By on July 31, 2015
I never thought much of Buicks as a kid. When it came to daily drivers, dad was an Oldsmobile man. See a very young Chris below, detailing dad’s Cutty sedan. Buicks were old-man cars. My grandpa drove Buicks. Underfunded Indy 500 drivers drove and exploded Buicks.
One day, I recall someone light up a set of BFG Radials with a black Buick Grand National (remember, kids, street racing is bad), and my opinions changed. All of a sudden, Buick was bringing back the muscle car!

This time, rather than big blocks and massive carbs, Buick was generating performance with a page from the import playbook: turbocharging. That same G-body architecture found in dad’s Olds was home to some of the most advanced powertrain engineering to come out of Detroit. It’s even been said that GM underrated the power found in the later Turbo Buicks so as not to encroach on the mighty Corvette.

Grand Nationals and GNXs have been bringing big money lately. The ’87, for example, can fetch close to six figures according to Hagerty’s valuation guide. So I went in search of a boosted Buick that wasn’t so dear.

This ’87 Turbo Regal (ignore the dealer’s “Grand National” title) for $13,000 seems much more reasonably priced. The medium grey was a popular color and looks especially menacing with the blacked-out trim. Since it’s not nearly as sought after as the limited-edition cars, yet has nearly the same performance, one could modify the car for even better performance without destroying a precious collector car. The options the original buyer chose are a bit odd, though. Power mirrors but manual windows? The shift knob seems to have gone missing as well, but this looks quite clean otherwise.

I walked through my nearby Buick lot on Sunday morning, eyeballing the new Regal. The GS looks especially attractive, with polished 19-inch rims that certainly scream performance, but the classics keep calling me and I really don’t know how I’d choose between the two.

Your humble author as a toddler. This car probably has 22s now.

Your humble author as a toddler. This car probably has 22s now.

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34 Comments on “Crapwagon Outtake: 1987 Buick Regal Turbo...”


  • avatar
    GS 455

    The 87 Turbo Regal is a bit lighter than the Grand National so it’s actually slightly faster. It was even possible to order a Buick Regal Limited with the same 3.8L SFI intercooled turbo V6 and have the ultimate sleeper.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      I don’t recall (would have to look on “oldcarbrochures.com,” which has an ’83 full-line brochure, and not just an auto-show pamphlet, and I’m too lazy to do so now), but you may have been able to equip a Sedan in the same manner.

      And for those on here who say the handling was crap, I’m not sure what the GN(X) had underneath, but a heavy-duty suspension (Gran Touring, in the case of the Buick) really buttoned things up nicely. They weren’t sports cars by any means, but my Mom’s and Dad’s 1980 Cutlass Sedan (low-end, based on the Salon trim) and 1983 Regal Custom Sedan did OK. (My Dad’s job as a medical salesman, with a trunk full of samples, etc., required the F-41/Gran Touring options on these company cars. The weirdest thing which went wrong on either car was the worn-out starter in the Olds, as that part wasn’t robust enough to handle an average of ** 21 ** startups per day! The Buick only had a minor stumble when first hitting the gas a little hard when cold; it took a couple more years for GM to sort out the Computer Command Control (CCC) carburetors in these vehicles. My Dad bought each of these cars for my Mom from the company when they 50,000 miles, and yes, the GM badge-engineering was all too clear when the Cutlass and the Regal sat side-by-each in the garage!)

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    The rear end on this is not quite right, and is not the correct one which came with it from factory. Click on the dealer link and…

    You’ll notice at the rear clip, that extra spoiler there, and the not quite correct alignment. I think it has a GNX rear end on it. The body of the GNX was smooth, without that strong crease running along fender, so the indention at the end on the spoiler (on the GNX) made sense. It doesn’t make sense on this.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      Looks like a bad repro grand national spoiler, the real one had better side pieces that integrated smoothly. The GNX had the exact same body as any other regal with the same GN spoiler, other than fender vents and fiberglass fender flares which were added at ASC.

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    At the time, it seemed implausible that the finest Buick of modern times would be a lashed-up G-body coupe with a single turbo blowing through SFI.

    Yet if you look at the past thirty years, it’s clear that things went downhill after that.

    The most humiliating part is that the current Regal GS is barely any faster than a pre-GN T-Type and not in any way capable of keeping up with a Grand National.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Current Regal might not be faster in a straight line, but it’s a better car by basically every other metric. By a landslide. G bodies are horrible for anything besides building old drag cars and donks.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        Yup. Those turbo’d Regals did nothing but go fast in a straight line. They didn’t handle well, didn’t stop well, and everything inside rattled from day one.

        I was living in Flint (Buick City) and attending GMI (now Kettering Institute) in the 1980s when these cars were new. The Buick R&D team would bring over a half-dozen or so prototype and test-mule cars to the college car show in the spring. It was cool to see the 140mph speedos and other non-production features on them.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Hearing you say this redmond, I feel Forza 4 recreated the GNX accurately. It couldn’t take a gentle banked oval without bottoming out many times. Too mushy. And awful brakes.

      • 0 avatar
        Superdessucke

        It has better side impact protection too!

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      “the current Regal GS is barely any faster than a pre-GN T-Type and not in any way capable of keeping up with a Grand National.”

      Yeah, but weren’t those things almost ludicrously fast for their day? This was pretty close to the nadir of performance in the ’80s, when anything under 10 to 60 was really getting a move on. IIRC the GN was way the hell on one end of the curve for straight-line performance, so I’m not sure it’s quite fair to say that things are “barely any faster”, really.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        It’s only a fair comparison because the two cars are supposed to serve EXACTLY the same market.

        It would be like if a Huracan couldn’t beat a Jalpa from 0-60.

        • 0 avatar
          PeriSoft

          I see your point, but I’m still thinking it’s a bit more like if the Jalpa was doing 60 in 4 back in ’83. So, yeah, should things be a bit better now? Yeah, but it’s not exactly a *searing indictment*.

          Then again I’m not in the target market for that kind of car, so…

          • 0 avatar
            PeriSoft

            Also, having looked stuff up, I’m gonna say that it’s not really a fair comparison at all. They only made a few thousand of the GNX and Grand National, and they were hitting 60 in the 4s when even Ferraris and Lambos were in the 6s. Comparing super-limited-run cars with extraordinary performance to the current GS seems kinda off-base. The new GS is hardly a limited-production firebreather; seems to me that the GNX / Grand National were the Hellcats of their day.

          • 0 avatar
            Jack Baruth

            I’m not even comparing the current GS with the GNX.

            You could walk into a Buick dealer starting in 1979 and buy a Regal with red velour interior, plenty of chrome, a big waterfall grille, and performance to match the current GS. Hell, the ’79 T-Type had a carburetor and 180hp but it could probably run with a modern GS.

            Buick also had the turbo in the LeSabre. They weren’t rare. When I was a kid you saw T-Types all over the place.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            In 1987, Buick built 27,590 turbo Regals. All of them were at least as fast as the ones badged as Grand Nationals. The GNXs and WE4s were faster still.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            Instead of comparing it to Lamborghini’s progress in the past 28 years, how about comparing it to the Porsche 911 Turbo? They were extremely quick then too, yet they’ve gone from 0-60 in 4.8 seconds to 0-60 in 2.7 seconds while picking up about 40 mph in top speed.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            “Hell, the ’79 T-Type had a carburetor and 180hp but it could probably run with a modern GS. ”

            I have doubts of that.

            http://www.beforeblack.net/accel.htm

            The “Before Black” site is a great information source on the pre-Grand National turbo Buicks.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      Lets be honest the GN was a bunch of engjneers playing around with some stuff whipped up in the gas crunch 70s. The regal was the only RWD car left to handle the intercooled version of this motor. It was not a great pairing of chassis and motor it was the only option they had. Its amazing they moved so many units the last year of production!

      You mention SFI, which was advanced in itself, let us not forget this motor had distributorless ignition too, which pretty much set off the idea of chipping in conjunction with the electronic wastegate.

      Meanwhile when buick introduced that, the refined Audi 5000 turbo mentioned below used mechanical fuel injection with distributor and a simple spring to control turbo boost. And interesting contrast when the average onlooker might assume the expensive german car used newer tech.

      Now if they only dropped that motor in an F body…oh wait…

  • avatar
    nickoo

    This buick has presence and is more desirable at any price than the current GS.

    If GM had any guts, they’d get these G bodies into the design studio and truly build a modern day regal they could be proud of. Until then Buick will continue in obscurity.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      I’ve mentioned a couple other times on here that it would be neat to have drawings done of what a modern-day interpretation of a Cutlass or Regal might look like, both exterior and the inside, particularly the dash. Yes, all modern safety requirements would have to be met.

      For some reason, the interior (specifically the IP) really intrigues me! Could the rectilinear look of the Cutlass dash be preserved? The sweep speedo would have to go, but perhaps the “Rallye Pack” could be rendered in a TFT display.

      Same with the Regal and it’s more rectangular dash which extended below the steering column: the three-binnacle affair of the ’78-’83 Regal (and ’78-’81 Century) wouldn’t translate too well, and neither would the IP from ’84-’87, but a conservative-looking take on the Borg-Warner IP of the GNX, again in a TFT display, would look nice.

      The HVAC controls always sat atop the radio in these cars in the little “pod” off to the side, within easy reach of the driver. (Actually, the ergonomics in these weren’t all bad!) Move that whole pod up a little higher in the dash and put the two HVAC vents next to it, and put a GM infotainment unit and HVAC controls in there, and you’d have it! (A full-length console with a shifter would terminate where the infotainment/HVAC “pod” sat, and you could put a small storage bin, 12-volt port, infotainment connections, etc., there!

  • avatar
    SavageATL

    I own an ’87 Grand National, with T-tops. In my highly biased opinion, I would highly recommend this car. I bought it in 2006 to replace a 2001 Cadillac Catera which I had purchased new. I loved my ’86 Cutlass Supreme and thought GM, RWD, this will be similar. Long story short, the Catera turned out to be the same quality disaster that all Cateras did, even at the end of the model run. I decided that what I really wanted was another G-Body, so why not get the ultimate G-Body.

    The car is very spacious inside for the exterior size, and has a real back seat and a real trunk, and as it was my only car at the time, this was very important. What else has supercar performance with a back seat capable of carrying adults, and a trunk?

    It is a blast to drive, particularly with upgraded shocks, tires, and replacement of the rubber bits which after 20+ years have all disintegrated. It probably does not handle as well as a modern car but then again, it’s fun to drive going slowly as well and you cannot beat it for the attention/cool car! factors.

    It is also reliable, and parts/repairs for it are cheap, unlike the “$8500” porsche featured earlier this week.

    I rate it a superb buy for a daily use hobby car with a lot of fun and practicality quotient.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      So I have a clear understanding, you drive a Grand National Buick as your daily driver.

      If I am correct in my reading comprehension.

      You are my hero.

      I love those cars, and no JB, I don’t care they handle like trash, squeal, rattle or whatever foible they may or may not have. Just like I love the 77′ Bandit T.A. With T-Tops.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    The Grand National was a big Fukk You from GM to performance car lovers everywhere;

    “We’ll build it, but you can’t afford it. It’s got Sh!tty brakes, steering, suspension off granny’s Olds Cutlass to go along with it, if you must have it anyway.” 2X the price of the IROCz.

    Today it’s got the cool factor, but at the time it was an insult. Pure. Simple.

    For just under $10,000 in ’88, I got the notch 5.0 LX Mustang in stripper trim, crank windows and radio delete. It was way faster than the GNX from the ‘dig’. Yes it was underrated by GM, but it took 2 city blocks for GNXs to catch me.

    Except the 5.0 LX did force GT brakes, suspension, Eagle radials, etc. so it did alright in all around performance. The 5.0 package was just $1,895 on the base Mustang.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      I’ll give you that — the LX 5.0 was the bargain of the decade!

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Wow, that’s a bargain alright. The 5.0 LX notchback is my favorite Mustang.

    • 0 avatar

      Go watch Black Air, the documentary. Rather than GM giving enthusiasts the finger, the turbo Buicks were the result of enthusiast engineers pulling a fast one, pun intended, on the suits. It’s a great story about automotive true believers.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Why would they *need* to pull a “fast one” on the suits? See that’s what I’m talking about. The over all FU to enthusiasts that didn’t happen to want a Corvette or have the cash nor wanted the IROCz, both of which were slower than the GN/GNX, (except could handle). And the price was equal to or higher than the Corvette. Complete insult.

        GM had to rub it in your face, that they had the parts and know-how, but *screw you* if you wanted GM to put in a car you actually could afford, let alone in a tight handling chassis.

        Nope, scram and get off my lawn!!

        The G-body should’ve died in the early ’80s anyway. Walking dead.

        I watched as much of the documentary that I could handle. I skipped though entire movie and couldn’t find the spot you’re talking about. It’s very slow and methodically waxes on about the GN history and owner experiences with heart string music the whole time. How far into the movie?

        • 0 avatar
          Power6

          As a former owner and used to be way into these cars…I know the original GNX prototype built by Molly Designs was red, there were 1035 Limited Turbo Regals built, I know why the air cleaner nut is a hex not a wing nut, you might notice my screen name and avatar refer to the original Buick V6 racing program…yup I know some real useless stuff from being obsessed.

          From that perspective, Black Air was rubbish. Way over dramatized the stories. But the basic gist, some Buick engineers worked hard on through the 80s on replacing a V8 with turbo V6 technology. It ultimately failed due in large part to the unforeseen oil glut, but at the end they had this intercooled monster and one appropriate Buick RWD machine left. There wasn’t really a sales case for it, they just put the parts together and put it out there. There is no secret the G-body wasn’t a great chassis…well it was good for one thing, drag racing. And at that the GN held it’s own. While the Fox body Mustang was a better all around car, it wad tough to beat a GN at the strip. I swapped in a “chip” (incidentally programmed by a GM engineer who did the stock program), put on a $5 junkyard “237” Bosch regulator from a 3800, wired up a $2 TC lockup switch and went from a 14.3 stock to 13.5 1/4. That was on street nights with street tires (my car had Posi), ran well over 100 IIRC. I was just a poor 20yo college dropout but the guys with a few more bucks would spend a little cheddar and run 12s with a few well chosen parts. You just couldn’t do that in a Mustang, you could bump the timing a bit, put on an exhaust, do gears all that stuff cost more. This is really the beginning of the rise of the turbo cars. Then guys started showing up with laptops and DSMs running 11s on street tires…the game changed forever.

          But about the price thing, its not like they were charging a bundle. It already cost 15 or 16 for a moderately optioned Regal in 87. The turbo package was $1500 option. The GN was about $3000 if you wanted the blacked out looks and judging by the sales figures and used values most did.

          Without thinking about the performance version the Regal was much more expensive, upscale car than a 4 banger Mustang. So the fast ones cost more too. It seriously was the ONLY choice they had to put that motor in that car, unless you wanted a turbo Estate Wagon! (of course you do, the Buick engineers built one of those for “testing” too)

          Having owned the Buick though, if I went back now, I would want the LX 5.0 notch, GT seats option with the 5 speed please. My tastes have changed over the years.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Putting that engine in the Regal was just bizzare. What about the Camaro/Firebird? Maybe a $3,000 turbo V6 option on the base F-bodies to under $12,000, including IROCz 4WDBs, suspension, etc? $15,000 for the fully loaded? I mean, wtf??

            Didn’t the the GN/GNX have rear drums? It was just stupid to have a car that would hit 150+ mph in a frickin’ flash with cheesy G-body brakes/suspension.

            If someone had to have a Regal regardless, I could see getting the ultimate example. But even at $19,995 or whatever for the basic Grand National, it was a ripoff for the performance you got, besides raw acceleration. Btw, even the slowest/fattest Mustang GT (of the era) with a 5-speed could take the GNX off-the-line. Don’t ask me how I know.

            I do recall a magazine review of the Grand National took it on a twisty mountain road and when they stopped to cool the brakes, the front hubcaps melted into puddles of plastic goo on the dirt. That’s all I needed to know.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    One of my Air Force Pilot uncles bought an ’87 GNX brand new. In a straight line, it is still probably the fastest car I have ever driven, and certainly one of the most dramatic. Because other than going fast in a straight line, it was an EPIC POS. It didn’t turn, it didn’t stop. As noted by others, it rattled and shook when brand new. The T-tops leaked like sieves. Parts fell off on a weekly basis. He traded it for an Audi 5000T after six months, which was 10X the car, even if it would never win a drag race.

    The current Regal Turbo is one of my favorite rental cars, and one of the few GM cars I would consider owning. Just an all around nice car, IMHO. Quietly competent. It may not be as fast as a GNX, but it gets 2X+ the mpgs, goes around corners, stops, doesn’t rattle and generally comports itself like a civilized vehicle. And at a massively lower price, adjusted for inflation. Jack is full of himself, as usual.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      LOL pot meet kettle.

      It is odd someone would buy a GNX and expect the refinement of an Audi. I mean the option package was 11k on top of an 18k car, and none of that went to adressing anything other than acceleration in that car! The contemporary vette or IROC was just as much of a rattle trap, it was to be expected.

      I owned one of these turbo regals, so i dont hold them in godly high esteem some do since i know all the downsides. Still a very interesting car, and nobody is auctioning off audi 5000ts for big bucks. History is much kinder to hugely flawed beasts rather than quiet competence in the automotive sense. I like hugely flawed beasts, lots of fun.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        There is no accounting for the tastes of young testosterone-addled flyboys. Both of my uncles were sort of in car competition with each other in those days (and they are only ~10 years older than I am). They each would get something new every year, and it varied wildly as to what that would be. IIRC, the GNX was bought because my other uncle bought a Monte Carlo SS. I don’t remember what replaced the Audi, I was away at school by then.

        I didn’t say the GNX wasn’t fun. But it is was a terrible *car*. Not worth 6-figures to me, but I can see the appeal. I just can’t see it as any sort of comparison to the current Regal to say the current Regal is terrible because it isn’t quite as fast. That’s just stupid.

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    Now I feel REALLY old!!!

    What year was that Cutlass?

    My first car (twenty-eight years ago) was a used-up hooptie of a 1978 Olds Cutlass Salon (the two-door “aeroback” which resembled a hatchback, and which your Dad’s notchback style replaced the similarly-styled ’78-’79 4-doors beginning in 1980). Jack praised the Salon in a write-up on here. (After seeing how few cars like my Salon may have been produced, damned if I should have kept it, stored in away, and done a frame-off resto on it when I got a real job out of college!)

    As it is, I know that I’d never be able to afford a Regal Turbo of any stripe, but if I could get my hands on a last-production-year Cutlass Supreme Brougham Sedan with every option on the build sheet (including those Rallye wheels — awesome!), including the 305 V8 and 4-speed ADO THM, and which would only require a couple-thousand in NOS pieces to bring it to mint-condition (along with a GM automatic day/night mirror, TheftLock Delco CD stereo, and flash-to-pass mod from “gbody.com”), it’d be an answer to prayer!! Take it to a few Olds meets or general car shows, sitting beside its open hood while working on my tan, with a huge cooler of “adult beverages” alongside!!

    (By the way, your prediction that your Dad’s car (if it hasn’t been junked) probably has 22s is likely correct; these seem to either end up as demo derby or monster-truck fodder, or more to your point, end up in the possession of a certain demographic with a predilection towards gawd-awful resprays, and sound-systems that will explode the windows out of the top floor of the Freedom Tower in NYC, all after having left a few axles of the nearest 747 to the most convenient perimeter at JFK on blocks in order to “acquire” the wheels for aforesaid vehicle; of course, the Tilt-Wheel will always be stuck in the full-up position, and the seatbacks will be permanently reclined to the point where the seatbelts would be of little help even in a fender-bender!)

    As to the Regal: I’d have, in my “endless, cost-no-object, dream garage,” a gen-you-wine ’87 GNX, numbers-matching, lowest-miles-possible; again with every option on the sheet! Darth Vader’s transportation when his TIE-fighter’s in for an oil-change, and he doesn’t want to bother with the CTS-V wagon or the Lambo Huracan in dark grey matte finish! (Saw one doing COMMUTER DUTY for a few days in Toledo a few weeks back — just jaw-dropping in person!)

  • avatar
    Jimal

    The Regal T-Type and Limited were the pursuit cars of choice for the Connecticut State Police back in the mid to late 80’s. I always wanted to buy one from the state auction, but when they came up I was still a broke college student. Several of my friends did have money and off the top of my head I can think of four guys I know that owned a CSP surplus turbo Buick, including one that was a non-intercooled ’84 model that the state used to evaluate the cars for their purposes. I remember spending an entire Saturday in my driveway, installing an aftermarket inter cooler kit. What I don’t remember is whether the intercooler helped.

    That guy sold his and picked up a Mustang LX before joining the Army and heading to Hawaii. Another friend sold his a few years later while the third had his stolen and replaced it with a GN that he still has today. The fourth guy still has his maroon ’86 T-Type that he’s tubbed, caged and built up the engine to produce enough power to get it into the 8’s in the quarter, while still driving it occasionally on the street.

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