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Car of the Week: The Last Buick Grand National

The story behind the last 1987 Buick Grand National. The Buick with only 33 miles on the odometer is a time capsule of love.
Car of the Week 2020
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Dec. 11, 1987, is a day that lives in infamy for fans of traditional General Motors coupes. It was on that day that the last of the popular rear-wheel-drive Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Buick Regal rolled off the assembly line. Of these, the very last was a Buick Regal, and not just any Regal, but a hot Grand National.

Colvin’s article on his 1987 Buick Grand National, the last G-body General Motors car to be built, from the March 10, 1988, Old Cars Weekly. He was a longtime GN fan, having owned a GNX and raced a turbo Regal T-Type.

Colvin’s article on his 1987 Buick Grand National, the last G-body General Motors car to be built, from the March 10, 1988, Old Cars Weekly. He was a longtime GN fan, having owned a GNX and raced a turbo Regal T-Type.

Old Cars reader Bob Colvin has a keepsake from that December day: the very last Buick Grand National. He knew the importance of that car and all it represented, and traveled to Pontiac, Mich., to watch it being built. After it was built, Colvin reported on its assembly and importance for the March 10, 1988, issue of Old Cars Weekly. His article read, in part: “This event marked the end to many automotive landmarks: the last Grand National, the last rear-wheel-drive Regal, the last rear-wheel-drive Buick (except for Electra wagons), the last GM ‘G Car’ (Cutlass, Regal and Monte Carlo) built at the Chevrolet-Pontiac-Canada Group Pontiac Assembly Plant, the last car built at GM Pontiac plant (the only plant to ever build the Grand National), the last rear-wheel-drive muscle car (the only real muscle car of the decade) and the end of nearly 5,000 jobs at Fisher Body and Pontiac Assembly Plants.”

It took a number of phone calls and letters for Colvin to claim the last Grand National, even though he had a reputation, at that time, as a go-to source for performance Buicks. (“People knew I had one and could do the upgrades to theirs. We just attracted them. And we did a lot of advertising at the time for the Grand Nationals.”)

“I had sold a lot of Grand Nationals (he estimates 30-40), and back then, the dealers had a little better rapport with the manufacturers, so I made some phone calls and wrote some letters saying I would like to have the last Grand National made,” said Colvin, the owner of Springhill Motor Co., a GM dealership in Springhill, La. “They finally got back with me and said they were working on it, but they weren’t for sure they could pull it off.”

Colvin and his family walked along the assembly line with full access —and without hard hats. He notes neither would be possible today.

Colvin and his family walked along the assembly line with full access —and without hard hats. He notes neither would be possible today.

Colvin had been working with the Buick representatives in his area, but when they couldn’t make any promises, Colvin went straight to the top: GM chairman Roger Smith.

“I went all the way to Roger Smith, and after I called Roger smith, I got a phone call... from Bob Henderson (director of distribution), and on a conference call, they told me not to call Roger Smith again, and they could handle any kind of issue I had without going that high. So they said, ‘Look, we are going to try to get you the last one sold to the public, but it may not be the last one built.’”

When the Colvin family arrived, employees had already affixed many “last” signs to the Grand National. He has kept them with the car.

When the Colvin family arrived, employees had already affixed many “last” signs to the Grand National. He has kept them with the car.

At that time, it was expected that the last Grand National would be part of a GM employee raffle, or perhaps retained by GM.

Then, out of right field, Colvin received an order acknowledgement from GM for a 1987 Buick Grand National.

“The dealers order their own cars, and it was very unusual that that would take place,” he said. 

Regardless, it was a welcome sign that Colvin would get the car he hoped to land.

“All of the correspondence for the next few months was that we were welcome to be at the assembly plant when the car was being built,” Colvin said. “I went to visit Darwin Clark (Buick general marketing manager), and when I got up there, he had a pretty good timeline as to when it was going to be made. When we visited him, he was apologetic to my wife and I. He said, ‘We won’t be able to get you the last one, just the last one sold to the public,’ and that was great.

“Then I got a call from Chuck Maitland (plant manager of Pontiac Assembly) saying, ‘We got a little delay — it is going to be a couple more days before we can conclude with the plant operations, and I want you and your family to be here that last day. I think it will be really good for employees, and I have tagged that car for the last build.’ He said, ‘It will be the last one made, and you can follow it along, and I think it will be good for everyone.’ He said, ‘I am going to work for Ford Motor Co. and I am making my own decisions.’”

Employees penciled in “Last Grand National” and the build date and time on the historic car’s window sticker.

Employees penciled in “Last Grand National” and the build date and time on the historic car’s window sticker.

After the two-day delay due to material shortages, Colvin and his wife, Charlotte, and their 4-year-old son, Matt, arrived at Pontiac Assembly on Dec. 11 to watch their Grand National being built. He said the body was waiting for them after being delivered from Fisher Body in Flint, and GM staff was waiting for them to arrive.

“They already had some signs made and on the car,” he said. “Everyone was expecting us. It was just absolutely phenomenal. It was a great day. They were proud we were there, and we were proud to be there.”

The Colvin family followed the Grand National along the assembly line, taking film and photographs, and even participating in part of the assembly itself, with 4-year-old Matt working the engine hoist.

Colvin’s 4-year-old son, Matt, was allowed to control the engine hoist when the Grand National’s engine was mated to the chassis.

Colvin’s 4-year-old son, Matt, was allowed to control the engine hoist when the Grand National’s engine was mated to the chassis.

“When the body drop came along, [employees] were clapping,” Colvin said of his Grand National. “Some of the people in the plant were crying. It was just something to see.

“It was really due to the efforts of the plant manager that I was able to get the last car,” Colvin said.

Colvin acknowledges that there is one Buick Grand National with a higher vehicle identification number (VIN), but it’s widely recognized that his Grand National was the car to close the plant as the last down the assembly line.

“The one with a higher VIN was five cars up from ours,” he said. “The plant manager tagged our body for last build. The car before mine was an LS Monte Carlo. I never noticed where it was going, never paid any attention to it. The last car (also a Grand National) was supposed to go for a GM raffle, and that car was at least four cars up from mine, maybe five. There were two Monte Carlos ahead of mine. That was what General Motors had planned, but since we were going to be there that last day, the plant manager said, ‘No, we are going to do this one last.’”

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Crew signatures commemorate the special Grand National.

Crew signatures commemorate the special Grand National.

After the last Grand National arrived at his dealership in Louisiana, Colvin squirreled it into an addition he had specially built onto his house just for the car. There, sitting on jack stands 3 inches off the ground, it became like a member of the family, always off to the side while they were gathered to watch television and not far from where they shared meals. Colvin and his wife even used its trunk to stash Christmas presents for their children and then grandchildren. It was a life of luxury not enjoyed by the even-rarer GNX Colvin had previously owned, or his wife’s long-term demo, a likewise intercooled-turbo 1987 Regal T-type, that he hopped up for drag racing.

Colvin says two Monte Carlos immediately preceded his car, and a GN with a higher VIN was about four or five cars ahead of his.

Colvin says two Monte Carlos immediately preceded his car, and a GN with a higher VIN was about four or five cars ahead of his.

Today, the last Grand National remains in Colvin’s home, as it did when it rolled off the assembly line with just 33 miles on the odometer. Colvin knows when and where those nearly three-dozen miles were accumulated (mostly at the few shows where the Buick was displayed). But now, he says, the time has come to sell it. The car will be offered as lot 1347 at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction, to be held Jan. 22-30.

“I have had people ask me, ‘Why are you doing this?’” Colvin said. “I have preserved it for 35 years. I love the car — it’s part of the family. But on the other hand, I look at it as it’s part of my financial portfolio, too. And we have a house surrounded by big pine trees, and nobody will insure that car for over $100,000, and if I have a pine tree fall on the house, I am done.”

He adds, “I want people to see the car. I am in a rural part of the country, on the Arkansas state line, and I would like to see a museum end up with the car so it can be preserved and people can see it and enjoy it.”

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