Buick Grand National Turbo 1984 Test-Drive. This is the car that finally ended a decade without true muscle cars. In 1982, with the US economy suffering the effects on global oil prices of the ongoing Iran-Iraq conflict, plus a worldwide recession, Buick meekly produced a run of 215 Regal Grand Nationals to acknowledge victory in the NASCAR series of the same name. Most sported limp 125bhp 4.1-litre V6s.
By 1984, with the effects of the war lessening and Texan oilfields running at full tilt, Buick tried again with more conviction. This time the Regal name was dropped, the V6 was the higher-revving 3.8-litre Fireball unit with a Garrett M10 turbo, and sequential fuel injection replaced the old four-barrel carburettor. The result was 235bhp and 330lb ft of torque at a lazy 2400rpm.
But in the Buick’s presence, what impresses most immediately is its appearance. Aside from the 1968 Dodge Charger, it’s hard to think of a car that looks quite so intentionally evil. Climb aboard and it risks its brooding image with an interior almost unchanged from the Regal’s, apart from the leather trim. The seats feel flat, and stainless steel switchgear twinkles in hefty square consoles, giving it the look of a Seventies drinks cabinet.
235bhp V6 turbo makes it a muscle car worthy of the name
Twin exhausts exit behind rear wheelarches
Then you notice the boost gauge and the knock sensor. Turn the key and the V6 howls aggressively. On straights it gathers pace savagely; but rather than a raging V-engine off-beat, there’s turbocharger whine like a taxiing airliner, and there’s a pleasing lack of turbo lag. The ride is excellent but it’s in the corners where the Buick really surprises. The steering is light and feedback- free, but the nose chops cleanly into the apex and responds to twitches of the helm with remarkable precision for a car so heavy.
Then the Buick’s live axle threatens to upset its composure on the exit of tight corners, as it follows incisive turn-in with jerky, crabbing motions from the rear. Hard acceleration at this point will send the car into a spin, so you’ve got to be careful, only spooling the turbo up to full pressure from 3000rpm in a straight line.
‘One great thing about the Grand National is that it’s quite economical. Driven gently I get 30mpg, and I don’t really see it drop below 20mpg on the road.’
Buick addressed the handling issue with the 1987 GNX, produced in conjunction with McLaren, by adding a heftier Panhard rod and stronger rear cross-bracing, along with a new Garrett hybrid turbocharger and air-to-air intercooler. This gave 275bhp, 360lb ft and 0-60 in a Testarossa-threatening 4.8 seconds.
Sadly, the GNX was to prove Buick’s undoing, as this Formula One-inspired overhaul made it much faster than another 1984 debutant, the Corvette C4. To General Motors this was unacceptable for a cheaper car. The Grand National was retired.
But the Grand National spurred others into action. Ford gave the Mustang SVO a 2.3-litre turbo four-cylinder engine that outgunned the V8s. Chevrolet created the Camaro IROC-Z by fitting the Corvette’s tuned-port injection small-block. Carroll Shelby joined Chrysler and turbocharged the Dodge Daytona. America regained its appetite for muscle cars. It’s never looked back.
THE OWNER: GLEN BLACKWELL
‘I just wanted to own something a bit different – Mustangs are as common as Mondeos on the American car scene,’ says Glen.
‘Parts aren’t really a problem – but it helps to join a club that’ll point you in the right direction and has a good social scene centred on using the cars as intended. In my case it’s Yorks Yanks (yorksyanks.co.uk). They’re very active. I’ve also taken it drag racing a couple of times.
|Car||Buick Grand National Turbo 1984|
3785cc V6, ohv, GM SFI electronic fuel injection, Garrett M10 turbocharger
235bhp @ 4000rpm
330lb ft @ 2400rpm
independent, double wishbones, control arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
live axle, four trailing arms, Panhard rod, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
Power-assisted recirculating ball
Discs front and rear, servo
|Price new||$13,400 (£10,074, but not sold in UK)|
Thanks to: Maxted-Page, James Haithwaite, Gary Mellor, Pete Freeman, TVR Car Club, Russ Wood, Simon Waller of Motodrome (whose M535i is for sale), Glen Blackwell, Dave Smith, Yorks Yanks and Millbrook Proving Ground.