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Packing Heat:
The Buick Grand National

July 29, 2011 by Matt

1987 Buick Grand National GNX

Among other cars, I’ve owned a Toyota Supra. Yes, it was the turbocharged version, and yes, it was a 5-speed; I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m sorry to report, however, that it wasn’t the coveted “Mark 4” (4th generation) iteration of The Fast & The Furious fame, a model whose asking price, due to its hallowed status, seems to defy depreciation 13 years after it departed our shores. The Mark 4 is a potent car, and its often deep-pocketed owners have been able to extract pavement-buckling amounts of horsepower from its indestructible and eminently tunable 2JZ-GTE engine.

But I’m not here today to discuss the Mark 4 Supra. No—I want to talk about the one car owners of the vaunted Mark 4 have said time and again that they fear to line up next to on a dragstrip or at a stoplight: The ’82-’87 Buick Regal Grand National, or Grand Nash.

Buick Grand National Engine Bay

One of the few true muscle cars of the horsepower desert of the ’70s and ’80s, the GN took an unconventional—by muscle car standards—path to greatness. Instead of a typical American pushrod V8, the car was powered by a turbocharged (from ’84) and intercooled (from ’86) variant of Buick’s legendary V6 engine. The horsepower figure may have looked mild, even for the era, at 245 hp, but the Grand Nash had four key advantages for those in the know:

  1. The horsepower was underrated. Especially in the ultimate GNX incarnation of ’87, with 276 “factory” hp, a 4.6 second 0-60 time and 13.5 second 1/4 mile clearly meant that at least that much power was being sent to the rear wheels, as opposed to being measured at the flywheel, without driveline loss. 276 flywheel hp + a 3400 lb car do not add up to that kind of acceleration. Presumably, the actual power figure was deliberately misquoted so as not to further overshadow the GM range-topping sports car, the Corvette, whose engine, until ’92, only put out 230 hp.
  2. Torque. Horsepower may have “only” been 245, but the maximum torque available was a colossal 355 lb-ft (again, even more in the GNX). Chalk this figure up to the presence of the turbo, the long stroke and relatively low redline. The upshot of the massive torque figure was that in the mid-rpm range street racers typically play, the Grand Nash had a huge advantage over its imported rivals, whose smaller-displacement engines often required much higher revs to extract their full potential, over a smaller rev range.
  3. Easily-upgradable rear suspension. Unlike the independent rear ends of the ‘Vette or the import aspirants, the GN featured a good ol’ live axle, which would accept virtually the full arsenal of grip-enhancing bolt-ons dating back to the ’60s, from ladder and traction bars to stronger differentials.
  4. Easily-upgradable engine. Perhaps most significantly, tuners had the Grand Nash’s engine “figured out” within a year or two of its entry into the marketplace. The Buick V6 core was a known quantity, and the relatively new technology of turbocharging was quickly mastered. As with the rear suspension, building a bulletproof engine was as easy as flipping through the Summit Racing catalog, and extracting more power was simply a matter of improving on what the factory had already provided. The manifolds, intercooler piping and fuel system were all there—just install a more capacious one of each, tune and crank the boost. Bingo.

The car has a cult following, and considering its model run was relatively brief (as with all good GM cars), it’s something of a collector’s item. Still, if I had to pick one American-made car from the ’80s as a keeper, the Grand Nash would probably be it. I’d love to stare down a cocky Mark 4 Supra owner or two.

Filed under: Buick, Muscle Cars

2 Comments

  1. John D says:

    I love this car. All go and no show. Brilliant. Haven’t seen one in ages, though. (Used to notice them fairly regularly in NC, but have only seen one in KC in the past 5 years. But then again both coasts are much more in the ‘car scene’ than most anywhere in the midwest – besides Detroit and perhaps a few other specific areas.)

    I also love the people who drive these cars. You know that the person who owns a GN is 1) a real automotive enthusiast, and 2) cares very little what the uneducated masses (or poseurs) think about his ride. While it’s not an ugly car, one must know what it is in order to be able to pick it out on the street. It’s a muscle car ‘in cognito’. But it has a very distinct aura that attracts the right sort of people. That, and it’s always fun to see a showy import/petigreed sports car just blown away by what looks very much like your grandmother’s caprice. :)

    • Matt says:

      :) Yeah, I knew when I was writing this that it was very much a “John-bait” post, haha. Just wanted to cut loose and get geeky on a Friday afternoon, you know?

      I remember seeing one parked on the road that circles around the Grace Church parking lot back in the day. I drove by slowly, ogling the car, but the driver, whatever he was doing, didn’t really look like he appreciated the attention.

      It is an awesome car. Do a YouTube search for “Grand National dyno” for some fun viewing.

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