At the 2015 Buick GS Nationals in Bowling Green, Ky., Turbo Regals and Skylark Gran Sports were lined up at Beech Bend Raceway as far as the eye could see. The sight wasn’t anything new at the 35th annual Buick event, as the two heavyweights have long been regarded as the brand’s greatest performance cars.
The 1970 455 Stage 1 powered Skylark GSX is widely regarded as the king of the muscle car era, while the 1987 Regal GNX reigned supreme in the 1980s. But hidden among the sea of Grand Nationals in the staging lanes was Dirk Shultz, in one of Buick’s best-kept secrets.
As the unusual black silhouette made its way to the front, it was unidentifiable to all but the die-hard Buick enthusiasts. With a trip around the water box, the Buick quickly did its burnout and pulled up to the Christmas tree. The exhaust note was far too quiet for a V8, and the smoke rolling off the front tires raised a few eyebrows from those sitting in the grandstands.
From behind the wheel, Shultz took the perplexed looks in stride. In his first ever trip to the GS Nationals, he decided to leave behind his 1971 Skylark GS 455 and 1987 Grand National in order to bring something unique that nobody else would have. After continually fielding questions about his mysterious car throughout the weekend, it was safe to say his mission was accomplished.
As the light flashed green, Shultz eased into the throttle to prevent lighting up the front tires through the first 60 feet. As any experienced drag racer will tell you, “if you’re spinning, you ain’t winning.” The four-door Buick quickly disappeared down the track with the faint whine of a supercharger and crossed the line in 14.34 seconds at 95 miles per hour. A blown front-wheel drive Buick? Was this some sort of joke?
Not quite. This was a 2003 Buick Regal GSX — a four door sport sedan enhanced by Street Legal Performance. In 2003, SLP took a limited number of supercharged Regal GS sedans from Buick showrooms and performed an extreme makeover. The suspension was modified with lowering springs, larger diameter sway bars, and tubular rear trailing arms.
Its supercharged 3.8-liter mill was fitted with a list of upgrades to improve performance. Aesthetically, an aggressive body colored grille, trunk spoiler, and Corvette Z06-inspired chrome wheels gave the Regal’s dated seven-year-old styling new life.
But the biggest change? That would be the return of the storied GSX name for the first time nearly 30 years. Sold through Buick dealerships across the country, the GSX was built to go toe-to-toe with the top sport sedans from Europe. While its rear-wheel drive platform and big block V8 were long gone, the GSX was the fastest Buick on the market since the 1987 Regal GNX.
Like the GS Buicks that came before it, the SLP GSX came in stages. The Stage 1 package added 10 horsepower with the addition of a dual stainless steel cat-back exhaust system and free-flowing cold air induction system. If you opted for the Stage 2 package, a Hypertech Power Programmer with an SLP custom calibration tune was included with the Stage 1 components — good for an extra 20 horsepower. The range-topping Stage 3 package added a 3.5-inch smaller diameter supercharger pulley to crank up the boost. With an advertised 30 more horsepower than stock, the Stage 3 GSX was conservatively rated at 270 horsepower and 312 pound-feet of torque.
Since the parts were available from SLP over the counter for many years, there have been quite a few Regal GS sedans that have been cloned into a GSX for both appearance and performance purposes. Though the model didn’t officially debut until 2003, a licensed SLP dealer could perform the transformation on any Regal GS from 1997 to 2004. A true GSX can be verified from an SLP door jamb label with the correct part number for the kit.
Shultz’s Regal GSX was originally equipped with the Stage 1 performance package, but he has since upgraded it to a Stage 3 after tracking down the correct parts. He drives it daily and never gets tired of telling its story. Though it may not quite be as fast as the iconic muscle car that came before it, that didn’t stop the Regal GSX from living up to its performance heritage.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.