Buick introduced the Regal nameplate in 1973 as a mid-priced, personal luxury coupe, akin to Chevrolet’s Monte Carlo and Pontiac’s Grand Prix. A sedan was added to the lineup in 1974, and the company’s new car immediately became one of Buick’s best sellers. The mid-1970s fuel crunch heavily influenced the car’s first redesign, which debuted in 1978.
The 1978 Buick Regal, now only offered as a two-door coupe, was slightly smaller, slightly lighter, and received more squared-off lines and fewer design effects. Most notably, however, was the introduction of a turbocharged V-6 engine. While the Big Three had used turbochargers in the past on production vehicles (e.g., the Chevrolet Corvair and the Oldsmobile F-85), they had been absent in the U.S. market on a domestic offering for nearly a decade. The turbo increased both fuel economy and performance, bumping horsepower from 105 to 165 on the 231-c.i. V-6, and was installed in the Regal Sport Coupe. Entry-level and Limited trims could be equipped with one of two naturally aspirated V-6s, or with a two- or four-barrel 305-c.i. V-8. In all, less than 10 percent of Regals were equipped with the turbo engine.
Engine choices changed slightly as the model years ticked by, 1981 saw a more streamlined restyle, and a sedan and station wagon briefly joined the coupe in the catalog. Following success on the NASCAR circuit in 1981 and 1982 with a performance-oriented, 180-hp Regal Turbo T-Type in 1983. The biggest change to the Regal lineup, however, occurred in 1984 when the Grand National appeared.
The Grand National was a different beast indeed, with a sinister, blacked-out “Darth Vader” visage. The $1,282 package bumped the Regal T-Type’s sticker price up to $13,400, and included suspension modifications, a different rear axle ratio, and overdrive. By now, the T-Type and Grand National turbo V-6 was putting out 200 hp.
The turbo engineers were warming to their task, and the 1986 Grand National received an intercooler and improved plenum, for 235 hp and improved torque. It was now completely black, with nearly no chrome, and despite being only a modest seller, the GN was an image changer for Buick, appealing more to a youthful buyer than the brand’s typical shopper.
The last year for the Grand National was 1987, and as the final mid-sized, rear-wheel drive sport coupe, demand surged. It didn’t hurt that 1987 was the 245-hp Grand National’s fastest year, with 0-60 times of 6.1 seconds, and a 13.85 quarter mile at 99.2 mph. Sales were comparatively brisk for the GN, and 20,193 were built in 1987, 10,000 being ordered in the last 6 months. A lightweight WE4 package was also offered this year.
Before closing the book on this generation of Regal, Buick’s Chief Engineer, Dave Sharp, approached ASC/McLaren about building the ultimate GN. McLaren agreed and the heart of the car, named the GNX, 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 Grand National for a total of $29,900. However the result was 0-60 in 5.5 seconds, a quarter mile in 13.43 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. Only 547 GNX’s were produced, and today they are one of the most sought-after American cars of the decade.
For the 1988 model year, Buick completely redesigned the Regal by downsizing the car, shifting it to a front-wheel-drive layout, and modernizing its appearance.
Today, most enthusiasts gravitate towards the performance-oriented T-Types and Grand Nationals. Scores survive, though the cars were frequently heavily enjoyed when new, so diligence is required upon inspection.