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Classic Car Cultist: Buick Grand National GNX

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On: Tue, Jun 19, 2012 at 3:13PM | By: Chris Salamone


Classic Car Cultist: Buick Grand National GNX

From 1978 to 1987, Buick produced a series of rear-wheel drive ‘luxury’ coupes and sedans, fondly remembered as the Regal and later Grand National models. In conjunction with a series of NASCAR victories in the Manufacturers Cups of 1981 and 1982, Buick decided to bump the company’s performance aspirations to the next level. The Grand National was born.

But not until the Grand National’s last year of production, 1987, did Buick manifest the vehicle’s full potential – in a performance-oriented GNX. For twice the cost of admission relative to a standard Grand National, the GNX entranced a mere 547 buyers for the then-staggering sum of $29,900.

Today, the GNX’s reputation has grown. What was once seen as the flagship of the bygone muscle car era is now viewed as the last bastion of American automotive glory. The 1987 Buick Grand National GNX is the car which stood on the precipice of change and laughed in the face of environmental consciousness, practicality, and – of course – vehicular impotence.

The result of a marriage between McLaren Performance Technologies, ASC and Buick earned the GNX an underrated 276 horsepower and 360 lb-ft of torque. The vehicle’s Garrett T-3 turbo and massive capacity intercooler brought the thunder, but Buick’s attention to follow through technology is what propelled the GNX to legendary status. A Turbo Hydramatic 200-4R transmission was paired to a modern vehicle computer which masterfully mixed turbo boost, transmission timing, and fuel.

The 1987 GNX carried so much punch that a special bar had to be added, connecting the vehicle’s midsection and rear axle, to improve traction for heavy-footed drivers.

At the track, Buick proclaimed a 13.5 second quarter mile (at 102 mph!) and a 0-60 time of 4.7 seconds – numbers which made most other muscle cars look flabby.

Over the years, media attention has only continued to grow. In a Car and Driver review from 1987, the magazine stated: “In a world of sleek shapes and refined manners, the GNX is an ax wielding barbarian laying waste to everything in its path.” But that was just the beginning. Since then, Grand Nationals have appeared in at least 18 TV shows and movies, including Fast & Furious, Miami Vice, and everyone’s favorite Steven Seagal flick Out for Justice.

Perhaps most famously, the GNX was unleashed during the peak of Star Wars mania and received the nickname “Darth Vader’s Car”. The Buick Grand National GNX was a dark soul, meant for the dark lord himself.

Pristine examples sell for over $50,000 and have been known to break the six digit mark. The 547th and final GNX sold for $150,000 in 2006 to a private buyer. GM still holds the keys to a prototype GNX built in 1986, which occasionally goes on tour through the car show circuit. So far, most of the original 547 models are accounted for through the Grand National Registry.

But some are still out there, waiting to be returned to greatness…along with Buick’s deluxe performance brand image.

Yearning for more? Check out Car and Driver’s original video review:


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