If you’re a member of that demographic set dubbed Generation X, the 1986 Buick Grand National hardly requires an introduction. It was the big-block Chevelle of its day and was dethroned as the king of the 1980s muscle cars only after GM’s G-body ceased production, leaving the ambitious 5.0-liter Mustang to fill the power vacuum.
Turbo Buicks had been around since the late 1970s, but the addition of an intercooler to the hair-dried 3.8L V-6 in 1986 was the catalyst that transformed a merely good engine into a great one. From 1985’s rating of 200 horsepower, power jumped to 235–with 330 robust pound-feet of torque. And while that doesn’t seem like headline-worthy output today, it came from only 231 cubic inches, and happened during the era of 85-horsepower econo cars. Heck, the 1986 Corvette’s small-block V-8 was only rated at 230 ponies
From an appearance standpoint, the 1986 GN wore the same sinister, all-black paint scheme, front air dam, and rear spoiler as 1985’s non-intercooled model, but new chrome wheels replaced the previous, vane-style rims. Inside, the seats carried the distinctive “forward six” logo that had been associated with Turbo Buicks since the 1970s. Positraction was optional and a 3.42-geared rearend was standard.
Out of the box, the Grand National could hit 60 mph in about 5 seconds flat and, if the driver was good and the air was cool, clip the quarter-mile in 13.9 seconds. Nothing–and we mean nothing–was running 13s from an American factory in those days. And it didn’t take long for enthusiasts to start tinkering with boost pressure and computer chips, making a GN with a cold-air intake scoop beneath the front bumper, a fuel pressure gauge attached to the hood, and fatter rear tires a common sight.
But while the ominous-looking, Darth Vader-black Grand National drew all the attention, sneaky enthusiasts found they could order the same powertrain in the lighter Regal T-Type–and choose colors other than black. More than 5,500 GNs were built in 1986, while only 1,900 T-Types hit the streets. Even more rare are the WH1-equipped T-Types, which included the GN rear spoiler and black paint with a silver center section.
As one of icons of the 1980s, the intercooled Grand National has always been popular. Word of its street supremacy traveled quickly in 1986, and production jumped to just over 20,000 1987 examples, which featured 245 horses and 355 foot-pounds of twist. But comparatively speaking, few (5,512) were built in 1986.
Like the popular muscle cars of the 1960s, many Grand National owners were quick to modify their cars, so low-mileage and unmodified examples are getter scarce. Also, the original lacquer paint jobs were notoriously thin and haven’t stood up well over the years–even on otherwise well-preserved examples. Excellent, original cars are out there, but most will cost you.
Then again, when it comes to investments from the big hair days, there’s hardly a more sure thing than the bad, black Grand National.
Special thanks to Denny Wilhelms for allowing us to shoot his 14,000-mile 1986 GN–and for still burning rubber when his peers are snoozing around South Florida in underpowered couches on wheels.
Number Built – 5,512
Construction – Body-on-frame
Engine – 231 cubic-inch V-6, turbocharged and intercooled
Power/Torque – 235 horsepower, 330 lb-ft torque
Transmission – Automatic; four-speed overdrive
Suspension front – Unequal-length control arms with coil springs
Suspension rear – Live axle with coil springs
Brakes – Front disc/rear drum
Length/width/height – 200.6/71.6/54.6 inches
Wheelbase – 108.1 inches
Weight – 3,500 lbs.
0-60/quarter mile – 4.9 seconds, 13.9 seconds at 98 mph (Car and Driver, April 1986)
Top speed – 124 mph (electronically limited)
MPG – 15 - 22 mpg
Icon of the era
Classic design still looks strong
LC2 Turbo V-6 makes massive torque
Re-sale value is strong and consistent
Stock fuel pump is marginal
Turbo V-6 more finicky than naturally aspirated V-8s
Body prone to paint chipping, fading, and rust
Clean, unmolested examples are rare
Remanufactured alternator $102.79*
Brake discs and pads $60.79 (front rotor, each); $19.20 (front pads, kit)*
Exhaust system $359.99*
Performance computer chip $119.99**
*Based on information from Rockauto.com
**Based on information from Jegs.com
WHAT TO PAY
1986 Buick Grand National
MSRP – $14,349
Low – $8,800
Average – $15,400
High – $26,800
*Based on prices from the Classic Cars and Parts Price Guide, fueled by NADA and available wherever Classic Cars and Parts magazines are sold.
Insurance cost is $322/year for a $15,400 1986 Buick Grand National. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving.*Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance,
WHEN TO BUY
Grab one now. Prices have remained stubbornly high for years and the rocky economy will likely allow you to make a better deal. As time passes and Gen Xers refill their savings accounts, the prices will continue to rise.