In the General Motors product line, Buick has represented the best of American luxury, comfort and style at an affordable price. In keeping with its heritage, the Buick Regal was destined to become a comfortable car that transcended the traditional roles of an American luxury car.
The racing frenzy of the NASCAR Grand National series encouraged the full-on involvement of General Motors Buick Division, soon the Buick Regal entered racing service and became quite a challenger to the other namesakes. To reflect the positivism and build interest, Buick top-brass decided to produce a performance production vehicle for the public. The Buick Grand National was born and the face of American automotive performance history changed forever.
A downsized Regal appeared for 1978 with Buick's new 196 cu in (3.2 L) V6 engine as standard equipment and a new version of the venerable 231 cu in (3.8 L) V6 as an option (which became standard in 1980). Initially a 3-speed manual transmission was standard but an automatic later replaced this. This model lasted 9 years and helped give the Regal an unexpected reputation for performance. Nevertheless, it was still hampered (from a performance perspective) by a soft suspension, small wheels and tires and the unavailability of a manual transmission (in later years), largely because the intermediate personal luxury market was the Regal's intended target, not the sports car segment.
The 1978 Regal was noteworthy, as it could be equipped with a 3.8 L Turbocharged V-6 engine with automatic transmission. Versions were offered with either a 2-bbl or a 4-bbl carburetor. The Buick LeSabre was also available with the turbocharged engine. The only other turbocharged cars available in the U.S. market in 1978 were imports from Saab and the Porsche 930. The Turbo Regal also included a firm handling suspension with larger tires and sport wheels.
A facelift in 1981 gave the Regal an aerodynamic profile, helping make it possible for the car to compete on the NASCAR racing circuit, where it enjoyed several decent seasons and won the NASCAR manufacturers title in 1981 and 1982. V8s for street use were still available, but had shrunk to 265 cu in (4.3 L) (1980 and 1981 only, Pontiac built), and the V6 was rapidly gaining popularity. In 1982, a new Century appeared on the front-wheel drive A-body, but the former rear-wheel drive Century sedan and wagon were not discontinued. These models were simply rebadged as Regals, and for the first time the name appeared on a full model lineup. The wagon was discontinued after 1983, and the sedan dropped from the lineup the next year. From 1986 to 1987, the 5.0 L Olds 307 V8 was available as an option. The 3.8 2-bbl V6 was standard. The 200-4R overdrive transmission was an option with either engine.
Grand National, T-Type and GNX
T-Type Regal coupes, aimed at the performance market, appeared at this time. In 1982, the Regal Grand National debuted. Named for the NASCAR Grand National racing series, it came with a naturally aspirated 4.1 L V6 engine with 125 hp (93 kW) at 4000 rpm and 205 lb•ft (278 N•m) of torque at 2000 rpm or an optional turbocharged version with 175 hp (130 kW) at 4000 rpm and 275 lb•ft (373 N•m) of torque at 2600 rpm. Only 215 Regal Grand Nationals were produced in 1982, and it is believed that just 16 of these were actually turbocharged. The Buick Sport Coupe also came with the turbocharged engine, of which only 2022 were produced. There was no Grand National in 1983, only a T-Type model; 3732 were produced (190 hp (140 kW) at 1600 rpm and 280 lb•ft (380 N•m) of torque at 2400 rpm).
In 1984 the Grand National returned in all black paint. The turbocharged 3.8 L became standard and was refined with sequential fuel injection, and boasted 200 hp (150 kW) at 4400 rpm and 300 lb•ft (407 N•m) of torque at 2400 rpm. Only 5,204 Turbo Regals were produced that year, only 2000 of which were Grand Nationals.
In 1986, a modified engine design with intercooling boosted the performance even further; in 1987 it reached 245 hp (183 kW) and 355 lb•ft (481 N•m) of torque. Buick dropped the T-Type package for Regal in 1987. There were only 7,896 Turbo Regals produced in 1986. In 1987, when Turbo Regals reached their peak in popularity, a total of 27,590 Turbo Regals were produced through December.
Model year 1987 also offered a lightweight WE4 (Turbo T) option. Only 1,547 of this variant were produced. They were painted black and treated to the same blackout package as the Grand National, including bumpers, grille, headlight and taillight trim. The differences between a WE4 and the Grand National were the interior trim package, wheels, exterior emblems, aluminum bumper supports, and aluminum rear brake drums as opposed to the Grand National's cast iron. The rear spoiler was only available as a dealer installed option. 1987 was the only year that the LC2 Turbo option was available on any Regal, making it possible to even see a Limited with a vinyl landau roof and a power bulge turbo hood.
For the final year, 1987, Buick introduced the GNX at $29,000. Produced by McLaren/ASC, Buick underrated the GNX at 276 hp (206 kW) and a very substantial 360 lb•ft (488 N•m) of torque. This was created so as to be "Grand National to end all Grand Nationals," as the next model year converted the chassis to front-wheel drive, which Buick engineers admitted would not be able to put down that much power. Changes made included a special Garrett turbocharger with a ceramic-impeller blowing through a more efficient intercooler and a "CERMATEL (Ceramic/Aluminum) coated" pipe connecting the intercooler to the engine. A GNX specific EEPROM, low-restriction exhaust with dual mufflers, reprogrammed Turbo Hydramatic 200-4R transmission with a custom torque converter and transmission cooler, and unique differential cover/panhard bar included more of the performance modifications. Exterior styling changes include vents located on each front fender, 16-inch black mesh style wheels with VR-speed rated tires, and deletion of the hood and fender emblems. The interior changes of the GNX included a serial number on the dash plaque and a revised instrument cluster providing analog Stewart-Warner gauges, including an analog turbo boost gauge. The GNX was claimed as the fastest production sedan ever built at that time. GNX #001 is currently owned by Buick and sometimes makes appearances at car shows around the US. The GNX had a ladder bar that ran from the mid-section of the car to the rear axle to increase traction. This is also the reason why a GNX will lift the rear end up during a hard launch.
The stealthy appearance of the all-black GNX and Grand National, coupled with the fact that the Grand National was initially released during the height of Star Wars fever, earned it the title Darth Vader Car (Car and Driver covered the GNX model's introduction with the headline "Darth Vader, your car is ready," a phrase more recently attributed to the Maybach Exelero). The line was also used with the 1994 Chevrolet Impala SS years after the GNX was discontinued.
The Grand National returned briefly to the headlines in 2003, when actor Sean Penn's car was stolen with several guns inside. In addition, actress Carmen Electra bought her then rock star husband Dave Navarro a 1987 Grand National as a present. A 1987 GNX is featured in the new video game midnight club Los Angeles.
The Grand National was recently seen in the Fast and Furious 4. During the opening scene, Vin Diesel drives a 1984 Buick Regal that was modified in order to look like a Grand National. The car also had several aftermarket parts added to its body so that the car resembled a GNX.
"At the risk of ruffling feathers of some, I'll try and clarify the "Turbo T" package as Buick marketed it in 1987. Despite Buick dropping the T-Type designation for 1987, all the cosmetic and suspension options common to the T-Type were made available for any 1987 Regal with the standard 3.8-Liter V6. They did this by offering a "T" Package (option code Y56). This "T" Package consisted of the Touring Suspension; Leather wrapped Sport Steering Wheel, Turbo aluminum wheels, Eagle GT Tires, Fast Ratio Power Steering, Gas Shocks, and "T" ornamentation. For those who also wanted the black trim from the previous T-Type model, Buick offered the Exterior Sport Package (option code WO2). The WO2 option was available on any Regal, regardless of the engine.
Now, if you wanted a Regal with a turbo engine, you ordered the "Turbo Package" (option LC2). This package automatically included the "T" package (but not the WO2 Package). What you ended up with was a Regal with the "Turbo" and "T" Packages. Many have chose to call these cars "Turbo T's". However, no where in Buick's literature was there ever any mention of the term "Turbo T" until Buick released Product Information Bulletin 87-031 on November 15, 1986 entitled "Regal WE4 Turbo "T" Package. This bulletin announced the release of the WE4 as a "Special Turbo T Package" and made numerous references to the term Turbo T as unique to the WE4. Here is a direct quote from this bulletin: "The WE4 Turbo 'T' Package will enable you to merchandise a car that is similar in appearance, and yet lighter in weight, than today's Grand National. This reduction in weight theoretically makes the Turbo T faster than a Grand National, and for a lower price."
So, a 1987 Turbo Regal, without the WE2, Grand National or WE4 Turbo T option packages, really had no unique name. It was merely a Regal with the Turbo Package or a Turbo Regal, if you will. Now, having said all that, it certainly is no great sin to call a Turbo Regal a "Turbo T" because it's convenient to do so. It's just not technically correct." --RK
- This text was taken from a post from Turbo Buick list member Ray Kammer on December 25, 1998. It is probably the best (long) explanation of the "T" signification.