1986 Buick Grand National

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1986 Buick Grand National
RCR Buick Grand National Thumb.jpg
Car Details
Make Buick
Model Grand National
Year 1986
Owner Lee T.E.
Episode Details
Episode Link Watch
Season The Great Maybe
Air Date April 20, 2015
Credits GumbyTheClayboy

Drive a Grand National for long enough, and you'll find yourself in a fight outside a pub with a mustache in a 77 Chevette. But you'll win every time, because you have the righteousness of choice on your side. Maybe your left hook isn't as strong, and your haymaker isn't as wild, but dammit, you have taste. And that counts for something. An ass-kicking something. You bang like a champ because you don't know when the next time will be. And that kind of dedication means you'll never be un-bung again.

Your Summit Girl will hate that she let you go, because she'll see you in a Grand National, and she'll say, “You know what? He's driving automatic, but that's a Man for All Seasons right there.” And she'll know, because she's dating a Lion In Winter. A feckless, limp-dicked, do-nothing shell of a man who doesn't know what to do with his free time in the NFL off season.

-It's everything right and good, and a little bit off, with the world. It's the bitter taste of a smoker's nicotine kiss, and the welcoming, cushiony pocket of her vagina. You're home now. You're slopping around in the primordial ooze. The Grand National loosens the pickle jar of human goodness. It takes you back to a past that's irretrievably but eternally present, just on the edges of your consciousness, like all good things. Capable of being called up on a drunken night. Because sometimes, you just get drunk, and sometimes you start thinking about where you come from, and sometimes you call your mom just to hear her voice. And when she asks why you called, you just say, “I have a missed call from you. But maybe it's old. My phone doesn't say.” You both know it's bull, but you both let it go, because you're a grown man, and you can't just say, “I needed to hear you, mom. I was in a Grand National today, and I can see it all. Stretched out in front of me like it happened yesterday. Playing Turtles In Time and drinking Juicy Juice out of a triangle-shaped hole you made with a can-opener handle.” So you bite your lower lip and put on a brave face.

The Grand National is automatic, but no one's emotions are that simple.


"Everything you love about turbocharged American cars, you owe to the Grand National.
That black GN, I do remember from my youth... 
I do concede this is our best car, most of all.
Ahhh, 1986 Buick Grand National. Yes, there were other turbo American cars existing at the same time or predating the Grand National/T-Type: 1984/1985 Dodge Omni GLH, 6th Generation Buick Riviera, the '85 LeBaron GTS (although that was a Mitsubishi engine), mid-'60s Corvair Corsa, '84 Mustang SVO, and the '62 Oldsmobile Cutlass Jetfire. But all of these cars, with the exception of the SVO, were apologetic dabbles or built by consultants outside of the parent company's sphere of responsibility, so the CEO could Pontius Pilate his hands if anything went wrong. None of those cars made turbos manly enough for the legendary American male, to whom the first day of buck is the greatest day of the year. But the Grand National did, because it speaks to the one thing Americans hold in higher regard than food, or guns, or the Bible, or V8s, or T'hrughs, or any other trite gag the BBC slaps down when talking about what Americans like.

You know what we like? We like a good story. We want a good story. Not just a good story, we want a tall tale. A fable. Something mythic. We like terrific stories! Legends! A mythic legend! And the Buick Grand National is a legend. Because it existed during the mid-'80s, a low point for American pride. Marvin Gaye died tragically, M*A*S*H ended, George Lucas turned Star Wars into a screwball comedy, an O-ring blows up one of our space shuttles, Iran-Contra hits the fan, and Michael Jackson perfected a dance move that ruined every wedding reception. But the Buick Grand National, ooohhhhh... it capture that late-'60s, early-'70s, rough-trade, no condom, Ozark bonefest from a bass baritone well digger with EIGHTY GRIT PUBES. 

Come to think of it, how well-known is the Grand National outside of the United States? Hey, Australia! Ye-Yeah, I'm talking to you. Look, this is our equivalent of your XB Falcon. Hey, Britain? 'Sup. This is similar in spirit to your Vincent. Hey-o, Japan! *Japanese language?* (Japan has the Chaser).

The Buick Grand National isn't a standalone car; it's the third trim level of the Buick Regal. And the Buick Regal is a GM G-body, and in the '80s that meant the Pontiac Grand Prix, Pontiac Bonneville, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Chevrolet El Camino, and Buick Regal were all the same-ish car. This is a Buick Regal.

Now the Buick Regal had a sports-level trim, running gear, and engine package called the T-Type. The T-Type has a 3.8 litre turbo, which dates back to 1978, when it made (back then) 175 hp or thereabouts (I know it made more when it got into the GN). And the T-Type had an extra trim package option for itself - and that's what the Grand National is. Black everything, different wheels and badging, and the turbo-6 emblem here and there. Ah, all the Grand National is is an appearance package for the Buick Regal T-Type. But, it's the correct way to do an appearance package. Because nobody really wants the T-Type; people who have T-Types, they will give you laundry baskets full of reasons why they prefer the T-Type over the GN, but they're trying to convince themselves more than they're trying to convince you. And if they could get a hold of enough General Motors supergloss black paint and trim pieces, they'd murder out their T-Type and go around telling everyone at cruise night that it's a real Grand National... and many do.

The Buick Grand National is one of the most faked and cloned American cars. All you need is an '80s Buick Regal and black paint, and some fake jobs are very good. Now here's how you can tell if a Grand National is real. First thing, easiest thing: Pop the trunk and look at the codes. You are looking for code WE2, that is the Grand National Appearance Package code from General Motors. It's got to say WE2 back there. 

Look in the driver's window, and have a look at the steering wheel. Now look at the horn button: on a real Grand National, the horn button will be black, with the Buick triple-shield logo represented in shadow. The T-Types will have a big red T. However, this isn't a total giveaway, because Buick never gave out the replacement Grand National horn buttons. Even back in the day, if you requested a replacement horn button from General Motors, you would get the red T, even if you told them "I have a Grand National", so hmm. 

Now look at the whole center console, and all the trim pieces. On a real Grand National, all of them will only have grey uppers and black lowers. The upper part will be grey, the lower part will be black, and the same goes for the door trim. Becaue the T-Type interior came in many different colors; the Grand National was only grey and black.

Walk around to the front of the car. No Grand National ever had chrome bumpers. Now look at the grille: All grilles from 1986 and back had chrome, only the 1987 Buick Grand National had a blacked-out grille. So if you have someone, and they have an '87 and it has a chrome grille, uhh! Something's up! Or if they have a different year, an earlier year, and the grille's all blacked out, mm-mm, that's suspicious too. 

This has nothing to do with authenticity, but watch out for bumper fillers. This is just a bit of body work between the bumper and the headlights, those things crack and rot out really quick. 

Now the name 'Grand National' starts in 1982, 2 years before the black GN debuted in '84. So the Grand National began before it began. The 1982 proto-Grand Nationals were just some self-congratulated lipstick job on the '82 Regal for winning a round-round race. Only 215 were made in 1982, and of those 215, only 35 had turbochargers. And they weren't even all black. These proto-GNs were nothing but gift bags for shipyard magnates, who would later re-gift those cars to their cone-titted West Virginia wives.

"Uhh, here you go, Mary Mary Ann Mary! Here's a new car for you! Um, it's an exclusive car! Remember, you signed a prenup!"

Then in 1983, no Grand Nationals. 1984, the Grand National returns, although a good number of people consider this (and I'm one of them) that 1984 was the true start of the Grand National. Because it was all black. And they were all turbos! Even though the '84s were all hot-airs, no intercooler, intercoolers started in 1985.

And in 1984, America needed the Grand National. It fit perfectly into the mid-'80s, because 1984 was a turning point for our economy, but not for all citizens. That's the thing you must understand: the '80s, the late '80s were prosperous, and cocaine cowboys and all that glitter, yes. Yes, there was money, but the mid-'80s was also the beginnings of the great split between the rich and the poor. I'm quoting John Green from Crash Course. In 1981, President Reagan persuaded Congress to reduce the top tax rates from 70% down to 50%. And in 1986, Congress further lowered the same top income tax rate from that 50% all the way down to 28%. This was called the 'Tax Reform Act', but you know it better as Reaganomics and trickle-down economics. Ooh, wealth was coming! But not for everyone. And the culture expressed this frustration through many mediums, aimed at a perceived oligarchy which didn't give a damn about you! Look at music - Billy Joel's 'Allentown', Bad Brains, Reagan Youth - I mean, you could have a whole thing on '80s punk rock in itself. Movies - 'The Breakfast Club', 'The Terminator' - comics - Frank Miller's 'Batman', Alan Moore's 'Watchmen' - and cars - the Grand National.

Think about it! This is General Motors, the biggest, Americanest, Heartbeat of America, C10 Chevy TRUCKEST, INTERNATIONAL RACE OF CHAMPIONEST, General Motors, the automotive equivalent of the Ten Commandments, creating - a shadowy anti-hero. A real life Dark Knight. An avenger for the disenfranchised. A twisted hero. A foreboding raven for channeling our national feeling of grand injustice. A sinister rolling reminder to any passing oligarch:


Naaaah! (chuckles) You want to know the truth? This is the happiest car in the world!

(Several clips play of Mr. Regular flooring the GN and laughing with glee)

Radio: Get closer.

Mr. Regular: Get closer? Gladly!
That- that's the twist! That's the brilliance of the Grand National. Yeah, the Grand National has an aura around it, that it's a horrible chunk of disease and rampage, but when you drive one - and please, please do - you'll discover that the GN is a car that explodes with joy and happiness! It's like seeing a punk rocker all dressed in black leather, and you think he's bad news, but then you talk to him and you find out that he just exudes happiness and serotonin!

Aahh, there's no point to talk numbers. Go watch any other of the hundred or so Grand National videos and mini-docs and black air if you want to hear someone read an instruction manual to you. Besides, the GM 3.8 litre turbo 6 is easier to tune than a trombone, and this GN is no exception. This Grand National has a PT54 turbo, a rebuild engine, ARP hardware, high-pressure fuel pump, a lockup torque converter that engages at 3000 RPM, forged pistons, a double roller timing chain, and an enlarged intercooler. 

The Grand National only came in automatic, like a girlfriend who only comes in 'waiting until marriage'. 

"Euhh, wouldn't it be great if the Grand National was manual? MEHH!"

You're missing the point. Okay, number one: Every great design needs a character flaw in a Metal Gear Rex kind of way. And two: The smooth auto transmission in the Grand National means that you never drop off boost. Right? People- there are people who convert these things to manual, and then find out they're running a half second slower in the quarter mile. The automatic transmission is part of the Grand National's happiness. It wants you to enjoy it. It's a puppy that's running around to everybody at the park, sniffing everybody- "Come play with me, play with me, play with me!" He wants everybody to have a turn. A Grand National wants everybody to drive it, so it's not gonna scare anybody away with a manual transmission who's not comfortable with those things.

No, you open the door, you get in, the seats go boing, boing, boing! They're really heavily sprung stock Buick seats! You get in 'em, and you bounce! And it wears its turbo right up front, where everybody can see it! It's not hiding it down in something like some mysterious thing - no, "I'm a turbocharged car, here it is, look at it!"

The Grand National isn't death - it's life that is just masquerading as death. Meet your hero - THIS is one of the heroes that you can meet. The Grand National will not disappoint.
Mr. Regular: "Yeah, yeah, don't hype up a Grand National, it'll only let you down." Meanwhile...

(Mr. Regular again floors the engine to hear the turbo flutter)
Turbo lag? Hell yeah, lots of it! That's the point. You get in, and (stuttering) the anticipation of it, you push your foot on the floor, one t- and THEN it comes. It comes in a gigantic shove! I mean, it still is '80s GM. You get inside, stuff's rattling and banging, and the dash is moving around, it feels like I'm gonna break this shifter off, it's so tinny and thin coming up from here. 

Now the previous owner of this GN had gau- I know, I know these gauges are right here - but they're period gauges. I mean this is what would exist on a Grand National in 1986 if someone would have done up, these are from the '80s. That oil gauge there, that's not electronic, there's an oil line coming up right through the dash up to that gauge. I'm not a fan of A-pillar pods, but at least this one has an old-school knock sensor, and it's period. Down here there's a period-correct quarter-mile timer. This digital dash is odd, that was an option for the Grand National, and not many people got it.

But when you drive it, all you wanna do is keep stabbing away at the throttle so you can feel the pressure build, and then the flutter comes, Whiddiddiddiddiddah.

(Another clip of turbo flutter.)

It's intoxicating how much fun this is. Who are those people who said this is an old car that no one cares about? This is joy in its finest form! A Grand National is everything right, and good, and a little bit off with the world. It's the bitter taste of a smoker's nicotine kiss. The Grand National loosens the pickle jar of human goodness. It takes you back to a past that's irretrievably but internally present, just on the edges of your consciousness. Like all good things, this childhood innocence can be called up on a drunken night, because sometimes you start thinking about where you come from, and sometimes you call your mom just to hear her voice. And when she asks why you called, you just say: "I have a missed call from you, but maybe it's old, my phone doesn't say." You both know it's bull, but you let it go. Because you just couldn't bring yourself to say, "I just need to hear your voice, Mom."

Through the windows of a Grand National, you see it all. All the great possibilities that are welcome in this country, in the world, past and present, as if it just happened yesterday. Drive a Grand National, and you're right back there, playing Turtles in Time and drinking Juicy Juice out of a triangular-shaped hole you made with a can opener. In a Shawshank way, the Buick Grand National is a good thing, maybe the greatest of things. The Buick Grand National is a tangible example (of) when all pretenses, worries, and fears, and doubts are shaken off, and we unleash the grand power of our national optimism.
Ol' eagle shell, at least you will wonder, coming low. 
They worked it over, and the turbo, it goes round!
You're still here! The Grand National story doesn't end with this... I'm gonna be straightforward. Is there anybody out there who will loan us a GNX? Because if the Grand National was an album, the GNX is the hidden track.