Vintage Views: Buick Grand National

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Oct 4, 2019 | Buick | Posted in Buyer's Guides | From the April 2018 issue | Never miss an article


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One of the most iconic–and feared–muscle cars of the ’80s came with a somewhat unorthodox drivetrain: a turbocharged V6 backed by an automatic transmission. Meet the Buick Grand National and its variants, including the nearly all-conquering GNX.

Buick V6 engines, both turbocharged and naturally aspirated, were all over the place during that decade: They were raced in Trans-Am, IMSA GTP and even the Indy 500. It was the future–or at least that’s what we were told.

This look forward also featured smaller cars, so like its GM siblings, Buick’s two-door coupe was downsized for the 1978 model year. The optional turbocharged V6 included on that new Regal’s spec sheet was radical stuff at the time, while the car dominated NASCAR competition with a good ole V8 under the hood. Richard Petty won the 1981 Daytona 500 in a Regal, Bobby Allison did the same the following year, and Buick claimed the 1981 and 1982 manufacturer’s titles.

The brand celebrated by gifting the world with several muscular options. After testing the waters in 1982 and ’83, Buick unleashed a string of machines that still perfectly capture the day’s street performance scene.


This is the year that the turbo Regal fully matured. Sequential fuel injection gave the Grand National’s turbo V6 engine 200 horsepower, putting it on par with the Mustang GT and Camaro Z28. The Grand National also received a stiffer suspension, wider wheels, and front and rear spoilers. Only one color was available–black–but buyers looking for other hues could get the same drivetrain in the Regal T-Type. The turbo Regals would carry over into 1985 largely unchanged.


Time to turn up the wick once again, with an intercooler that allowed the Grand National and T-Type to produce 235 horsepower. A tweaked Grand National was a 5.0-liter Mustang’s worst enemy.


This would be the final year for Buick’s G-body, and the Regal went out with a bang. The T-Type was replaced by the “T” package that, like the Grand National, now produced 245 horsepower, enough for a 13-second quarter-mile. An optional WE4 package featured aluminum wheels and brake drums.

Buick delivered more than 20,000 Grand Nationals just in 1987. Today, Bring a Trailer shows Grand Nationals for sale starting in the teens.

The 1987 model year also saw Buick upping the ante with their GNX. McLaren Engines did the under-hood work, subbing in dual exhaust, an upsized turbocharger and a recalibrated ECU. Engine output was underrated at just 276 horsepower. The rest of the upgrades were handled by ASC and included tweaking the transmission, installing a torque arm rear suspension, and fitting 16-inch aluminum wheels wearing 50-series Goodyear tires. Look closely and you’ll notice the full gauge package, flares and front fender vents.

Like the Grand National, the GNX only came in black. Car and Driver recorded a 4.7-second sprint to 60 for the model, which was quicker than anything else available that year save the Porsche 911 Turbo. While a base Grand National could be bought new for less than $20,000, the GNX stickered at nearly $30,000. There were only 547 examples of the GNX built; today, Hagerty says to budget about $100,000 for an excellent one.

Practical Guidance


Kirban Performance has catered to the Buick Grand National since the cars were new, and company founder Dennis Kirban shared some tips.

It’s best to avoid one with T-tops. T-tops weaken the overall structure of the car. They also create wind noise and water leaks.

Always check the SPID label–also known as the trunk ID label. This label is glued to the underside of every trunk lid. It has the 17-digit VIN number and all of the options on that car. Example: Limited slip was not standard but would be listed as code G80.

That seat material in the Grand National and the GNX is Pallex cloth and is next to impossible to buy today. None of the reproductions match it exactly.

Paint jobs in 1986 and 1987 were not the greatest, and the black showed even more of the problems.

Flush the brake fluid. Brake fluid should be clear and not look like Pepsi or Coke. Buick failed to tell owners to do this, and dirty brake fluid contributed to Powermaster brake issues.

Check the boost lines to the wastegate actuator–critical because if it swells up from the heat and falls off, you could over-boost the engine and blow a head gasket.

The first thing to address is to stiffen up the suspension. GM left out, on every car, four or six lower body bushings, so there is a gap in those spots. Install the front frame brace set and the rear seat brace set. You will notice the difference before you drive a block.

Install the fuel pump feeder kit. It plugs in and delivers a constant 12 volts to your fuel pump. Install an adjustable fuel regulator. This way you get good fuel flow. An upgraded pump should also be done as the fuel system was marginal at best 30 years ago. Don’t forget about the fuel filter–usually overlooked because a new owner may not realize that it is located in front of the axle, under the car.

These cars love cool night air.

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tuna55 MegaDork
4/3/18 3:02 p.m.
grover GRM+ Memberand Reader
4/3/18 6:14 p.m.

I'm not sure if there is another car in history that was so instantly recognizable by sound alone.  Always loved these. 

livinon2wheels GRM+ Memberand New Reader
4/3/18 6:46 p.m.

In reply to grover :

of course there are...just about any ferrari or opened up rx-7...or one of my favorites an opened up subaru with unequal length headers...that boxer rumble turns heads. :) 

te72 New Reader
4/3/18 8:31 p.m.

If I didn't know any better, I'd say that mountain in the background of the top picture was Superstition Mountain, on the east side of the Phoenix valley...


These are definitely cool cars. I'm sure mine is as fast as most of them, but man... they've imprinted a fear of them in my mind, from seeing so many of them rocket down the track in 10 seconds or less.

malibuguy GRM+ Memberand Reader
4/3/18 8:38 p.m.

My dads best friend bought his Ttype new in 87, so I pretty much grew up with it.

The feeling of that thing on drag radials launching at 5psi still makes my back twinge in memory 

Klayfish PowerDork
4/4/18 5:52 a.m.

One of the top 5 cars of my teenage dreams.  Had a poster of it on my wall.

StuntmanMike New Reader
4/4/18 7:44 a.m.

I still love these cars but at the same time, I get tired or hearing how these are faster than anything else, even current cars. Yea they dominated the streets 20 years ago, and especially when modified, but just don't compare to todays hot rods.

4/4/18 12:26 p.m.

In reply to tuna55 :

I remember Buddy Ingersoll beating Bob Glidden in his mountain motor t-bird. My brother started what was Eastern Peformance which specialized in Buicks. He bought an 84 GN and then sold it to get an 87 GN. 245hp is way under-rated as out of the box those cars ran mid 13's on streets and with no cat on slicks 12's was easy. The biggest issues with them were oiling and head gaskets. When you pump 25 to 30psi into them they start popping gaskets.

The car was years ahead of its time and Buddy help spearhead that with his Regal in Comp Eliminator then Pro Stock.

My brother STILL has his GN and I was fortunate to be part of that evolution of cars and even saw the prototype GNX's at the Buick meet in Bowling Green, KY.

crankwalk GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
4/4/18 1:08 p.m.

Turbo Buicks and SyTy's are the only dream cars I've had as a kid that when I've gone to look at them with cash in hand I just couldn't pull the trigger.


Boost, nostalgia, cool 80's looks (IMO), but I sit in it and they just all feel like awfully cheap garbage from dark days at GM.  The need slide speedo that was straight from my grandmother's Olds 88. The door trim, shifter.....everything. The materials and construction just make me feel like these are better kept as dreams rather than actually owning one.

Tom_Spangler GRM+ Memberand UberDork
4/4/18 1:38 p.m.
StuntmanMike said:

I still love these cars but at the same time, I get tired or hearing how these are faster than anything else, even current cars. Yea they dominated the streets 20 years ago, and especially when modified, but just don't compare to todays hot rods.

True, they were low-14 second cars stock.  Which was damn fast in it's day, but these days most cars with sporting intentions (and some without) are quicker.  But they had real presence on the road, and a bad-boy image that made them damn near the coolest thing on the road for a few years there.  I'll never forget the C&D review with the sub-headline "Speed is a gunslinger in black" devil

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