GM EFI’s Guide to Buick Turbo Regal

A Year-by-Year Guide on the Turbo Regal

GM EFI Magazine has been cooking up these informative retrospective guides on various models since we first launched the site back in 2014. We’ve covered most of the more popular vehicles, from the F-bodies to the C4 and C5 Corvette. We’ve discussed (at great lengths) niche vehicles like the GTO, G8 and of course, the GMC Sy/Ty trucks as well, but have yet to cover the Turbo Regals.

It’s certainly not an oversight, but rather, we actually wanted to wait until we felt that the time was right. With the car’s 30th-Anniversary of discontinuation officially upon us, we feel we’ve reached that moment. So in its full, at-length form with almost nothing of relevance left out, we bring you, GM EFI’s Guide to the Buick Turbo Regal.

Prologue: Buick’s Introduction to Turbocharging

If you think Buick’s rear-wheel drive Turbo Regal models were a drop in the pan, exclusive 1980s deal, you’d be sadly mistaken. Buick’s turbocharging efforts could be traced back to the 1970s, and even the 1960s, essentially, with their original platform in which the 3.8L V6 was based.

The engine platform originally started as a very economical 198 cubic-inch Fireball, a cast-iron V6 derived from the all-aluminum 215 cubic-inch V8 that powered everything from Tempests and Skylarks, to Range Rovers and MGs. That V8 was among the best engines ever made, and the Fireball V6 would eventually grow to 225 cubic inches and go on to live in various Jeep and AMC vehicles after Buick had sold the molds to American Motors.

Fast-foward to the 1973 oil crisis, rising insurance costs and tightening EPA/CAFE regulations. Buick was in a position to counter these hurdles once they required the original tooling from AMC to build a larger 231 cubic-inch version that would eventually be installed in various Buick, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Chevrolet models for decades to come.

Most people are aware of the turbocharged Regals of the 1980s, but many more don’t even know that Buick hit the turbo scene years before the Grand National was even an idea. Looking for an edge and knowing full well that their V8 could no longer deliver performance and efficiency, based on what they had to work with in terms of smog regulations and so forth — the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

Maiden Voyage: The 1976 Century Indy 500 Pace Car

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Looking for a way to establish this newfound idea of implementing turbocharging to their V6 engine, Buick turned to their ’76 Century Indy 500 Pace Car as the perfect opportunity to get the idea in front of the masses. Packing a 4-bbl carburetor and a RayJay turbo with just over 20-psi. of boost, the turbocharged Century apparently had the ability to “rocket” from 90-110 mph in just over 9-seconds. That’s a pretty embarrassing number by today’s standpoint, but for the time it seemed to work.

It was genesis for the Turbo Buick V6 and as most Pace Cars do, they go on to sprout replica cars that you can find in the showroom, albeit, watered down version for a reasonable price. The Century Pace Car Replica was offered with a naturally aspirated V6 and your choice of two V8s. None of which were remotely fast.

Before Black: The “Hot Air” Turbo Regal Years, 1978-1983

For 1978, the Regal and all of its A- and G-body corporate cousins were downsized, to help improve fuel economy, performance and overall efficiency. Although they still maintained that “personally luxury” mantra, the cars were substantially lighter than their forebears and most were powered by some form of V6 engine, be it a 3.2L, N/A 3.8L or a Turbo 3.8L V6. Five-liter and 5.7-liter V8s would come and go during this time, too.

The A-body platform the ’77 Regal and Century were based upon, was replaced with a smaller G- designation frame as well for ’78. Hence the term, G-body.

It received all-new sheetmetal, trim, interior accommodations and engine offerings. Among those, was the 3.8L turbocharged V6, in two flavors. The first, was a 2-bbl version with 158hp and 245 lb-ft of torque. The second, was a 4-bbl version that offered 165hp and 265 lb-ft to the flywheel. Admittingly, neither of these engines weren’t true performance platforms, but it provided the same output as many “performance” V8s of the time and decent passing power.

The Regal Turbo Coupe, as it was called, had a total production output of over 30,508 units for 1978, but would only eclipse the quarter-mile in 16.9 seconds. A 0-60 sprint clocked in at 9.2 seconds. Quite slow for today’s standards, but it was a start!

There weren’t really any keynote outside appearance modifications from the standard Regal to the Turbo Coupe, apart from a few small emblems and the “bubble hood,” which was merely there to make additional clearance room for the turbocharger.

Otherwise, you would never notice the car while out on the road. If it had some oats under the hood, it would have been the ultimate sleeper! Now there’s an idea…

Changes for 1979 included not only a slight bump in power (170hp), but the elimination the 2-bbl version entirely. Torque took a hit, strangely, for ’79 as it only matched the same level of torque the 2-bbl car had a year prior.

The performance as you would expect, remained roughly the same as the previous year. The drivetrain would carry over into 1980 with a 5hp and 20-lb ft torque boost that year and a 5hp dip in power in 1981.

We can only assume that it had something to do with ever-changing emissions standards for each model year, as well as work out some drivability issues many Buick owners were complaining about.

Apparently in the early days, owners would complain that their cars would drive fine under normal conditions and when you wanted to pass somebody, but if you wanted to make a full-throttle blast in the quarter-mile (for instance), it would often buck and miss. Factor in a lack of an intercooler and any real cooling aids beyond a radiator and a cooling fan, and the cars would heatsoak rather quickly.

Buick finally started upping their game again for 1982, not only in terms of power output, but with the ’82 Grand National. Up until this point, Buick mostly him-hawed around with the idea of producing a performance car for the street, but the ultra-low production Grand National would give them an idea of what needed to be done.

Noteworthy Models

1981 Regal Pace Car

This one is probably the most obscure of all of them, being the rarest and most misunderstood. It was chosen to pace the Indianapolis 500, the fifth time in Buick’s history that it would receive such an honor.

Starting with a T-top Regal as the foundation, two cars were transformed from T-top to a “mini-convertible,” via American Sunroof Company (ASC). Basically, it maintained the T-top, T-bar roof arrangement, but ASC replaced the back-half of the roof with a folding convertible top. The remaining T-bar connected to a roll bar, so you were still able to use the glass T-top roof panels when the top was up or down.

The car left ASC in a hue of silver metallic and dark maroon, with orange maroon and dark brown striping. Large Turbo 6 logos flanked the front fenders, as did large Buick callouts on the rear quarter panels and trunk lid. The interior matched the exterior, with similar colors used for the trim and the Recaro seating.

It also featured gold painted aluminum wheels, and the add-on rear spoiler was sprayed in flat black from the rear of the spoiler to the rear taillights.

In the actual Pace Car, the engine was (oddly) a naturally-aspirated 4.1L V6, that pumped out a very impressive for the time 281 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. The compression ratio was high, with 12.5:1 and the rest of the driveline was modified to handle the power and torque increase.

Only two were built, but 150 Pace Car Replicas were sold through Buick dealers nationwide, and they made do with a traditional hardtop or T-top roof and the normal, naturally aspirated 125hp 4.1L V6. Tragic.

1982-1/2 Grand National

The often overlooked “first” Grand National came by way of happenstance. The obscure image and performance car that was the 1982.5 Grand National, was built by third-party Cars and Concepts. It featured two-tone grey and silver paint, hand painted red pin-striping, Grand National badges on the fenders and trunk lid, a large “BUICK” callout on the rear quarters and a smaller version on the right side of the trunk lid as well. A front air dam and rear spoiler flanked the sporty-looking Regal.

On the inside, it was a classy two-tone color arrangement, with Lear-Siegler seats with leather inserts and stitched turbo 6s on the backrest. T-tops were an available option, as was the Turbo Coupe’s 3.8L Turbo V6. While most of the 215 examples were ordered with the naturally aspirated 4.1L V6, somewhere between 16-25 were equipped with the more powerful (just) 3.8L Turbo engine. While the 4.1L packed 125hp and 205 lb-ft, the 3.8L Turbo was good for 175hp and 275 lb-ft.

The value of these cars actually have shot up over the last several years, despite this, and it’s quite a treat when you see one at an event today. We actually spotted one parked right next to an ’81 Regal Pace Car at a recent GS Nationals event in 2016.

1983 T-Type

Though some like to label all turbocharged [non-Grand National] Regals a “T-Type,” the truth was, only the ’83-86 cars fall into that category. For 1983, without a Grand National model in the lineup to speak of, the T-Type was the top tier performance Regal. It was essentially the 1983 version of the Turbo Coupe of the ’78-82 model years, just with an actual branded title this time. It was available in all trim and interior colors, featured chrome bumpers and apart from the bubbled hood, looked just like the car your grandpa drove to church.

Like all turbo Regal models up to this point, the ’83 T-Type featured a 3-speed automatic transmission and a 7.5-inch 10-bolt rear axle. The T-Type nomenclature would also be attached to various other Buick performance models (Skyhawk, Skylark, Riviera, LeSabre, etc.) throughout the eighties. It offered its buyers a 190hp and 280 lb-ft of torque powerplant. It wasn’t earth-shattering, but it was actually more powerful than a Z28 or a Trans Am in 1983.

1978-1983 Production Totals:

1978

  • Regal Turbo Sport Coupe: 30,507 (2,697 2-BBL/ 27,811 4-BBL)

1979

  • Regal Turbo Sport Coupe: 21,389

1980

  • Regal Turbo Sport Coupe: 6,276

1981

  • Regal Turbo Sport Coupe: 2,891
  • Regal Indy 500 Pace Car Replicas: 150 (naturally-aspirated)

1982

  • Regal Turbo Sport Coupe: 2,022
  • Grand National: 215 (including 25 turbo cars, based on varying sources)

1983

  • T-Type: 3,732

Darth Vader, Your Car Has Arrived: 1984-1987

Nineteen eighty-four was the introduction for a lot of things; sequential fuel-injection, a new turbocharger system, the reintroduction of the Grand National nameplate and its new, all-black paint scheme. While the car looked pretty much the same, there were also revised taillights and an all-new front fascia for 1984. It looked similar, but nothing from the ’83 front clip would carryover, except for the bumper.

Taking a serious approach to performance, Buick not only bumped up the power to a full 200 ponies and a healthy 300 lb-ft of torque with the LM9 engine, but it was obvious that they were serious players in the performance field with T-Type and Grand National. The Grand National commercial that would air for the 1985 carryover model year clearly made that known, and the performance turned a barely 16-second car, into one that would be well into the mid-15 second bracket. Or at least, one that would compete toe-to-toe to Nissan’s turbo Z car, the IROC-Z Camaro/Pontiac Trans Am and the Mustang GT.

The ’84 cars had some distinct differences between themselves and their ’85-87 counterparts. First, was the interior. The ’84 GN featured an exclusive Lear-Siegler seating that was similar in styling to the ’82 GN, with leather inserts and grey upholstery. The dash, carpet, headliner and counsel were also in various shades of black, grey and off-white that look drastically different from what you would find in an ’85-87 example.

While the griller form the ’85 carried over for ’86, the 1986 Grand National (and T-Type) intercooler meant the front air dam would need to be redesigned.

Also interesting to note was the lack of a Grand National badge on the left side of the trunk lid, and the “Regal Grand National” branding in much of the advertising. Even one ad depicted an ’84 Grand National with a Regal novelty plate on the front of the car. This would largely change for the 1985 model year and the Regal connection to the GN would also disappear entirely by ’87, save for the sharing of some adverting materials.

While 1985 would essentially be a carryover year apart from the few things listed above, 1986 would up the Turbo Regal’s game entirely.

Cosmetically, the black-painted, turbo-finned aluminum 15×7 inch wheels that lived on the ’84-85 Grand Nationals were replaced by chrome, steel Mag-type wheels that looked quite similar to the Riviera T-Type wheels, just with a RWD offset. The previous GN wheels from ’84-85 would live on in the various other Regal Turbo models of ’86-87, minus the sinister black paint.

As a result of a new for ’86 turbocharger system that featured a front mount intercooler for, power jumped up again and the LC2 V6 was born. The car’s air dam was modified to help flow incoming air, directly into the car’s intercooler. Horsepower saw an increase from 200 to 235, and torque jumped up from 300 to 345 lb-ft. The results were impressive, as elapsed times had dipped from the 15.5 arena, to 14.2-14.4 becoming the norm.

However, many owners of the lighter T-Types and T-package Regals (more on that in a minute) would eclipse the 13.9-second barrier, and even one road tester from Car and Driver would run a 13.9 in the quarter-mile at the Chrysler (yes, Chrysler) proving grounds on an 8-degree day in January — in an ’86 Grand National.

The ’84-86 T-type was mechanically identical to the Grand National, and naturally, utilized the same front air dam and turbo hood. The T-Type cars were available in several colors both inside and out, and essentially carried all of the same trim colors over from the base model grandpa Regal. One interesting trim color package was the WH1 Designer Series.

It was painted in a very similar fashion to the ’82 Grand National, but with a black and charcoal grey two-tone treatment. They’re rare, and we actually had a hard time finding decent photos of one for this story. The package was available in 1984-86 T-Types, but was dropped after the ’86 model year. 

For 1987, Buick upped its game again, ditching the T-Type nameplate and simply using the “T” nomenclature for its sleeper boosted Regal. It was basically rebranded as the “Base T-Package Regal” in Buick circles. There were several more flavors added for ’87, including a Turbo-T (Code: WE4), which was essentially a model that bridged the gap between T-Package Regal and the Grand National.

They were all-black like a GN, but featured an all-grey interior, aluminum T wheels and badges, and the “3.8 SFI Turbo” callouts found in all of the locations that you would find them on non-GN turbo Regal models (hood and deckled). It was also without a rear spoiler. A total of 1,547 of these cars were built for ’87. There weren’t any additional performance attributes to them, apart from their weight that basically carried over from a normal T Regal. Many, if not all, were equipped with aluminum bumper support brackets, which lowered the curb weight of the vehicle by 15 pounds overall.

All ’84-87 turbocharged Regals and Grand Nationals were equipped with a 200-4R transmission and a 8.5-inch rearend and a 3.42 gear set. Posi-traction was optional. Part of the turbo package equipped the cars with beefed up “GT suspension,” a digital tachometer and boost gauge. The analog 85mph speedometer was also standard, though a 100% digital cluster was available, but even it would flash “85” once that MPH mark was breached.

1984-1987 Turbo Regal Production Totals:

1984

  • T-Type: 2,238
  • T-Type WH1: 1,163
  • Grand National: 2,000

1985

  • T-Type: 1,575
  • T-Type WH1: 525
  • Grand National: 2,102

1986

  • T-Type: 1,921
  • T-Type WH1: 463
  • Grand National: 5,512

1987

  • Regal Turbo Coupe: 4,268
  • Regal Limted Turbo: 1,035
  • Turbo-T: 1,547
  • Grand National: 20,193
  • GNX: 547

Model Spinoffs

1986 LeSabre Grand National

Yes, these existed. No, they weren’t fast or even particularly interesting-looking. In fact at a glance, it looks like a run-of-the-mill black LeSabre. It’s until after you notice the Grand National emblems with red Power 6 logos and unique rear quarter window that was only there to help with NASCAR homologation, that something else is going on here.

Yup, for a brief moment there, the LeSabre was on the banked ovals of the NASCAR circuits. So while Buick was trying to cash in on stock car racing as well as promote Buick’s foray in the realm of street-going performance cars, only 112 (or 117 copies, depending on sources) of the strictly black LeSabre Grand National would be built.

It was a FWD snoozemobile with a naturally-aspirated 150hp 3.8L V6. It was essentially an endcap to tie the entire brand of Buick’s performance cars together but it’s not really a key component in the grand scheme of things. Every now and then you’ll run passed one; either a completely clapped out example or one in showroom new condition, there’s rarely a middle ground for these cars.

1986 Century Gran Sport

In another attempt to help broaden the Buick Motorsports branding and put more enthusiasts behind the wheel of a Buick, came the Century GS. With only 1,024 produced examples being reported, it was certainly a flash in the pan. They were powered by a 150hp 3.8L naturally-aspirated V6 engine with sequential fuel-injection. 

Only available in black like our friend the Grand National, it sported GN-like fender and trunk badges, with “Gran Sport” in place of Grand National, in a different font type. The badge also featured a red Power 6 logo much like its LeSabre GN brethren.

Adding to that blacked-out paint scheme, was blacked-out trim, grill, a rear spoiler and a front air dam. Power 6 logos adorned the headrests on the grey interior upholstery. The FWD sport coupe sat on 15-inch aluminum wheels. They’re difficult to come by today, but when you do find one, they’re usually very easy to acquire for very little dough.

1987 Regal T-Package 307

In one of the most confusing option packages to ever come out of Detroit, Buick decided to make the T Package available on the naturally aspirated, 307 V8 Regal for ’87. While looking like a turbo car at first glance, even sporting the aluminum turbo fined wheels, T badges and blackout trim, you will note that one thing is missing; the turbo hood.

It was also equipped with the same GT suspension system and leather wrapped steering wheel of the GN, GNX and turbocharged T, but without the fun factor. We assume that this was a way to send off the last available RWD V8 Regal in style, but most enthusiasts went by not noticing. They’re relatively rare, but with only 180hp on tap, they’re probably best reserved for the super hardcore G-body or Regal collector.

1987 GNX

Widely regarded as the ultimate Grand National, the Grand National Experimental (GNX) is one of the most popular Turbo Regals out of all of them. It’s also one of the most misconstrued. Namely, with the hardware that’s implemented into the recipe.

Modified by American Sunroof Company (ASC), the GNX began life as a production line Grand National, usually (but not always) picked at random as the GNX order came in and was sent to ASC for the conversion. It was at this point, where the GN-turned-GNX would receive all of its cosmetic and performance upgrades.

Among those upgrades, was an improved air-to-air intercooler with a black ceramic coating that would help with heat dissipation. Utilizing the exact same LC2 Turbo V6 as the “normal” Grand National, it was paired with a Garrett T3 turbocharger with a ceramic impeller, and the GN’s 12-psi. of boost was cranked up to 15-psi.

In addition, a recalibrated computer chip, a modified TH2004R transmission and a less-restrictive cat back exhaust system went into place, bumping the horsepower up from 245, to 276hp, respectively.

Cosmetically, the Grand National badges all came off from the body, the “3.8 SFI Turbo” badges came off of the hood scoop and the paint received a top-notch wetsanding and buff job to bring out an even better luster. A set of wheel flares went onto all four corners and in place of the GN fender badges, went a pair of functional heat extractors.

The heat extractors actually did double-duty, as not only did they help rid the engine bay of unwanted hot air, but they lent a traditional Buick “porthole look” to the car as well. A GNX badge would be added to the grille, just below the Buick emblem and another GNX badge can be found on the driver’s side of the trunk lid.

The chromed, steel 15×7-inch wheels from the GN were ditched, and in their place, were 16×8-inch aluminum “lace” rollers sourced from the Pontiac Trans Am.

Weld-in chassis reinforcements went in behind the rear seat, and within a few key aspects of the frame. Additional body bushings would be implemented, as did a longitudinal torque ladder bar with a panhard rod to help prevent wheel hop and torque twist.

An aluminum GNX embossed differential cover went into place, and acted as an additional mounting point for the torque arm. The effect kept the rear wheels planted, but actually lifted the rear end when the car was under load and the brakes were engaged.

On the inside, it was pretty much standard Grand National fair, with the key upgrade being the Stewart-Warner gauge cluster that bumped the speedometer up from 85mph, all the way to 160mph. A proper boost gauge and tachometer went in as well, ditching the basically useless LED gauges found in “lesser” Turbo Buicks. An oil pressure gauge and volt meter went in, too.

On the passenger side of the dash, the Grand National badge was replaced with a GNX plaque that also depicted the production number of the car. The GNX was electronically relegated to the same top speed as other Turbo Regals (124mph), but could break through the quarter-mile in 13.2-13.3 seconds on a regular basis.

With a planned 500 units to be made, the car quickly became so popular that the final production number tally came out to no more than 547 GNXs produced. Even celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and Burt Reynolds were getting in line to acquire what was then-regarded as the last true American muscle car.

As a side bar, it should be pointed out that GNXs were built throughout the 1987 model year, they weren’t “the final 547 Grand Nationals.” No GN left the factory with GNX-specific components, despite the rumors. Oh, and the GNX’s engines were completely left untouched aside from the turbo and intercooler upgrade.

Rumors of cam swaps, ported heads, twin-turbos, etc. are nothing more than urban legends. Also, no T-Top GNXs were ever built, largely for the increased rigidity of the body, although two known Astroroof cars did slip through the net — one of which was built for the owner of Marriot Hotels.

1987 “GNX-Ray”

Often imitated but never duplicated, the GNX-Ray is a custom, one-off Buick Regal that was spawned by a former ASC employee, Rick Hunt. Rick, who owned a white ’87 T-Package Regal at the time of GNX production, wanted to give it the GNX treatment.

Once the very last GNX rolled off of the line in 1987, he asked his superiors if he could purchase some of the leftover parts, so he could implement them into his own Buick. Once he received the all-clear, he then presented the car as a sort of “inverse GNX,” being as how it was a white car with all of the GNX hardware and aesthetic attributes.

The last we checked, it’s still pretty much a “stock” GNX, but Rick does enjoy taking his car to various Turbo Buick shows throughout the country.

1989 Turbo Trans Am

After the Turbo Buick production had ceased in 1987, Buick had a warehouse full of LC2 turbo engines — roughly 2,000, total. Some of the heads of the Buick division half-joked to the Pontiac team that if they were ever interested in producing another Turbo Trans Am (remember the ’80 and ’81 cars?), they could use them. Fast forward to 1989, and lo-and-behold, it happened. It wasn’t without a few changes, however.

Based on the ’89 Trans Am GTA, the TTA took the SBC-powered T/A to a whole ‘nother level with the LC2 transplant! The engine needed a few mechanical tweaks, though; the heads had to be switched out for those from a FWD 3800-based Bonneville. It also received larger injectors, stronger internals and the boost was cranked up from 12-psi., to 16-psi. The result of these changes actually produced 303hp, but since it was still a no-no to have a car in the GM line-up that produced more horsepower than the Corvette, we were stuck with the conservative advertised numbers instead (250hp) — which matched those of the ’89 Corvette.

The performance was immense; a top speed of over 160mph, low 13-second quarter-mile times, sub 5-second sprints from 0-60 and handling that was very impressive. Handling and top speed were two things that the Regal could never crack in factory spec, but the Turbo Trans Am had it in spades. You can learn more about the ’89 Turbo Trans Am HERE.

1991 GMC Syclone/ 1992-93 GMC Typhoon

We’ll use the term, spinoff, extremely lightly here since the GMC Sy/Ty trucks shared very little with the Turbo Regals, other than the fact that they were boosted and intercooled V6-equipped. Though in fact the original concept vehicle and the plan was to utilize the LC2 like the TTA had in ’89, the final production Syclone and Typhoon used a 4.3L Chevrolet V6.

With 280 hp to the flywheel and AWD in its corner, it made for the perfect complement to Turbo Buick enthusiasts and collectors the world over. Now we could get into all of the specifics with these trucks in this story, but we’d be just rehashing a story we’ve already told a couple of years ago in the GMC Sy/Ty Retrospective Guide, HERE.

The Turbo 6: Is it a “6” or Really a Lower Case “B?”

Rollin “Molly” Sanders.

It’s both. In fact, the Turbo 6 logo is a blend of things; it’s a lower case B, it’s a 6, it’s a turbo and it’s also an arrow. The idea behind the logo, was that the two-tone arrow was a way to depict that the turbocharged V6 was the wave of Buick’s future. The two colors, orange and yellow, was to depict the heat of a turbo, as well as the 6’s overall shape.

Designed and executed by the late Rollin “Molly” Sanders, the Turbo 6 would become synonymous with the Buick Motorsports Division.

In case you may not recognize his name, you surely have seen Molly’s work. He not only designed the logo, but he also helped GM commission the car in its early days, including an all-red example that sat on the GM Design Studios turntable for some time, eventually getting resprayed black.

He would also be responsible for coming up with the bright shade of green for Kawasaki, the Yamaha colors and racing stripes, as well as the Lexus “L” logo, among other creations.

Q&A With Some of the Turbo Regal’s Biggest Fans

Richard Lasseter — Owner/Founder GS Club of America and the Buick GS Nationals

GMEFI: Richard, you head the largest Buick car club in the country, and it’s one that hosts the largest Buick performance event out there. It initially started with the focus on the ’64-72 Skylark GS cars, but quickly evolved to encompass everything Buick. These days, it seems arguably split or perhaps even leaning more towards the Turbo Regals being the star of the event, over the traditional Buicks. Are we wrong, and if not, at what point did you see this begin to happen?

Richard Lasseter: As vintage muscle cars like the GS aged and collectiblity began to increase, several years before the 1986-87 T-R models even debuted, guys began to realize that they should start preserving these GS’s. After I bought my first car, a new 1970 GS Stage 1, I did my share of street and drag racing from the day it arrived at the dealership up until 1996. During that time, I proved that the GS could more than hold its own against any other factory produced muscle car of the day.

In 1996, after its final class win at the Muscle Car Nationals in Gainesville, I retired it after 26 years of hard but meaningful usage. I then sent it to my friends at GS Autobody in Canada for a 3-year frame-off restoration. By that time, I had nothing more to prove on the race track. I never trailered my GS the track. It was always driven. In all of those years, I only sheared some teeth off the ring gear, and that was during a street race with a 440-6 bbl Mopar. I still beat him but began to hear the tell-tale “howling” of a damaged gear set after the impromptu back road encounter. It took me 2-years to find another original GS Stage 1 gear set, and that was back in 1988 when those parts were more easily found.

In 1999 I remember that gas around here was 69-cents a gallon.  Then suddenly, gas prices began to double and then triple within a two years. This hit us 455 GS guys hard with our non-overdrive transmissions. Then there was a matter of parts availability with our old GS’s.

From the mid-1970’s up until the 2000’s there were no original replacement rear end gear sets available anywhere for the mighty 1970 GS Stage 1 ‘s, as noted above. These cars used a hybrid GM 10-bolt rear end.  So if you broke the rear end on an early GS, as an example, you were at risk of losing an important part in the originality of your GS.  Meanwhile, such parts were easy to find for the T-R, from their inception until this day.

Luckily for us T-R owners, such outfits as Original Parts Group have recently come out with specific new catalogs dedicated to the T-R.  Currently at our GS Nationals, you’ll find plenty of GS’s as well as T-R’s in the show, but it’s true that T-R’s comprise about 65-70% of the Buicks found on Beech Bend’s drag strip.

GMEFI: Obviously the “heyday” for these cars have passed in terms of event turnout and club membership, but for the TRs that still attend the show and are still on the road, what has changed since those early days in terms of membership? How has the Turbo Buick hobby changed over the last thirty years? What trends have come and gone?

RL:  Think about the fact that over these last 30 years, our early members who bought their cars brand new are now a lot older and “have been there and done that” with their cars over these many years. We are all getting a bit tired of working on them, and many folks have simply lost interest in racing them.  These T-R’s have now become classics. Compare their values to an equivalent condition Olds 442, Monte Carlo SS or Grand Prix 2+2 of those same years. There is no comparison.

Our T-Rs still have an amazing history and reputation for kicking azz on the street and race track, thanks to our club members in the early days of the GSCA when T-Rs ruled the streets. That’s one area where I feel that the documentary “Black Air” overlooked. Black Air to me means GNs with their wheels up in the air and hauling azz. We did this at Beech Bend in the very early 1990’s with the likes of Kenny Duttweiler and many others who are now gone and forgotten.

Nowadays our T-R guys seem to just want a nice, quick “driver” to enjoy displaying at car shows and cruise-ins. Also, there are so many hot factory offerings out there with full factory warranties, and in many cases, the factory actually encourages you to take them to the track! Can you imagine that back in 1987 along with those politically-correct 85 mph speedometers? We have such wonderful new “appliances” today!

So many T-R guys are also selling most of the parts they’d collected over so many of the last 30 years — they realize that they may never need them. Also remember that the GSCA is over 37 years old and quite a few of our early members are either deceased or physically unable to work on their T-R’s with the gusto they once had in the early days. Yet I’m always told by these same folks, “I’ll never sell my car, but I just can’t work on it like I used to.”

Lastly, factor in how many mechanics and/or technicians are left who can even properly repair or work on these cars. Richard Clark (Richard Clark’s Garage) and Kevin King (KDK Performance) along with his #1 turbo guy “Rob” are the only shops with owners I know under 70 years old that even come to mind!  There’s a lot to consider here if and when you need specialty work done on your T-R. The landscape has certainly changed.

GMEFI: Where do you see future trends for these cars going? They’re over thirty years old now, so will we see more restorations over performance upgrades, or a split of both? What about racing? They’ve been primarily used for drag racing since their inception, but we’re seeing more and more of these cars on the autocross courses.

RL: Even back in 1987, I preached the mantra of “don’t to cut up these new cars.”  They were not designed as race cars. Silly stuff like yanking out headlights, chopping the fender wells and gutting the interiors all made a fast, classy car an also-ran beater in so many cases. Still, many T-R owners did not heed that advice and have been butchered over the years. These are now primarily the all-out race cars of today — but not in all cases.

Fast cars can still be pristine examples of going “fast with class.” As far back as 1987, Red Armstrong had that great reputation that he enjoys with his 1987 GN along with his deceased wife Jane’s loaded 1987 Turbo-T Limited. Both cars are still in beautiful original condition, yet easily run 9- and 10-flat, respectively!  Such cars as these (and their are many others in the GSCA!) are icons that personify our GSCA mantra of “Going Fast With Class”.

To conclude, the T-R’s are already following the restoration paths and philosophies of the GS from many years earlier. Many T-R’s have already been fully restored by their owners or by such specialty shops such as JC’s Auto Body in Ohio and GranSport Autobody in Quebec, Canada. These outfits began restoring GSs many years ago and are now doing their magic on the T-Rs as well.

GMEFI: Where do you see the future of the Buick hobby going, are there any models today that could become popular among the Buick contingency?

RL: First of all, rarity does not necessarily lead to desirability. Barring a rare exception or two, the 1984-85 hot air cars will never match 1986-87 cars in value. Oddly enough, although practically identical in performance, the 1987 models are generally worth a bit more than the 1986 models.  With the exception of the already converted race cars, fewer T-R’s will be raced in the years to come. They’ll be fully restored, “restified” and/or carefully street driven to shows and cruise-ins. They will eventually take the path of their older siblings, the 1965-73 GS.

As far as value goes, it’s all a basic matter of preference. The GNX will always be a known quantity in value, just like the 1970 GSX, and the GNs will follow them. Then the Turbo-T values will generally follow those of the GN. The more stock and original these cars are, the more they will be worth. That’s the law of supply and demand in play.  Factor in lower mileage and the value soars. But what a shame for such a car as a GNX to never have been enjoyed during its 30 years of ownership. Shame on the owner for that!

I bought my GNX brand new and directly from Buick at the dealer price of $25,000 and some change. As the years progressed and more powerful competition debuted, there was no way was I going to keep the 276 hp rating of the stock GNX when cruising this car among the wolves on the street. And as most know, adding 100 hp in a single afternoon to these cars, even back in the day, was a piece of cake. Best of all, the mods weren’t even visible!  This drove the Mustang guys crazy!  So I ended up performing relatively simple performance mods on my GNX to ultimately end up with 626 rwhp that was fully streetable.

However, here’s one thing you need to know about these car’s value and their potential buyers. Preferences can vary a lot.  Some folks like Richard Clark are not interested in any T-R unless it is black, and more specifically it’s gotta be a GN or GNX. Others like me prefer the sleeper look of a Turbo-T with a column shift and a cozy bench seat. That’s what I would’ve ordered new in ’87 if Buick hadn’t told me that I’d be getting a GNX.  So values can run the gamut, all depending upon buyer preferences.

Of course, mileage and condition are always big factors in any purchase. Generally speaking, the better the history of the car and the simpler and more street-worthy the mods, then the higher the value. Everyone likes a car that’s not overly modded yet runs well for what it is. The goal of the GSCA has been these ultimate recipes.

In nearly all cases, however, a bone stock unmolested T-R will always be worth more than a modified one.  Over the last 30 years, and with so many T-R’s out there that have changed hands several times, there have often been too many chefs in the kitchen. When that happens, many old technologies, questionable and/or unfamiliar mods abound that may not work well together. That always becomes a “buyer beware” scenario. And that’s my basic take on all of this from these last 30 years.

Dennis Kirban — Owner/Founder Kirban Performance Products

GMEFI: Dennis, you were the first to really dig into these cars, and offer your then-curent GTO customers a way to peronaile their Turbo Buick daily drivers. And what point did you make the segway from the ’64-72 GTO customer, to focusing on the Turbo Buick crowd?

DK: I was one of the first, if not the first, to make GTO reproduction parts. I entered in that business around 1978. Around 1986, I was starting to hear from several long-time GTO customers that had stepped up and bought the new intercooled V6 Turbo Regal specifically the Grand Nationals. One person in particular who owns a local company to me, and makes parts for us, had said, “You know Dennis, a local dealer has three [GNs] on the lot right now, head over [there] and I can get you a sweet deal on one.”

This is about a week before I was turning 40 (Sept, ’87), and my wife was driving a real nice ’85 5.0 Mustang GT 5-speed in those days. I went over to the dealership,  looked over the three GNs (I can’t remember if any were T-tops) and picked out a solid roof example. I did not want to trade in my Mustang, nor buy the GN, so I leased it for 3 years…

Since I was doing a monthly GTO newsletter at the time, I started to talk about the GN. Eventually I broke out a GN newsletter called the Grand News. Naturally in the beginning, the big players were ATR and Kenne Bell. I sold mostly little knick knacks… then started to use my car for prototype upgrades. My kid smoothed the bumpers so we could make a mold for glass bumpers etc. I even did the quality engineering for the full dash GNX cluster, and started to sell them.

Where I really made my mark in the business was buying over 325 of these cars — including a dozen real GNXs. I got lucky; two cars I favored were both good business ventures for me, on a retail level, as we do other products on a wholesale level for Corvette and Mustang. It’s all the about numbers.

GMEFI: Obviously the “heyday” for these cars have passed in terms of the amount of cars that are still on the road, but what else has changed since those early days in terms of ownership? How has the Turbo Buick hobby changed over the last thirty years? What trends have come and gone?

DK:  In the early days, some owners did some real butcher work; gauges in the dash panel, cutting holes in the inner fender for dump pipe, etc. — not realizing how special these cars were and how few GM replacement parts existed. Maybe 5-6 years ago, owners started to realize that the more original they are, the higher their street value. It wasn’t that long ago where 10 grand got you a nice example. The sad part is the Ts with their various colors really lag behind in value compared to the black GNs. I think mine being the exception — probably because it’s 100% original paint and I own it. When you claim the title of the fastest car for any given year your pretty much assured the value will increase. The ’64-72 GTO is a prime example.

GMEFI: Where do you see future trends for these cars going? They’re over thirty years old now, so will we see more restorations over performance upgrades, or a split of both? What about racing? They’ve been primarily used for drag racing since their inception, but we’re seeing more and more of these cars on the autocross courses.

DK:  Probably in the not-too-distant future, a GN hardtop will crack the 50 grand mark. Adding to the value is the 150 or so that Molly signed the trunk ID label, having attended two of our big events over the years. Molly has since passed away.  Vette owners go nuts for autographs, and that is what gave me the idea originally. The real look into the future is in 20-plus years or so, with the electric cars. They will probably kill off much of the collector market. Fortunately, I don’t think I will be around to see that part of the future!

The GN has also helped the other G-body cars; mainly the Monte Carlo SS and Olds 442 models. The Grand Prixs never really did shine amongst collectors. It helps that major magazines, movies, etc. have highlighted the GN — basically Buick’s moment  in the sun. The engineers did do a fine job under the hood — its in some of the other areas we owners find lacking such as paint and body fit.

GMEFI: Where do you see the future of the Buick hobby going, are there any models today that could become popular among the Buick contingency?

DK: As for what might be the next upcoming car I believe Chrysler will score big with the Hellcat, along with the various Challenger models. You have to figure in the steady production for the 7-8 model years, as well. It’s hard to say what a used Hellcat will bottom out at before its value starts to go up. For example, look how long GNXs lingered at the 30 grand mark before they more than doubled.

Brian Weaver — Owner/Founder GBodyParts

GMEFI: You own the largest G-body performance and restoration parts supplier out there. Out of your model line ups (Regal, Monte Carlo, Grand Prix, Cutlass, Malibu/El Camino), how much of your business is the Turbo Regal market?

Brian Weaver: This fluctuates as new parts arrive. Buick is a little higher due to new product releases. This week, it breaks down like this: 58% is Buick, 26% is Olds,  15% Chevy G-body and 1-2% Pontiac Grand Prix.

GMEFI: How did you get into the business, and what’s your strongest-selling product for the Turbo Regal line?

BW: During a high school field trip to Broening Hwy in Baltimore, I went to watch an 85 Monte SS get built from start to finish. That’s what kicked it off. Later on, it was during a test drive in an ’87 Monte SS, and being told by the salesman at the dealership to get out of the car a mile from the dealership. Why I asked? I have never seen anyone go through the gears on an automatic transmission like that in my life,” the salesman would tell me…

I replied, “If I’m spending $16,000 I want to see what it can do and what I am buying.” His reply, not with me in the car you’re not… I went to the Buick dealership and was told that I had to be 18 to drive a turbo Buick — it was only a few weeks away.

Fast forward 9 years. I now have an ’87 Mustang GT, and I watch 2 black Buicks pull up to the light. There’s another  Stang present that looks just like my ’87 GT. “This should be a good race,” I think to myself.

The black cars went around the Mustang and started to race at about a 60mph roll, side by side. “I need A TURBO BUICK,” I thought to myself. Fast forward another year… I had an ’87 WE-4 T-top brought to my house by my good friend, Dave. I had my Red exterior and Black interior ’70 GTO at the time.

I was taken for a test drive in this ’87 WE-4; he was driving and I wasn’t impressed. My GTO ran 12.00 flat, which was decent for a street car at that time. The WE-4 I was told and had a few 11.30 time slips in the console. Dave asked what I thought, and me being me, I told him.

“I am not impressed.”  I can still remember looking out the passenger window thinking, “wow, what a disappointment.” So at the end of my street he says, “you drive it.” I held the foot brake down, brought it up on boost and launched. I hit the lock up switch in the ALDL connector when it shifted to second gear. Now the car felt like it yanked the driver’s side tire off the ground. “OK, this is an low 11-second car.” I sold the ’70 GTO the next week (which I had hunted for years) and the rest is history.

Within a year I had a T-top WE-4, 87 GN hard top, then a ”84 T-top GN as a parts car. I bought the parts car just in case. When I did part it out I had my money back and half the car still there not knowing any value of the parts. I remember I sold the 8.5-inch rear and the driveshaft for $350.00. That is what a Monte guy offered me. That would be the cheapest rear I ever sold….

I remember walking downstairs for coffee in the morning and seeing the three sets of Buick blacked-out taillights in the driveway. “I need another one,” I smirked to myself.

The first Gbody I ever restored was an ’86 SS — not my proudest moment as I lost about $1500 on that deal 20 years ago.

GMEFI: Over the time you’ve been in this business, how has the needs of the customer changed?

BW: The more it changes, the more it stays the same. I can remember being in our second facility in Pennsylvania, and walking out to the shipping area. There were 31 Grand National aluminum radiators. Plus five SLIC’s, three front-mounts IC’s, and dozen or so 3-inch downpipes shipping out.  Back then we had USPS, FedEx, and DHL pick up daily. I remember asking Joe how many Buicks can have stock downpipes left? I don’t know, but we only built 60 downpipes — they were supposed to last six months and we are almost out after 45 days.

We build what is needed. When we are asked for parts now, we actually keep spreadsheets so we know what to build. Back then it was just, “Hey I think we need to build this. Ok, I will see who I know that can build this.”

GM would locate parts like blow out clips. I remember negotiating the purchase of like 2000+ blow out clips with Eric at a GM dealership back in ’05-06. In 2011 we were remanufacturing them, aftermarket, with a major U.S. company.

GMEFI: Out of your customer base, how many of them purchase restoration/replacement parts as opposed to aftermarket performance products?

BW: I just had this conversation yesterday with one of our vendors in California. He had built a lot of aftermarket performance parts and he said the market is dead compared to what it was. My response was, no it isn’t. We do the same thing we did 10+ years ago. We buy a car, sell off the aftermarket parts and then restore it to original. Original cars bring the best money.

Then the person who buys it comes back and buys the aftermarket parts to make it go faster according to their tastes. Truly, original parts are what people are doing as they restore a car to get the best return on investment. Most people want an original car to modify as their own. When you modify a car you have to find someone who wants your exact modifications. It is easier to sell a car that is all stock.

To get you a definite answer is tough. We have shops who restore cars then the customer who buys it will come back and modify it at another shop. I would still say it is half and half where 10 years ago; it was almost all performance upgrades. Only people who wanted stock parts back then were people who were restoring wrecked cars and insurance companies.

GMEFI: What do you think is next for these cars? In regards to product needs, trends and even market value?

BW: Without a doubt restoration is now the key to what we are manufacturing for the future. Small subtle increases in performance (fixing factory screw ups; increased ) are needed but most know what a low mile clean stock G-Body is worth. The days of buying a GN with 12 quarts of oil in it and the seller thinks he has a bad turbo for $1500 is long gone. That same car with 100K miles will pull $10k. Then someone restores it and you see it auction.

To be honest we, worked with LKQ when they bought Goodmark a few years back. That adventure really brought about a lot of great quality products. I am a hoarder and had over $100,000.00 in NOS parts after 15 years. We shipped parts and cars out to LKQ’s manufacturers. The parts that were built were tested by myself and Toby P. (LKQ’s GBody products manager at the time) in Ohio.

We both had different views, but most importantly, we had two sets of eyes. We always were sent two samples of each new product. We would test fit and then send a set to another shop to test fit. This way we had feedback from four people. Professionals and sometimes just the average GBody owner to see how their test fit would go. As far as I know, I do not think we ever had a return on a part due to quality or fitment.

I met a lot of great people through our dealings. I learned a lot. I traveled a lot. I am still in contact with most of them. I am even engaged to one of them….

Now GMK has went their way and we have gone ours in the Gbody market. It was a great learning experience. It is hard to believe that people do not know what is available for the Gbody market. This is the absolute truth. We have done what we can to advertise but you see a lot of the same things, “Where can I get this or that at?”

It is nice to see the larger and older established companies that think the A- and F-body is the only GM cars out there get into the G-bodies. Hopefully this helps every manufacturer move more products and can keep more of the cars on the road. We are seeing many companies with interest.

We see seal manufacturers getting items GM license for Gbody’s where 4 years ago they could care less about the market. Seeing all this new interest really makes me feel good about the future of Gbody’s. You have the guys who have stuck by them forever, like Dennis Kirban, to new faces working part time at their local yards pulling parts and selling before they get crushed.

I have watched a lot of companies come and go in 20 years. I have seen a lot grow and be successful.

I have seen others who try to deal with one G-Body model, only to fail. In this market you need to cater to all of them. If not at least another brand.

Mike “Spoolfool” Barnard — Owner/Founder Spoolfool Productions

GMEFI: You own a company that makes interesting and creative aftermarket products specifically for Turbo Buicks. What made you get into the business?

Mike Barnard: Necessity. Honestly! I just wanted a part and it didn’t exist. I’ve stayed with it because of the great people. When you do what you enjoy, it’s not work.The funnest part of doing it is when you can give back and see that joy keep going. Traveling to the events, sponsoring the classes and raffles has been a huge blessing.It keeps me motivated to make new stuff.

GMEFI: Over the time you’ve been in this business, how has the needs of the customer changed (if they have), and what kind of product suggestions have you received?

MB: Ten years ago the value of these cars was sinking like a rock. Everyone wanted the cheapest parts they could find. Didn’t mater if they were junk. No one wanted to dump dough into a sinking ship. Now, it’s just the opposite. The value over the last few years is starting to shoot up. It can now be seen as somewhat of an investment. I feel that from here on out, there will be a nice market for quality parts for these cars. Myself, and many other vendors are betting lots of money on these facts.

GMEFI: You’ve made a name for yourself with your bumper fillers and one-piece rear spoiler, but what other aspects are you currently eyeing right now for the ’84-87 Regal customer?

MB: Well, I don’t like to let the cat out of the bag before I have things to my standards. I will say that I currently have a bunch of new stuff I’m working on. With the support of this Turbo Buick family, I will probably be inventing and marketing new stuff for these cars for the rest of my life. At least I hope so. That’s the plan.

GMEFI: What’s your favorite aspect about the Turbo Buick? What is it about the car that captures your imagination?

MB: My favorite aspect of the car itself is the mystique. Of what it is and what it represents. That look on someone’s face, after they just got their ass handed to them for the first time in their six-figure exotic and have not a clue of what just violated their fragile ego.

GMEFI: What do you think is next for these cars? In regards to product needs, trends and even market value?

MB: I think looking forward, quality parts will be top sellers. I mean, If you had an old Hemi ‘Cuda, would you put junk on it? Heck no! It’s worth a small fortune. Well kids, these cars hold that same title as the Hemi ‘Cuda as America’s quickest productions car. Will our cars ever be at the same status as those early Hemi cars? I for one hope not. I still like to be able to drive mine. My guess is that we will be seeing clean, low mileage GNs in the six figure range in less than five years.

Editor’s Take: There’s no denying the impact the Turbo Regal had on the GM EFI contingent and the hobby as a whole. Whenever I drive mine anyway, I get constant compliments, thumbs up and offers to buy it from random strangers. As time goes on, they become increasingly more rare and it’s one of the few cars that’s “widely accepted’ from auto enthusiasts spanning various genres.

Like most have stated above, the more stock and/or original the car is, the more value it’ll ultimately become. That was sort of the logic we had going into our project Wicked6. Everything that has been modified on the car is completely reversible and all of the stock components have been saved. Until then, we’re going to have our way with this thing for the foreseeable future.

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Being infatuated with cars since he was a toddler, AutoCentric Media Founder and Editor, Rick Seitz, has a true love and passion for all vehicles. When he isn’t tuning, testing, or competing with the brand’s current crop of project vehicles, he’s busy tinkering and planning the next modifications for his own cars.

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