1987 Buick Regal Grand National Long Term Road Test


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I can't remember Chuck's last name, but I'll never forget his car. Chuck's Grand National owned the street racing scene in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, back when my mullet was ripe and Bon Jovi was "Living on a Prayer." Chuck's car was a 1986, with T-tops and the rare white-letter tire option. I used to think that was so cool. I remember he removed the catalytic converter and it would run 13.8s at Englishtown all day.

In 1986 that was faster than sound.

If you were there, you know that speed — real speed — was still hard to come by in the mid-1980s. Though the decade was being marketed as the era of the modern muscle car, real speed remained universally unavailable. Sure, the 5.0 Mustang was a highlight, and Chevy's Monte Carlo SS and IROC-Z Camaro were quicker than anything since the 1960s, but truth is they weren't really that fast. Hell, the 305-cubic-inch V8 in the Monte was only pumping out 180 horsepower.

There was one car, however, that was different. One car that was truly quick. One car that could blow the doors off of anything else you could buy, including those storied big-displacement muscle cars from the 1960s. That car was the Buick Regal Grand National. It owned the street back then.

From 1986 until the big-buck Corvette ZR1 hit in 1990, the turbocharged Buicks in Darth Vader black ruled every cruise spot and street racing haunt in America. They outran anything and everything for 1,320 feet, including that rich kid's Corvette or his daddy's Porsche 911 Turbo. When you showed up in a GN, you got respect.

And they were affordable. Base price in 1987 was $16,154. More than a 5.0 Mustang, but much less than a Vette. Kids fresh out of school would land a job and run out and buy a Buick. A very black Buick that sounded like a hair dryer and smoked anything with a V8, including Chevy's plastic fantastic. That Friday night they were showing it off at the Roy Rogers in Toms River or in the pits at Englishtown.

Special then, special now is how the saying goes. Today, Buick Grand Nationals are bona fide collector cars, increasing in value every single day. And we just bought one.

What We Got
We just purchased one of the nicest Grand Nationals in the world. It's a 1987 Buick Regal Grand National with T-tops that has only been driven 5,000 miles. That is not a misprint. This car is perfect. A time capsule. A stone-stock perfectly preserved example of American power and style, and we just made it ours for $25,000.

Buick began selling the Grand National in 1982, but it wasn't black, it wasn't turbocharged and nobody cared. Only 215 folks bought the hot rod Regal with the NASCAR name, but Buick stuck with the concept and continued to turn up the wick. There was no 1983 model, but in 1984 the GN was back, this time with 200 turbocharged horsepower and its now infamous all-black styling treatment. Still, nobody cared. Even an MTV music-video-style TV commercial didn't help. Only 2,000 were sold. In 1985 little changed, including sales, which totaled 2,102.

Then, in 1986, an icon was born. Buick added an intercooler to the turbocharged coupe and reinvented the muscle car. Horsepower jumped to 235 hp and suddenly everyone wanted to know what an intercooler was.

The forced-induction system feeds its 14-15 psi of boost to a 3.8-liter V6 with sequential fuel injection (SFI), a distributor-less computer-controlled ignition, electronic wastegate controls and a compression ratio of 8.0:1. It was some high-tech stuff 25 years ago, but it was combined with old-school GM muscle car hardware like pushrods, a full ladder-type frame, a solid rear axle (3.42 gear ratio), rear drum brakes and 15-inch wheels and tires. The only transmission was a 200-4R four-speed automatic with an overdrive. Don't laugh. The combination worked.

According to the definitive book on the subject — Buick GNX by Martyn L. Schorr — sales shot up in 1986 to 5,512 units (7,896 if you include T-type models, which were essentially Grand Nationals but without the blackout treatment). Then GM announced that the rear-wheel-drive G-body platform would be replaced in 1988 with the front-wheel-drive GM10. If you wanted a Grand National, 1987 was going to be your last shot. Output got another bump to 245 hp and sales skyrocketed to over 22,000 (27,590 with T-types). The GN became so popular that GM extended production through December (it was supposed to end in July) to fill the orders.

Everyone knew it was the end of something special, including Buick's engineers and product guys. Which is why they cooked up the also very black GNX, an even more powerful tweaked-up version of the GN — or the Grand National to end all Grand Nationals, as it was billed. Some 547 were built and they cost as much as $100,000 today on the collector car market.

After three or four months of shopping for our own GN, we had all but given up hope and had moved on to shopping used AMG Mercedes. But one final Internet search turned up this car just six miles from our office at Fleiner Automotive, a body/paint/sales facility on the west side of Los Angeles. We called, we looked, we test-drove and we negotiated.

Adam Fleiner's small facility was packed with interesting rides, from a 1967 Chevy Impala SS with a big-block 427-cubic-inch V8 and four-speed to a Gasser-style '55 Chevy, a Bentley Continental GT and a Ferrari F355 Spider. Fleiner had the Buick on consignment and was asking $28,900. Adam was pleasant on the phone, even nicer in person and he didn't hesitate when we asked him to put the Buick up on his lift so we could get a good look at its underside.

Along with the factory black-vinyl T-top bags, which protect the glass panels while they're stashed in the trunk, our GN also came with its original window sticker (incredible). It was sold new at Pepe Chevrolet and Buick in Millville, New Jersey, and it was ordered with more than a few desirable options: electric door locks ($145); power windows ($210); electric trunk lock release ($50); hatch roof ($895); lighted visor passenger side vanity mirror ($50); electronic cruise control ($175); automatic power antenna ($70); concert-sound speaker system ($95); and a six-way power driver seat ($240). Total with a $430 destination charge was $18,514. Its EPA ratings, by the way, were 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.

Any car that's 25 years old is going to need a little love, and our Buick, despite its extremely low mileage, is no exception. The right front shock is junk, the Goodyear tires look new but date back to 1996, plus we're going to spring for some basic maintenance, like an oil change, a new fuel filter and a basic tune-up.

We're still taking care of those fixes. So far we've only driven the car about 100 miles. In fact, we're still on our first tank of gas. But we should have it sorted in a week or two and then we're going to drive the snot out of it.

Why We Got It
Selfish reasons really. I graduated high school in 1987. In New Jersey.

'Nuff said.

Plus, it gave us an excuse to pull off the ultimate 1980s-style photo shoot, complete with big hair and a boom box. It's going to be a fun year with this thing.

Follow the action with the 1987 Buick Regal Grand National on our long-term blog. And Chuck, old buddy, if you're reading this, give me a call. We'll go for a ride.

Current Odometer: 5,155 miles
Best Fuel Economy: N/A
Worst Fuel Economy: N/A
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): N/A

Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.