1987 Buick Regal Grand National Long-Term Road Test on Edmunds.com

1987 Buick Regal Grand National Long-Term Road Test



New Updates | Introduction | Cargo Space |Performance| MPG | Interior | Audio & Technology | Maintenance | Miscellaneous | Wrap-Up

Read the introduction of the 1987 Buick Regal Grand National to our long-term fleet.

See all of the Buick Grand National long-term updates.

What We Got
We purchased a 1987 Buick Regal Grand National with T-tops and a mere 5,000 miles on the clock. It was a pristine flashback to '80s-era American power and style. The cost for the pink slip to this piece of history was $25,000.

Our 1987 Buick Regal Grand National sported its signature, all-black treatment. Beneath the hood was the intercooled and turbocharged 3.8-liter V6. This 235-horsepower engine was introduced in the 1986 model and put this car on the map. Sequential fuel injection, electronic ignition and electronic wastegate controls were cutting-edge technology 25 years ago. But the Grand National still had the classic GM hardware enthusiasts grew up with: pushrods, a full ladder-type frame, a solid 3.42 rear axle, rear drum brakes and a 200-4R four-speed transmission with overdrive.

1987 Buick Regal Grand National

When GM announced it would replace the rear-wheel-drive GN with a front-wheel-drive version in 1988, popularity soared. It seemed to hold, because we shopped diligently for four months before finding our car. Ironically, it was just 6 miles from our office. A short test-drive later and we were negotiating a price. Our Grand National test was under way.

Our Impressions

  • "I know we'll never get to go back to the days of spindly A-pillars and low beltlines, thanks to modern-day expectations for crashworthiness, but just look at this steering wheel. It fits perfectly in my hands at nine and three, and it doesn't need a thick rim to do so. I never got tired of gripping it. And although the wheel doesn't telescope (it has a small range of tilt adjustment), the driver seat itself offers enough power adjustments to put me (a 5-foot-10-inch adult) in a comfortable position to drive the Grand National. The visibility from the cockpit is also striking, of course. With the hood as low as it is, you can have a hood scoop and still see beyond it. And with such small pillars, the tiny side mirrors are actually somewhat useful." — Erin Riches

  • "The Grand National is a little pokey off the line without pedal overlap, but 6.0 seconds to 60 mph is nothing to scoff at.... I found holding the car steady on the brakes while raising the rpm to about 3,000 and the boost to about 5 psi netted the characteristic Dino (from the Flintstones) launch sound right on the verge of wheelspin. Upshifts are quick and occur right at redline. By the way, the 5,000 rpm is exactly that, a redline and not a rev limiter. The engine will rev beyond redline like they used to in '87." — Chris Walton

  • "New shocks and new tires helped here during track testing. Not sure I'd give all the credit to the tires because there's also so little slack in the steering, and the chassis feels compliant and forgiving due to the shocks. I could really attack the slalom in this one, where I wanted to throw in the towel on the other '87 Grand National we tested. It exhibited pretty mild steady-state understeer. I had to get used to surging from the turbo, but eventually managed to keep the throttle steady around the skid pad. Steering weight is light, yet I could feel the front tires' grip ebbing." — Chris Walton

  • "He lays into it. Not full throttle. There's too much traffic. Just enough to feel the boost and a firm 2nd-gear upshift. 'The condition of this car is remarkable,' Mark Reuss, president of General Motors, says over the wind rushing in the open windows. 'Even has the original paint with all the orange peel. That's how you know it's original. If a Grand National has good paint without orange peel you know it's been repainted.'" — Scott Oldham

  • "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 multiport 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." — Erin Riches

  • "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.... '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." — Erin Riches

  • 1987 Buick Regal Grand National

  • "'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. It's quite obvious the battery's kaput. 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." — James Riswick

  • "Just as we turned off Sunset Boulevard, a passenger in the back said, 'I'm sort of surprised we haven't gotten a lot of compliments for the Grand National.' Just then, and practically on cue, it happened. A fine gentleman selling bootleg memorabilia howled, 'Is that a Grand National? Dayuuum. That is cleeeeean! Better be careful, my brothers would be eyeing that thing like a Philly Cheesesteak, man!' I think that's a compliment. In any case, we were amused." — Mark Takahashi

  • "I pulled into a gas station lot, rolled down my windows and kept my hands on the wheel. In the mirror I saw him walk up to the Buick and give the trunk lid spoiler a friendly tap. This incredibly polite officer let me know that I was clocked doing 87. When I saw him, I was at an indicated 82 mph. Well, that's one way to find out your speedometer is off." — Mark Takahashi

  • "At this pace, the Buick is on the same use pace as our previous long-term old cars, including the 1984 Ferrari 308 and our recently departed 1985 Porsche 911. The problem is that it feels like we're already getting bored with the Buick. Everyone on staff claims enthusiasm for the car and those who have driven it return with a smile and an apparent desire to do it again. But they don't.... Even I am losing my enthusiasm for the black Buick.... Part of me says it's just too normal. You fire it up, adjust the air-conditioning, put it in Drive and go. No muss, no fuss.... Maybe it's the mild performance combined with its lack of sound. The 308 and the 911 were slow, but they sounded sweet. They also had manual transmissions.... Bottom line is that driving the Buick doesn't feel like the event I thought it would. It's fun and I'm still enjoying it on many levels, but it isn't making runs to the grocery store feel like special moments in my life." — Scott Oldham

Maintenance & Repairs

Regular Maintenance:
Routine fluid top-offs and replacements cost us $258 while we owned the Buick. We spent significantly more to address other long-term maintenance and parts failures. Here is a quick breakdown:

Replace leaking wheel cylinders and rear brake drums $389.05
Replace oil cooler assembly $231.35
Remove oil cooler assembly and replace oil filter $75.00
Install BF Goodrich Radial T/A tires $721.65
Four-wheel alignment $138.60
Repair sound system $411.10
Replace shocks $370.53
Repair radio antenna $51.10
Replace heater core $700.18
Replace battery $140.00

The majority of the work was performed by Morgan Auto Service in Santa Monica. Owner Greg Morgan was a Grand National owner himself, and took really good care of us. The highly regarded Grand National master, Charlie Frierson of Hillsboro, Texas, was there for us when the oil cooler acted up during our drive cross-country. We felt fortunate to have these skilled mechanics work on our Buick when it needed it most. Although he didn't actually perform any work on our Grand National, Lou Czarnota, of Lou's Auto Service in Lake Forest, California, also provided plenty of invaluable advice along the way.

Service Campaigns:
There were no recalls or technical service bulletins during our test.

Fuel Economy and Resale Value

Observed Fuel Economy:
EPA calculations for a 1987 Buick Regal Grand National were 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. We averaged 17.2 mpg over 10,000 miles of driving the Buick. Our best single tank was 23.2 mpg and covered 301 miles.

1987 Buick Regal Grand National

Resale and Depreciation:
We purchased the Buick Grand National for $25,000. After 10,000 miles we sold it for the same price. It took some time to find the right buyer, but in the end we both walked away with smiles on our faces. Edmunds TMV® information was not available on the Grand National at the time of sale.

Summing Up

Pros: The Buick Grand National still has the power to excite. It draws the attention of both enthusiasts and the general public. Our sales price suggests these cars remain in demand.

Cons: After 25 years, moving parts need replacing. We spent a fair amount of time and money to keep the GN on the road.

Bottom Line: Nostalgia follows the Grand National. There is almost a brotherhood between owners and it still earns respect from those outside of the fold. While it wasn't our favorite throwback purchase, it was still a special car.

Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs: $257.92 (over 12 months)
Additional Maintenance Costs: $3,228.56
Warranty Repairs: None
Non-Warranty Repairs: Replace leaking wheel cylinders, replace rear brake drums, replace oil cooler assembly, install four BF Goodrich Radial T/A tires, four-wheel alignment, repair sound system, replace shocks, repair radio antenna, replace heater core and replace battery.
Scheduled Dealer Visits: None
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 5
Days Out of Service: 8
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Best Fuel Economy: 23.2 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 8.5 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 17.2 mpg
True Market Value at service end: Not available
What It Sold for: $25,000
Depreciation: $0 (or 0% of paid price)
Final Odometer Reading: 15,570 miles

Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.



  • pommah pommah Posts:

    "Bottom line is that driving the Buick doesn't feel like the event I thought it would. It's fun and I'm still enjoying it on many levels, but it isn't making runs to the grocery store feel like special moments in my life." ---- Pretty sure that's how people felt about the car back in '87 too

  • bankerdanny bankerdanny Posts:

    I disagree Pommah, think about the options in '87 that were a similar price point to the GN: the Firebird/Camaro and 5.0 Mustangs. Chrysler was all about turbo 4's in those days and the C4 Corvette was quite a bit more expensive. You (and the Edmunds staff) can't get past the amazing performance found in even pedestrian sedans. I remember how much I loved the '87 LX 5.0 I bought used in '88. It felt blazingly fast and every trip to the grocery was amazingly fun. Yet today a V6 Camry would show my Mustang its tail lights. The GN feels pedestrian to the Edmunds crew because compared to what they drive on a daily basis, it is.

  • pommah pommah Posts:

    in '87 most enthusiasts were buying RX-7's, Toyota Supra's, Nissan Z's, and Porsche 944's. For a reason. You had a few hardcore American Iron buyers going after F-bodies and Mustangs (SVO, GT). Most men under 40 wouldn't have been caught dead in a Buick even if it had a powerful turbo motor in it.

  • bankerdanny bankerdanny Posts:

    You are misrembering the late 80's my friend. In 1987 Ford sold 64k 5.0 Mustangs, GM sold 77k V8 powered Camaros 46k V8 powered Firebirds. That's a combined production of 187k cars. The combined sales of the 300ZX, Supra, RX7, and 944 was 99k cars. The '87 300ZX was a joke, turbo or not. The Gen 3 Supra, while offering excellent power in turbo guise, was not nearly as appealing to the enthusiast as the 2 and 4. The RX7 has been a niche car at best after the first generation, and the 3rd gen '91-'02 turbo cars are easily the best of the bunch, but after the GN's time. The 944 and 944 Turbo were and are great cars, I would love to see Edmunds get one for the fleet, but they played in a completely different market. And in 1987 there were plenty of men under 40 that remembered the mighty GS's and were more than happy to look to Buick for a fast car. If anything it was the V6 that kept tham away, not the name. That's why the Monte Carlo SS was so popular with GM selling 39k, more than any of the 4 cars you listed.

  • pommah pommah Posts:

    I said "most enthusiasts". I was deliberately leaving off the large number of gay hairdressers who bought that Detroit stuff. I guess I remember differently because I was in a place (California) that had some taste in automobiles. Seriously, though, if you cut your production volumes to just T/A's and Z28's - true enthusiast versions - you get far less than the numbers you quoted. Some of those 5 liter V8's made as little as 165 hp. And in my crowd there was one guy who bought a Mustang GT whilst the rest of us went for the imports. And we all thought the GrandNational was kind of cool but nobody I ever knew ponied up for one. Oh, and the mileage on that Detroit Iron was horrific too, in a time when gas was pretty pricey.

  • noburgers noburgers Posts:

    Let's not use sales numbers to determine what were/are the best enthusiast vehicles. This is all opinion, anyway. I think Monte Carlo SS, IROC Z, Z cars, and 5.0 Mustangs, and maybe even the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe in the Grand National's time zone. The long term test was great until the posts started dwindling, plus the annoying comments stream. Glad you limited the cost to only repairs.

  • bankerdanny bankerdanny Posts:

    Yep, that's what all those BMW's with chrome wheels and Mercedes with gold trim packages say to me: taste. But at any rate none of those cars competed against the GN, which was a muscle car in the mold of the GTO/Chevelle/442, the Charger, and the Fairlane. What kept GM from selling more was that the guys in their 30's that were 16/17/18 during the mid to late 60's musclecar heyday wanted V8's, not a new fangled turbo V6, thus the strong sales numbers for the Monte Carlo SS.

  • joefrompa joefrompa Posts:

    I owned a 1988 thunderbird turbo coupe (2.3 liter turbo 4-cyl, 5-speed trans, LSD). 190 HP stock but with a manual boost controller and a K&N cone filter stuck on the end of the intake, it supposedly made somewhere around 240-250hp. The MBC took it from 15 PSI to 18PSI and held it there over a longer period of time. I bought that car for $200 at an auto auction with a broken sway bar end link ($8 at pep boys) and a busted throttle positioning sensor ($32). I put 25,000 miles on it and another $2-3k on clutch (my own fault), exhaust, etc. It's still running great today. I realize the Grand National is famous, but I'd recommend Edmunds focus on something a bit more exotic/special like a Mustang SVO (same engine as my thunderbird) or, yes, a turbo Supra, etc. The presence of a manual transmission is an enormous part of making an experience special and more memorable.

  • Final answer: the 85 911 was/is still the best bang for the buck.

  • jb1950 jb1950 Posts:

    I like seeing this kind of review of a car that many of us grew up with. I hope Edmunds does more like it. The big thing of interest to me is how today's reviewers grade the cars from the past, especially like this Buick that had such relatively low mileage. I am always thinking that we old timers sometimes carry glowing memories of cars from our youth, and sometimes forget how much has changed in todays cars to make the driving experience so much better than what we experienced from yesteryear. Sometimes I think we need to say "you had to be there" to put perspective on those cars from our youth. We were younger too.

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