COAL Update – You Didn’t Really Think Rock Was Dead, Did You?

Just when you thought kiddie pop, hip hop and whatever that is that passes for country music these days was dominating the airwaves and streaming services, along came this:

A hit new rock band comprised of members that are barely old enough to vote, not old enough to drink and are a direct throwback to all of the great ’70s blues-based rock.

Right around the time I wrote my rock and roll-based Buick Grand National COAL ,  I remember reading an article in some irrelevant source that said rock was dead and cited various reasons that led to its death.

Seriously?  Didn’t The Who say that in the ’70s?

And also since the 1970s have several ‘reputable’ automotive authors continually predicted the end of V8s and RWD.   See the connection?

Like Aerosmith said, its the same old song and dance.

So, here we are, in 2019.  Greta Van Fleet (and others) are selling out arenas and keeping rock very relevant.  Rock bio-movies are killing it in the box office, with Elton John’s movie coming out this weekend here in the States.  Mustangs, Challengers, and Camaros (well, maybe not Camaros) are still selling in strong numbers.  Fake news?

When my Grand National rolled off the assembly line in Pontiac, MI in May, 1987, the media claimed rock was dead then too.

And then this happened.

And just for you ‘boomers that claim rock is dead and real Chargers only have 2 doors, well, you’re old and out of touch.  So I’m going to dot my Grand National update with some great late-model rock and roll from new and recent and very relevant bands that are not 70s/80s/90s/00s legacy acts and have been approved by my teenaged daughters.

Back in the fall, my 1987 Buick Grand National was also presumed dead, after I revived it not once but twice; first after putting it back together after it was torn apart and abandoned at a shop and then again after an engine rebuild and blowing out a head gasket while doing fun hot rod car guy stuff.

Like many turbo cars, GNs are notorious for blowing out head gaskets.  But, since these cars remain ridiculously popular more than 30 years after the last ones rolled off the lines, aftermarket support is very strong with both restoration and performance parts widely available with just a mouse click and a credit card.  It’s starring role in F&F4 probably helped bolster the GN’s legend.

I normally like building my own engines but when I blew the GN up, my wife was at the end of a high-risk pregnancy, so time wasn’t even close to being an option, and quite frankly, the car was intimidating for me to work on and I wanted it back on the road.  A computer controlled, turbocharged V6?  My comfort zone is carbureted V8s.  So I trusted it to a local shop where the owner really wanted to build the GN engine, which turned out to be a mistake.

I admit that I’m hard on my cars.  They all get driven hard and driven often but they are also well loved and well maintained, by me.  Test and tunes at the track, spirited driving on the back roads away from civilization and the occasional stop light grand prix, its all a thing.  So the understanding was there that when the Buick’s 231 was rebuilt, that it was going to need to withstand some abuse.  I was assured it was.

A simple smoke show burnout led to a blown head gasket.

I brought it back to the shop and they weren’t too interested in standing behind the repair.  Rather than make a big deal about it, I decided to take the high road and simply repair it myself (if you want anything done right, do it yourself) and sever ties with the shop, since I knew them pretty well and didn’t want an uncomfortable situation.  Besides, if their substandard workmanship caused the problem to begin with, how could I trust their repair?  In the bigger picture of building and blowing up cars, a blown head gasket is not that big of a deal.  If it was a broken numbers matching engine block, it may have been a different story.

I autopsy’d the engine after it blew up and determined that it was the head gaskets themselves that failed.  The pressure from the turbo blew about a 2″ hole in the gasket.  But it was because the shop used the wrong ones; they were standard 3.8L Buick V6 head gaskets and not the upgraded copper lined ones that are recommended for the turbo cars.  On top of that, I found a couple of head bolts that were barely more than hand-tight and that’s a deadly sin in turbo cars.

I consulted with a shop that specializes in Turbo Buicks and he gave me the part number for the right Fel-Pro head gaskets and matching hardened head bolts and intake gaskets.

I sent the cylinder heads off to my trusted machine shop that Ive been using for years and had them inspected to see if they were damaged (they weren’t) and they did a 3 angle valve job and cleaned up the combustion chambers while they had them.  Then I pulled the oil pan to look at the bearings to see if they suffered any damage from the antifreeze getting in the oil and they were OK, at least visually.  So I drained the oil, refilled it, ran it for a few minutes after I reassembled the engine and drained it again.  I listened carefully for any rod noises because hydrolock and a bent rod was a concern since I did drive it for about 5 miles on the blown gasket, allowing a lot of antifreeze to get into the crankcase.  I didn’t hear any.  I filled it with new oil and a new Wix filter and ran it again.  It probably took 2 days for all of the oil that had coated the inside of the exhaust to burn off.

Now its back on the road.  I broke it in pretty easily for about 1000 miles and now I put about 1500 miles on it since its latest revival.  I’ve run it hard a few times, including against another Grand National; it’s really cool hearing two Turbo Regals running hard together-and it seems to be ok, although I notice a lot more valvetrain noise on cold starts.  I’m going to change the oil again in about 500 more miles.

Now that its back on the road, I’m taking note at what all I need to complete its restoration.  The seats are in pretty rough shape so I’m looking at getting them recovered next year.

I’m looking at adding a FAST controller package.

Right now I’m running 16″ Trans Am GTA wheels, which are cheaper imitations of 17″ GNX wheels that look so good on these cars but I’m considering returning it to the OE GN wheels because I also like the chrome against the black, plus the GTA wheels have to be run with wheel spacers, which I’m not comfortable with.

The weatherstripping is in pretty sorry shape, especially around the T-tops so I need to get on that.

And, after all this talk about loud rock music, the stereo took a dump and I’ve been running around with just a Bluetooth speaker.  Someone put in a high dollar aftermarket stereo system with a receiver, amp, subwoofer, satellite receiver and an equalizer.  None of it works.  There’s no power going to the stereo.  Therefore, I will be ripping it all out and replacing it with an upgraded OE GM stereo head unit with an AUX input through some good speakers, as the car was originally fitted with the Concert Sound option and will sound great without the aftermarket mess.

So I’ll wrap this update up with my unofficial Grand National anthem, classic Judas Priest from around the time the GN was the hottest car on the street.   Be warned though, the video has not aged as well as the car but its still a great song.  And what a testament to how great a band JP is as they continued to thrive and have a career after this awful video.

Keep on rockin’!