Photos by nifticus392, from the Cohort.
It’s always interesting to experience the birth of an icon, and the context in which they arrived. Some icons come to be by bucking trends, while others are just fashionable, encapsulating the spirit of their era. The Buick Grand National is a bit of both. The model was born out of necessity; the upheavals of the ’70s created the power-sapped malaise era, and when all the fun seemed gone, Buick appeared with its turbocharged V6 Grand National, grabbing the automotive spotlight for a few short years. In that short span -from ’84 to ’87- the model left a lasting impression. No wonder; it outpaced Mustangs and Camaros of the time, and nearly matched the more expensive and entirely new Corvette C4.
While the moniker had appeared earlier, the Grand National as we know it came to be in 1984. Those who lived at the time, know that as soon as it appeared it quickly became a darling of the US automotive press. Its numbers justify the hoopla; for ’84 its turbocharged 3.8L V6 offered 200hp of power at 4400rpm, taking the car from 0-60 in 7.8 secs, and covering the quarter mile in 16.2 secs. Impressive specs at the time. By ’86, the GN’s numbers had increased to 235hp, and a hotter spinoff had a one-year run in ’87; the GNX.
As a halo car, the Grand National did its job. To see one on magazine covers and articles was the most common of things in the mid-80s. With its blacked-out trim and menacing stance, the car had a kick-ass ‘muscle-car of the 80s’ look that became iconic.
Of course, there was a lot of ‘GM of the ’80s’ in the Grand National. The interior and trimming are a mix of nice additions with cheap GM of the time. The dashboard layout is very-80s in its plasticky boxy glory, once it becomes unglued the headliner velour drops in a tent-like mode too familiar to those who rode mid-80s GMs cars, and 85MPH is the highest reading its stock Regal speedo will provide. And well, lots of switchgear will be familiar to any Malibu driver. On the other hand, seats were nicely appointed, and there were other neat enhancements considered luxurious at the time.
In sum, it’s one vehicle to take you back to the ’80s, drive you in comfort, and speed away in a manner most cars from its era wouldn’t come close to.
The Grand National has yet to receive its full CC treatment, and it’s a model with an origin story that deserves an extensive take. Yet, a previous owner has already told of his GN experience in these pages, leaving testimony to the vehicle’s exciting and temperamental nature. As has often been the case with many of Detroit’s performance machines, it’s been up to the work of later enthusiasts to clean up and improve on the original’s mechanicals. But that’s par for the course in the muscle car world, and who said living with an icon is easy?