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The Complete Story of the Buick Grand National

Buick Grand National

In 1899, Buick officially got its start as an automobile brand that focused on a marque-class of vehicles to cater to the growing demand of a market that was looking for higher performance vehicles that were also comfortable to sit in. Buick was named after its founder, David Dunbar Buick. In 1908, William C. Durant, who became the general manager for Buick, founded General Motors. General Motors later became the parent company and Buick became one of its divisions. Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC all answer to General Motors as its own brand, just as Buick does. Each brand had its own niche of consumers they'd connect to as a means to win over as many customers as possible for GM. For Buick and Cadillac, their niche market focused mainly on the luxury class while Chevrolet and GMC aimed to produce vehicles for the working class. Once upon a time, the very mention of Buick was enough to make automobile enthusiasts sit up and peak an ear of interest as that was among the elite brands of North American automobiles that helped shape the American and Canadian nations with some of the most impressive lineups of vehicles ever made. At the time, a Buick logo served as a status symbol. This applied to its lineup of luxury automobiles, as well as muscle cars.

Introducing Buick Grand National

In 1982, then from 1984 until 1987, the Buick Grand National was among the hottest performant vehicles during the mid-1980s, an era where the production of automobiles was experiencing a tough time during the infamous oil crisis that began in 1983. The inter-cooled models of the 1986 and 1987 Grand National series were the cars that earned the most amount of attention, despite the fact it had already had roots going as far back as 1982 with the Buick Regal line. Like the Buick Turbo Regals of 1982, the Buick Grand National featured a 3.8-liter (231 cubic-inch) 90-degree V-6 engine. This was a standard with all Buick models from 1978 until 1987. However, it wasn't until 1984 when Buick introduced a sequential fuel injection as a means to improve upon the overall efficiency of all Buick models. In 1986, this was redesigned again, along with a number of other changes that made Buick's Grand National stand out as much as they did in 1986 and 1987. The car's power output increased considerably over the short period of time the Grand National models were in production.

Buick and McLaren

The changes that saw Buick's lineup, especially within the Grand National series, are credited to the business relationship Buick developed with the McLaren Performance Technologies. The most notable change came from the exotic turbo they received from MacLaren which featured a ceramic wheel instead of what was deemed normal at the time. Up until 1984, the Buick Turbo Regal had been operating with a TBO348 engine. Although in 1983 the GNX engines were introduced, Buick Grand National vehicles did not officially become a brand until 1984. In 1983, the GNX engines were deemed as an option for the 1983 lineup of Buick Turbo Regal models. The winning formula MacLaren is best known for in their own vehicles was poured into the Buicks during the 1980s that ultimately made most of their vehicles so hard to beat, at least in speed tests.

Buick Grand National Timeline

1982, was the premier year for the Buick Grand National. Most of them featured a 4.1-liter 252 V-6 engine that could produce 120 horsepower. At that time, this was considered very impressive. In addition to this series were a very limited edition of Buick T-Type Regals and Buick Turbo Regals that had a 3.8-liter, V-6 engine. Overall, the number of the labeled Buick Grand Nationals saw 215 models sold during this year as they were made as limited edition models. When 1983 rolled around, the 4.1 V-6 engines were replaced with the Turbo 4 bbl-carb engines. Officially, there were no Buick Grand National models sold for this year, but there was an optional carb-Turbo engine in a T-Type for the Buick Regals until 1985. The Canadian consumers were the biggest market that took advantage of this offer while it lasted.

The Buick Grand National officially began its official run in 1984, bringing forth a lineup of cars that looked like vehicular models of Darth Vader, the villain-turned hero character from the first Star Wars movie trilogy. This also marked the year where all Grand National models featured a four-speed 200-4R automatic transmission. 2,100 models of the 1984 Buick Grand National automobiles were sold that year. The 1985 modelS, which saw only a slightly revised front grille and front air dam to its design, sold 2,100 units during the year it came out.

1986 was the "it" year for the Buick Grand National as this lineup floored the automotive press and general public with its ability to reach sixty miles per hour in under five seconds, as well as a speed performance that made the highest speed machines at that time seem archaic. This is credited to the turbo gaining an intercooler that was originally recorded to output 235 horsepower, but when it was tested the result was rumored to be well over 300 horsepower. This not only served as big news for the market, but a hot-seller as the Buick Grand National sold approximately 5,000 units that year. This surpassed the hard-to-beat at the time Buick T-Type. According to Legendary Speed, the 1986 Buick Grand National series is not just a car. It's a legacy.

In 1987, the magazines raved how Buick's Grand National was determined to kick around as much dust as possible before biting it. Now at a 245-horsepower output, the improvement continued to wow the automotive industry, along with the consumers and critics who were watching every little move Buick was making with their highly prized Grand National line. Also in 1987, there were 547 limited-edition-of-a-limited edition models that each sold for $30,000 USD upon the year of its production. What made them different from the rest of the Grand Nationals was the 300-plus horsepower Turbo engine that was able to reach sixty miles per hour in 4.7 seconds. Even by today's standards, this level of performance is an impressive one, to say the least. In 1987, not even the ultimate speed machines such as the Ferraris and Lamborghinis were able to achieve the speed performance levels both the 1986 and the 1987 Buick Grand Nationals were able to do.

Don't Judge the Cover...

For some, the lack of color that came from the mid-1980s era of Buick's Grand National was nothing to write home about. For others, especially Star Wars fans who idolized Darth Vader, the car's exterior was a dream come true. It was even called the Darth Buick at the time. The actual build of the model itself may not have been all that spectacular at the time on the outside, especially since Buick did hold a solid reputation for producing luxury vehicles that were highly eye-catching at the time. However, it wasn't appearances that were of concern for Buick at that time. With the Grand National, it was all about power. Under the hood of the GN models and GNX models, this is where the real beauty of these automobiles mattered most.

The interior of the vehicle, both for the driver and passengers, still maintained the high level of luxurious quality Buick had firmly established itself for. While today it may not look like much, during the mid-1980s the leather-print vinyl seating was the cat's meow. From 1984 until 1987, the Buick Grand National was promoted and sold as a working-class man's closest thing to a luxury automobile. In essence, this meant the brand needed to deliver on two key elements that made the GN and GNX models so successful at the time. It had to be comfortable and performant at the same time. Whatever it looked like on the outside really wasn't a concern at the time. The classic "don't judge a book by its cover" could have just as easily been a perfect sales pitch when aiming to sell the Grand National models from Buick's showrooms at that time. For Buick, who had usually been regarded to stick to luxury-class vehicles, the direction is taken from 1984 until 1987 felt like something that came straight out of the left field.

The hilarity behind the big, black box of automobiles was how obvious the Buick Grand National cars were at the time. Even today, the humor revolving around these vehicles still remains. In a world that does have a habit to judge books by their covers, the Buick Grand National series somewhat served as a message at the time that one doesn't have to be pretty by the world's standards to matter. It also proved how jealousy also has a habit of rearing itself when what seems like an anomaly comes about in a manner that seems too impossible to be real. This is what Buick did with the GN and GNX models. At the time, vehicles that were deemed sexier in appearances, such as the Chevrolet Corvettes, Ford Mustangs, and even the various European models, all carried forth a stigma that they were sexy, muscular, and speedy in one beautiful package. For them, seeing an ugly duckling zip its way into their playground was not just unexpected, but in some cases, unwelcome.

Family Feud

Although Buick and Chevrolet both belong to General Motors, they are still their own brand, each of them having their own lineups of automobiles they called their own. When Buick boosted the power of their Regals in 1982, which later became Grand Nationals from 1984 until 1987, this caused a rivalry against Chevrolet and their prized muscle-car lineup, the Corvette. When road tests saw the GN and GNX models beat the mighty Corvette in speed tests, this sparked the Chevrolet crew to up their game. In 1985, when Buick saw no need to improve upon their accomplishments made from 1984, Chevrolet managed to boost the performance rating of the 1985 Corvette to earn back the title of having an automobile that can reach the sixty miles per hour mark faster. Because of this, it prompted Buick to step up their own game and turn the 1986 and 1987 Grand National models into practically a new breed of four-wheeled mechanical beasts that made a statement they were not to be outdone, not even by their own corporate cousins. The feud continued until 1987 when Chevrolet's displeasure against Buick resulted in a family feud that needed to be cooled down by its parent company, General Motors before things got too far out of hand. This resulted in Buick bowing out of the muscle car competition, thus returning to focus strictly on luxury automobiles and letting Chevrolet continue racing around with their Corvettes.

End of An Era

As of 1988, Buick replaced all its Grand National series with a new front-wheel-drive W-body platform as they continued to evolve their most prized automobile series, the Buick Regal. The timing of Buick bringing the highly performant Grand National couldn't have been worse, which is why it had such a short production run. Because of the oil crisis that began in 1983, many consumers were now searching for vehicles that were less hard on fuel than the muscle cars that had so much power. Speed machines were replaced in favor of the least costly vehicles money could buy, especially when it came to watching more closely how much fuel an operating vehicle consumes. This has since resulted in Buick struggling to keep up with the very competition they used to seemingly beat with ease while they had the Grand National series in motion. There have been rumors, off and on, that Buick intends to bring forth a new legacy that would make the beloved Grand Nationals proud. Considering how hard the GN and GNX models were to beat at the time, this will prove to be no small feat.

Benjamin Smith

Written by Benjamin Smith

Benjamin Smith is one of the managing editors of Moneyinc. Ben's been focusing on the auto and motorcycle sector since 2005. He's written over 1000 articles in the space and continues to learn about it each day. His favorite car is "any Bugatti" and he's a die hard Harley Davidson fan.

Read more posts by Benjamin Smith

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