Gary Miller never really had any use for six-cylinder cars. He insists he was a V-8 snob all the way and says he used to make fun of six-cylinders cars that tried to look like muscle cars.
Of course, that was until he drove one that looked awesome and really WAS fast.
“I had a friend who had one of these, and I drove his and I really liked it,” says the Janesville, Wis., resident, surveying the fabulous 1985 Buick Regal Grand National that he’s owned since 1988. “I kept making fun of his car and so he told me to drive it. I drove it for a weekend, and then decided to go looking for one.”
What changed his mind? Take a guess.
“They go! They have got that turbo when you hit it, it doesn’t do it right now, but you go a little bit and it will just take off. They just move!”
Miller probably shares the same sentiments with countless other Grand National fans who fell hard for the menacing black Buick as soon as they first got a good look at one. And if the car's dark, dangerous looks didn’t win people over, the scintillating performance — for the 1980s anyway — was a clincher.
Miller’s Grand National is especially appealing these days because it’s spectacularly original. The cool gray interior looks brand new, and aside from a few minor paint touch-ups, the ’85 coupe is completely unmolested. The Buick had 78,000 miles on it when Miller got it as a four-year-old used car. It’s got about 92,000 rounds on it today, and it remains a stellar specimen.
“My son found it. He’s a car guy and he found it in Milwaukee [Wis.],” Miller says. “A friend’s dad had it sitting in his garage and we went down and bought it that day. Then I took it home and took it to the garage to have some little detailing done on it. It was really good. I don’t know if [the previous] was dealing cars or not, but he sold it to me right, and I put some money in it for a scratch here and there. Otherwise, everything you see on it is the way it came to me."
“I just thought I’d dive it for a while and get rid of it, and I wasn’t sure I’d like that V-6. I always had eight-cylinder cars, but it’s really comparable to any V-8 car I’ve had, believe me. And the thing is, if you don’t use the turbo you can get 28 mpg with it. If you get on the turbo, of course, you won’t get that much.”
A GRAND ENTRANCE
The Grand National debuted in the 1982 model year and was named after the NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National racing series. Buick had claimed top honors in the Manufacturers Cup in 1981 and 1982 and was looking to cash in with the go-fast crowd.
The original run of Grand Nationals was planned to be only 100 cars, but grew to 215 before production ended. Cars and Concepts, based in Brighton, Mich., fancied up Regals with light silver-gray firemist paint, red pinstripes and ghosted “Buick” lettering on the sides. The wheel opening moldings and rocker panel moldings were blacked out and a new front air dam and rear spoiler were mounted. The interior featured special "Lear-Siegler" seats with silver cloth with black vinyl inserts. A special clock delete plate was added to the dash with a yellow and orange "6" logo and "Grand National Buick Motor Division” lettering.
The 1982 GN was an undeniably nice car, but it wasn’t fast, thanks to the pedestrian 252-cid (4.1 L) V-6 under the hood. It was rated at 125 hp and 205 lb.⋅ft. of torque at 2000 rpm.
For 1983, no Buick carried the Grand National nameplate. The closest thing in the lineup was the stylish and sporty 190-hp Regal T-Type — a name that had been applied to Riviera in 1981.
After showcasing its turbo-engine technology at the 1984 new-car shows, Buick brought out a new version it advertised as “the hottest Buick this side of a banked oval.” This new Regal Grand National coupe was, according to Buick, “produced in limited numbers for those who demand a high level of performance.” Its stated purpose was to give young and young-at-heart Buick buyers much of the feeling of a NASCAR racer. Buick built 2,000 copies of this car.
“A little chrome and a lot of power in basic black attire, that’s what the Buick Regal Grand National coupe is all about,” said the ad copywriters. The cost of the option—$1,282—was quite modest, considering that it had a host of appearance and equipment extras. To begin with, Grand Nationals carried the 231-cid (3.8-liter) turbocharged V-6 with sequential fuel injection (SFI). This code LM9 engine produced 200 hp at 4000 rpm and 300 lbs.-ft. of torque at 2000 rpm. It came linked to a four-speed automatic transmission and a 3.42:1 rear axle.
Ingredients of the GN option included black exterior finish on the body, bumpers, bumper rub strips, bumper guards, front air dam, windshield wipers, rear deck lid spoiler, taillight bezels and aluminum wheels. The paint code was No. 19. Grand National identification was carried on the front fenders and the instrument panel. A sport steering wheel, a tachometer, a turbo-boost gauge, a 94-amp alternator, power brakes and steering, dual exhausts and a special hood with a turbo bulge were also included in the package. The code 995 Lear Siegler seats (sand gray cloth with charcoal leather inserts) were embroidered with the Grand National model’s distinctive “6” (for V-6) logo.
Individual options available from Buick included a hatch top (RPO CC1), an Astroroof with silver glass (RPO CF5), a theft-deterrent system (RPO UA6), cruise control (RPO K34), electronic touch climate-control air conditioning (RPO C68), a rear window defogger (RPO C49), a remote trunk release (RPO A90), electronic instrumentation (RPO U52) and a lighted vanity mirror on the passenger-side sun visor.
For the 1985 model year, the Buick brass decided there was no reason to change a good thing. The Regal GN wasn’t selling in big numbers, but it was pulling enthusiasts into Buick showrooms where some of them bought other models. With hot looks to spare, the “new” GN didn’t need a major overhaul, but it still got a facelift.
The forward-slanting nose of all ’85 Regals carried a new grille. On the GN, it was finished in black. So was nearly everything else, including the windshield wipers. There were minor updates to the upholstery and ornamentation. Still, the ultra-high-performance version of the Regal T-Type was basically unchanged on the outside.
Under the hood once again was the turbocharged 3.8 V-6 with sequential fuel injection. The system (introduced in 1984) provided more precise fuel delivery. Metered fuel was timed and injected into the individual combustion ports sequentially through six Bosch injectors. Each cylinder received one injection per every two revolutions, just prior to the intake valve opening. The ’85 engine also had some torque curve revisions.
The ’85 GN stuck with a monotone black exterior treatment and was identified by special model badges. The Grand National package retailed for $675, so prices for the high-performance model started at $12,640. The package included the turbo V-6, quick-ratio power steering, an instrumentation group, sport mirrors with left-hand remote control, a four-speed automatic transmission, air conditioning and P215/65R15 black sidewall tires.
There were some interior revisions for 1985. A new two-tone cloth interior with front bucket seats carried code 583 soft trim. Underneath the car was a specific Gran Touring suspension.
A total of 2,102 Regal Grand Nationals were built for 1985, still a modest number, but enough for Buick to bring back an even better version of the GS for 1986. That was the year engineers added a
an intercooler to the turbo set-up that that supposed to produce 235 hp, but some insiders claimed was more like 300 hp. Sales grew to 5,000 units that year.
The Grand National enjoyed one more run in ’87 when the hp grew to a listed 245 hp, but some GM infighting and perceived in-house competition from the rest of the Regal lineup, including the sport T-Type, eventually led to Buick bowing out of the muscle car business and focusing more on its more sedate line of full-sized luxury cars.
Miller says he has never really researched it, but as far as he knows he’s just the second owner of his sweet ’85 GN. He’s got three other nice collector cars, including a GTO Judge, but he’s never seriously considered parting with his hot black Buick.
“I had a chance to sell about a month ago,” he jokes. “I couldn’t do it.”
Miller figures if he ever let the ’85 go, he’d never find a nicer one to replace it. The car is loaded with options, including power windows and seats, sunroof, cruise control, air-conditioning, AM/FM stereo and tilt wheel.
“It’s got about everything you could have except the leather seats. And it’s got the trunk liner, too,” he says. “They had a special liner for the trunk that was an accessory. I’ve had a guy try to just buy that liner from me!”
A lot of car lovers would put the Grand National at or near the top of the list of the best cars built in the 1980s. You can put Miller in that group. They were certainly among the most memorable, and have become some of the most collectible and revered cars of the period. They were great performance cars for their time, but even if they weren’t they’d still have plenty of appeal for guys like Miller, who remain enamored with their sinister good looks.
“I knew the Chevrolets, the Monte Carlos were [similar]. I just liked the styling and options and the way the Buicks were built,” Miller notes. “Everything is blacked out. There is no chrome anyplace, and I’m a chrome guy. I like chrome on my cars. The black is what really made it stand out, and then they put that motor in there. Who would think a Buick would be the fastest production car built in ’85?”
If and when he ever does decide to part with his Grand National, Miller figures the car won’t be leaving the family. He says one of his sons has already called dibs on it.
“I’m really happy with it. I’m going to keep it. One of my boys wants it when I’m done with it. Another one wants the GTO. They’ve got it all figured out, I guess.”
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