1987 Buick Regal Grand National Long Term Road Test - Maintenance
1987 Buick Grand National: Smog Inspection
November 18, 2013
Mecum Auctions requires that all vehicles 1975 and newer have a current California smog certificate when they're being registered for the upcoming Anaheim auction. Time to take our long-term 1987 Buick Grand National to get inspected.
The car had been sitting a few days, so I took it for a quick spin to warm it up. I was parked at a red light and heard someone calling out to me.
"I've been looking for a car like that," said the co-pilot of a city garbage truck. "Let me know when you want to sell that thing."
I told him it actually was for sale, pointed out the low miles and named our asking price. He gave it some thought, but didn't counter or hand me a wad of cash. The light turned green, and I yelled: "It's on AutoTrader if you want to see more details on it."
I drove the car about five miles and then pulled into the nearest smog inspection facility. I wasn't sure if the car would pass, given its age. I crossed my fingers while the mechanics rolled the Grand National onto the dyno. "Nice Buick," said the shop's owner.
About 20 minutes later, he told me that the car passed with flying colors. It was well below the maximum limits, impressive performance for a 26-year-old car.
Total Cost $67.95 (This includes a $10 discount coupon)
Ronald Montoya, Consumer Advice Editor @ 15,555 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: Rear Brakes Fixed
September 20, 2013
A couple of weeks ago the rear drum brakes on our 1987 Buick Grand National began to squeal worse than Ned Beatty. Any brake pedal application would cause the Grand National to sing a loud and embarrassing tune.
And so it was back to Morgan's Auto Service in Santa Monica for a check. Leaking wheel cylinders was determined to be the culprit, and of course they were leaking all over a set of worn shoes.
The service was performed in just a few hours. New cylinders and shoes cost us $148, and we were charged $226 for the labor. With tax we were out the door for $389.05.
But the brakes are back to good.
Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 15,195 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: Oil Cooler Installed
July 5, 2013
Our Buick Grand National is whole again.
Although driving the car without its factory installed oil cooler hasn't been an issue, we were very anxious to reinstall the system as soon as possible.
We hit Gbodyparts.com and ordered a new oil cooler adapter o-ring ($6.00) and new oil cooler lines ($139.95). With ground shipping it added up to $165.98. A few days later we delivered the car and the parts to Morgan Auto Service in Santa Monica, which has become our local go-to shop. Greg Morgan is a Grand National owner himself and always takes good care of us. And this time was no different.
The next day the work was complete and the bill was $231.35.
Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 14,937 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: Oil Cooler Parts
June 21, 2013
So our Buick Grand National is back in Santa Monica. It's in need of an oil change and its leaky oil cooler assembly is still in the truck, but it's home.
Running the car without the oil cooler isn't an issue, but we'll feel better when the GN is whole again. So we jumped on Gbodyparts.com and ordered up some replacement parts. We ordered a new oil cooler adapter o-ring ($6.00) and new oil cooler lines ($139.95). With ground shipping it added up to $165.98.
As promised we received the parts this past weekend. Installation is imminent. Stay tuned.
Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 14,907 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: What's Wrong With Us?
June 4, 2013
Of course I'd like to give the impression that I took great care of our long-term 1987 Buick Grand National during the 1,600 miles I spent with it. But the reality is that I'll probably never be allowed near the car again because of the above scene.
Yep, here we are at Circuit of the Americas (no, this update is not in chronological order and takes place before I got the oil leak repaired). The second race day of the V8 Supercars Austin 400 is over, and our Grand National won't start. With a car this old, you're inclined to imagine all sorts of exotic causes, but in this case, it's plain old driver error: I left the headlights on when I parked the Buick, and six hours later the battery is drained.
This is the only Grand National in the parking lot, though, and a friend spots the car with its hood up. "Need a jump?" he shouts from 400 feet away. Yeah, I need a jump. Good thing we brought our own cables.
The Buick starts pretty quickly, which is good, since I need to drop my husband off at the airport exactly right now. I then drive it around for about 40 minutes in afternoon traffic before stopping for gas. (There's a toll road that runs between Austin and the racetrack, but most people use the farm roads instead. It's a longer trip, but the scenery is pleasant and, most importantly, it's free.)
The Grand National is now doing fine and has started reliably ever since this incident, but Scott assures me I've ruined the battery.
The other driver-induced mishap that occurred during this trip was also electrical in nature. The Grand National has a single cigarette lighter, and during all the hours in the car, my spouse found it difficult to keep our smartphones and our portable Garmin navigation unit at a usable state of charge. Oh, the cigarette lighter will charge your device all right, but a single power source is hardly enough for the modern, tech-addicted couple.
So we purchased this multi-port charger with both 12-volt and USB inputs.
It worked great. For five minutes. Then, we blew fuse #19, which has dominion over the radio, air-conditioner and most of the interior lights. Immediately, the Buick grew quiet, hot and dark.
The owner's manual has a nice diagram of where all the fuses are located.
But access to the panel is poor, as you have to pull up the carpeting in the back of the driver's foot well. We replaced the 20-amp fuse, borrowing from the stash Mark Takahashi had packed. Then, in a nod toward the inevitable, we purchased additional fuses at a truck stop.
Upon hearing this story, a colleague advised me, "You probably shouldn't be doing anything in the Buick that you couldn't do in 1987."
Erin Riches, Deputy Editor @ 11,795 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: Repaired in Hillsboro, Texas
June 1, 2013
Monday begins early for our long-term 1987 Buick Grand National and me. To clarify, this is not Monday as in last Monday, rather the Monday after the V8 Supercars Austin 400 at Circuit of the Americas. Got it? OK.
We leave Austin at 6:00 a.m. My flight to Los Angeles leaves at 12:40 p.m., and before then, I've got to get the Buick repaired and drop it off at our previously arranged Grand National kennel in Carrollton, Texas.
At this point, we suspect the repairs to the Grand National will be fairly simple: We think it's the oil cooler as a couple of you suggested, and it turns out this is a common malady on Buick Grand Nationals. Still, we don't want to take our GN just anywhere. Fortunately, Editor in Chief Scott Oldham has arranged a visit with a highly regarded Grand National mechanic named Charlie Frierson in Hillsboro, Texas.
His shop is a few miles off the beaten path, however.
I hop on Interstate 35 and drive north for two hours. Just north of Waco, I exit onto state highway 22 and head west, and then, there are quite a few turns, so it's a good thing Charlie provided really specific directions. That said, the Garmin Navi we've been using throughout the trip gets me pretty close to his shop. I pull into his driveway at 8:20 a.m.
Charlie runs a one-man operation, and he's the nicest person I'll meet the whole time I'm in Texas. He's a true car guy: His heart bleeds for the turbocharged V6 Buicks (he fell in love with in the late 1970s, he tells me) and he actually knows how to fix them.
Understanding my ambitious schedule, he goes right to work. Within two minutes, he confirms that a bad oil cooler is causing the leak. The quick fix is to remove the cooler assembly completely. The GN can temporarily get by without it, he says. That said, he certainly advises ordering a replacement oil cooler assembly and having it installed sooner rather than later. We've decided to defer this repair until the Buick is back in California.
Before he can remove the oil cooler, the oil filter obviously has to come off. Charlie is positively horrified (as many of you are, no doubt) that we have a Fram filter on the Grand National. I've already told you I bought that particular filter in New Mexico, but on this morning I don't have the guts to tell Charlie that I've personally committed this act of cruelty. (Of course, I've sent him the link to this update so now he knows I'm responsible. Sorry, Charlie.)
Fortunately, Charlie has a much more deluxe, Napa-branded oil filter in his personal storehouse, and he assures me this is the oil filter of choice in the turbo Buick community. He wants to put it on our GN, but he's concerned he might not have the right kind of oil to top up the Buick afterward. I walk to the trunk and produce the last quart in my stash of 5W30 Valvoline Max Life. Perfect, he tells me.
Once the oil cooler assembly is off the Buick, Charlie points out the disintegrated gasket in the main housing. He thinks the hoses for the cooler probably went bad first, though. They're cracked. Charlie notes that they'd lost their retaining clips and had been free to bang against other under-hood components for who knows how long, so it's no surprise that they're goners.
Charlie completes the job in about an hour. He makes out a receipt for me. The bill comes to $45 for the labor to remove the oil cooler assembly, plus $30 for the new oil filter. No question, it's a very fair price for a badly needed repair.
Before I hit the road, Charlie takes me around to see his two Buick Grand Nationals rustomods. You can read about his progress on the '83 Grand National on the TurboBuick forums. "I'm just about to put the drivetrain in it to set the chassis up the way I want," he says. After he's done with the '83, there's an '82 Grand National waiting for attention.
Now it's time to leave and I'm running on adrenaline, because I never had time to eat breakfast (well, other than the handful of cashews I had in my computer bag) or caffeinate myself. I'm still about 90 minutes from the garage in Carrollton that will board our Buick, and I need to get gas. Can't leave The Boss with an empty tank, right?
The garage turns out to be harder to find than Charlie's shop thanks to construction and general mayhem on I-35E. Scott calls to check on the Buick right as I'm about to take the wrong exit. I make an abrupt lane change to avoid an unwanted detour into Dallas and shout, "I don't know where I'm going!" above the wind roar (there's plenty at 70 mph thanks to those leaky T-tops). "I'll call back later," Scott offers.
I find my drop point in the nick of time, and as I'm handing the key off to the GN's caretaker for the next week and a half, he points out the sizeable puddle of water pooling under the car's air-conditioner (it was already a hot day).
"Eh, small potatoes," I say. "At least it's just water, not oil."
I check the oil before I leave, and the level is holding steady. Good news. It would have been nice if we could have added another half quart after the filter change, so Scott may decide to add some when he takes the wheel.
I'll regale you with a few more stories from this road trip in coming days, but until then, if you're not already following our Editor in Chief Scott Oldham on Twitter, do it now, man. Scott's currently driving our freshly repaired Grand National on the Hot Rod Power Tour. Check out his photos and anecdotes at @RealScottOldham .
Erin Riches, Deputy Editor @ 11,795 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: We've Arrived in Texas
May 31, 2013
After our extended stop in New Mexico, I can't waste any time getting to Texas. So we get right back on Interstate 10 and cross the state line just in time for rush hour in El Paso. Nice. I guess we'll stop for coffee.
Later, we stop for gas, and I feed the 1987 Buick Grand National about a half quart of oil. And it gets its first taste of 93 octane fuel since we've owned it.
Long after sunset, we arrive at the exit for U.S. 290, which winds through the Texas hill country, passes through Johnson City (yep, LBJ's hometown) and eventually deposits you in Austin. It's a scenic road with some nice turns, but it's full of speed traps and, in my experience, heavily patrolled.
But it's not like we want to outrun the Grand National's 1980s headlights anyway. As I mentioned in a comment, they throw enough light on the road to qualify as adequate by today's standards.
But the beams don't reach far, and I've been spoiled by high-end adaptive HID headlights. Highway 290 empties out at night, though, so we're able to use the high-beams more than we were on I-10.
Meanwhile, the front seats remain shockingly comfy after two days on the road. They don't feel that supportive and, honestly, the seat-bottom cushions feel kind of narrow for 21st-century Americans. And of course, forget about resting your head on the dainty head restraints. Maybe it's the frequent stops we're making, but I never once feel kinked or sore on this trip. These are, apparently, decent seats.
I'm not even going to tell you what time we finally pull into Austin. What I will tell you is that the following day, we make a beeline for Circuit of the Americas to watch the V8 Supercars races. It's the first time this series has come to the United States, and if you like hanging out with Australian car guys, it's the place to be. The four Nissan Altimas on the grid are, of course, rear-drive and V8-powered, but the bodywork was cobbled together from Altimas that were once part of the U.S. press fleet. The Red Bull Holdens will dominate this weekend, but the back-of-the-pack Mercedes-Benz entries catch our attention simply because they sound fantastic coming down the front straightaway.
Before we go to the track, though, I check the Grand National's oil. It's down a whole quart. Good thing I bought plenty.
Driving to Circuit of the Americas in a 1987 Buick Grand National is undeniably cool. Everyone here is apparently a car guy and knows exactly what it is, including the security staff, who are obliged to come by when I linger in a fire lane while taking photos of the car at COTA.
Clearly, though, we need to have the Buick repaired sooner rather than later, because it dumps oil every time I park it. That's my task for Monday morning, because I'll be leaving the GN in Dallas.
Why Dallas? Because our Editor in Chief Scott Oldham will pick up our Grand National this Saturday and take it on the Hot Rod Power Tour. Word has it a whole contingent of GNs will be part of the tour this year.
Naturally, you'll want to follow Scott on Twitter: @RealScottOldham, as he'll be sharing thoughts and pictures from the road. And I'll share details on the repairs to the Buick in my next update.
Erin Riches, Deputy Editor @ 11,563 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: Road Trip to Texas, Day 2
May 29, 2013
After enjoying a complimentary hot breakfast at our motel in New Mexico, we're ready to hit the road for Austin, Texas.
But, wait, there's that burning oil smell again. And sure enough, our long-term 1987 Buick Grand National left a puddle of oil in its overnight parking spot. Old cars are liable to leak a bit of oil here and there, but these symptoms are too much to ignore. We pop the hood.
The dipstick is in convenient reach and there's enough space to get your hand in there without burning it on hot engine parts. Of course, the engine's not that hot right now, but we'll appreciate this ease of access later in the trip.
For now, the news isn't good. The Buick is down more than a quart of oil. What to do?
There's an AutoZone just down the street, so that's our first stop. I park the car in the shade around the side of the store, but every employee at the AutoZone is talking about our Grand National within 5 minutes of our arrival.
Initially, I'd only planned to buy enough oil to top up the Buick now, plus a few just-in-case quarters for later. But the more we peer under the hood with a couple of the employees, we collectively decide that oil is leaking from the oil filter. So maybe the filter's bad. That would be an easy fix.
So I buy five quarts of oil, plus an oil filter (OK, it's not deluxe, but at $39.94 before the store's oil + filter discount is applied, it should be decent, right?) and a bottle of zinc additive. There's a quick lube shop up the street.
It's not busy when we pull in, so the staff is able to take care of the Grand National immediately. I'm invited down into the trench to take photos, and sure enough oil has sprayed all over the underside of the car. The techs agree that the oil filter appears to be the source of the hemorrhage and move ahead with the oil and filter change I've requested.
It takes them all of 15 minutes to do the job, and it appears to have solved our problem for just $16.13 in labor. But, wait, no it hasn't, says the tech. The leak has slowed, but the oil's still coming. Closer scrutiny suggests the receiver/adapter to which the filter attaches is the more likely source of the leak. The manager of the shop suggests they could open that part up and try to replace whatever worn gaskets they find, but at this point, we want to talk to someone with a bit more expertise with Buick Grand Nationals.
Sisbarro Chrysler-Chevrolet is as close as we'll get to that in Deming. The parts manager there listens to our story and description of the suspected faulty parts under the hood, and pulls up the original part diagram.
That's it right there. The original part number, he tells us, is 25530999. At this point, we suspect that Numbers 6 and 12 are the bits we'll need to replace (that's just speculation from a couple of armchair mechanics, and we'll learn the real truth later). Not that it matters, because the part has been discontinued, and the parts manager informs us it would be days before this dealer (or a Texas dealership) could source a present-day alternative.
We're on a schedule, though, so waiting around in Deming is not a good option. The Grand National is running fine, just losing oil more quickly that it should. We buy another four quarts of oil, and decide to press on toward Austin. We'll check the oil and top it up at every fuel stop (approximately every 250 miles).
It's not the greatest plan, but our stops are frequent enough that we're able to stay on top of the oil loss, so that the Buick's engine is never in danger of oil starvation. That said, there won't be any detour to Roswell, as we've decided the shortest, fastest, most heavily traveled route to Austin is now the most prudent. This road trip will still be an adventure, just not the kind of adventure we thought it would be.
Erin Riches, Deputy Editor @ 11,050 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: Temporary Fix
May 16, 2013
With our long-term Grand National about to embark on a multi-state road trip, we figured it'd be a good idea to get a better seal on its weatherstripping. We didn't have time to perform a more permanent fix by buying all new rubber seals, so I did my best MacGyver temporary bodge job.
On my Las Vegas road trip, my girlfriend noted that there was a pretty strong whistling coming from the upper rear corner of her window. I figured it was coming from the T-top. When I set out to fix this problem, I used an index card to test the seal. As you can see from the photo above, there was no seal to speak of.
I had an idea of filling in that gap by pushing the rubber closer to the window. I had some expanding urethane foam left over from a previous project and briefly thought of injecting it into the core of the weatherstripping. But that stuff is pretty messy and if it touched the paint or upholstery, it would cause permanent damage.
Instead, I headed to the local pet store and bought some aquarium air hose. I slid a small length between the body and the rubber and it almost did the trick. I built up three sections of tubing and taped them all together with some electrical tape. That gave a good strong seal, at least on the training edge of the glass.
Unfortunately, the top edge posed another problem. There's no useful gap to squeeze some tubing next to the T-top. The gap is pretty small, though, so I cut another section of tubing lengthwise and ran it across and down the corner of the glass edge. It's not all that noticeable, and it can be easily removed and replaced.
I realize these are pretty cheap fixes to the problem, but in the interest of time, they should work out just fine. Hopefully, when we're all done with this epic road trip, we'll order a full set of fresh rubber to get it done right.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor @ 10, 070 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: Breaking 10,000 Miles
May 3, 2013
When we bought our long-term 1987 Buick Grand National back in August its odometer read just over 5,000 miles. No joke, the car had only been driven 5,000 miles since its birth 25 years earlier.
Well, now its odometer reads 10,000 miles. In the past nine months we've doubled the distance this Grand National has been driven in its lifetime, and the more we drive it the better it seems to run.
Of course, there has been some maintenance along the way, and I thought this was as good a time as any to tally it up.
New tires: $721.65
Oil change: $63.32
Transmission Fluid change: 132.60
Sound system repair: $411.10
New shocks: $370.53
Antenna repair: $51.10
Oil change: $62.00
Heater core replacement: 700.18
New Battery: $140.00
Do the math and that all adds up to $2,791.08, which is more than $.50 a mile, not counting fuel costs. Ouch.
Although the GN has been to Phoenix and Las Vegas recently, the majority of those 5,000 miles has been in Santa Monica traffic. For instance, I drive it to and from work quite a bit, but that round trip adds up to less than 20 miles.
To stack on some distance we've planned a sizable road trip for the Buick. Next month we're going to drive it from Los Angeles to Elvis's hometown of Memphis, TN and back. Please stay tuned. And wish us luck.
Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 10,005 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: Adding Oil
May 1, 2013
It has only been about 1,000 miles since we changed the oil in our long-term 1987 Buick Grand National. But the abundance of that mileage has been short trips in city traffic, which we all know is harder on an engine.
Yesterday I gave the GN a little love. I reset its tire pressures at 35 psi and checked its fluids. Sure enough, its oil level was down a bit. So I topped it off with a half quart of 5W-30.
Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 9.984 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: The Battery Died
February 15, 2013
"What's that?" Mark Takahashi asked, pointing at a receipt taped to the Buick Grand National's right-side warning light cluster. It looked like a fuel receipt or something. We both looked at it briefly, but more like a pair of baboons would, because neither of us actually read what it said.
Flash forward 25 minutes and we're outside Pep Boys following a purchase of items for an upcoming video. Mark tries to turn on the Buick to no avail. Unlike my turn with the SLS, it's quite obvious the battery's caput. We look at that receipt again: it was from a repair shop warning us that we needed a new battery. I picked up a banana and threw it at Mark.
Thankfully, however, as we were next to a Pep Boys, this was not a problem. We picked up a new battery for about $140 and bought a cheap socket wrench set because we weren't quite fortunate enough to have one on board. After a mere 7 minutes and 45 seconds, Mark had swapped out the new battery while I exchanged the old one.
So here's an Edmunds.com Top Tip: when your battery dies, make sure you're parked next to Pep Boys. Reading comprehension is also recommended.
James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 9,030 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: Back on the Road for $762.18
February 13, 2013
Thanks again to Morgan's Auto Service in Santa Monica, CA, our long-term 1987 Buick Grand National is back on the road.
Greg Morgan and his team replaced our leaking heater core, which turned out to be a bit more complicated then we all originally thought. Turns out the Grand National uses a specific heater core that's different than one used in a run-of-the-mill Regal.
And, once we finally got the right part ($196.88), which of course cost more than the Regal unit, Greg's team went to the extra effort of reusing the original Harrison "brand" top and bottom portions of the original heater core. They removed them from the leaking core and soldered them onto a new brass American-made core so the car doesn't appear to have been molested. Nice touch guys.
Because we had driven the Buick 4,000 miles since its last oil change, we also asked Morgan's to change the oil and filter and give the car a thorough check.
They used 15W-40 conventional oil and added a bottle of Justice Bros. zinc additive to the oil to protect the GN's flat tappet camshaft. They also told us the battery needs replacing and there's a small leak coming from the radiator.
Stubborn and cheap as we are, we said we would deal with that stuff down the road and we settled the bill, which totaled $762.18, including $411.75 for labor.
Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief
1987 Buick Grand National: Heater Core is Leaking
February 6, 2013
Our long-term 1987 Buick Grand National is sick. And it has been bed ridden for a week.
Last Friday I drove the GN about 45 miles east to Pomona to check out the Grand National Roadster Show. It was raining. All was well.
That night, however, on the return trip home, it quickly became obvious that the Buick wasn't right. I could smell coolant inside the car when the air conditioning was running, and the defogger would not work. I drove home looking through a fogged up windshield with a severe headache from the coolant fumes. I would occasionally put the windows down for some fresh air, but it was raining quite hard and soaking the Buick's pristine interior just felt wrong.
Obviously, the Buick's heater core is leaking. The parts are ordered and we plan to get it fixed this week.
Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief
1987 Buick Grand National: Adding Oil
January 18, 2013
Between detailing duties, antenna repairs and my usual duties, I finally managed to fulfill a request to check the Grand National's oil. The requestor said that the last time he checked, it was about a half quart low, so it didn't register as an urgent issue.
I took it out for a short drive to get the engine up to temperature and checked the oil as I topped off the fuel. Sure enough, it was down by half a quart. I poured in some Valvoline Max Life High Mileage 5W-30, which is the same stuff that our mechanic has been using.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor @ 8,192 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: Learning to Detail, Part Three
January 16, 2013
In the last installment of my detailing day at Meguiar's, we just finished the cleaning part of the procedure which included using clay bars and a liquid compound. This pretty much eliminated those offending swirl marks, but we weren't done yet.
The next step, polishing, is actually optional. It adds a deeper glossier finish, but depending on how much time and effort you want to commit to the project, it's one that can be skipped. We swapped off the heads of our dual-action polishers and loaded them up with Meguiar's Ultimate Polish. We selected a slower speed setting on the polishers and also lightened up on the pressure.
The key here was to keep in mind that we're just transferring the polish from the bottle to the paint. We're not trying to press the stuff deep into the surface. We were left with a very thin film that wiped away easily with, you guessed it, microfiber towels.
The next step, waxing and protection, is mandatory, as it'll ensure that all the hard work up to this point won't be wasted. Because our Grand National is mostly garaged and not exposed to harsh environments, I opted for their Gold Class Carnauba liquid wax. The Mikes said it would impart a deeper luster to the black paint and was only marginally less effective at long-term protection. The application process was identical to the polishing.
Through the whole process, we used the polishers to tackle the big areas and used the foam applicator pads for the smaller sections, like door handle pockets.
In the end, the Grand National looked absolutely stunning. Seriously, I couldn't stop looking at it even if Amber Heard showed up and started juggling flaming chainsaws next to it.
I learned quite a bit about detailing from the Mikes that day, and here are some of the important nuggets of wisdom that I'll pass on to you:
Read the directions and follow them.
Buy a lot of microfiber towels.
Only wash microfiber towels with other microfiber towels. DO not toss them in with cotton.
Don't use too much product. You're only wasting it and making it harder to remove later.
A lot of car care products are equally effective. Proper technique is the key.
There's nothing wrong with "all-in-one" products. Using a wash/cleaner/polish in a bottle could be a good thing to use between more serious detail jobs like this.
If you use a good dual-action polisher, it'll save a TON of time and it's virtually impossible to screw up the paint unless you drop it on the car.
There are more, for sure, but if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment here (it actually works for this long-term car) or find me on twitter (@mark_takahashi)
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor @ 8,105 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: Learning to Detail, Part Two
January 15, 2013
If you're new to this detailing series, head on back to part one to catch up, I'll wait.
Great! You're back and you know that we're doing a pretty decent detail and we have a lot of time on our hands to do it. Now on to part two: after the wash, cleaning.
Mike Pennington and Mike Stoops from Meguiar's and I determined the next course of action: clay bar. I'm an old dude and clay bars are still fairly new to me. I always thought of them as something to use when you really want a good detail and have a lot of time. I was wrong, and I've been doing it wrong.
The Mikes taught me to flatten the clay bar into something resembling a small pancake — you don't need a big brick of the stuff. Use plenty of whatever spray that comes with the clay bar to lubricate it over the paint surface. Use light pressure and just wipe that clay pancake all over the paint (that's Mike Stoops demonstrating it above).
Check it to see what kind of contaminants are coming off the surface and knead the clay a bit to give yourself another clean piece. Wipe clean with a microfiber cloth (seriously folks, buy these things in bulk) and you're left with a glassy-smooth surface.
This took no time at all and very little effort. If you're tired or your arms are sore, you're using way too much effort. The wash cleaned off surface contaminants. The clay bar cleans off what they called "attached" contaminants; the stuff that has embedded into the paint.
Now for the liquid part of the cleaning. We used Meguiar's Ultimate Compound for this step. You can use the foam applicator pad or, as we did, a dual-action polisher. DO NOT USE A PROFESSIONAL ROTARY POLISHER, you will likely damage the paint. We applied the compound in an "X" to the foam polishing pad and set the polisher to a higher speed setting. With moderate pressure, you press into the paint and move it in smooth overlapping strokes in areas that are about two-feet-square.
It was surprising to me how little compound was needed to clean the entire car. You don't even need to load up the pad with compound with every new section; only when it needs it. You should be left with a thin film, not a caked-on mess or even a white hazy veil. Less is more, here. Wiping it off (microfiber again!) is another art.
Fold the towel in quarters. The initial wipe "breaks" the surface of the wax. You should get about 75% of the wax off with this wipe. Flip the towel over to the clean side and wipe the remaining compound off. It's way easier if you don't use too much product, and just like the clay bar, effort should be light.
We kept evaluating the surface with the xenon light to see if it required another pass or two with the polisher. The results were stunning, as you can see in the test area shown below.
That concludes the cleaning portion. Next up: polishing. Look for Part Three shortly.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor @ 8,105 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: Learning to Detail, Part One
January 14, 2013
I woke up early one morning and staggered to my backyard to wash our Grand National. The sun wasn't up yet (then again, neither was I) and I could see my breath in the cold air. Oddly enough, I still wasn't miserable. There's some strange gratification I get from hand washing a car. As someone who once had aspirations of being a car designer, the washing process often gives me a peek into designer's thought process; as if I'm getting a feel for the car when it was still made of clay.
But this was just the beginning of the day for me and the Buick…
I headed south into Orange County, headed for Meguiar's HQ in Irvine. Yes, that Meguiar's; you know, Barry, Car Crazy, car care products. I was going to get a lesson in detailing cars from the Meguiar's experts: Mike Pennington and Mike Stoops.
Step one was done in my yard; a wash with real car wash products, a clean mitt and a gentle drying. Once at the Meguiar's shop, the Mikes started my education. The wash removes surface contaminants. That makes sense, right? But the miles between CasaHashi and Irvine probably deposited a fine layer of dirt and grime, so we wiped down the cool surfaces (keep it out of the sun, people) with clean microfiber towels and a quick detailing spray.
Now we had a clean surface to work on, but next was an all-important evaluation.
When you set out to detail a car, you have a lot of variables to consider.
What is the condition of the car? Our Grand National was suffering from a lot of swirl marks; likely caused by our weekly car wash (they don't use microfiber towels). It's not easy to illustrate swirl marks in paint, but the picture below is a pretty clear indication of the paint, and those swirls were everywhere. Using harsh sunlight is a good way to evaluate the surface, but we used some bright handheld xenon flashlights to bring out the flaws.
What are your goals? That's easy, let's get rid of the swirls. But we also had to maintain the "character" of the Grand National's crappy orange peel factory paint.
How much time do you have? I planned on begin at Meguiar's all day.
What is your skill level? I'm a novice, at best, but I'm with pros and I'm here to learn. I'm also here to pass this info on to you.
Your answers to the above questions may vary. Fortunately, there are a lot of options that change with the amount of time required, effort involved and ability of the detailer. Of course, the easy and quick route won't give you concours results, but maybe you just want your car to look good, right? Me? I wanted the Buick to look badass.
Look for Part Two shortly.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor @ 8,105 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: Detail Oriented
January 10, 2013
I love black cars. But as most people know, black cars require a bit more care when it comes to maintaining the paint. A few weeks ago, I was approached by someone representing Meguiar's car care products to see if there was something they could do for us. Well, yes...yes there is.
Even though the Grand National gets a hand wash every time, there are plenty of swirl marks from the dry off. And this offense shall not stand.
So I'm heading down to Meguiar's in Irvine, CA to get the full treatment. But I'm not just dropping it off to go shopping or surfing. No, I'll be right in there working on the car. They're going to tech me everything I need to know about the latest detailing products and procedures. Good thing, too, because my skills are at least 20 years old.
But there are concerns I voiced prior to agreeing to this. You see, Grand Nationals are notorious for having bad paint jobs. Not only is the paint delicate, but the orange peel (pictured above) on the surface is pretty prominent. Some call it personality, I call it a flaw. In any case, I made sure to tell them that the orange peel must remain.
There's a story that some guy decided to eliminate the carbon fiber weave pattern under the paint of a Ferrari F50. He ended up with a perfectly smooth red surface, but inadvertently stripped the car of $100,000 worth of resale value. I know the Buick is no Ferrari, but original is original, and I'm in no mood to hear it from Grand National purists.
Look for details shortly.
Mark Takahashi @ 8,000 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: Fixing the Antenna
January 9, 2013
The replacement nylon antenna cable and the instruction booklet showed up at Edmunds HQ last week, so it was time to get down to some repairs. I've noted before that electricity and I aren't friends, but I figured there wouldn't be too much in that arena that would keep me from completing the task. But there was plenty other stuff that got in the way.
The instruction booklet from GBodyParts.com was very detailed, with 27 steps and 40 pictures to guide me through the process (more if you have a GNX). My first read through the pages terrified me. At one point, I would need to unbolt a good part of the front fender and pry it away from the rest of the car to get the antenna assembly out.
The instructions noted to be careful not to bend the panel back too far or you'll end up putting a crease in it. So the possibility of turning this minor repair into a major screw up exists. Great. Add that to the boss telling me that I better not "mess" up his car, and the pressure was on.
I followed the instructions to a T. I disconnected the wiring to the antenna motor and attached a long wire so I could fish it back through the engine bay. Then I took to unbolting the front quarter panel after taping up any possible areas that might get scratched by the socket wrenches.
Then there was the dreaded "pull the panel away from the rest of the car," bit. I knew this would be the hard part, so I moved slowly and deliberately. I could see the assembly inside, but I couldn't quite get enough of a gap to pull the motor out. I tried and tried to no avail. Out of frustration, I walked outside for a break and started texting the bossman.
"I don't think I can fix it," I tapped into my phone, "I'm afraid I might…"
It was that last part that stopped me before I hit "send." Afraid? C'mon, man-up. I deleted the message and stormed back inside. I pulled the panel a little more than I was comfortable with, then reached in and yanked that sucker right out. There was much celebration and taunting of inanimate objects.
Wait a minute, this antenna assembly doesn't look like the metal one in the pictures. It was a replacement unit made from plastic. Turns out, I wasn't the first to fix this problem. That changed things a bit. I was prepared to drill out some rivets, but instead, I just had to pop some clips, unscrew a few bolts and pry the thing open.
I fished out the old broken nylon cable, cursing its very existence. Then I fed the new one in and wrapped it around the spool. After the whole thing was back together, I gave it a quick test. Success!
Putting the car back together was much easier than I expected. I made sure to line the bolts up with the old witness marks so that the fender would fit the way it should. The instructions noted that this could be very frustrating, but I had no problems. We now have a working power antenna again and there wasn't a single scratch on the car.
In the end, the part and instructions set us back $51.10. Our local stereo shop quoted $185, but their estimates seem to be pretty optimistic compared to the final bill. In the worst case scenario, I saved us $130 or so, and the whole thing took about four hours. When it happens again (and it probably will), I'm confident I could get it done in one hour.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor @ 8,017 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: Stuck in the Middle
January 4, 2013
As noted in the last Grand National post I put out there, the power antenna has been stuck at half mast. After consulting with Scott Oldham, we decided on a plan of attack.
Since the antenna motor sounds like it's trying to retract, that means it still works. The likely problem is a flimsy nylon cable that runs up the mast. According to many sources, these cables snap quite often.
I found a replacement cable from GbodyParts.com for the very reasonable price of $34.95 and promptly ordered it. It should be in this week, so I'll attempt to get at this project soon.
Until then, there's no radio. When I last went to drive the Grand National, the battery was almost dead. It turns out the antenna motor must've been trying to retract for a while. A quick jump from another vehicle got it back to form, but I had to pull the fuse for the radio to keep this from happening again.
Look for my attempt in a week or so.
Mark Takahashi @ 7,900 miles
1987 Buick Grand National: The Regal Rocks Again
November 28, 2012
After way too much time of cruising without clear tunes, we had the Buick's buzzy audio system fixed. We used the folks over at Santa Monica Car Sound, as we were happy with the radio restoration they performed on our Acura NSX long-termer.
As we similarly wanted to keep the Regal's stock system, they troubleshot it (bad output and blown rear speakers) and performed the required repairs, which included installing the Pioneer coaxial speakers seen here. The total for the job was $411. Not cheap, but now we can enjoy the most that the Buick's "Concert Sound" system has to offer, which includes cranking out what should be the Grand National's theme song.
John DiPietro, Automotive Editor
1987 Buick Regal Grand National: Thirsty?
October 31, 2012
As we do with each of the 300 or so cars we test every year, we checked a number of items prior to our retest of our Grand National (stay tuned for the post-tune-up results). Well, lookie here. The manual says it should be checked "hot" and to fill it to the full or slightly above the full marker.
That's a big reservoir, so it drank down more than a half-gallon of the stuff, but what to do with the remainder and the bottle?
I knew Annie's collar would come in handy someday. Miss that dog.
Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton
1987 Buick Grand National: Meet Our New Guru
October 19, 2012
That's Lou Czarnota. Lou is our new Grand National Guru.
A few minutes with the internet and it's clear that Lou is the go to guy in southern California for turbo Regals. So we called. He was pleasant on the phone and obviously knowledgable. The next day we were at Lou's front door.
Lou's Auto Service is in Lake Forest, CA, which is about 60 miles south our our Santa Monica office, and has been since 1977. When we arrived there was no doubt we had the right place, three GN's sat in the shop.
We weren't really there for any fixes in particular. Our GN is running well, but we wanted to meet Lou and have him take a look at our car, just to make sure we weren't missing anything. If we were, Lou would know what it is. He has owned dozens of Grand Nationals and Turbo Regals including two GNXs and an NHRA SS/DX record setting twin turbo drag car. He specializes in these vehicles, performing everything from routine maintenance to engine rebuilds.
He wasted no time digging in. We were there just three minutes when he said, "Open the hood, lets take a look."
After an underhood inspection he pulled the ECU from the passenger's footwell and cracked it open to see if our car had an aftermarket chip. It does not. That chip in the photo above is the same chip it left the factory with 25 years go.
Then Lou hooked a boost gauge and diagnostic tool to our car and said, "Lets go for a ride." He jumped in the driver's seat and fired it up. Then he hesitated for a moment, looked over at me and said with very little irony, "Just so you know, the last car I did this with threw a rod through its block. Should I proceed?"
I swallowed hard and pretended to laugh a bit. "Sure, lets go."
After a few runs through the gears Lou confirmed that our car is running the proper stock boost levels and the computer is retarding the timing 4 degrees at full throttle (from 22 to 18) due to California's 91 octane fuel. This is certainly robbing us of some horsepower, but Lou said it was normal. He also confirmed that our car was equiped with the stock thermostat and its cooling fans were coming on at 195 degrees, which is factory correct.
He also noticed that our Throttle Position Sensor needed a bit of adjustment. He opened the hood and tweaked it, assuring full throttle is just that.
We left happy. The Buick's throttle reponse is improved a bit, and we now have much more confidence in the health of our Regal.
Still, I have little doubt we'll be back to see Lou soon.
Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief
1987 Buick Grand National: Zinc, Rats and Wipers
October 17, 2012
We're still tweaking on the Buick. Yesterday I bought this very smelly and very expensive zinc additive ($16.99) and poured it into the GN's engine to protect its flat tappet cam, something the zincless Valvoline synthetic blend we're using fails to do.
If you're going to do this, here's a tip: Don't get the zinc additive on your hands. They smell for hours no matter how many times you wash them.
While I was at Pep Boys I also bought new wiper blades for the Buick. $9.99 each. Then I found the rat's nest.
With just 5,000 miles on the odometer it didn't really seem necessary to check the Buick's air filter. However, while I was installing the wiper blades I figured it couldn't hurt. Good thing I did. I found a rat's nest. Literally, complete with acorns.
I blew out the filter with some compressed air and vacuumed out the air box. Good as new.
Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 5,918 miles