I used to have a thing for the Buick Regal Grand National. If you know anything about this car, it’s like saying one had a thing for a puffy toaster on wheels that looked like grandma got crazy with some black spray paint and chrome trim. Normal people are drawn to Corvettes and Porsches and vacations in Hawaii; me, I was drawn to a living room on wheels.
More specifically, I was drawn to the engine of this beast, a 3.8L SFI V6, turbocharged and intercooled to a ridiculous degree for the late 1980s. If you remember this car, you remember it was GM’s dirty little secret, because it could beat the top-dog Corvette in a stoplight showdown. GM didn’t know what to make of that — a ginormous, bloated coupe in a sedan’s body whipping its flagship sports car 0-60 — but facts were facts. Car and Driver magazine got a 4.9 second 0-60 run out of the Grand National in 35-ish degree temperatures, which, nevermind the ambient temperature, was FAST.
I and a few other friends were the only ones who seemed to be afflicted with a lust for this car. We’d be in a parking lot, see one of these hulking ebony monsters, and literally forget what we were doing full-stop and just gawk. Onlookers thought we were nuts. I’m sure they thought we were seeing something invisible. Invisible and beautiful. But certainly we were not stupid teenagers staring at a black family car comprised only of right angles.
Us: Ohmigod! Look! A Grand National!
Onlooker: What are you guys staring at?
Us: That. A GN. Right there. Wow, huh?
Onlooker: I don’t get it.
Us: That Buick RIGHT THERE! The black one! Did you know that thing has the baddest engine around?
Onlooker: You’re teenagers. Staring at a Buick?
Us: Dude, totally.
Onlooker: I’m calling the cops, weirdos.
Back then, only hardcore car nerds grokked the GN. Everyone else thought it was just another ugly, boxy American mistake. I remember that car more than any other car during my youth, those magic years when you can remember the boost pressure of a Garrett turbo more easily than family birthdays.
Today, Grand Nationals are indeed collector cars. Here in Michigan, summers mean every-weekend car shows in which classic muscle cars come out of the woodwork to sit in the sun while their owners mingle and talk about cam lifter rates and how awesome blueprinted engines are. And you know what I’m seeing there in increasing numbers? Grand Nationals, and their steroid-fed brothers, Grand National X’s. (Dubbed the GNX, this car was the GN with even more power, but still ugly by normal-person standards. We, of course, were even more bananas for this car than the GN. Go figure.)
With Spring in the air, I get thinking about cars, and I always flash back to the GN. Character flaw? Probably. But to me, that car will always be worth remembering.