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    1987 Buick Grand National - Buick's Last Muscle Car



    1987 Buick Grand National - Buick's Last Muscle Car

    By Pete Dunton

    http://www.ericpetersautos.com/home/...1&Itemid=10609

    Why is it that we love stories about the underdog beating all the odds and obtaining ultimate victory? Buick knew what it was like to beat all the odds and produce the fastest American muscle car for the 1987 model year. Looking back now it seems natural the 1987 Buick Grand National has taken on the status of a legend. However back in 1977 it seemed Buick would never repeat its muscle car pinnacle of the early 1970s, when its legendary stage 1 455 (CID) V8 beat most stock muscle cars with ease.

    By 1977, Buick no longer produced a high performance V8, and GM had mandated that V8s from other GM divisions be used in Buick cars when needed. Adding insult to injury, the Buick GS or Gran Sport, the division's performance car since 1965, was laid to rest at the end of the 1975 model year. By 1977 Buick only made one V8 engine the 350 CID V8 which was a low compression shadow of its former self and would soon end production at the end of the 1980 model year. Buick did however have the 3.8 liter (231 CID) V6 which provided anemic power compared to a V8 but did provide decent gas mileage. Buick realized that if its V6 was ever going to be a decent performer, it needed an infusion of power since the 1977 (110 horsepower) 3.8 liter V6 was not going to cut it.

    In 1978 Buick released two turbo charged versions of its 3.8 liter V6, one with a 2bbl carburetor and the other with a 4bbl Rochester Quadrajet carburetor. The latter made an impressive 165 horsepower. Dropping the optional 165 horsepower turbo 3.8 liter V6 into the sporty rear-wheel drive Regal, was a step in the right direction for Buick. Unfortunately even with this new more powerful Regal, Buick was way behind in horsepower when compared to the 1978 Corvette (220 horsepower) and the 1978 Pontiac Trans Am (220 horsepower), which were GM's performance leaders. So Buick continued to work on beefing up its new turbo V6, and year-by-year the horsepower increased. By 1984 things got much better when Buick replaced the 4bbl carburetor on the turbo 3.8 liter V6 with Sequential Fuel Injection (SFI) pushing the horsepower up to 200. This was big news since a 1984 (Regal) Grand National equipped with the turbo SFI 3.8 liter V6 was now on par with GM's top performance cars for 1984: the Chevrolet Corvette (205 horsepower), Pontiac Trans Am (190 horsepower), Chevrolet Camaro Z28 (190 horsepower), Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS (180 horsepower), and Oldsmobile Hurst/Olds (180 horsepower). However Buick had no intention of just being on par, they added an intercooler to the turbo V6 in 1986, bumping the horsepower to 235. By this time the Grand National or GN as it was nicknamed was gaining cult-like status by beating its competition in acceleration tests. As if this was not enough, 1987 saw horsepower increase to 245.

    The Buick Grand National started out very modestly in 1982 as a very low production two-tone silver/charcoal painted Regal with sporty decals and spoilers. The name was derived from NASCAR, and only 215 1982 Grand Nationals were produced, making it one very rare car. Unfortunately most Grand Nationals for 1982 came equipped with a Buick 4.1 liter carbureted V6 producing only 125 horsepower. However it was possible to order a 1982 Grand National equipped with the 175 horsepower turbo 4bbl 3.8 liter V6. It is not known exactly how many 1982 Grand Nationals were ordered with the turbo motor but what is known is the number is extremely low (the October 2007 issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines magazine did a writeup on one of these ultra rare 1982 turbo 3.8 liter Grand Nationals). Most buyers who wanted a 1982 Regal with a turbo opted for the '82 Regal T-Type. After 1982, the Grand National did not return again until the 1984 model year. Upon its return it had a new mandatory black exterior paint scheme with black exterior trim that looked as stealthy as a SR-71 blackbird. The stealth black look would become a Grand National staple and the only exterior color scheme used for its remaining production years.

    Fast forward to 1987, Buick was riding the wave its new performance image had created. There were five separate factory offered Regal based models/packages available with Buick's red hot (LC2) turbo SFI 3.8 liter V6 for 1987. Adding to that, there was even a Mclaren modified Grand National called the GNX (only 547 produced) available for purchase at some Buick dealers. The GNX had a price tag of $11,000 more than the price of a Grand National. The GNX was rated at 276 horsepower but its mile times were consistently in the mid 13 second range, which told a story of a motor that made well over 300 horsepower if not close to 400 horsepower. The GNX has become very sought after by collectors today, and the hefty price tag they now command continues to skyrocket.

    The Regal that got most of the attention for 1987 was the Grand National. Buick sold 20,193 Grand Nationals during the 1987 model year, making it a smash success. In 1985 the Buick Grand National sold only 2,102 units, so in just two years GN sales had increased tenfold. And the sales figures are even more astounding when you consider that only one exterior color was available. The GN came from the factory with a $16,154 base retail price. Only a few power and convenience options were available on the GN, a very heavily optioned GN was still under $18,000. Back in 1987 that was a lot of performance bang for the buck. The 1987 GN design was a carryover from the 1986 GN. The only real change was a slightly redesigned front grille. The all black exterior was as stealthy as the previous three GN model years. The interior was gray and included such goodies as (gray and black) Lear Siegler front seats and a leather wrapped steering wheel.

    The 1987 Buick LC2 turbo SFI 3.8 liter V6 produced 245 horsepower at 4400 rpm and 355 lbs/ft of torque at 2800 rpm. The LC2 had a bore of 3.80 inch, a stroke of 3.40 inch, and an 8.0:1 compression ratio. Though the LC2 was a pushrod motor with only 2 valves per cylinder every other aspect of the turbo motor was state of the art for 1987. Buick stated in the 1987 GN product literature that - "many innovative features have been incorporated into this engine". They went on to say "the Electronic Control Module (ECM) precisely matches the fuel delivery to engine requirements". In other words air and fuel are carefully metered to provide optimum performance. The source of the LC2's monster power is the Garrett AiResearch turbo charger, aided by an intercooler. The GN's intercooler cools the air coming from the turbo as it travels to the engine. Cooler air is less dense (it takes up less space) so by using an intercooler, more air can be rammed by the turbo into the motor. More air to the engine equals - more power. Aiding engine performance for the GN is its free-flow dual (from the cat back) exhaust system. Topping off this package was a performance oriented 3.42 limited slip solid rear axle which was standard equipment for the '87 GN.

    Every aspect of the LC2 motor was computerized, so it is no surprise that even the high performance 200R4 (4 speed with overdrive) automatic transmission had its shift points computer controlled to get optimum power from the engine to the pavement. The upside was lightening quick acceleration times with the high performance computer controlled 200R4. The downside was this transmission worked so well, that Buick never saw the need for offering a manual transmission. This also applied to every turbo Regal ever produced, there was never an optional manual transmission.

    So just how fast was the 1987 Grand National? It consistently obtained 14 second 1/4 mile times in auto magazine tests back in the day, beating its competition with ease. Motor Trend magazine (August 1987 issue), did speed and performance tests of the seven fastest new American cars. The test included the 1987 Chevrolet Corvette, 1987 Ford Mustang GT, 1987 Chevrolet Camaro Iroc-Z, 1987 Pontiac Trans Am GTA, 1987 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, 1987 Dodge Daytona Z, and 1987 Buick Grand National. The end result was the GN beat its 6 rivals with ease in the acceleration tests. The GN went 0-60 mph in 6.07 seconds and completed the mile in 14.73 seconds @ 95.1 mph. The closest competitor to the GN was the Mustang GT (0-60 mph in 6.54 seconds and the mile in 15.13 seconds @ 94.1 mph). The braking (60-0 mph in 149 ft) and the skidpad (0.79 g) numbers in the Motor Trend test for the GN were pretty good, but not enough to beat its competition. Part of the problem was the GN's P215/65VR15 tires were the narrowest in the seven car test. And the rear drum brakes were no match for the five cars in the test that had rear disc brakes. Where the GN fell far behind its competitors was with its dismal 122.72 mph top speed Motor Trend obtained. Motor Trend asked the question - "how can the strongest-engined best-in-acceleration vehicle be the slowest top-speed car?" Motor Trend figured since the 1987 GN had new VR speed rated tires, the speed-limiting chip from the 1986 GN should no longer be needed. Motor Trend after a little research discovered - "the [Buick] engineers were concerned with front-end lift at high speeds, and determined that 125 mph was a good limit to maintain the stability they felt necessary, so the chip stayed for this year." The GN was using a 10 year old Regal body style which had been only slightly updated since its 1978 model year debut, so the problem with front end lift at speeds over 125 mph was no surprise. Motor Trend mentioned - "the Grand National has the power to go faster-how much faster is a question we can't answer unless we find someone who'll give us a trick prom for the computer." Motor Trend did get their chance to test the top speed of the LC2 with no speed-limiting chip, but it was not in a GN but rather the 1989 20th Anniversary Trans Am. The end result was a top speed well over 160 mph.

    It's now twenty years after the GN has departed, and looking back now the Buick claimed 245 horsepower figure (measured at the flywheel) of the 1987 GN was certainly underrated. Some experts claim the figure to be between 275 to 300 horsepower. Owners of stock 1987 GNs who have dyno tested them have proved this claim to be true.

    The 1987 Grand National was a great shining moment in Buick performance history, a virtual comeback from the previous Buick performance low-point of 1977. Buick again had regained the glory it had back in 1970 with the mighty Stage 1 455 V8. Unfortunately the comeback was brief. In 1988 an all-new Regal platform was released, and the LC2 was laid to rest because it was deemed (by Buick) too difficult to put in the new Regal front-wheel drive architecture. The LC2 did return two years later in the low production 20th Anniversary Trans Am, and after that it suffered the same fate as the Grand National. Buick is still going strong twenty years after the Grand National departed, and it has managed to find a new life without high performance. The likelihood of another Buick muscle car in the future seems at this time extremely unlikely, so in retrospect the 1987 Buick Grand National was Buick's last muscle car, and what a great muscle car it is.

  2. #2
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: 1987 Buick Grand National - Buick?s Last Muscle Car

    Great story, Pete!

    I loved those GNs when I was in college; and like you, I've watched the value skyrocket. One thing about them that's kindof interesting is they never really lost value in the way '80s-era Camaros and so on did. GNXs, of course, were instant collectibles. Remember when the FBI bought them for undercover use?

    I see the occasional T-Type, but haven't encountered a GN in some time; probably at least two years now.

    In a related vein: I often wonder what might have become of the Pontiac 301 turbo had it been developed further... with EFI (and a turbo designed for a V-8 instead of a four) 300 hp should have been attainable. Such an engine would have made the '82 Trans-Am a lot more interesting than it was....


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    Re: 1987 Buick Grand National - Buick?s Last Muscle Car

    Thanks....

    I do remember that the FBI bought some Grand Nationals and their are rumors a few GNXs were purchased by them also. When I was in college I worked at a bank, a friend of mine who worked for the bank said that when he was at another branch of that bank that got robbed. The Feds (FBI) showed up in Grand Nationals. This was around 1989.

    Great point about the GN never losing its value, it became an instant collectable (same is true with the GNX). The only Trans Am that became an instant collectable and never really lost its value was ironically the turbo SFI 3.8 liter V6 powered 1989 20th Anniversary edition T/A.

    Excellent point about the 301 turbo, if given the chance I am sure it would have gotten to be top dog in the 1980s instead of the turbo SFI 3.8 liter V6. Pontiac was about two years behind Buick on turbo technology, yet the 1980 turbo 301 Trans Am produced more horsepower. Given a little reworking, an intercooler, SFI, etc. the 301 turbo could have been a 400 horsepower monster by 1987. Gale Banks helped Buick engineers with the development of the 3.8 liter turbo V6, Banks had a special relationship with Pontiac and in 1982 he built his 200 mph "Gale Banks" twin turbo sbc (small block Chevy) V8 (1982) Trans Am which set many speed records at the time. I am sure Banks would have helped Pontiac with development of the 301 turbo. remember how bad the 3.8 liter started off with all the quality control problems, the 301 was a much better design from the start. So the 301 in my opinion would have been the turbo king of the 1980s if given the chance. Unfortunately GM pulled the plug on the 301 in 1981 leaving Pontiac with no V8, so the sbc 305 was the only game in town for the Trans Am.

    As a look into what might have been check out this computer calculated performance of a 1982 with the 1981 turbo motor (this was done by Lee Rehorn who has done a lot tech research into the 301 turbo). The calculated performance times (0-60 mph 6.7 seconds & 1/4 mile in 15.0 seconds) were pretty quick - it would have made the 1982 Trans Am faster than even the 1984 Corvette:




    Also check out Lee Rehorn's other turbo 301 related information:

    http://www.301garage.com/Rehorn/301shrine.html


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    Re: 1987 Buick Grand National - Buick?s Last Muscle Car

    Forgot to mention, to put these figures in to perspective lets compare the 1982 turbo 301 Trans Am's computer generatat ed figures with the figures of a 1982 Trans Am with the LU5 305 (cross-fire injection) Trans Am rated at 165 horsepower (which was the most high performance engine option on the Trans Am for 1982):


    1982 turbo 301 Trans Am: 0-60 mph - 6.7 seconds, 1/4 mile - 15.0 seconds @ 92.7 mph

    1982 LU5 305 Trans Am: 0-60 mph - 8.89 seconds, 1/4 mile - 16.7 seconds @ 80.5 mph

    Heck lets compare it to a '87 Corvette (which was more powerful and faster than a '84 Corvette):

    1987 TPI 350 (240 horsepower): 0-60 mph - 6.68 seconds, 1/4 mile - 15.32 seconds @ 90.8 mph

    Even a fast 1987 Corvette would have gotten beaten by a 1982 turbo 301 Trans Am in the 1/4 mile. Its a pity the 301 was killed by GM before it had the chance to meet its destiny.




  5. #5
    MrMike
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    Re: 1987 Buick Grand National - Buick?s Last Muscle Car

    [If this gets posted twice, I apologize. I'm having problems posting it]

    Pete, like most people who write about the '87 GN/T-Types, you left out one of the most important characteristics of these cars. As fast as they were from the factory, huge performance gains could be achieved for a few hundred dollars through some simple bolt-on modifications. It's as if the engine and drive train were designed to 400 HP specs and then detuned to 275 HP for the public. I am not aware of any other production car that had so much untapped potential. I have owned three '87 Buick Turbos, all of which were modified and run at dragstrips. Here's one example from personal experience:

    In 1995, I bought a 100% original stock '87 T-Type with 8,000 miles on it. I put street legal Mickey Thompson Sportsman Pro tires on it (it's a waste of time doing performance runs on the stock tires) and took it to Great Lakes Dragaway. The best time I ran before tweaking anything was 14.4 @ 92 MPH. After putting in nothing more than a performance computer chip ($50 and 5 minutes of work) and a torque converter lock-up switch ($10 and 30 seconds to install), I ran a best of 13.6 @ 99 MPH. That's about a 70 HP gain for $60. Over the course of the summer I added a K&N cone filter, an adjustable turbo wastegate, boost gauge and an exhaust dump tube and was running 12.7s @ 107 on 100 octane unleaded gas. Running in street legal form, i.e., with the dump tube capped and the exhaust running through the mufflers and catalytic converter, the car still ran 13.0 @ 105. Not bad for a total investment of about $450 including the tires.

    On this web site, I have read several interesting articles like "Five best muscle car street engines" and "Great Engines of the '70s and '80s." How about you or Eric writes one called "Easiest and cheapest engines to modify: bang for the buck"? The intercooled 3.8L SFI Buick turbo would likely top the list, but I would be very interested in the others that make the top 5.

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: 1987 Buick Grand National - Buick?s Last Muscle Car


    Hi Mike,

    Welcome to the site, first of all!

    Two, I think I speak for many here who are very envious of your GN "experience"! The GN is one of those cars I have always liked; and I can remember when they were new (and I was in high school/college) drooling over the descriptions of their awesome performance in stock trim - and their even more formidable performance when modified. The gains-per-dollar you mention are really something else - and you're right that few cars had so much apparently built-in performance so easily tapped. Pete and I are big Pontiac guys - and we know that one could do "little things" to an otherwise stock '76-'79 Trans-Am 400 or 455 to get it solidly into the 14s, maybe even high 13s. But 12s? Not without tearing into the engine (cam, heads, etc.) or nitrous and gears... that GNs could run this hard with the modest upgrades you mention is, again, testimony to what incredible machines they were.

    Buicks rock ...

    When they're RWD! ;D

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    Re: 1987 Buick Grand National - Buick?s Last Muscle Car

    Mike,

    Welcome to the board.

    Thanks for your input. You are correct the turbo LC2 - SFI 3.8 liter V6 is so easy to and cheap to modify. I am a believer after having witnessed first hand the easy gains obtained by LC2 T-Type and GN owners over the years. The chip swap example you gave is a hidden gem of the GN and T-type performance gains. Sorry for not including this aspect in the article, when I wrote the article I tried to keep it focused on the stock output and specs. However I promise in the future I will do a part II that talks about the easy LC2 performance gains in detail. Thanks for the article idea about the top 5 "easiest and cheapest engines to modify", I will write a future article on this topic.

    Have you seen this 1,000 horsepower '87 GN? Its impressive:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?do...65093590429632


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    Senior Member Mase's Avatar
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    Re: 1987 Buick Grand National - Buick?s Last Muscle Car

    A man's greatest mistake is to think he is working for somebody else.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Mase's Avatar
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    Re: 1987 Buick Grand National - Buick?s Last Muscle Car

    I see 25 of them on eBay....................

    http://motors.listings.ebay.com/Buic...istingItemList
    A man's greatest mistake is to think he is working for somebody else.

  10. #10
    D_E_Davis
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    Re: 1987 Buick Grand National - Buick?s Last Muscle Car

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric
    I loved those GNs when I was in college; and like you, I've watched the value skyrocket. One thing about them that's kindof interesting is they never really lost value in the way '80s-era Camaros and so on did. GNXs, of course, were instant collectibles.
    In 91 there was a collection of them all around Bowling Green KY - some sort of get-together. I had great fun asking an owner or two, quite innocently, what they had done to make their Monte Carlo look like that.


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    Re: 1987 Buick Grand National - Buick?s Last Muscle Car

    Mase,

    That's the most GN's I have ever seen on Ebay. Thanks for posting the picture of the '87 GNX, that was a great looking car, the 16x8" wheels along with the front quarter panel vents were nice styling touches. And the peformance is hard to beat.

    D_E_Davis,

    The 1980s Monte Carlo SS did have one nice advantage over the GN, it had a really nice V8 rumble coming from the free-flow stock exhaust system. The one thing I never got used to on the GN was the 6 cylinder exhaust note, sounded too much like a Pontiac 6000 STE.

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