By 1978, Buick engineers were nostalgic about the Good Old Days of GS 455 Stage 1s and wondered how to put some oomph into their modern cars. Their idea was to turbocharge the 1961 Buick Special V-6. The first effort was the turboharged Regal Sport Coupe of 1978, which boosted the 125 hp V-6 to 165 hp.
Buick had won the NASCAR manufacturer’s trophy in 1981 and 1982, and this spawned the Grand National package. It was based on a mix of Regal Coupes, Sport Coupes and Limiteds with various powerplants up to the 4.1-liter, 175-hp V-6 with the smaller, faster Garrett AiResearch turbo. These are the only Grand Nationals that aren’t all black, but be aware that very few had the highest output motor.
The Grand National was replaced by the Turbo T-Type in 1983, but returned in its familiar all-black look in 1984. The package cost a very reasonable $1,282 and offered 200 hp. The 1985 GN offered a list of performance options, including a suspension package, astro roof and multiple power options. Buick sold 2,102 examples that year.
The turbo engineers were warming to their task and the 1986 GN got an intercooler and improved plenum, for 235 hp and improved torque. It was now completely black, with nearly no chrome. A rare oddity this year was the Le Sabre Grand National, of which only 112 were made.
The last year for the GN was 1987, and as the last mid-sized, rear-wheel drive sport coupe, demand surged. The 1987 Grand National was the fastest year, with 245hp, 0-60 in 6.1 seconds, and a 13.85 quarter mile at 99.2 mph. In all 20,193 GN’s were built, 10,000 being ordered in the last 6 months.
The GNX model was the ultimate Grand National, and only 547 were built. Chief Engineer Dave Sharp approached ASC/McLaren about building the ultimate version as a sendoff to the Grand National. McLaren agreed and the heart of the car became the 276 hp, blueprinted turbo V-6. The Garrett intercooled turbo was governed by a new chip and a sequential fuel injection system was built. The chassis was significantly tweaked and the whole package added $10,995 to the base GN for a total of $29,900. The result was 0-60 in 5.5 seconds, the quarter mile in 13.43 seconds at 104 mph and top speed of 124 mph, thanks to the sudden application of a governor. Bypassing that restriction probably adds another 20 mph.
Many Grand Nationals survive, almost all were immediately marked as collectibles, but many were also used hard and put away wet, so look carefully.