Inspired by Chevy’s ’65 Chevelle Z16 Malibu SS-396, Buick engineers developed the FLINT FLYERS: BUICK’S SECRET GS SKYLARKS. Ken Kayser owns a rare survivor that’s prominently featured in his new Buick performance history book.
Every Musclecar enthusiast knows something about the Chevelle SS-396, Pontiac GTO and Olds 4-4-2, and Chevy Malibu (RPO L37) SS-396 aficionados know all about the highly-prized 200 Z16 Malibu SS 396/375 Police Specials. However, virtually no one knows about Buick’s ‘66 Gran Sport Ultra-High Compression 200 FLINT FLYERS. Thanks to Ken Kayser, that’s all about to change!
Only 12 Pilot-build “Promotional Drag-Racing” (RPO L78) Gran Sports of the planned 200 were produced by Buick Engineering in 1966. And, only one very special FLINT FLYER survived and was found by Ken Kayser with its original powertrain and very rare metallic racing brakes! Finding and purchasing this unique Skylark provided the impetus for Kayser writing his new 622-page award-winning book – Buick’s “Flint Flyers” Skylark & GRAN SPORT History – and including five chapters on RPO L78 GS Skylarks.
Ken Kayser’s engineering and executive career resume at General Motors is as impressive as the research and reference-quality books he has produced since retiring in 2008. In addition to a limited-edition coffee-table book – Zora’s #58053 – celebrating the first L-88 Development Test Car and Duntov-influenced special Corvettes – and his first Buick book, he has authored and published four Corvette and Zora Arkus-Duntov-related tomes. They are all required-reading for GM, Chevy, Corvette enthusiasts and automotive history buffs. Kayser discovered the actual L-88 Development car decades later, left, restored it and often displays it when speaking at special events.
Kayser started his career as an engineering co-op student at GMI (Kettering University) in 1968, and spent a couple of years building L88 and ZL1 big-blocks in Tonawanda. During that time, he interfaced with Duntov on a regular basis. He later worked his way up to Mark V Big Block Business Unit Manager. He was transferred to GM’s newly-formed Powertrain Division in Brighton, MI in late-1993 and he purchased Buick’s third Chief Engineer F. A. “Dutch” Bower’s mansion built in 1930.
From 1995 to 2010 Ken continued to devote much of his spare time to researching GM, Buick, Chevrolet, and the Corvette. In 1996 Ken began regularly attending the annual NCRS Florida Regional Meet held in January originally at Cypress Gardens and then at “Old Town” in Kissimmee. At the 2011 NCRS Florida meet, Tyler Townsley asked if Ken wanted to eat lunch with him at someplace other than the food court trucks? Tyler drove to his nearby favorite Cracker Barrel where he told Ken his sad story of a ‘66 Buick Gran Sport factory racecar for sale in Fort Meade, FL. Tyler wanted to buy the 5,000-mile Buick gem however his wife insisted that three Corvettes was enough! If Tyler wanted the Buick, he had to sell one of the Corvettes and Tyler passed on what was the rare FLINT FLYER featured here!
Knowing the background history of the FLINT FLYER name – three Buick executives started the L.A.W. Aeroplane Co. in Flint using a converted Buick engine – Ken was interested in the car. The L.A.W. plane was called the FLINT FLYER and it first flew over the city of Flint on September 3, 1910. Thereafter, racing Buick automobiles were often referred to as Flint Flyers up to WW II.
Buick’s 1953 “Nailhead” V-8 engine was slated to end production after the 1966 model year in favor of a new design V-8 engine for 1967. Buick Engineering planned for a 1966 Grand Finale Nailhead Ultra-High Compression (11.1-to-1) V-8 engine generating maximum horsepower and torque. Buick’s key UHC components were a Rochester QuadraJet four-barrel carb, Delco-Remy distributor with a custom advance curve, high domed pistons, and a high-lift 6,000-rpm camshaft. Buick planned for only 200 UHC engines when Buick’s late-1965 Skylark Gran Sport was gasping for survival thanks to Chevy’s SS-396, Pontiac’s GTO, and Oldsmobile’s 4-4-2. Buick designed the 200-unit UHC 401-cubic-inch V-8 solely to boost its lagging ‘66 Gran Sport sales.
Eric Dahlquist revealed Buick’s UHC Gran Sport V-8 in an article in the April 1966 HOT ROD that hit newsstands February 1, 1966. Drag racer Robert Altman, Service Manager at Hosmer Buick in Bartow, FL read that article about the 200 Buick drag race cars. He asked William “Bill” Hosmer his boss and dealer principal, if they could get one of the allegedly already built Gran Sports in December 1965.
Bob had regularly purchased a new high-performance Buick every year since 1955, starting when he worked at Howell Buick that became Hosmer Buick in 1958. They called the Buick Jacksonville Zone rep George Keelean who said, “Buick doesn’t make any race cars.” Bill Hosmer replied, “According to HOT ROD magazine they do, so please pass along our request. Word soon came back from Buick to Bill Hosmer: “He could have one of the UHC Gran Sports, but since there was a delay in their assembly, he could still submit a custom order for it.”
Ken Kayser believes that there was a “hold” placed on Buick by the Corporation due to the almost ten-year old 1957 factory racing ban. GM was the last of the Big Three automakers adhering to the ban. The issue came to the attention of GM’s Board when Chevrolet announced its 200 specially-built ‘65 Z16 Chevelle Malibu SS-396 musclecars, powered by 375-horsepower Tonawanda Big Block Mark IV engines on June 26, 1965. On June 28, 1965, Buick received Ed Coles blessing for 200 UHC Gran Sports for the 1966 model year!
No matter the cause of the December 1965 extended delay of the 1966 Grand Finale UHC V-8, Buick management panicked as the April HOT ROD article would send excited potential customers to dealerships. Buick needed their highly-touted QuadraJet and modified Delco-Remy distributors visible in the marketplace to save face. Kayser discovered in Buick’s 1966 production records that the standard 1966 RPO L74 Buick Gran Sport 325-horsepower 400-inch V-8 engine was hurriedly modified and rushed into production, adding only the obvious and easy to discern Rochester QuardaJet carb and Delco-Remy distributor. Thus, 132 RPO-L76 Gran Sports were assembled with the new prescription V-8’s rated at 340-horsepower in January and February of 1966 to sprinkle across all Buick zones. That left a remaining balance of sixty-eight RPO-L78 UHC V-8 Buick Gran Sports to be assembled with the all-out racing engines.
Buick scheduled a typical one dozen Nailhead Grand Finale Pilot Gran Sports with the RPO-L78 UHC V-8 for the second half of March 1966, including Bob Altman’s highly-optioned car. The remaining 56 Gran Sports with Grand Finale RPO-L78 UHC V-8s would then be assembled in April 1966. Buick decided not to rate the horsepower and torque of RPO L78 UHC engines, and officially categorized them as “Unestablished”. The RPO engine numbers L74, L76, and L78, were not issued by Buick, they were assigned to all car divisions by the Corporation.
However, after the dozen RPO-L78 (UHC) FLINT FLYERS: BUICK’S SECRET GS SKYLARKS were built GM management nixed the remaining 56 cars and the dozen were re-designated: “Drag-race dealer loaner cars for six-months; to be returned to Buick and scrapped.” Bill Hosmer sold the future FLINT FLYER to Bob the day it arrived on April 7, 1966. It is unknown whether Buick’s policy change to a “racing loaner” was late to arrive or simply ignored!
I asked Ken Kayser what key factors caused his keen interest in the FLINT FLYERS: BUICK’S SECRET GS SKYLARKS, not to mention undertaking such a significantly comprehensive book project? “First off was the lettered FLINT FLYER front fenders. I knew the meaning and significance of the name FLINT FLYER and that was a very striking visual and historic point of interest. It just drew me in. I never dreamed I would locate the “Florida Highwaymen” African American artist, James “Lone Star” Camp, who lettered the car for Bob as well as the Hosmer Dealership windows. Bob Altman’s name on the door personalized it and I was very excited to learn his wife Betty is still alive and so honored to be part of the FLINT FLYER’s new history.”
NOTE: Starting in the 1950s, self-taught African-American painters known as “Highwaymen” made a living capturing Florida’s natural landscapes and selling their vivid paintings on the sides of roads throughout Florida. https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/florida-highwaymen
“Then there’s was the combined incredible rarity of Buick’s original “Special Car Order” UHC engine, ST-300 transmission, 4.30-to-1 Positive Traction gears, and the awesome J56 Metallic Racing Brakes. Discovering UHC engine re-builder Robert Birge helped put all the fabulous specific engine details together. Plus, finding all of Bob’s personal touches still in place: Hooker Headers, side-mounted exhaust outlets, dash switches for the hot-wired transmission and electric fuel “boost” pump, a G-Force meter, Stewart Warner Greenline gauges, rear air shocks, Buick dual-note horns, and Bob’s “Specially Built by Buick” brass dash plaque. The FLINT FLYER covered just 5,065 miles since new and still has its original Rally wheel with Goodyear Red Line spare, and never used bumper jack, cigarette lighter and ashtray. Bob’s four-way flasher, the tissue dispenser and his original papers and booklets are more eye candy that helped seal the deal!”
I asked Ken if there were any unique takeaways from his overall Buick experience? “It’s all about celebrating the mostly anonymous great people employed by automobile manufacturers around the world who envisioned their legendary automobile creations, now sought by today’s enthusiasts and collectors! Each and every unique automobile is an everlasting tribute to its visionary dreamers and stylists. Unfortunately, the engineers, managers, and workers who hand crafted each one with personal pride and passion mostly go unknown. In the case of the FLINT FLYER, I’ve met many Buick Flint employees over the years who were concurrent with my GM career from the mid-1960’s through GM’s horrific bankruptcy in late 2008.”
Ken Kayser’s Skylark GS FLINT FLYER debuted on March 27, 2021 along with his 622-page, 5-pound book, Buick’s “Flint Flyers” Skylark & GRAN SPORT History, at Kelley Buick in Bartow, FL. Covering the ‘53 Motorama Skylark Dream Car through the ’87 GNX, this outstanding book covers Gran Sport history, vintage Stage I & Stage II variants, drag racing, and also recognizes, honors and names over 650 people who played a role in the creation and the 55-year preservation of the FLINT FLYER featured here. Kayser Kayser, right, went on to win the coveted “Harlow H. Curtice GM Hometown Memorial Award” for the FLINT FLYER on August 21, 2021, presented by the Mid-Michigan SAE at the Back To The Bricks show.
For more information about Ken Kayser’s publishing portfolio, including his latest Buick book showcasing FLINT FLYERS: BUICK’S SECRET GS SKYLARKS, please visit https://www.tachometerpublishing.com/