rails and braces to it, there’s nothing in them, they’re very light. Compared to a Holden ute chassis, they’re probably half the weight. I could pick it up and put it on the car trailer myself!”
With this much hardware to package under the bonnet, it gets pretty busy in there. The intake snakes its way up between the serpentine belts and radiator after the hot turbocharged air has made its way through the intercooler
It’s probably about time we talk about the engine, and those with a keen eye may have spotted that intercooler poking out just under the front bumper and guessed there’s a turbo or two tucked in the engine bay – bingo! Pop the unmodified bonnet and you’re greeted with a snake-pit of exhaust pipes, turbo plumbing and braided hose – most of it highly polished. Underneath that unmistakeable intake manifold is a 427ci Nelson Racing Engines monster. Now those horsepower figures start to make sense.
Feeding the beast is a mixture of high-octane pump fuel and an even higher-octane C14 race fuel. The NRE intake is a pretty clever bit of kit designed to run twin fuel rails and 16 injectors: “It runs on pump fuel, but once it sees around 12psi of boost the second fuel system kicks in and runs C14,” Shane says. “There’s two tanks – the standard tank with pump fuel and a separate one with the C14.”
The wheels are a modern update on the classic Magnum 500, which made its way onto most 60s muscle cars regardless of the marque. The billet versions on Ron’s car measure up at 17x7 and 17x9 – not massive by today’s standards, but the car hasn’t even been mini-tubbed
Those 1600 horses were achieved with 36psi, but the car is fitted with a boost controller and you can set it to 3psi if you want. Even at that piddling amount, the engine is still making somewhere around 500hp.
The rest of the driveline is as you’d expect it – bulletproof. There’s a fully manualised Turbo 400 with a reverse shift pattern, and to match the engine it’s been polished as well. But to keep the 60s vibe happening in the interior, a stick from a manual Hurst shifter was modified to fit the Pro Ratchet shifter mechanism. The diff is a nine-inch filled with Pro Gears and there’s a four-inch tailshaft doing its best to not get turned into liquorice.
Apart from swapping the bench seat to buckets, the wooden steering wheel and some extra gauges, the interior remains largely stock, right down to the working original AM radio. The door panels have been restored to original specs too
The interior is pretty much as it left the factory, with the exception of the addition of bucket seats to replace the bench. “Ron’s a big man, he’s about 11 feet tall and three feet wide, so he used aftermarket seats, shaved them down and lowered the mounts to get him in there,” Shane says.
The dash even sports the original push-button radio. “We spent God knows how many hours making the radio work,” Shane explains. “It’s just restored as an AM radio; that was one thing that Ron wanted, he loves that shit. He also loves to be able to push the cigarette lighter in and watch it pop out – he doesn’t smoke, he’ll never use it, but it’s gotta work.”
A Hurst manual stick has been modified to work with the Pro Ratchet shifter, so as not to clash with the 60s styling
Ron does have plans to get the car to the drag strip, and if he pulls it off it will be one of the coolest things you’ll ever see: “What we’ll do is tow the drag car with this one – because the race car has a pretty strong motor in it and you don’t need to be running it all the time. Then they’ll line up next to each other and race!” Shane says.
Just like our EH Holdens of the same year, Buick had a model named Special, but unlike the mid-range Holden, this was the base model for the Buick – and that’s just how Ron likes it
It would make for a pretty cool race, and there’s a real chance that the street car could outrun the race car – if Ron can get the untubbed, 275-shod rear-end to hook up. We’d pay good money to see that!
1964 BUICK SPECIAL
Colour: PPG Chrysler Blue Streak Pearl
Type: 427ci SBC
Inlet: Nelson Racing Engines billet intake
Injection: Octane-on-demand EFI, 16 injectors
Turbos: Twin Turbonetics T72HP
Heads: Brodix CNC
Pistons: JE turbo
Cooling: Aussie Desert Cooler radiator and intercooler
Exhaust: Twin 3.5in
Ignition: Electromotive coil-packs
’Box: Turbo 400, reversed, manualised, billet internals
Converter: The Converter Shop
Diff: 9in, Pro Gears
Front end: Tubular A-arms
Shocks: QA1 coil-overs (f), QA1 shocks (r)
Brakes: Wilwood 13in discs (f & r)
Rims: Billet Magnum 500; 17x7 (f), 17x9 (r)
Rubber: 245/40/17 (f), 275/40/17 (r)
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Street Machine is the bible of Aussie modified auto culture, celebrating wild muscle cars, customs and hot rods – and the incredible humans who create them.
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