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?
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.
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.
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.