1987 Buick Grand National – Buick’s Last Muscle Car

87gn1-1s.jpgWhy 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, 82gn-1.jpgmaking 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 1/4 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 87gn-1.jpghad 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 3.80 inch bore, a 3.40 inch stroke, 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 TH-200-4R (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 TH-200-4R. 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 87gn-2.jpgperformance 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 1/4 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 1/4 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.


Written contents in this article – © 2008 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved