Sky Is The Limit: Greg Orr’s LS-Powered 1961 Buick Skylark

Greg Orr wanted to build something different –e knew he wanted it to be fast, but he didn’t want to do the usual Camaro or Chevelle build. He was looking for something that was lightweight and could cut through the air at over 200 miles per hour. While hanging out at the PRI show in Indianapolis,his good friend, Pro Mod racer Chuck Samuel,  suggested the idea of building an old Buick Skylark. At first, Greg wasn’t convinced, but after looking at the platform a bit closer he decided the flat sides of the car would slice through the air nicely, and the 112-inch wheelbase Buick was relatively small compared to other platforms. It was decided: it would be LS-powered with twin turbos shoved into a Buick Skylark. It was time to begin the search.

Greg Orr’s LS-Powered 1961 Buick Skylark is fast,…like really fast. So fast in fact that he uses a parachute to slow down after a 1/2mile pass.

“I wanted to build a hard-to-find, fast, street-driven car with the possibility of going racing,” Greg says. Greg is a contractor from Pueblo, Colorado, and he has owned some very fast street cars in the past. He had a 2012 Cadillac CTS-V that was a SEMA car, which he commented:That car had big brakes and a 416-inch LSX. I threw a 300 shot of nitrous on it and went 166 in the ½-mile.” 

“I also owned a 2004 Lamborghini Gallardo, but believe it or not, it would only do 128 mph in the ½-mile.” From his experience racing on the runways, he knew his new car would need big power to hit the 200 mph mark.

A big package in a small space:this Dart LS engine block is sitting at 427 cubic-inches, with two Precision 76mm turbos cranking out 25 pounds of boost to make over 1,400 horsepower.

“Finding a non-rusted Skylark wasn’t easy,” Greg shares. Once he finally had a straight, non-rusted Buick in his possession he started planning the build. Originally, it was going to be a slightly modified car, but as it tends to, that all changed. “Once the car was apart and boxes started showing up at the shop, I figured I might as well go all in.”. The car would be something he could cruise around town in and go to a car show as well as run 200 mph in the ½-mile. His biggest challenge originally with the build was fitting the 427 cubic-inch Dart LS engine block, two Precision turbos and intercoolers all under the hood of the small Buick.

“Plenty of people have found ways to get big packages in small spaces,” Greg says. “I knew we could figure it out.”

The custom splitter helps this 1961 Buick cut a hole through the air at over 200 mph. The Colorado front plate on Greg’s Buick says “RUNDRTY.”

From the factory, the Buick Skylark only weighed 2,700 pounds; Greg added a total of 1,400 horsepower to that 2,700-pound car to build what he hoped would hit 200 mph. 

“I learned a lot the hard way about ½-mile racing,” he says. “I figured I had it licked when I showed up with a Lamborghini, but I certainly didn’t.” Greg wanted his new build to be fast and safe, so he included a full Chromoly roll cage into the interior of the car. “I wanted to bring the safety of ¼-mile drag racing into the ½-mile game,” Greg explains. Because he also wanted to put his wife in this car and drive it on cruise nights, he designed the door bars to be removable.

The interior of this baby-blue rocket is very plush, which is exactly how Greg wanted it to be: a car he can comfortably drive to the store or a car show. He even made the door bars for the cage removable for weekend cruises. In keeping with the creature comforts, he also installed air-conditioning.

Tuning for the LS engine is handled by Greg’s son, James Schauer. James runs his own shop, Build Tune Race,and also has his own YouTube channel. James not only tunes the Buick but also goes to the track with Greg to make adjustments, especially with the ramping of the turbo boost for the Skylark. The car is set up to run on race gas at the track and regular pump gas on the street. After one of the meets at Pikes Peak Airstrip in Colorado, where the Skylark made high-speed passes, Greg drove the Skylark to a gas station, dumped in some pump gas and drove the car home.

Greg’s Skylark is clearly one of the oldest vehicles making ½-mile runs, especially compared to the McLaren parked next to it. However, the massive LS power gives the old Buick the upper hand compared to modern muscle.

Initial testing of the car wasn’t perfect, just like any brand new build goes. They took the car to TX2K and the chassis setup wasn’t quite right. “I changed the four-link setup and angles after talking to some guys who run the drag radials and that seemed to fix it,”  Greg explains. The Skylark runs Toyo A888 tires on a 7-inch rims on the front –no skinnies on this car, because Greg wanted it to handle and to still have solid, confident braking capability.. On the rear, he’s using Mickey Thompson 315 drag radials on Billet Specialties Win Lite wheels. To fix the setup, Greg also changed the wicker on his rear spoiler to calm the car down on track.

The detail on this build is second to none. Rarely do you find a car that goes 200 mph with this nice of a door panel.

Greg later took the car to Pikes Peak Airstrip Attack ½-mile side-by-side racing to try achieving his goal of topping 200 mph. On the first hit right off the trailer he netted 191 mph. He and Schauer made some changes and then got it up to 196 mph at 25-pounds of boost. For the final pass of the weekend, by setting the boost at 30-pounds, Greg hit the magic number:200.8 mph (only using 28.5-pounds of boost). Out of 205 cars at the event, Greg’s Buick was 19th fastest overall and certainly the oldest.

The stance of this car, along with the Billet Specialties Win Lite wheels and the patina paint really make this Buick stand out.

The 200 mph pass was accomplished with the Dart LS with Diamond Racing pistons, Manley Performance Pro-I rods, a Howard’s Cams camshaft and a compression ratio of 10:1 using a Holley Dominator and two 76mm 7675 Precision Turbos. The 1,400-plus horsepower is fed to the Ford 9-inch rear end with a 3:25 gear ratio via a Turbo 400 transmission. Stopping power comes from Wilwood brakes and a parachute which Greg uses after a fast pass.

That is not a nitrous bottle hiding behind the front passenger seat. That is a Safecraft fire suppression system, just in case things get a bit too hot during a pass.

“One of the problems with the car is the speed versus the safety equipment. One pass and I will get kicked off of the drag strip,” Greg shares. He anticipates running at least high sevens in the car on the dragstrip. If the sky is good, and the gods are looking upon me, I think sevens is doable,” he comments.

We just happened to be at Holley LS Fest in Kentucky last week where Greg and his team were able to run a 8.45 at 167 mph in the ¼-mile. This was only the fourth pass for the Skylark at the dragstrip. We xpect to see this car in the 7-second range very soon.

“This car still has factory glass in it, uses a factory key for the ignition switch, and everything is functional,” Greg shares. Believe it or not, the build only took nine months to complete and what Greg loves about the car is its individuality. “The car is unique in itself. I like that I was able to breathe new life into something that time nearly forgot.”

Launching for the ½-mile runs is done similar to ¼-mile drag racing: with a transbrake, seen in the center console.

Greg isn’t finished and has a new goal for the Skylark: he wants to be able to say he doubled the factory speed for the car. In 1961, the Buick Skylark was rated a top speed of 104 mph Greg wants to double that and hit 208.. With Greg Orr’s build and more tuning by James Schauer, it seems like the sky’s the limit for this Skylark.

The 1961 Buick Skylark commonly lines up against newer foreign cars at events, however, rarely can the more modern cars compete with the Skylark’s twin-turbo LS power.

 

About the author

Rob Krider

Rob Krider’s mantra is “Race Anything, Win Everything” and is a multi-champion driver who currently competes in the NASA Honda Challenge series.
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