“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”– well actually 30 years ago right here in the great ol’ U.S. of A., it wasn’t an 840-hp Dodge Demon that ruled with an iron fist, or the fiberglass-fantastic Corvette, no – it was a bad, black Buick that reigned supreme. And in a decade forever marred by memories of anemic horsepower, this particular car re-wrote the rules, becoming a legend in its day.
Taking its name from the NASCAR race series where Buick had seen great success, a special Regal debuted in 1982, called the Grand National. Originally intended as a limited edition, the ’82 GN was charcoal gray, not black, with custom silver mist-painted sides. Also part of the package were special seats, decals, “6” logos and a naturally aspirated 4.1L V6 making 125 lackluster ponies. In the mix however, a handful of up-optioned Regal Sport Coupes received the GN package and the 175-hp/275 lb-ft turbocharged 3.8L V6 motor, soon to be both famous and infamous.
For ’83, the GN was gone for the moment and the Sport Coupe model was rebadged as the T-Type. Turbo performance improved with the addition of factory headers, a 200-4R 4-speed overdrive tranny and stout 3.42 rear axle gears, with the unassuming Buick now putting-down 190-hp/280 lb-ft.
Nineteen Eighty-Four would see the return of the Grand National, now completely and fittingly cloaked in sinister black. With sequential fuel injection and computer-controlled ignition, the LC2 3.8L turbo “6” now pumped-out 200-hp/300 lb-ft, only five ponies shy of the 350-cid/V8-powered C4 Corvette of the day. Off the line, C4 owners were often left gawking in amazement – and on the big end: a stock-boosted (10-psi) GN was only a few tenths off the Vette’s mark. It’s fair to say that 1984 was the beginning of the young “Jedi” of turbo-powered Buicks descent towards the dark side.
By 1986, the Grand National’s turbo motor received an air-to-air intercooler that increased the evil coupes spooling “force” to 235-horses at 4,000 rpm and 330 lb-ft-at around 2,400 rpm. To many who remember them when new, the scary whine of an ’86 GN spooling-up, with a slight tilt of its chassis and the neck-jerking acceleration that followed, was an experience never forgotten.
Nineteen eighty-seven marked the final year for the GN, and its turbo Buick brethren and the pinnacle of their power. With the 3.8L hairdryer-induced V6 now making 245-hp/355 lb-ft, modified versions with a set of slicks were terrifying on the street and virtually unbeatable at the track. So powerful was the draw of Buick’s turbocharged six-cylinder saber, it was available in all Regal models for ’87.
Signifying an appropriate goodbye to their great boosted brood and as if Lord Vader himself requisitioned the Empire to build the baddest GN ever, Buick unleashed the limited production Grand National Experimental (GNX) in 1987.
Allied with the dark forces of Buick-McLaren Engine Technologies and American Sunroof Company (ASC) carried-out the devious plans and built 547 examples of the grandest Grand National.
Fitted with an improved Garrett T-3 turbocharger with a ceramic impeller, a larger intercooler, more aggressive computer programming, free-flowing low-restriction exhaust, a revised 200-4R transmission with a specific torque converter and tranny cooler, along with beefier suspension/chassis components and bigger wheels/tires, not to mention subtle and functional body mods – the Empire (GM) had attained it’s ultimate weapon.
The GNX was advertised as making an underrated 276-hp/360 lb-ft, although in reality, numbers were in the 300-hp/400 lb-ft range. And Performance was unworldly, with the big Buick hurling itself to 60mph in the mid 4s and the 1/4-mile in the low 13s, the new GNX didn’t just rival its GN/T-Type/Turbo-T cousins and all V8s of the day, it vanquished many exotics costing twice or three-times as much.
Even after the last Grand Nationals entered hyperspace, their turbocharged six-cylinder legacy led to equally impressive performers, like the ’89 Pontiac 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am and GMCs AWD turbo truck tandem – the 1991 Syclone and 1992-’93 Typhoon.
Without argument and despite it’s embracing the dark side with two less cylinders than usually required, Buick’s Turbo Regals, especially the 1984-’87 Grand National/ ‘87GNX, will always be counted among the greatest muscle cars in history…and deservedly so.