While modern-day Buick struggles to compete with the likes of Lexus and Acura, there was once a car with a Buick logo that muscle-car enthusiasts dream of driving. Funny as it sounds now, in its era this car used to give the Corvettes and other high-end sports cars a run for their money. This car is none other than the Buick Grand National.
With a turbocharged V-6 under the hood that helped gain quicker accelerations and a standard black paint job that made the design of the Grand National more intimidating, this car is definitely considered as one of the true muscle cars, during its heyday. To make matters worse, this car peaked in an era where econo-boxes reigned supreme and performance was an afterthought.
The Grand National, in today’s standards, is like the 2013 Shelby GT500 with both cars being a working man’s supercar. So, now you’ll get the big picture how the Buick Grand National was in the 1980s...
With rumors circling that GM is trying to revive the Grand National name for a high-performance Buick, we just hope that the rumor of will come true and spark excitement like it used to back in the 80s.
Click past the jump to read our historical review of the iconic Grand National
Exterior and Interior
Nothing charming could be said about the Grand National’s exterior, as it looked like any GM car that rolled out during the late 80s. Yes, it did have distinguishing elements like the Buick grille and Buick’s "Power 6" badges in the fenders and wheel centers, but overall, it looked like your run-of-the-mill 1980s slushbox.
The main feature though that made it unique was the color of all the elements. Each nook and cranny of the exterior was finished in jet black. Since the movie "Return of the Jedi" was released during the same time, people often referred to the Grand National as the "Darth Buick.” If only it had the laser guns and light sabers...
While its interior is an eyesore by today’s standards, the right angles and upright binnacles covered in a leather-print vinyl used to be “the thing” among the 80s motorheads. Plus, it was marketed as a “working man’s supercar,” so to make the word "working" true, the Grand National had to undergo such a treatment.
The one aspect that makes us easily forget the bland interior is the raw power that the Grand National oozes. GM was typically overly protective of its dearest Corvette, sometimes a way that makes us all a little uncomfortable, but the Grand National was one of the few exceptions GM made to its standing protect-the-Corvette-at-all-costs rule.
This shot at the king was a bold move made by Buick that likely angered the boys at Chevrolet. Why should have the Chevy boys been so ticked off? Here’s why by model year:
In 1982, the Regal Grand National debuted, but it is not really considered a true Grand National. Believe it or not, second to the LeSabre Grand National, this was the rarest of the bunch at only 215 units produced. It lacked the all-black look and used a lump of a 4.1-liter V-6 engine that produces a flat-lining 125 horsepower. Typically, we would leave this one off of the list, but, so you purists don’t curse us, here you go…
If anyone tells you they have a 1983 Grand Natty, they’re full of it, as there wasn’t one built…
In 1984, the Grand National actually started performing well, as it featured a 3.8-liter turbocharged V-6 engine that pumped out 200 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. For those not around in the 1980s, you may be thinking “Well, my Civic has 200 horsepower, what’s so special?” Keep in mind that this was the era when emissions chocked power output to the point thateven the mighty Corvette only produced 205 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque.
The 1984 Grand Natty made the Corvette squirm in its fiberglass underpants with its 15.9-second 1/4-mile time, as that was only 0.8 seconds slower than GM’s favorite child could pull off. And the Natty still had some room to grow.
In 1985, the Grand National carried over the 1984’s specifications, but the Vette saw a 25-horsepower bump. The Buick boys saw red and came back the following year.
In 1986, Buick added in an air-to-air intercooler and tweaked the boost output to net the 3.8-liter V-6 an extra 35 horsepower and 30 pound-feet of torque, bettering the mighty Corvette’s base engine by 5 horsepower. With aluminum heads, the Corvette matched the Natty’s output.
The extra power pushed the Grand National to a new height, hitting 60 mph in 4.8 seconds and clearing a 1/4-mile in just 13.7 ticks of the second hand. That left the Corvette boys holding their jock straps at the starting line, as the Vette took 5.9 seconds to hit 60 mph and cleared the 1/4-mile in 14.2 seconds. Then the GM battle for power really took hold, but we now know who ended up on top…
In 1987, with Chevy breathing down Buick’s neck about its “precious,” Buick decided to shelf the Grand Natty the following year. But not before going out in a blaze of horsepower glory. Two Grand Nationals hit the streets in 1987, the base model and an outrageous GNX model.
The base Grand National hit 245 horsepower and 355 pound-feet of torque, and the GNX pumped out a mighty 276 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque. This netted the GNX a 0-to-60 time of 4.7 seconds and a 1/4-mile time of 13.5 seconds. The Base grand Natty cleared the quarter in 14.23 seconds. Both numbers simply embarrassed the 1987 Corvette, as if Buick sucker-punched “The American Sports Car” in the gut as it was shown the door.
GM’s longstanding first commandment is “Thou shalt not victimize thy Corvette” and that commandment went so far as to halt the potential GM/Shelby relationship. Oddly enough, it couldn’t squash its own sister company’s attempt at putting its halo car to shame with a turbocharged box on wheels.
Sure, the Corvette was sexier and handled the twist more effectively. In a straight line, however, the Grand Natty was pound-for-pound and dollar-for-dollar a better car than the C4 Vette. Allow us to duck away for a second as Vette enthusiasts everywhere chuck tomatoes at our heads.
Then there is the other GM sports car of the era, the Camaro. Once a mighty muscle car that was castrated by emission regulations, the mid-1980s-era is a dark one for the Camaro, as it strained to keep its V-8 engines’ heads over the 200-pony mark. Despite its ability in the corners, the Camaro really had no shot against the Grand Natty in the mid- to late-1980s.
Finally, we have the old Fox Body Mustang GT. Much like every other muscle car, the Mustang had its manhood removed by the EPA, but Ford seemed to nearly go insane after the procedure. This insanity came in the form of the Mustang II, which was little more than a Pinto with a cool name and a body kit. Fortunately, the Mustang returned to its true form when the four-eyed Fox Body `Stang hit the market.
Much like the Camaro, the Mustang struggled to hit 200 horsepower and didn’t do so until the 1985 5.0-liter H.O. engine debuted with 210 horses. Ford even took a direct swipe at the turbocharged 6-pot with its own turbocharged muscle car in the form of the 205-horsepower Mustang SVO, which had a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder. By the end of the Grand Natty’s run of dominance, the Mustang only mustered up 225 ponies and was left behind the Buick by a long way.
The Buick Grand National was daft but brilliant. It’s hard to put your thumb on exactly what kind of car it is. It was too plush to be a muscle car, but too ugly and bland to be a sports car or supercar. It’s almost like the little guy in the gym that tosses 300 pounds on the barbell and pumps out a dozen reps. You can’t help but look at your buddies and say “dude, did that really just happen?” Seeing a glorified Buick Regal leaving Corvettes, Camaros and Mustangs in its wake is hilarious, but strangely satisfying.
The Grand National is one of few true legends that America has to brag about the auto industry during the mid-80s and it still amazes the muscle enthusiast even today, despite its boring exterior.
Ridiculous acceleration during it’s era
Gave it’s more expensive counterparts a run for it’s money
Only going up in value
Only available in black
Makes us wonder what happened to Buick
Image Note: Images are courtesy of Wikipedia Commons and RM Auctions via Darin Schnabel