“I can’t believe you chopped it up!” That’s a common cry overheard when standing near, oh say a 1953 Corvette, Tri-Power GTO, or matching-numbers Mustang Cobra Jet that’s been radically modified by its owner. Though these cars are a significant part of American automotive history, the fact is; car owners are free to restore or modify as they see fit, so if you’re one of those who want to learn more about modifications, check this one at Zemotor to find out how these are made.
When it comes to the Buick Regal Grand National, Turbo T, T-Type, WE4 Turbo Regal and GNX, anybody over the age of 30 certainly remembers them as the most potent Detroit muscle offerings of the ‘80s. And while Buick’s Flint, Michigan assembly plant cranked out over 50,000 of these growling, bent-six powered stormers between 1982 and 1987, today they’re much more than fun used cars. In fact, low mile 1987 GNX’s (the epitome of Buick’s shenanigans with these last-gasp rear wheel drive machines) now command over $100K on the collector car auction scene.
So when we heard that the guys at NextGen Performance, a leading go-to LS conversion shop in Spencer, Massachusetts (774/745-0405) were putting a clean, low-mile 1982 Regal Grand National under the knife, we had to document the process. After all, the 1982 Grand National was the very first of the breed and is by far, the most rare. But does rarity equate to desirability and value? For some perspective, lets review annual Regal muscle car output, working backwards from 1987 to 1982.
In 1987, the turbo 3.8 Regal’s final year, 20,194 GN’s, 8,547 T-Types, and 547 ultra-potent GNX’s were built. Working back a year, in 1986 the totals were 5,512 GN’s and 2,384 T-Types. Going further back, in 1985, the GN and T-Type lacked the intercooler and SEFI (sequential electronic fuel injection) of the ’86 and ’87 but 5,512 GN’s and 2,100 T-Types still found homes. Before that, 1984 saw production of 2,000 GN’s and 3,401 T-Types, which added some color and flair to the GN’s blackout attire.
Going back to 1983, while Ford’s Mustang GT grew a Holley 4-barrel carburetor, and Chevrolet whipped up the aero-enhanced Z65 Monte Carlo SS, exactly zero Regal Grand Nationals were built. Instead, Buick unveiled the Regal T-Type. With its AiResearch turbo blowing through a 4-barrel carb, new 4-speed overdrive automatic and 3.42 axle ratio, 15 second quarter mile times were possible for the first time since the last GS455 of the previous decade. Eager customers bought 3,732 of them.
Which brings us all the way back to 1982. Buick was kicking butt on the NASCAR race circuit as Richard Petty (1981) and Cale Yarborough (1982) cinched Manufacturers’ Cups for Buick. Prior to this, the only Buicks associated with NASCAR were found on the sleepy side of the grand stands- in the parking lot.
To celebrate the massive performance turn around, Buick whipped up the 1982 Grand National, a special version of the two door Regal named in honor of the superspeedway race series. Unlike the NASCAR-themed Chevy Monte Carlo SS (of 1983) and Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2 (of 1986), which relied exclusively on Chevy 305 V8 power, Buick went with V6’s all the way through the GN’s production run. About that V6- it first appeared in 1961 aboard Buick’s senior compact, the Special and Skylark. At 198 and 225 cubes, it saw duty as Buick’s base engine offering through 1967. An odd-fire unit, the buzzy nature of the beast bucked Buick’s upscale vibe, so in 1967 GM sold the V6 engine program – including the assembly and machine lines – to Kaiser-Jeep. After shipping the V6 factory by rail from Buick’s Flint, MI home to Kaiser’s digs in Toledo, Ohio, the ex-Buick V6 became optional in the CJ and Jeepster for many years. In 1969, American Motors (AMC) bought Kaiser-Jeep, and with its line of 199-, 232- and 258-inch inline six cylinder engines, Jeep had no further need for the raspy, odd-fire V6. After 1972, AMC retired the V6 and put its’ manufacturing line in mothballs. Meanwhile, back at Buick, the mid-seventies OPEC gas crisis found its 350 and 455 V8’s too thirsty and too big for the downsized models being planned, so in a bizarre twist, GM President Ed Cole authorized the re-purchase of the slumbering V6 engine program from AMC in 1974.
By 1975, the V6 production lines had been transferred back to Flint, MI and Buick’s second V6 era began. At first, the obsolete, odd-fire crankshaft was employed, but by 1978, a smoother even-fire unit took its place. 1978 also brought the first turbocharged V6, laying the groundwork for the Grand National / T-Type / Turbo T dynasty to follow. Utilizing a single AiResearch turbo and blow-through plumbing, two distinct turbo engines were offered for 1978. The first utilized a Rochester 2-barrel carburetor and single exhaust with 6.9 to 7.9-psi boost that delivered 150 hp. Only available in 1978, Regals with this engine carry engine code G in fifth spot of VIN. The second turbo V6 offering employed a Rochester Quadrajet and had dual tailpipes (yet with a single catalytic converter). With 7.9 to 8.8-psi boost, it delivered 165 hp and carried engine code 3 in the fifth spot of VIN. To spread the V6 gospel, Buick even offered the turbo-boosted V6 in full size rear wheel drive offerings like the LeSabre but, unfortunately, never aboard the small Monza-based Skyhawk hatchback where it would have been a performance sensation.
Getting back to our feature car, the very first Regal Grand National was unveiled on February 10, 1982 as the official pace car for the Daytona 500. As usual, a limited run of street-going Pace Car commemorative editions were built. At first, 100 cars were planned, but strong demand stretched that number to 215 units. To handle this limited run of non-standard cars, Buick contracted with Cars & Concepts in Auburn Hills, MI where the special two-tone Silver Mist-on-Charcoal Gray paint scheme was applied along with unique leather covered Lear Siegler seats and special interior markings.
Under the hoods of those 215 Grand Nationals, one might expect to see turbocharged V6’s, right? Not so fast. For reasons yet unknown, the vast majority of these cars were naturally aspirated. According to turbobuicks.com, which keeps a registry of all things related to these mighty Buicks, only 35 debut-year GN’s were powered by the LC8 turbocharged 231 V6. Oddly, the rest were naturally aspirated. Quick identifiers were domed hoods on turbos and flat skins for naturally aspirated cars. Also, the eighth character of the VIN read 4 for non-turbos and 3 for boosted heroes. But all was not lost. Instead of the ho-hum 3.8 liter (231 cube) V6, Buick gave the naturally aspirated GN the “big” 4.1 liter (252 cube) V6 from its full size passenger cars. Okay, so it wasn’t quite like putting a 455 in the place of a 350, but the idea was there. The extra cubes delivered 125 horsepower and 205-lb/ft of torque. Interestingly, this bigger V6 was never offered with a turbo, and it never got an external fender emblem denoting its 4.1 liters in Regal applications. And get this: the 252’s Rochester Q-Jet rode atop a cast aluminum intake manifold. This makes the 1982 GN a special car in our book, even without the turbo. The 1982 GN is also the only member of the Grand National family without overdrive. Its old school TH350 automatic was strictly 1:1 in top gear, though 1982 did bring a fuel saving lock-up torque converter to all Regals. Out back, the 1982 GN carried the standard, light-duty 10-bolt rear axle with its puny 7.50-inch ring gear. At least 3.08 gears replaced the mid-two series cogs usually installed. The stronger 8.5-inch 10-bolt and 3.42 limited slip rear end that came in later GN’s and T’s was still a year away.
Okay, so what would you do with a well-preserved, debut-year Grand National? Since this is Car Craft magazine and not Muscle Car Review, you know what’s coming. When car owner Buck Anderson approached NextGen Performance, he told NextGen’s Josh and Eric Buzzell he was tired of getting pushed around by soccer moms in mini vans, and despite the decent stock 11-inch front disc brakes, the 9.5-inch rear drum brakes just didn’t inspire confidence under extreme conditions. Action was necessary.
So the fix was in. After an intense eight week transformation, the super scarce GN emerged with a full mechanical makeover. An all-aluminum, 400 horsepower LS2 replaced the 125 horsepower 4.1 “big block” six popper, a 4L65E 4-speed automatic – with overdrive – replaced the Turbo 350 and out back, a beefy Ford 9-inch puts the torque to the tarmac. Sure, the purists may say the world has lost another rarity, but since NextGen made sure to retain the GN’s unique exterior graphics and interior, the car’s true identity hasn’t been lost. Heck, the guys even retained the specific GN wheels and fourteen-inch tires. Visually, the car retains its spirit and character. But thanks to the Gen III heart transplant, there will be no more embarrassment at stoplights. Better still, with the 4L65E’s overdrive top gear, 20-plus m.p.g. is possible…as long as car owner Buck Anderson can keep his right foot off the carpet.