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 Grand National history

 

        Starting in the late 1970s, Buick began using two concepts that it had tried earlier with marginal success: the V-6 powerplant and the use of the turbocharger.

        Buick had introduced the V-6 as early as 1962, but turned away from it in 1967. Then, there was the recalled experiment in the 1962-1963 time period when Buick initiated a turbo-powered version of the famous 215ci engine, which was interestingly used only on Oldsmobile models. The ground work had been laid, but it wouldn't be until later that the technology would result in the magnificent series of turbo cars culminating in the Grand National and even more powerful GNX.

        Buick really tested the turbo V-6 concept in a most visible manner. In 1976, the company installed such a powerplant on the actual 1976 Indy Pace Car. The pace car replicas didn't get the magnificent mill, but much was learned about the up and coming concept.

1 The Turbo Regals

        It wasn't until the late 1970s that the first production style turbo V-6 systems would be made available to the public in the form of the Turbo Regal series. There was no mistaking the model with its distinctive bulged hood. But even though the first turbo cars looked awesome, they didn't, at least initially, produce any great horsepower. That would come later, but for now, the horsepower levels were just in the 2OOhp range.

        The turbocharged powerplants were more complicated than their purely carbureted brothers, but you might be surprised to learn that these turbo systems also had a carburetor as a part of their induction system.

        The actual purpose of the turbo was to increase the engine power on a demand basis, which allowed for a smaller, more economical engine, which rivaled the capabilities of a larger power plant. Things were certainly going in a different direction for the generation of power. Smaller was really proving that it could get the job done that had previously required big block cubic inches for equivalent performance.

        The concept for the turbo system operated on the premise that as the load on the engine increased and the throttle is opened the air-fuel mixture flows into the combustion chambers. As the increased flow was burned, a larger volume of higher energy exhaust gas entered the engine exhaust system where it was directed through the turbine.

        In turn, the efficiency of the turbine increased, allowing it to compress more of the air-fed mixture, which it received from the two-barrel carburetor, and then delivered it to the intake manifold. The overall result of the process was greater density of air-fuel into the combustion chamber, and of course, a resulting increase in performance.

        A new term, boost, came into effect with the Turbo engines. It was actually the intake manifold pressure. That pressure was controlled in these engines by an exhaust valve. That allowed a portion of the exhaust gas to bypass the exhaust wheel and not contribute to its velocity.

        The 231ci (3.8ltr) engine was used as the basis for the first turbo engines, but it was considerably different from the V-6 of the 1960s. The new engine featured l2O deg cylinder timing with d in the distributor timing and camshaft.

        The turbo was a breath of fresh air for the performance-starved public of the period and showed horsepower increases of some 30 percent or over the non-turbo versions.

        The Regal was undergoing changes that, combined with the V-6 turbo, were starting to bring performance back into vogue. The model had been shaved by 560lb with more than being knocked off its overall length. It was a model on its own, and it was looking really sharp. Some great engineering produced more inside volume, even with the reduction of length.

        The characteristic bulge on the first 1978 Regal carried the turbo identification. The macho hood fit right in with the racy looks of the racy looks of the model. The design continues to look good in the 1990s

        The horsepower on the early model did not match the Regal's dynamite looks. The four barrel version was the best performer, producing 165hp at only 4OOOrpm; the two-barrel version was worth l5hp less.

        But even so, the buying public liked what it saw and purchased an impressive 30,508. The four-barrel version was the overwhelming favorite at 27,811. All models were the sport coupes.

        The Turbo Regal took on a more luxurious look in 1979 with the wheel arches getting more emphasis. There were also some minor tweaks to the turbo engine in the breathing area. The refinements produced an additional 5hp, kicking the numbers to 17Ohp. Certainly not up to muscle car standards yet, but it sure was moving on the right track. The model again sold well with 21,389 making the selection.

        In 1980 the bottom fell out of turbo sales with only 6,276 leaving the showroom floor. This is extremely hard to figure, because the Turbo Regal was maturing into a fine street performer. There was a minor restyling for the first year of the new decade with four rectangular headlights and a different grille.

        The powerplant remained unchanged from the previous year at the 17Ohp level. Although these early horsepower figures don't seem that impressive, it must again be remembered that the horsepower was being quoted in net horses, which appear deceptively low. In terms of equivalent brake horsepower, the numbers would have been about 10 percent higher.

        There was one recognizable change in the name that let you know there was a turbo under the hood. The Turbo Regal machines were now known as T-Types, a name that would be used through the 1986 model year.

        In 1981, a huge body update was made that spoke of time in the wind tunnel. The '81 T-Type looked like a pure race car design with a high back deck and a wind-cheating sloped front nose. The horsepower and torque were identical to the previous year. But even with the dramatic new styling, the popularity dropped like a rock with only 2,891 built.

        Horsepower and torque were all up slightly for the 1982 T-Type. The horsepower gained five ponies to the 175hp figure while the torque showed an increase of 10lb-ft to 275lb-ft for the LCB engine option. But the buying public didn't seem to take a liking to additional performance. Only 2,022 made the purchase, making it the rarest of the Regal T-Types.

        Things got even better for the T-Type perfor-mance in 1983 when the net horses of the LC8 engine were pushed to 190bhp (which was probably well over 2OO hp on the brake horsepower scale.) The Turbo Regal was really starting to get back into muscle car territory.

        In 1984, the Grand National, which was intro-duced in 1982, returned and used the same LM9 powerplant as the Regal T-Type, producing 200hp and 300 ft-lb of torque. A significant change was made to the engine induction system this model year with Sequential Fuel Injection (SFI) replacing the carburetor for fuel delivery. Also, an electric fuel pump was added as standard equipment; the distributor was replaced with a more effective ignition module.

        The T-Type outsold the Grand National this year 3,401 to 2,000, but it would be the final year it would happen.

        For 1985, it was the same story in the power train department for the T-Type and the GN, but the Grand National would outsell the Regal by only two 2,102 to 2,100.

        It had to be the dynamite looks of the Grand National that set it ahead in the 1986 model year.  Its 5,512 total more than doubled the 2,384 of the T-Type. The dynamite duo again shared the same LC2 powerplant, a killer 235hp engine which made its maximum power at 4000rpm.

        A significant performance improvement was made to the powerplant this model year with the addition of a turbo intercooler and a computerized engine management system that oversaw every as-pect of the engine's operation.

        The final year for the Turbo Regal was 1987, and it was the best by far. There were actually five different versions of the Turbo Regal constructed. The horsepower kept on its upward spiral to 245hp with the torque sitting at 355lb-ft.

        First came the Turbo-T with the WE4 option. This replaced the straight T-Type option. Because of the weight savings with this package, the WE4 was the fastest of turbo cars, with the exception of the GNX. There were 1,547 sold.

        The buyer could also acquire a Regal Limited with the LC2 turbo 3.8ltr V-6. The luxury model sold only 1,035, which makes it the rarest of the turbocharged Regals.

        And if you really wanted to have a plain-Jane look with your base Regal, but have the potent turbo under the hood, you could. The sales total was a surprising 4,268.

        There were also two appearance packages available in 1987 to really spruce up your Regal. The Y56 "T" package, along with having appearance items, provided increased handling with a fast-ratio power steering system, steel-belted radial ply blackwall tires, and the FE2 Gran Touring suspension. There were also the N89 aluminum wheels and NP5 leather-wrapped steering wheel. The package was identified by the red "T" em-blem located on the front fenders. There were 8,547 so equipped.

        The W02 was strictly an appearance option that provided a blackout treatment on various parts of the body. Like the  "T" package, the W02 could be acquired with any Regal.

        The sales of the final Turbo Regals (and Grand Nationals) were obviously much higher than in previous years, and there was a good reason for that increased production. The word was out that 1987 would be the final year for the turbo rockets, and performance fans flocked to dealerships to make the purchase while they could.

        But there is one other Regal that must be mentioned for the final 1987 model year. It was called the T-Type Special T. It was half Grand National, half T-Type. The low-production variant carried a Grand National body, but the rest was pretty much T-Type.

        The Regal Custom of the 1990s is a footnote to the story. This model, with its optional 205hp 3800 Series II V-6, is quite impressive. The base engine for the Custom is the 160hp 3100 V-6.

        Even though the 3100 powerplant might not touch the 200hp figure, it still matches the perfor-mance of the complex multivalve engines. Amazingly, it also sports a super-impressive 29mpg on the highway.

        The new cast iron block has a lower deck height, further reducing the size and weight of the already compact engine. Cross-bolted main bearing caps stiffen the bottom end, reducing noise and improving durability. Also, larger valves and more efficient ports improve flow through the engine.

        The Grand Nationals Before it was Winston Cup that NASCAR called its top division, it was the Grand National Division. So it wasn't surprising that Buick named its brand new model after this division when it2s first Grand National hit the streets in 1982.

        The name was appropriate, since Buick had won it all the year before in the top NASCAR division. It took the Manufacturer's Trophy, and Darwell Waltrip, driving the Mountain Dew Regal, won the driver's championship.

        To that end, Buick decided to make the most of its accomplishments on the track with a limited edition car. The name? The Grand National Regal. The Grand National Bulletin of February 8, 1982, explained the hows and whys of the new model.

        "The new 'Grand National' Regal is a luxurious commemorative version of the winning Grand National vehicles. Buick designed this magnificent Regal to be a one-of-a-kind car. With its special 'GN' styling treatment and appointments, it's a distinctive vehicle inside and out. And, it features a wide range of standard equipment. Production of the 'Grand National' Regal will be limited to approximately 100 units." (Actually, there would be a production of 215 of the unique machines). "Our objective in produc-ing this model is to offer an attraction that will stim-ulate sales of all 1982 Buicks."

        "The 'Grand National' Regal is a showroom at-traction that can draw performance enthusiasts and other prospects to your dealership. Here are some suggestions for traffic-building events: Hold a special preview showing of the car and invite members of car enthusiast groups. Hold similar showings for selected customers who may be ready for a new Buick. Book professionals such a 'Junior' Johnson, Darrel Waltrip, or Harry Gant for traffic building personal appearances at your showroom. Hold a 'Grand National Open House' even complete with refreshments and prizes, and offer spe-cial deals to prospects who attend. Invite members of the news media and the automotive press to see and drive the 'Grand National."'

        It was certainly a lot of hype for what Buick hoped would be a strong beginning for the new model. And even though the history of the model, through its 1987 final year, would never point to huge production figures (only 30,022 Grand Na-tional Regals would be built), the model would evolve into a fantastic performance machine. The best Grand National was the ultraperformance

        GNX (for Grand National Experimental), which took the already super Grand National perfor-mance one step beyond. In fact, to many, the lat-ter Grand Nationals are thought of as being even more desirable, from a muscle point of view, than the earlier Stage I and GS 455 cars. Now, that's really saying something!

        * 1982 Grand National (The T2Z)

        Even though the first Grand National might have looked like it was built for speed and perfor-mance, the look was strictly cosmetic as the em-phasis was on a unique paint scheme and exterior graphics. The base colors were Light Silver Gray and Firemist/Charcoal Gray. Bright Red accent striping was used.

        Blackout trim was used for the front grille as-sembly, headlamp doors, rocker panel moldings, and wheel opening moldings. The body also in-corporated a front air dam and a rear deck spoiler. But what really set off this first Grand National was the large "Buick" billboard lettering on the rear quarters.

        The model's stunning looks were continued inside with Lear-Seigler seats, special trim combina-tion for the seats, a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, and special trim plates.

        For some reason, the pizzazz of the model was not carried under the hood. In fact, the new turbocharged powerplant that was a part of the T--Type Regal was not used in the inaugural Grand National. The unexpected powerplant was an un-derpowered 4.1ltr V-6 with only 125hp. This is hardly what you would expect from a model carrying high performance as a theme on its sheet met-al. The models carried a 3.23 rear axle ratio and the Gran Touring suspension system.

        The model was an immediate hit with the pub-lic, then and now, and the first Grand National models are highly sought after. With that minimal 215 produced, you can imagine how difficult it is to locate one, not to mention the price that might have to be paid to acquire one.

        For some reason, there was no Grand National model for 1983. If you wanted anything close to performance that model year with a Buick label, you had to go to the Regal T-Type, which was a significant performer on its own. In fact, the per-formance of the Turbo Regal was identical to

that of the Grand National (with the exception of the final-year GNX), but the Turbo Regal never got the publicity or interest of the Grand Nationals.

        * 1984 Grand National

        The 3.8ltr turbocharged V-6 was the powerplant of choice for the second Grand National, and it fi-nally brought performance to the macho model.

        The new SFI (Sequential Fuel Injection) system han-dled fuel management. Other devices on the gutsy small block included an electronic waste-gate

con-trol for engine boost adjustment.

        The performance certainly was a far cry from the big blocks of the

        late 1960s and early 1970s, but it was getting there with 2OOnhp and 3001b-ft of torque.

        There was about 15psi of boost available to bring up that maximum horsepower capability. To efficiently put the power to the ground, a 3.42 Posi-Traction rear end was in place.

        Cold black was the only color you could get with the '84 Grand National; it was a feature that played a major role in the Grand National's mys-tique. In addition, there was also the characteristic hood bulge, for the first time, along with custom wheels. Surprisingly, only 2,000 were produced. Bet Buick wished that it had built more. A dynamite machine, to be sure, but for the Grand Na-tional, the best was yet to come.

        * 1985 Grand National

        When you have a winner, why mess with it? That was the philosophy with the 1985 Grand National; hence, it was left pretty much unchanged. With the powerplant remaining exactly the same, there was a slight change made to the grille design with six bright accents added.

        But even though Buick must have known that it had a winner, the production for the model year remained low with only 2,1O2 produced. The fig-ure was only two more than the T-Type of the same year. Was it planned or just coincidence that the Grand National would lead that model year?

        Remember, both the T-Type and Grand Nation-al were using the same powerplant this year, the second year in a row. That would be the situation for the remainder of the Grand National's life. Only the 1987 GNX powerplant would be rated at a higher horsepower rating.

        * 1986 Grand National

        There were a few minor appearance tweaks for the 1986 model year. Again, a change was made in the grille design. This time, the design used fine vertical bars.

        But those in the know knew that the real change came under the hood with more ponies. A 35hp leap and a 30lb-ft boost in torque made the black beast a real killer on the street and strip. The extra power came from an air-to-air intercooler. Road tests of such machines by the car magazines showed sub-5sec capabilities in 0-60mph runs.  Surprisingly, it was the same powerplant used by the T-Type, but this killer mill seemed to get all the publicity with the Grand National.

        The word was really getting out on the Grand National, and production took off with 5,512 assembled. It would be the second largest production year.

        But wait, there was one other Grand National for 1986, the name being applied to the unlikely LeSabre. There were 112 of that model badged with the famous GN nomenclature. However, it was strictly an appearance package, hoping to capitalize on the Grand National's performance image.

        * 1987 Grand National

        Buick sure saved the best for last with the Grand National and its ultimate GNX version. These machines were described as the fastest-ever U.S. production cars, and as such, will prob-ably see their values continue to increase in the years to come.

        As in the years past, there wasn't a redesign to designate the final GN. Just a little change in the grille design. This year's car had the teeth set fur-ther apart and the Buick emblem sitting on the left side. For many, that company connection was needed, because many longtime Buick fans still found it hard to believe that the company was building such cars. The only other external change was the flashy new chrome wheels which seemed out of place with the cold black all-business look of the sheet metal.

        The performance just kept being wrung out of the existing powerplant with the final 1987 figure reading 245hp, up 10 from the previous year. In-terestingly, it took an additional 4400rpm to make the peak horsepower this year, 4,400 compared to the 4,000 of earlier years.

        As was the case with the previous Grand Nationals, the GN emblem sat high on the front quarters of the black-only haulers, but the model sure didn't need to announce its heritage. It was known to all who had any interest in performance.

        Popular Cars magazine tested the car to see if all that was being said was true. It was! "The Grand National blasts off the line with cat-like grace, springing to quarter-mile times of 14.23 seconds at 98 miles per hour without breathing hard. The 3.8 liter turbocharged engine is an extremely responsive engine." The magazine also quoted the horsepower as "over 245" compared to the factory figure of "only 235." We would certainly bet that the magazine figure is a lot closer to the correct rating.

        Performance Cars continued, "Time to full boost is a little slow but when the pressure gets up, power comes on with a big bang. Though the rumbling V-8 sound is replaced with a whistling turbo whine, the Buick Grand National behaves as well as any muscle car ever did."

        In the January 1989 issue of MuscleCar Review, Bob Colvin recalled the building of the final Grand National at the Pontiac Assembly Plant. The car is unique for Bob since he is the owner of it. It marked the end of the final rear-wheel-drive mid-size model. With the popularity of the model, one has to wonder if Buick brass ever had second guess-es on that decision.

        Buick Public Relations indicated that the public couldn't believe that the Grand National was done. The Buick PR manager recalled, "People would call us begging to put it back into produc-tion. But the die had been cast, and it was over.

        There's one other footnote that should be men-tioned on the final Grand National. It carried the WE-4 designation. 'The Grand National was the WE-2, and WE-3 identified the GNX.

        Finally, there was the so-called Regal T-Type "Special T." Brock Fisher of Davton, Ohio, owns one of the rare versions and explains what it's all about: "I guess that the best way you could de-scribe this car is that it's a 'half Grand National and half T-Type.' There isn't any Buick documentation that I could find that described how this model evolved, but the best I can figure out is that this car started Out to be a Grand National, but they ran out of interiors before the end of the production run. Thus, they came up with this 'Special T' which used a Grand National body."

        Fisher explained that he'd never seen another of the model. "There are probably a lot of people that own these cars that don't realize they are really dif-ferent from the standard T-Type. But I want to emphasize that it is a legitimate variation, because the 'Special T' is called out on the window sticker."

         The GNX-The Final (and ultimate) Grand National

        When Buick added an "X" to a model designa-tion, one could assume that it meant something special. Recall the 1970 GSX which was an appear-ance modification of the Gran Sport. In the case of that "X" machine, the changes were strictly on the outside, but that wouldn't be the case with the GNX. There was one similarity, though, between the two machines, that being the bigger "X" in the three-letter emblem.

        For many, the GNX is the most desirable some-what modern performance car in the country. It took the second-best performance car in the 1987 Grand National and made it a giant step better. With all its positives, there is one large negative from a collector's point of view. There were only 547 produced, which makes the GNX very rare and very expensive. It has been reported, for example, that GNX models have reached the six-figure values in 1990s sales. Experts advise any lucky GNX owner to keep his car as they are predicted to continually escalate through the years.

        The refinement that the GNX received in so many different areas is truly amazing. A speed shop couldn't have done a better job. Acquiring a 31hp increase over the standard Grand National engine was a significant accomplishment. Consid-er, of course, that most factory announcements of horsepower are quite conservative by nature, so the actual figure is probably much closer to the 400 or greater figure.

        The GNX was not a complete factory creation as aftermarket modifications were accomplished by McLaren Engines and ASC Inc. But even though there was this influence, it's generally agreed that Buick engineer Dave Sharpe was the guiding influ-ence behind the GNX. He wanted the Regal line to end with a bang. With the GNX, he succeeded in a big way!

        Everywhere you looked on the GNX, there were modifications that had been made with perfor-mance in mind. But you really had to look close o the outside to see that this was a different breed of Grand National. Huge care was taken by the company during the assembly process with inspections taking place at each build station.

        There were just a pair of GNX emblems on the sheet metal, the locations being on the grille and rear deck. But also, each wheel hub carried the fa-mous trio of letters. A nice touch was the fact that each GNX carried its production number on a plaque mounted on the glove compartment door.

        For the brute that beat under the hood, there was considerable instrumentation to read. This included the expected oil pressure gauge, water temperature gauge, and an 8000rpm tach. The speedometer pegged at 140mph, which wasn't really that much out of line for this hauler. But remember, this was a tur-bocharged engine, so the boost was also record-ed on the dash for driver viewing.

        The fender wells on the GNX didn't appear that much different, but they were constructed out of a special composite space-age material. Each of the front fenders carried functional fender louvers located high on the front quarters. With the heat generated by the powerplant, the extra cooling ca-pability was definitely needed. Weight reduction was a design goal, and to that end, aluminum components and reinforcements were used as much as possible.

        The heart of the GNX powerplant was the advanced turbocharger, a unit that completely re-placed the stock unit.

        Special attention in the new Garrett T-3 turbo was paid to the turbine shaft seals which reduced drag oh the shaft. There was also emphasis on the turbine wheel which was accomplished by its ceramic construction. A so-called contamination trap was also in place to prevent foreign particles from getting near the turbine wheel and creating turbocharger wear. But what really caught your eye when the GNX hood was raised was the unique turbocharger cov-er which sported GNX graphics. Along with its dra-matic looks, the cover also served as a heat shield.

        Another GNX-specific item was the special intercooler, which had a far more significant capabil-ity than the stock unit. Connecting the intercooler with the throttle body is an important pipe that carries a special heat-resistant line. With its horsepower rating of 276, it's kind of surprising that the engine's torque wasn't greater than 360lb-ft, which it demonstrated at 3OOOrprn. Another particular about this interesting Buick mill is the low compression ratio of only 8.0:1, but it was pretty typical for a turbocharged engine. Its maximum boost topped out at 15:1

        With the monster power from under the hood, it would have been a sin to not have a suspension system and powertrain to support it in the manner it deserved. The GNX engineers considered all the possibilities and came up with a system that made this top Grand National a hauler of the first order.

        It sounds like a Winston Cup setup with a rear pan hard bar to absorb rear axle loads. There's also a ladder bar used with the stock control arms, which are actually attached to the rear axle cover. There were also a 32mm front stabilizer bar and a 19mm rear unit. Boy, they sure don't build cars like this anymore! Maintenance was considered with special rubber bushings used between all suspension parts. The bushings were such that they could be ser-viced easily should any wear occur.

        The standard transmission for the GNX was a reprogrammed Turbo Hydra-matic 200-4R four speed hooked to a custom torque converter. Transmission cooling was an area for consideration, something that you wouldn't normally think about on a street car. The GNX would really be stretching it to call it a street car.

        Located directly in the middle of the grille was an auxiliary transmission cooler located just in front of the air conditioner condenser and just be-hind the grille. With a series of hoses, it was hooked up with the regular radiator.

         A final statement of its performance: 103mph and 13.4 sec in the quarter says it all.

Taken from Buick Muscle Cars

By: Bill Holder & Phillip Kunz