Cars We Love: 1987 Buick GNX

The 1987 Buick GNX in its day was the fastest accelerating car in the world—bar none. From zero to sixty miles per hour and in the standing quarter mile, the GNX could embarrass Corvettes and take the measure of any other car on the road, regardless of price. Its sinister-looking all black monochromatic paint without a hint of chrome anywhere gave ample warning to those who thought they were up to the challenge. The Buick design team’s objective with the GNX was to build the quickest-ever GM production sedan—and they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Evolution of the GNX

                        “In a world of sleek shapes and refined manners, the GNX is an ax-wielding barbarian laying waste to everything in its path.” Tony Assenza, former editor of Car and Driver

The GNX was based on Buick’s mid-size Regal, but General Motors’ rear-wheel drive G-body cars—Buick Regal, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, Pontiac Grand Prix, and Chevy Monte Carlo—were all going to front wheel drive for the 1988 model year. Nineteen eighty seven was the last gasp for Buick’s rear-wheel-drive performance coupe, the Grand National. We don’t usually associate the Buick brand with performance cars, but Buick has in the past dipped their toes in the performance waters. In 1941 the Buick Century was the fastest, most powerful car in America; the 1955 Buick Century was no slouch in the acceleration department; and Buick elbowed its way into the muscle car market in the sixties with the GS and the GSX. While all these cars were pretty quick, none ever made it into performance car Valhalla.

In the 1980s, Buick had the Regal Grand National in its stable as their performance car and while the Grand National was a pretty good muscle car for its day, Dave Sharpe, then Buick Chief Engineer had the idea of giving the Grand National a really special farewell—thumbing his nose at the unwritten General Motors’ rule that no GM car should be faster than the Corvette, he wanted a car that could beat the ‘Vette from zero-to-sixty. Buick’s Advanced Concept Manager Mike Doble was given the job of building the “Grand National to end all Grand Nationals.” A small team of hardcore gearheads was formed within Buick to oversee a car to be called the Grand National Experimental, better known as the GNX. The small team had to keep a fairly low profile since, according to GM hierarchy, Buick was not supposed to be in the performance car market. To give them more manpower and more technical input on the project, the team contracted with an outside vendor, ASC/McLaren, to do the job.

After the first meeting ASC/McLaren was 100% on board. Starting with a production Grand National, ASC/McLaren added a Garrett T-3 turbocharger with a ceramic impeller, bigger intercooler, larger diameter exhaust, recalibrated the ECU to allow 15 psi of boost and beefed-up the automatic transmission. In addition, front fender vents were added to control under-hood temperature, the suspension was modified to maximize grip and minimize wheel hop, and fender flares added to accommodate wider wheels and tires. All told, 547 GNX’s were made, all finished in monochromatic black with gray and black interiors. The suggested retail price of a GNX was $29,290, over one and a half times the Grand National’s price of $18,295. In its final form, the GNX turbocharged 3.8-liter V6, producing an underrated 276 horsepower and 360 lb-ft of torque, would take you from 0 to 60 mph in under five seconds, and cover the standing quarter mile in 13.5 seconds with a final velocity of about 102 mph.

Buicks, Muscle Cars and Competition

To fully understand the genesis of the GNX, we have to go back to the early 1980s and Buick’s success in the top NASCAR series, at that time called the Grand National Series. General Motors’ cars dominated the Grand National Series, winning the manufacturer’s championship every year between 1978 and 1988. The 1981 and 1982 championships belonged to Darrell Waltrip and his Buick Regal. To celebrate, Buick released a Regal Grand National edition with special paint, trim, and interior in 1982. Powered by a 4.1-liter naturally aspirated V6 the Regal Grand National produced only 125 horsepower and, as you might imagine with that kind of power, was not a big seller. The model was dropped from the Buick lineup for 1983.

The Grand National came back with a vengeance for 1984 and 1985 with a turbocharged 3.8L V6 making 200 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. The new Grand National made a statement about its attitude with its only available color, monochromatic black. The output was boosted to 235 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque in 1986 by adding an air-to-air intercooler. Priced about $16,000, the Grand National was Buick’s entry into the no-nonsense muscle car field. Nineteen eighty seven saw another horsepower increase to 245 with torque upped to 330 lb-ft. Sales took off for 1987 with 20,193 Grand Nationals finding new homes. The number of Grand Nationals and GNXs sold in 1987 was more than twice the number of Grand Nationals sold between 1984 and 1986.

Buick general managed Lloyd Reuss wanted to increase the performance of Buick’s product offerings to combat sales erosion to Audi and BMW. Buick’s success in competition was due to Reuss’ leadership and Herb Fishel’s performance ideas, which were carried on when Don Hackworth replaced Reuss as Buick Motor Division general manager. However, with Ed Mertz taking over as general manager in 1986 and the announcement of the cancellation of the rear-wheel drive Regal, the handwriting on the wall was writ large. Ed Mertz had specific marching orders from the GM hierarchy to return Buick to its traditional family car territory. The new Buick brand image mantra was “Substantial, Distinctive, Powerful and Mature.” The message was clear—Buick was out of the muscle car business. But the hardcore Buick gearheads sent the Grand National away with a bang—giving us the GNX that still makes performance car waves today.

Buick GNX Values

Our friends at Hagerty estimate that the average value of a Buick GNX is $82,000, ranging from a high of $128,000 for a GNX in number one concours condition to $58,200 for one in number four fair condition. But, with a very limited production number of cars like the GNX, each of which is sequentially numbered, the selling price may vary greatly according to the position of a particular car in the production sequence. For instance, in 2015, GNX #385 with only 315 miles on the odometer sold at a Barrett-Jackson auction for $165,000, while a year later #547, the last GNX made, sold at auction for $220,000.

With only 545 GNXs in the world available to be sold—two GNXs were retained by General Motors—a successful buyer needs to have a keen eye and full wallet, and probably won’t have much leverage when it comes to negotiating a price. If you’re in the market for one, good luck!

The Brutal Acceleration of the GNX

The story of the Buick Grand National and the GNX has been chronicled in an independent film, Black Air. If you’re still not convinced of the GNX’s absolutely brutal acceleration, listen to what the experts had to say about it in Black Air. Martyn Schorr, a long-time writer for, and editor of, such car enthusiast’s magazines such as Cars, Hi-Performance Cars, and Custom Rodder, and whose public relations firm represented Buick during the reign of the Grand National and the GNX, describes his first time behind the wheel of a GNX: “I was up in Westchester County for the weekend, and getting on a freeway entrance ramp, I saw traffic coming and just nailed it. It pushed me back in the seat, packages went flying and the boost went up like instantly. After we merged into traffic, I turned to my wife and said, ‘I think I just had a religious experience!’”

Steve Pasteiner, Assistant Chief Designer in Buick Design Studio Number Two back in the day, had this to say about the GNX:  “It was a very civilized car, a luxurious car actually, until you messed with it.”

So if you’re out and about with your car friends looking for some drag racing action and you come across a squarish, evil-looking, all black two-door sedan, save yourself some embarrassment and heed the experts’ advice—don’t mess with a GNX!

We’d like to thank the good folks at Legendary Motorcar Company for their permission to use their photos and a great video of the GNX that they had for sale. The GNX has been sold, but please check out their website for other cool cars they have available.

 

 

SOURCES:

GM AUTHORITY – http://gmauthority.com/blog/2017/10/in-its-heyday-the-buick-gnx-was-quicker-than-a-ferrari-f40-video/

HEMMINGS – https://www.hemmings.com/blog/2017/01/05/showing-just-68-miles-the-last-built-buick-gnx-heads-to-auction/

AUTOS CHEAT SHEET – https://www.cheatsheet.com/automobiles/the-buick-gnx-the-greatest-american-car-of-the-1980s.html/?a=viewall

ROAD & TRACK – https://www.roadandtrack.com/new-cars/road-tests/a25623/first-look-flashback-1987-buick-gnx/

HAGERTY – https://www.hagerty.com/apps/valuationtools/1987-Buick-Regal-GNX

COMPLEX – http://www.complex.com/sports/2012/12/the-history-of-the-buick-grand-national/the-first-grand-national

ATE UP WITH MOTOR – https://ateupwithmotor.com/model-histories/buick-regal-grand-national-gnx/

GNX RESISTRY – http://www.gnxregistry.org/

HAGERTY – https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2017/12/15/buick-gnx

PHOTOS: Credit all to Legendary Motorcar Company

VIDEO: Credit to Legendary Motorcar Company

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *