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The Find! May 2011

The 1987 Buick Grand National. I was 13 years old when I saw one in person for the first time. It was parked in the showroom at our small-town Pontiac/GMC/Buick dealer. By this age I was a full-blown car fanatic and had memorized practically everything performance related from my monthly Car & Driver magazine subscription. I knew what I was looking at back then and I knew it was special. As I looked it over, it was menacing. All black, front to back. This was very different in 1987, as chrome trim was still a very popular design element on most every car. Swimming in the expanses of deep black paint were bright emblems on either fender and the trunk that read "Grand National" and "3.8 SFI Turbo" on either side of the hood bulge. They were just a little hint to what was going on. This wasn't a trim package, it was the total package.

Before I get too sentimental here and re-hash my view on the history of the Grand National and how it came to be, I found this great article from Motive Magazine that does a much better job than I could.


The star of the Grand National show was the piece of engineering that you see below. The Buick 3.8 Liter Turbocharged and Intercooled V6. 245hp @ 4,400rpm and 355lb-ft@ 2,800rpm. These numbers bested the 1987 Corvette's 350 cubic inch V8 by 5hp and 10lb-ft and matched it's mid 14 second at 96mph performance at the drag strip. The Corvette engineers must've been pissed back then! But that's only half the story. Like most turbocharged cars, it was over-engineered and could easily make 100 additional horsepower (or more) with straightfoward bolt-ons. Amazing!



So you may've gathered that this car left a bit of an impression on me. So much so that I've been shopping for one (on and off) for the last ten years. I've just always loved the mix of American muscle car and high tech that's found in the Grand National. Recently I got serious and ramped up my search efforts. Searching for one of these cars is tricky. There are 5,000 mile museum pieces to be had, but they are extremely expensive, and not what I was looking for anyway. From there it's a cornucopia of decent examples, rusted out messes, drag beasts and more. I wanted a southern car that was well maintained but not perfect. I wanted a car that I could restore over time while I'm driving and enjoying it. After a few misses, I was wondering if I'd ever find what I was looking for.

Then while browsing the Grand National forums, an interesting car caught my eye. After a few emails and phone calls with the seller, I set off to check it out. It was located about an hour and a half away, so I set off early on a Friday morning. I noticed that my route took me through the mountains, so I knew I was in for a beautiful ride.

There was a little rain here and there but nothing too bad. The fog hung low in the mountains during the whole trip. To make a long story short, I got over the giant mountain you see in the picture, the sun came out and after checking out the car, told the owner I'd be back in the morning to pick it up!


On Saturday, the weather was perfect. My family and I made a fun road trip out of the jaunt back to pick up my new, old Grand National. Here's a shot from the driver's seat. The 24 year old car ran like a champ, and made the run through the curvy mountain roads a fun experience. Oh, isn't the 85mph speedometer awesome?


I tried to capture some of the natural beauty of these mountains, but my photos do no justice. If you've never been to this part of the country you're missing out, especially if you ride a motorcycle.


So without further delay...here's my new 1987 Buick Grand National! As the keen-eyed will see, it's wearing a set of 16x8 American Racing "GNX" style wheels. The previous owner also threw in the stock wheels, which I'll probably just keep in storage because these look right at home on here.


Here's another shot, those windows are DARK! It took a little getting used to, I haven't had tinted windows in a long time.


One more! The paint is likely what will get the most attention in the future. It looks OK, but has plenty of little nicks and scratches. The body and undercarriage are all in great shape though since the car spent the majority of its life in sunny Florida.


Here's the good stuff! This car came with a nice list of tasteful modifications, like a Tial blowoff valve, LS1 Mass Airflow Sensor conversion, old school Kenne Bell Ram Air intake system and a 3 inch downpipe, to name a few.


Here's another angle, where you can see the alcohol injection nozzle. Ahh, the days before goofy plastic engine covers.


I had forgotten how freaking huge the trunks are in the GM "G-Body" cars. Whoa! It makes that big Sony amp look like a tiny little doo-dad back there.


The interior is in excellent condition. Riding home in here brought back loads of memories, as my family had various iterations of 80s GM vehicles. It was all instantly familiar and very retro feeling.


I just can't get enough of the 85mph speedometer and big bold "55" on there. I'm also digging the digital tach/boost gauge. Not terribly functional, but pretty high tech looking in '87 I'm sure.


What's fun about this car are the little custom touches here and there. Like this badge right where the driver can see it every time they turn the key. As if you need a reminder with the old turbo whistlin' dixie underhood!


T-Tops!! Yes!!! I cannot wait to ride around with these popped.


I just can't express the nostalgia I feel when riding around in this car. When I roll down the windows or grab that door handle, I feel like a 10 year old again. Now that's fun!


The heating and air controls are very familiar in a 1987 kinda way too, and they still let out that "pshhhhhh" when you switch off the A/C. This makes the HVAC in modern cars seem like something NASA developed. Oh and behold the "SCANMASTER"! This box plugs into the diagnostic port and gives you a look at various readings from the ECU. I can't wait to learn all of this new stuff. It's so much different than the turbo Mitsubishis that I've been playing with all these years.


Here's the alcohol injection controller box from the kit that the previous owner installed. I'm glad it's already here, this would've been my first modification if it wasn't. The Grand National camp was among the first to adopt water/alcohol injection way back in the late eighties. Now it's pretty standard stuff.


Another one of those little custom touches. I love the "Turbo Six" logo, In fact I might get one tatooed somwhere on my person. But where?! Decisions...


Well that's it for now, I'm going to go lay down and rest my overstimulated car brain for a few minutes. Thanks for reading and stay tuned! We're gonna have some fun with this one.

-Tom