We get an eclectic mix of cars through the shop and one of them caught my eye recently, a 1987 Buick Grand National. Some, are going to ask - seriously, a Buick?
Lets get into a bit of what it is first and why its worth a look.
One of the items that is often missed when looking at these cars is time and context, so for both, its time to turn back to 1980 and the state of American muscle cars. The CAFE laws (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) passed in the mid 1970's and as each year passed there was a greater call for fuel mileage and for lowering emissions. Canada, also had the Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards Act and other legislation at the same time.
Automakers scrambled to find the economy in current engines and, again, for context, the Chevrolet Corvette made just 250 horsepower from its small-block V-8 engine until 1992. Most manufacturers ended up limiting horsepower on existing engines while they worked on better longer term solutions. This was a time when smaller 'economy' cars were the main sellers. In a bold move, and a throw back to its racing days, Buick management started working on a 'secret' project to get back into the game. Oddly enough the initial idea was not secret as it was part of Ken Baker's (a Buick engineer) idea to help a local Boy Scout group understand about engines and one project idea he came up with was turbocharging a Buick engine. The results were enough to turn heads in Buicks engineering department.
Although under the same umbrella, GM was very protective of its Corvette and Buick wanted to draw on its stock car racing history at...well, the Grand Nationals.
The car was powered by a six cylinder 3.8 litre turbo that had been part of the secret development authorized by the new head of Buick in the mid 1970's stemming from that Boy Scout project. From there it blossomed into the idea of building an Indy pace car. In terms of technology it was far advanced including knock sensors and some initial electronic spark controls. By the mid 1980's the engine was further developed with an intercooler and Buick produced almost 21,000 to keep up with demand in 1987.
In 1986, Car and Driver magazine found that the car they were given to test was actually producing 290 horsepower instead of the advertised 235. Some suggested that Buick had purposefully understated engine power in order to keep the cost of car insurance less expensive for owners, while others have said the figures published was to draw less attention to its actual power. As Car and Driver stated, the 1986 Buick (Regal) Grand National was quicker in the quarter mile than some of the best that Ferrari and Porsche could throw at it. Including even the legendary Lamborghini Countach quarter mile times. That also included beating the venerable Corvette by a second - thus the 'embarrassment' from GM. Add to that Buick was more known as a luxury brand and wasn't really considered (yet) as a muscle car. By the time the production run ended though, it was clear that was exactly what the Grand National was.
The 1987 version we have in the shop is all black looking as sinister as it was supposed to when it was made. The car came out during a time when chrome was still king and its all blacked out 'Darth Vader' look turned as many heads as it was supposed to.
Not everything was state of the art, however, as the car still came equipped with front and rear drum brakes and by todays standards rather small 15 inch wheels. Regardless of its pitfalls it was a show stopper from both a performance and technical achievement standard. Its lines are...well a mid 80's Buick, but the dark and 'sinister' look is sought after, particularly in the even more rare GNX (Grand National eXperimental). That car was the fastest production car in 1987, and that is all that needs to be said. So seriously - yes a Buick. We love all cars, we may specialize in European and exotics but sometimes you come across a legend and you have to take a second look.
By the way, the car is getting prepped for a dyno run after a winter of storage and we will post a few videos of it on our YouTube channel over the next few days