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Hooniversity: Grand National Edition

Deartháir October 14, 2009 All Things Hoon 104 Comments
Looking awesome was purely accidental.

Looking awesome was purely accidental.

Welcome to Hooniversity.

As this is our first class, we’re going to be starting out easy, and setting the tone. We think it’s important that you understand what this class is all about, so you can truly understand what it is you’re getting yourself into.

We’ve all been to a car-show, or a car-club meet, or a rally, and had that friend with us. You know the one, it’s possible they have a mild case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, because they know far too much about a given subject than a normal person should. Or, possibly, you’re that friend and you don’t quite know it yet. While there, this friend stops in front of something you would have walked right past, and gets that faraway, wistful, glazed-over look in his eye. When you ask him why he’s stopped, he looks at the car he’s admiring, and turns back to you with an incredulous look. “You mean, you don’t know? Well, it would take too long to explain.”

Here at Hooniversity, we’re going to explain. Consider this your cheat-sheet for some of those awesome cars that may get overlooked, or might not immediately attract your attention.

As we said, we’re starting easy. This is a car every car-guy should know, and it’s likely you do. It’s spoken of in hushed tones, and is Hooniversally admired as being something truly special. But do you know why?

If its good enough for the Fast and Furious franchise, its good enough for us! Wait... no.

If it's good enough for the Fast and Furious franchise, it's good enough for us! Wait... no.

I speak, of course, of the Buick Grand National.

While the Grand National properly started in 1982, it was only produced in limited numbers. The true Grand National, the one we all think of when we hear the name, started in 1986. It was released with an intercooled and turbocharged 3.8L V6 with electronic fuel injection. Pretty high-tech stuff for the time. Buick steadfastly insisted that it had 200 horsepower. The legend states that, when challenged on this, a GM official finally admitted that it does, in fact, have 200 horsepower… until you push on the gas some more.

This is part of the mystique of the car. Buick, at the time — and indeed today — was not a performance car lineup. For a car like this to emerge from the Buick line was almost unbelievable, and one can’t help but suspect there was a certain amount of “hush-hush” going on with this car, even within the hallowed halls of General Motors. The engine was dramatically under-rated, it was an unassuming body-style, it was only available in black. (There was, of course, its sister car, the Regal T-Type, which is even more of a sleeper, as it is essentially the same car, in any colour, without the Grand National badging. The true car-guys will spot this one.) Add to that the fact that it was only produced in limited numbers, and it was done with very limited fanfare, and you have that magic formula that makes car guys salivate.

The Grand National was, in its day, the fastest-accelerating production car on the market. Faster than any Mustang, Corvette or Camaro available, with a 0-60 time of around 5 seconds. Remember, this is in the mid-1980s, when a K-Car was considered “respectable” with a 0-60 time optimistically rated at 13 seconds. You could almost run faster.

Mmmm, velour.

Mmmm, velour.

But it is perhaps the GNX that cemented the legend of the Grand National in our car-guy lore. Not content with the already laughably-underrated 235 the Grand National had improved to by 1987, Buick decided to bring in some outside help for a special run of only 547 cars. The GNX cars were shipped off to ASC/McLaren — yes, them — for some particular upgrades. These cars received an upgraded turbocharger, a GNX-exclusive Garrett unit, utilizing a ceramic impeller to decrease drag, and dramatically increasing the boost pressure. The intercooler was upgraded, again using ceramics, and functional side vents were added to dissipate the waste heat from the engine. The transmission, driveshaft, rear differential, rear axle housing, rear axle, suspension and wheel/tire combinations were all upgraded to handle the extra power, and the chassis was strengthened to house it all. Final performance numbers were given to be 275 horsepower and 360 lb-ft of torque, and it was again rather universally speculated that those numbers were artificially low. A special interior package was added, including seat embroidery and an aftermarket gauge package, as was a significant premium to the price tag. The final price was nearly $30,000, in 1987 dollars. The math’s a bit tricky, but that should be something like $2.8 billion today. But don’t quote us, math isn’t our strong suit.

Intercooled -- for your pleasure!

Intercooled -- for your pleasure!

Because there were so few of them made, the GNX is, of course, the ultimate Grand National. As such, it can be considered to be the most desirable version of the most desirable Buick since roughly 1972, and there hasn’t been much since to try and steal its title away.

We here at Hooniverse just want to get our hands one one for a day or two. We promise we’ll be good. Mostly.

Special thanks to turbobuicks.com for the fact-checking and a plethora of great photos.

  • dmdukejr

    It still amazes me how blacking-out that car made it look so completely badass. I could get behind this hooniversity idea – more trivia is a good thing.

  • functional side vents? oh how buick has slid…

  • Jo Schmo

    Yes! I have completed my first class at Hooniversity. Excellent article.

    • Jo Schmo

      Say, how do I get my avatar on my comments?

      • ok, i think we officially need a post on this.
        every 7 comment asks this. http://en.gravatar.com/

        • It is coming very soon… stand strong Hoons, your Hooniverse.com How-To post is on its way.

      • the_missus

        Mr Schmo
        You can create an account at Gravatar.com or use a wordpress account.

        • Jo Schmo

          Ah thanks guys, this is only the second article I have read. Hadn’t seen that yet.

        • Am I the only one who is reminded of Kiefer Sutherland on Inside the Actor’s Studio?

          When asked what his favorite word was, he replied “Gravitas…” and Howard Stern plays that sound bite endlessly…

    • Formerlythegreatestdriver

      +1. It’s like reviewing an old and well used magazine/book you love.

    • Schm von Richthofen

      Hooniversity: Like Regular University, but without the obscene amount of alcohol, (and the puking following drinking said alcohol), the hot sorority chicks, bad food, dumb professors and boring classes. Wow, forget College, I should go to Hooniversity! Perhaps Hooniverse Community College?

      • Mobius

        Southern Hooniverse Institute of Technology.

      • PFG

        Don’t be too sure about the “obscene amount of alcohol” part.

  • p161911

    My first car, purchased in December 1988, was a 1981 Buick Regal Sport Coupe Turbo Limited. It was sort of a Pre-T-type without all the blackout stuff or the horsepower. But it did have the same hood as the Grand National with the power bulge proclaiming the 3.8L TURBO power, actually it only had 160HP and that might have been overrated, but it was still respectable enough to keep up with or outrun the 157hp or less early 80s Mustang GTs of my class mates. It also had a wonderful “fuel economy” gauge that was actually a boost gauge. The green light always stayed on, the yellow light came on at about 1/2 throttle and the red one came on at full boost. In typical 16 year old fashion I ditched the whitewall and wire hubcaps to replace them with some BFG white letters and a set of chrome Crager wheels from Sears outlet. I really wanted to paint it black, ditch the vinyl top and blackout the chrome, but that didn’t happen.

    I still want a Grand National or at least a T-Type.

  • Maymar

    I’m worried I may be “that guy” spoken of in the article. Then again, I’ve got a friend at school who’s also “that guy,” so at least I’m not alone.

    I’m just wondering that if 10-15 years down the road, the W-body Regal GS (the Grand Prix GTP for those not working on their GED) will see anywhere near the reverence the GN gets.

    • dculberson

      Two problems with the GTP: 1) it’s front wheel drive. This one will be overlooked by a lot of people that grew up with that being the norm in quick cars, though. 2) It’s not that fast. It’s 20 years after the GNX and it’s not even as fast as the GNX. When a base ‘Vette is now turning in ~4-second 0-60 times, a ~6.5 second 0-60 time is not going to blow anyone away. Hell, an Accord v6 coupe is faster than that – much faster if it’s the 6-speed.

      Reverence is earned, and the GNX earned it very well. I would compare the GNX more to the 2010 CTS-V. That’s similarly ludicrous speed from an unexpected car.

      • Maymar

        Oh, it’s no GNX, but I’m thinking in terms of the regular Grand National. Of course, I’m probably also being swayed by the typical “swapped the pulleys, started running 13’s” internet tales.

  • This class is a prerequisite for any gearhead. Just before I went to college I had a buddy with one of these. It provided the most jawdroppingly awesome sense of acceleration. We used to take it down to el Camino Real for the cruise. After a couple of visits, no one would line up against the “Black Buick on Centerlines”.

    This one is definitely on the Bret list of cars to have before I die.

  • goingincirclez

    My confusion with this car was forged when the first “T-Type” I ever saw happened to have “T-Tops”, and so that’s what I thought the badging meant. Later I saw what looked like a black “T-Type” but it had these interesting red-and-orange badges, calling itself a Grand National. The I eventually saw another T-Type without the roof, and a Grand National with it. Aiy-yi-yi.

    For the record, I always saw more T-Types stomping around the SW Side of Chicago than I *ever* did Grand Nationals, and I never did see a GNX. That was OK with me. T-Types fueled a love of the sleeper philosophy I wear to this day.

    Nowadays you can’t fling a hotdog wrapper at a cruise-in without seeing a GN or three, but it’s been a long time since I saw a T-Type. That’s just wrong.

  • superbadd75

    What a cool concept, this Hooniversity. I like, I like. I’d love to see some more unusual cars, things that even a car guy might see and say to himself, “WTF is that?”. I’m sure you have some great stuff in the coming weeks and months.

    Great read, and about a great car that still looks bad ass everytime I spot one. What a shame to think that GM’s most recent glory years might have been the ’80s.

  • pj134

    Well done, I’m going to like it here methinks.

    • superbadd75

      +1. I’m done with that… other… place.

      • We love you much more than they do.

        • Smells Homeless

          You’d better, or someone will go create the School of Rod Knocks, or some similarly-clever pun-named site!

          PS, Thanks from the cheap seats.

  • Dr.Dangerously

    You had me at ‘Grand National Edition’

  • goingincirclez

    I just looked at the lead-in photo again: Dammit! Now I’m gonna be scouring yards far and wide for the ultra-rare Brougham Edition GNX coachlamp mars light!

  • baldy_pm

    Hooniversity, where the learning never ends.

    GN edition is well played for the first lesson, sir. Thank you.

  • PFG

    Is there any truth to the rumor that the DEA ordered up a small fleet of GNXs to use as drug interdiction cars in Texas? (Or do I have to sign up for the sophomore level class for that information?)

    • TexanIdiot25

      While I would not be surprised, I have never heard of it. We did how ever get a shit load of LX 5.0s, 5.7L TPI and later LT1 and LS1 Camaros for the highway patrol.

    • I have heard that as well. Back when I used to work at Sears Point (now Infineon), the Border Patrol would send officers through the Bondurant School’s police program. The Border Patrol had pretty healthy sounding Camaros. Wouldn’t be too out of the realm of reasonableness for the DEA to have GNs. Probably not GNXs, those were pretty special, even back then.

      BTW the police program students were some of the worst drivers… Lot’s of swagger and bravado on the first day of each class.

    • Number_Six

      The FBI had a bunch. I was at the FBI building in DC in 1987 and there were at least four of them parked outside.

    • I’ve heard the one about the DEA as well… what I heard is that they were standard GN’s. I know that North Carolina Highway Patrol (or do they call them State Troopers?) had some unmarked GN’s for “revenue collection.”

  • engineerd

    “We’ve all been to a car-show, or a car-club meet, or a rally, and had that friend with us.”

    When you said that, I expected MiketheDog to take over…

    Dearthair, you crazy Canuck, nice job. I look forward to more Hooniversity. Heck, this is some edumucation I’ll actually be excited for. I remember seeing my first GNX as a kid and knowing something was special about it. It was unassuming, but had some badassery about it. Even today, you look at them and know immediately that it’s not your grandfather’s Buick. Unless you have the coolest grandfather in the world.

    • I appreciate the vote of confidence engineerd, but Buicks aren’t my thing. If Dearthair ever wants to do a piece on sixties full-sized Ford monsters, (especially that orange Starliner with the Cammer 427), I’d be more than happy to share what I know- he knows where to find me.

  • JeepyJayhawk

    Thanks for a good lesson… I uh need a few minutes to jot down notes…

    BTW this is my opinion of black done right.

  • p161911

    When going into the history of the Grand National don’t forget a car I only learned about recently, the 1985 Darth Vader Oldsmobile Cutlass 442. http://www.freewebs.com/oldsfe3x/

    • Wow. The hidden-headlamp example has some strong hints of in the nose.

    • baldy_pm

      Wow, I have been looking for those images for a while. (well, not looking very hard). I absolutely love the FE3 cars. Is it wrong for me to make a one-off Calais with that body (blacked out of course) and a L67?

      • Number_Six

        Nice Capri!

        • baldy_pm

          Thanks. This avatar fits me better than my previous one (on that other site).

  • TexanIdiot25

    We must not forget the even rarer Turbo Trans-Am

  • Prawo Jazdy and The Velocity Trumpets

    Growing up in Oakland County had huge advantages when it came to being a car kid in the 80’s. All the domestic engineers seemed to live within a 10 mile radius of my house and my pop was in the Buick division for a spell. I saw everything. A Reatta programmed to think it was electric, an ’83 C3 ‘Vette with an LCD tach and an Impact (remember that?) in the flesh silently whirring down my street and into my driveway.

    But nothing will ever compare to the time in 1985 when what I believe was probably one of the first 10 Buick GNXs to roll off the line parked across the street from my house. I had just gotten out of morning Kindergarten. I was home playing in the front yard and my mom was weeding the front landscape. I got up and walked across the street. Being 5 years old, I had to ask for permission to be within 2 yards of our street. As I stepped into the street and crossed, without looking both ways, my jaw was wide open. It was Black and shiny and the rumble was ground pounding. It pure evil and me being the morbid little punk I was, liked evil. I remember my mother screaming at me and I think I remember being really upset at my mom for grabbing me mid-step to actually touch the car. But I will never forget the actual car itself in all its shiny black glory. I got grounded for 2 days for going into the street and it was the first time I had ever been grounded. But it was well worth the 2 days of no big wheel and no television.

    Thanks for the lesson.

    • Formerlythegreatestdriver

      Thanks for that nice trip down the memory lane.

      • Prawo Jazdy and The Velocity Trumpets

        The dealer lots at Haggerty and Grand River in Farmington Hills are prime for anything from a Nissan mule to next gen performance and interior modifications. I spent 2.5 years at that corner watching all the new fun stuff come out of Bosch. Its kind of like my childhood never went away.

        • Formerlythegreatestdriver

          I think I know exactly the spot you’re talking about. I did after all worked (yeah, right) as an intern at Bosch in F.Hills.

        • Formerlythegreatestdriver

          I think I know exactly the spot you’re talking about. I did after all work(yeah, right) as an intern at Bosch in F.Hills.

          • Prawo Jazdy and The Velocity Trumpets

            I was at the Saturn dealer on the corner also “working” very hard.

    • COTD.

      • superbadd75

        COTD is so yesterday…

        • Prawo Jazdy and The Velocity Trumpets

          Thats tomorrow. I won the internet today.

  • I’m pretty sure I’m “that guy,” but I get the feeling that doing well at Hooniversity won’t get me beat up by the jocks.

    Wait, does Hooniversity even have jocks?

    • More importantly, is it coed?

      • Prawo Jazdy and The Velocity Trumpets

        It better be coed or pretty soon you might start looking real pretty.

      • Maymar

        Has someone tipped off the lovely Ms. Martin towards the Hooniverse?

      • iheartstiggie

        It is coed – I assure you.

        • *eek*

          (just kidding)

        • Huzzah!

        • Mobius

          Pics or it didn’t happen!

          Also, Ms Fox is a good professor, she knows a lot about posing with cars.

  • Prawo Jazdy and The Velocity Trumpets

    Mayar, you owe me a dust buster. I just blew ashes out of the ashtray and all over my desk.

  • Armand4

    This is a great article that looks like it’s going to be the first in a series of great articles. My only problem with it is that it’s made me realize that I’m “that guy,” have always been “that guy” and probably will always be “that guy.” Oh well. If anyone needs me, I’ll be reciting arcane trivia about cars of the Rootes Group, Peugeots and classic Mercedes-Benzes.

    • Scroggzilla

      I look forward to your lecture: Rosemary Smith, An Appreciation.

      • Thanks for that tip, sir, the research was really interesting! That, or I need a hobby very badly.

    • Number_Six

      We’re expecting a submission on cars of the Rootes Group. Something about your own ride would be nice, too. People need to know about Sunbeam.

      • Armand4

        I’d be happy to contribute an article about my Sunbeam, as just looking at the car stokes the mighty fires of my own narcissism. Really, who wouldn’t want to read me discuss how awesome I am, and how MGB owners are pussies for having cars one can still get all the parts for?

        I might be brought down to earth soon, as a friend wants to sell me a PCH-grade Peugeot 403. There’s nothing like a 58-horsepower family sedan to make you realize you’re not as cool as you thought you were.

  • Maymar

  • .357

    Yep. I’m that guy. I’m always the one pointing out that the Audi in front of us has 572 bhp and so on…
    I’m an avid lover of the GNX. It’s just so unassumingly mad.

  • iheartstiggie

    This is great! I’m so excited. With my poor little one track, aircooled VW mind its things like this that make me WANT to branch out more, see the world. Thanks for the lesson.

    I like this site. +1

  • Uncle Bo

    To have my favorite car of all time featured in the first installment of the Hooniversity is a very, very good sign.

    Nice piece, not too technical or wordy. Any recognition this car can get is good recognition.

  • History was always my favorite subject. Thanks for the refresher course and some new tidbits I did not ever bother to know.

  • goingincirclez

    @pj134: Whoa! One the one hand, that is pure awesome. On the other hand, a Ferrari with that many stickers is maybe the only Ferrari that should be set on fire.

    @Site Mods: It seems there’s a limit to thread depth. After PJ’s replies in my thread, and also Prowo + Formerly’s thread above, there’s no longer a “reply” option after the last comment. Not sure how to fix it, and not complaining… just pointing it out in case ya’ll didn’t know.

    • I noticed that too, but it seems like you can still reply to an earlier post in that part of the thread.

    • I think WordPress supports multiple nested comments, it just needs to be configured… Guys?

  • Well, sorry for the delay in new content, guys. The media uploader thingamawhatsit is just having a little spat with my Internet tubes.

    Forgive us, we’re just getting started, and there are a lot of bugs that still need to be worked out. Mostly it’s Defective User Error, but I’m working on it.

    Just need a bigger hammer…

    • Prawo Jazdy and The Velocity Trumpets

      I think you can rest assured we will wait.

      • superbadd75

        Absolutely. I’m not going anywhere. This place is the balls. Actually, it’s the balls and the taint, it’s that whole region. You fellas have outdone yourselves here, and for the hundreth time today, I commend you. Thanks for a new, cool place to go.

  • tenbeers

    So I head over here to see what all the goddamn fuss is about since Jalopnik sucks a fat one nowadays, and BEHOLD, there’s a GNX all up on my interpage web screen, along with all the people that made the J interesting. Thanks for creating this place.

  • Mobius

    Dearthair, you are our Moses, leading us through the treacherous ocean that is J 2.0 and Jezebel Dungeons, to the Promised Land where Buicks are big, bad, black, and fast.

    Sorry, that ought to be Professor Dearthair.

  • MrHowser

    Beautiful. Unfortunately, of all the cars I’ve pointed out to the wifey, the G-Body is consistently rejected as a car I’m allowed to have if I want to be seen with her. I’ll let it go, as she’s completely ok with any number of other examples of automotive awesomeness, but for some reason, this one never passes the test.

  • MrHowser

    Absolutely. Unfortunately, of all the cars I’ve pointed out to the wifey, the G-Body is consistently rejected as a car I’m allowed to have post lottery-winning, if I want to be seen with her. I’ll let it go, as she’s completely ok with any number of other examples of automotive awesomeness, but this one never quite makes it.

    • MrHowser

      Wow… 4 refreshes and the previous post didn’t show up. Way to go, genius.

  • privateschoolTony

    Professor Dearthair, you have not disappointed when you said there would be more Grand National News.
    I am that person you describe, a walking encyclopedia of cars and tech. And I love it.

  • SSurfer321

    Prof. Dearthair, I love the new class! I look forward to continuing my education under your tutelage.

  • littleYodaPickup

    More of this please. A hoon-wannabe needs to know!

    I wondered what about the GNX made everyone ooh and ahh, but no one would ever say exactly WHY, and I’d always forget to look it up. Of course looks were never in question. It just radiates bad boy vibes.

    BTW, great job on the site guys. This is everything I missed over at the other place.

  • GlockandRoll

    What kind of wheels are those, on the GNX?