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History of the Buick Grand National

January 16, 2018

Growing up there were only two types of people who could be found driving Buicks: Grandparents, and college students whose recently deceased grandparents left them a car with GS on the badging. All that came to a change in the 1980’s.  A cult classic was in the mitts of being born. The Crown Jewel of Buick history, a modded up version of the Regal, which, despite its short life, remains a favorite today.

 

So where did it all begin?  In 1982 Buick wanted to capitalize on the ’81 and ’82 wins in the NASCAR Grand National Series and so it planned a run of only 100 Regal Grand Nationals. Cars & Concepts, ended up retrofitting 215 ’82 Regals. The Grand Nationals sported red pinstriping, two-tone grey paint, blacked out wheel openings and rocker panels, a new front air-dam, and a new front splitter on the outside, and a pair of silver cloth/black leather seats Lear-Siegler seats on the inside.

 

In Power came from a naturally aspirated 4.1L V6 that made a paltry 125hp.

 

While the 1982 was an attempt, Buick wanted to make the fastest production car made in America. In doing so it created the Buick Grand National. The Grand National or GN, was an appearance package for the Buick Regal T-Type with Buick channeling Henry Ford and offering the GN in any color as long as it was black.

 

Originally intended for a run of 100 units, Cars and Concepts of Brighton, Michigan, retrofitted 215 Regals with the GN package. Most obvious was the light silver gray firemist paint added to each side. Red pinstripes and billboard shadow lettering proclaiming "BUICK" were applied. The wheel opening moldings and rocker panel moldings were blacked out using black vinyl tape. Finally, a front air dam and rear spoiler were installed. On the inside, special "Lear-Siegler" seats were installed. These seats are fully adjustable and were covered with silver brandon cloth with black vinyl inserts. The front seat had Buick's "6" emblem embroidered onto them. To finish it off, a special clock delete plate was added to the instrument panel which contained the yellow and orange "6" logo and the words "GRAND NATIONAL BUICK MOTOR DIVISION.")

 

While there was no Grand National for 1983, it’s not because Buick had been slacking off; Buick had been working on a much sexier successor to the ’82. The ’84 GN came in all black paint, the signature look of the line, and with a turbo 3.8L V6 that produced a respectable 200hp and an awesome 300 ft-lbs of torque. The “little V6” posted quarter-mile times at the drag strip that were just a bit slower than the Corvette and way faster than the V8-powered Camaro.

 

When GM added an intercooler to the Grand National in 1986 it started to become not just a muscle car that proved that there is, in fact, a replacement for displacement, it turned into one of the most potent sports cars of its day. After the engine received a few more tweaks in 1987 the GN was making 245hp and 355 lb-ft of torque.

 

 Then in 1987, the Buick Regal Grand National, Turbo T, and GNX hit the market solidifying its place in automotive history.  The Grand National, Turbo T, and GNX were three of the baddest performance cars you could get during the Emission Wars segment in auto history. That might be difficult to contemplate today, but over 30 years ago, it was a reality. Let’s look back and see what made the 1987 turbo Giants from Buick three of the most revered muscle cars of their time.

 

We all know the early to middle 1980s were not kind to the muscle car. Between the insurance companies and Uncle Sam putting the squeeze on muscle cars a decade prior, performance as we knew it had practically disappeared. But toward the end of the 1980s, things started to change. Horsepower was slowly increasing and the muscle car was slowly making a comeback. And if you asked what car was on the radar of many muscle car aficionados in 1987, the Buick Grand National was probably high on their list.

 

The 1987 Grand National was equipped with a sequential fuel injection 3.8-liter turbocharged V6 mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. This combination was good for 245 horsepower and 355 foot-pounds of torque. Motor Trend put the Grand National to the test for their August 1987 issue. They achieved a 0 to 60 time of 6.1 seconds and ran the quarter mile in 14.7 seconds with a speed of 95.1 mph. And just in case you’re wondering, the Grand National was just as fast as the Chevrolet Corvette from 0 to 60 and in the quarter mile. Something every Corvette owner during that time frame was highly offended by on the pavement. Making the Grand National the car you did not want to pull up next to you at a stop light or in your rearview mirror.

 

The Grand National came standard with an abundance of performance equipment. Some of the highlights include a 3.42 performance axle ratio, performance-tuned Gran Touring suspension, and 15-inch chrome-plated steel wheels. Inside, the driver is greeted by reclining bucket seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a full-length operating console. And most importantly, the Grand National only came in one color…. Black

 

The Buick Regal Turbo T was marketed as an alternative to those who wanted the look and performance of the Grand National but at a lower price and with slightly reduced weight. The same 3.8-liter SFI turbo V6 with intercooler used by the Grand National was part of the package. Checking off option code WE4 for the Regal Turbo T also got you a car with aluminum wheels, sport mirrors, front spoiler, and “T” fender badging. Inside, the package also included air conditioning, bucket seats with console, tachometer, and turbo boost gauge.

 

According to a 1987 Buick product information bulletin, the Regal Turbo T was created because parts, such as chrome plated wheels and certain interior pieces, place the Grand National in a weight class which is capacity constrained. Sales of the Grand National cannot surpass 33 percent of Regal turbo engine creation. Therefore, 66 percent of turbo sales must be with other Regals. Since the Regal Turbo T was produced solely for the 1987 model year, it’s pretty rare. Production of this rare coupe is reported to be around 1,540 units sold.

 

If the Grand National and Turbo T didn’t satisfy your need for speed, you could step up to the GNX. For around $30,000, you bought bragging rights to a car that could outrun just about any U.S. production car. The GNX was produced in conjunction with ASC/McLaren. The GNX used the same turbocharged 3.8-liter engine as the Turbo T and Grand National but it gained a different Garrett AiResearch turbo, transmission fluid cooler, and a reworked ROM computer chip. The GNX also features Buick-Bosch sequential-port fuel injection and the shape and number of fins in the intercooler have been altered for better performance. And just like the Grand National and Turbo T, the only transmission available for this behemoth is a 4-speed automatic. Since production of the GNX was kept to around 500 units, these are the rarest of all the Grand Nationals and the most sought after by collectors today who have the funds to acquirer one from a collector.

 

Back in the day, Auto magazines all reported the GNX was capable of 0 to 60 run times of 5.4 seconds and quarter mile runs in 13.3 seconds at 104 mph. That’s half a second faster than the Corvette from 0 to 60 and 1.2 seconds faster in the quarter mile.

 

Buick’s official specs for the car were that it made 276hp and 360 lb-ft of torque, which pushed it to 60mph in 5.7 seconds and did a quarter mile in 14 seconds. The only faster accelerating car was the Lamborghini Countach. When the press tested the GNX they soon realized that something wasn’t quite right: on the dyno the GNX proved to make 300hp and an insane 400 lb-ft of torque and on the drag strip it did 0-60 in a scant 4.5 seconds and did the quarter mile in only 13.26 seconds. GM lied to protect the Corvette’s image. To put that kind of speed in perspective, a 2013 Porsche Cayman S goes from a stand-still to 60mph in 4.7 seconds.

 

Black Air: The Buick Grand National Documentary. Is a great movie to watch if you’re in dire need of a GN flick.

 

Of all the cars GM pushed to the market in the 80’s, few are as legendary as the Grand National.

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