Kevin Hart’s “Dark Knight” Grand National is a subtle twist on turbo Buick muscle

Courtesy of Salvaggio Design

Comedian and actor Kevin Hart has proven once again that he has great taste in cars. Several of his previous Mopar restomods have garnered magazine features and drawn the eyes of the muscle car world. His latest build, revealed at the 2022 SEMA show, is finished to the same high quality as his previous builds but this one is a bit more restrained, fitting the source material, a 1987 Buick Grand National.

Hart once again tapped Salvaggio Designs for the total transformation of this build, as his relationship with company owner Dave Salvaggio goes back several years and involves several cars. Hart already had a limited-production 1987 GNX in his collection, so he wanted this sinister Buick to be even more subdued—all of the added performance under wraps and all of the rubber tucked in under factory-looking fenders. (No GNX-style flares allowed!)

The team at Salvaggio Design was, however, permitted to flex its muscle a bit on the front bumper; the subtle details of the Sean Smith rendering were turned into full-size 3D-printed versions that were then used by Brothers Composites to create the actual part in carbon fiber. Most of the carbon fiber is hidden under the black paint, but if you look carefully you’ll spot the hood blister, mirrors, and rear spoiler all show off the composite weave.

If you’ve seen any of Hart’s other builds, you’ll notice that they always bear a name and an associated theme. Going with the Grand National’s blacked-out exterior, Hart dubbed this project “Dark Knight” in honor of the famous caped crusader. Rather than any overt callouts to Batman lore, the car uses a grey and blue interior that evoke his costume, while several bronze accents are nods to the myriad gadgets on his utility belt. The interior redesign was conceived by Salvaggio Design and Sean Smith to match the subtle exterior mods. Gabe’s Custom Interiors upholstered the seats in dark blue and grey leather with contrasting bronze stitching and also built new door skins with carbon-fiber inlays.

Kevin Hart Buick Grand National restomod engine bay
Courtesy of Salvaggio Design

Like his brutal Mopars, this Buick got a serious dose of modern horsepower. While a late-model Hemi is a great choice for a classic Plymouth, the logical choice to replace the Grand National’s pushrod 3.8-liter turbocharged V-6 was the LF4 3.6-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine from the Cadillac ATS-V.

Mario Abascal from Gearhead Fabrications was enlisted to swap the direct-injected V-6 and eight-speed automatic into the Buick G-body.  “It was the obvious choice for what Buick might have installed if the Grand National GNX were around today!” said Abascal.

Of course, just because it was the right choice didn’t mean it was the easy choice. Abascal found a donor ATS-V powertrain with all of its associated computers and wiring and went through the lengthy process of chasing wires to determine which parts were needed and which parts could be omitted. After shedding all the unnecessary wiring and extending the new harness to mount the powertrain control module out of sight, Abascal plumbed in a single 67mm Boost Labs BL67R ball-bearing turbo with a billet compressor wheel, ditching the Cadillac’s twin-turbo system for a more Grand-National-appropriate single turbo mounted prominently up front. Just look at the engine bay: it absolutely looks like that engine belongs there.

Of course, both Hart and Abascal were also concerned with performance, so you’ll be glad to hear that the LF4, which was originally rated for 464 hp at the crankshaft, was dyno-tuned to produce 650 hp at the rear wheels while feeding on 103-octane fuel.

Salvaggio Design built a custom chassis for the G-body to handle all of its newfound power. The front suspension uses a Detroit Speed X-Gen 595 subframe, while the rear uses a Detroit Speed four-link and Panhard bar that can handle the additional stress of the new powerplant. There is also plenty of rubber to get the power to the ground thanks to 325/30R19 Toyo Proxes R888R tires mounted to 19×11-inch HRE 501 wheels. Up front, 19×9-inch wheels use 265/30 rubber. While the front wheels and tires are a bit smaller, they get the big end of the brake package with Brembo GT six-piston calipers.

Even with the added challenge of a difficult engine swap, this Grand National can easily stand as one of the top Grand National restomods we’ve ever seen. The LF4 engine may be hard to come by, but we bet that Hart’s latest build has plenty of turbo V-6 fans greedily eying their local salvage yard.

This Dark Knight will surely be an inspiration for others.

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    It’s pretty… I like the fact that they updated the interior while still maintaining its original look. If you are going to throw the original 3.8 in the metal barrel, the replacement isn’t a bad option, but I would like to know where the metal barrels of some of these resto-modders are, because they throw away a lot of pretty good stuff – which I think future generations are going to regret

    I’m kind of torn here. I’m not generally a fan of Mr. Hart’s “great taste in cars”, as IMO, he has gotten a little tacky on some, and downright ruined others. But it’s his money and his car, so who am I to snark… However, this one really seems to be well done and the interior especially is quite attractive. He hasn’t “modded” the body so darned much as to make it unrecognizable, either. So I’m giving some tacit approval to the end result.

    (Not that Hart and his bank account will EVER be looking for my approval of anything! 😏)

    So much for “subtle” lol
    I am not a fan, I do not like the new look vs. the old look of the car.

    Hey Kevin – do not let anybody drive this one off a cliff, ok?

    It’s a bit too lowered and the whee;s/tires are too big. Otherwise I’m mostly ok with it. He could have done it a little more subtle and it would be even better.

    I don’t get it…but I have never understood the appeal of the Grand National since it debuted, so no surprise there. The ‘styling’ of the Grand National is uninspired and dull…Turbocharging a V6 pushrod engine is just corner-cutting to add cheap horsepower…the chassis and underpinnings were unable to turn extra horsepower into anything fun…and the interior was the epitome of ‘Grandpa’s Buick’. Mr. hart’s imagination and wallet could have put to so much better use!

    These are definitively nostalgia cars. I personally like them as they have that “dangerous” sleeper look. In this case I think they threw out the best part of the car which is the engine. What it lacked in power more than made it of on reliability.

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