Written by independent automotive journalist David Neyens
While tightening regulations and gasoline shortages nearly spelled the end for high-performance cars during the 1970s, the engineers at GM’s Buick division bucked the trend and reinvented the genre with turbocharged V6 power. A special 455-powered Buick Century with T-Tops and bold “Free Spirit” graphics sufficed for duty as the official pace car for the 1975 Indianapolis 500, but much more was yet to come in 1976, with Buick once again selected to provide the pace car for the iconic race. This back-to-back appearance at the Indy 500 was significant, marking the first time a manufacturer paced the legendary race for two consecutive years since 1913-14. It was also historic, with the 1976 Buick Century being the first pace car to possess V6 power. An unqualified technical tour de force, the 1976 pace car’s turbocharged 231ci V6 engine delivered 307 horsepower. Most importantly, this high-profile effort served notice to the world that Buick would be a force to be reckoned with in the brave new performance-car world for years to come.
Following Indianapolis, turbo V6 development continued and reached production by 1978 with the handsome new G-body Regal. Its chiseled bodylines were perfect for stock-car competition and helped Buick take the NASCAR Manufacturer’s Championship title for 1981 and again in 1982. In celebration, the limited-run Grand National Edition Regal – essentially a cosmetic package – was offered in 1982. The Grand National nameplate returned to the Regal line for 1984 with an all-black exterior, tuned underpinnings and a turbocharged V6 engine with 200 horsepower on tap. Steady development by Buick engineer Ron Yuille and the division’s Turbo Engine Group brought an intercooler for the 3.8 turbo SFI power plant, raising output to 235 horsepower and 330 ft/lbs of torque for ’86, then to 245 horsepower and 355 ft/lbs for ’87. So powered, the Grand National rose to infamy as America’s quickest production car for 1986-87.
While G-body car production was initially slated to cease in mid-1987, Buick management extended Grand National production to the end of the 1987 model year to meet fierce buyer demand. A total of 20,740 Grand Nationals were built for 1987, including 547 very special versions that would be known simply as the “GNX,” short for “Grand National Experimental.” Two prototypes of “The Regal to end all Regals” were ready by July 1986, with production of these new super-Buicks completed by ASC/McLaren, builders of 24-valve Buick turbo V6 engines for IndyCar racing. Beginning as a fully optioned Grand National, each GNX was comprehensively upgraded with a high-performance Garrett turbocharger, improved intercooler, revised engine and transmission calibrations, and lower-restriction exhaust. Output jumped substantially to a factory-claimed and quite possibly underrated 276 horsepower with 360 ft/lbs of torque.
GNX performance was, and remains, electrifying, including 0-to-60 mph acceleration in less than 5 seconds. Bigger tires, special GNX alloy wheels, a rear-axle torque arm, Panhard bar and stiffer underpinnings maximized the heightened power of the GNX. Front-fender vents, special analog instruments and a gloss-black paint finish completed the package, which brought the car’s MSRP to nearly $30,000 new. Likely the boldest high-performance cars ever sold in North America, the GN and GNX were tirelessly promoted by Marty Schorr, Buick’s PR guru during the 1980s, who was formerly the editor and publisher of CARS Magazine during the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the 547 cars produced were purchased new by ardent collectors and lightly used, including this exceptionally original and well-maintained example, offered at the 2023 Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction with under 1,500 miles from new at the time of writing.
This 1987 Buick GNX is Car No. 192 of the 547 created. The sinister all-black exterior of this GNX is handsomely complemented by two-tone black and gray fabric upholstery with embroidered Grand National logos on the seat headrests. Stewart-Warner analog gauges, which are unique to the GNX, monitor the potent car’s vital signs. Replete with bold GNX badges similar in style to those of the unforgettable 1970-71 Skylark GSX, the GNX also features specific 16-inch black mesh aluminum wheels with larger Goodyear tires, front fender vents, front and rear fender flares, and a dash plaque showing this is Car No. 192. Outstanding additional items include the rare and highly sought-after original GNX promotional jacket, GNX hardbound marketing pictorial book, and documents that include the original Window Sticker and Bill of Sale.
Offered with No Reserve as Lot #1327.1 at the upcoming 2023 Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction, January 21-29 at WestWorld, this exceptional, low-mile 1987 Buick GNX exemplifies America’s performance renaissance like no other car and reigns as a true modern collectible worthy of the finest collections anywhere. Register to bid today.