photos by: the author
Bringing our Grand National Project into the 21st Century with Precision
When we first picked up our Wicked6 way back in 2009, we were simply thrilled with the fact that we owned one. No longer relegated to pictures on the internet, model cars and car mags featuring Turbo Buicks to get our fix, we finally had a running, driving Turbo Regal in our possession.
Initially impressed with its acceleration, we quickly became “used” to the 12-psi. that the OEM Garrett turbocharger provided. We also took into account that upon our vehicle purchase, the Buick had sat for over five years and was still equipped with the original turbocharger that it had left the factory with back in May of 1987.
We performed all of the immediate and obvious tweaks, the Turbo Buick Spring Cleaning and we upgraded the fuel system with a Racetronix kit, which also included the hot wire harness that boosts additional charging power from the alternator. Apart from going to a Kirban Performance intake tube and K&N filter, the car was left otherwise stock for the last eight years.
Fast forward to the summer of 2016, and we found ourselves elbow-deep into the turbo system, exhaust, cooling system and replacing various cosmetic trim pieces with the help of GBodyParts. We also ditched the useless factory gauge cluster and brought the cockpit into the twenty-teens courtesy of a Dakota Digital VHX gauge panel. We’ll save the gauges and trim for another installment in the future, but for right now, we’re going to focus solely on the goods under the hood.
First, the MAF sensor is getting an update; to a Turbo Tweak LT1-style MAF and a translator to tell the car’s stock ECU exactly what’s what. While we were on the Turbo Tweak site, we also ordered a performance chip, too.
Not stopping there, we upgraded the turbocharger and intercooler with Precision Turbo and Engine’s three-bolt 6266 snail and stock location, Buick specific intercooler upgrade. A set of six 65-lb injectors and an oil relocation unit, also from Precision were installed as well. The entire exhaust system will be replaced and Jet-Hot coated, the cooling system will be upgraded and in will go a new, high stall torque converter from those Buick experts at Full Throttle Speed.
Our initial plan, was to break all of these down into separate segments for you, much like a print magazine. However, after we’ve remembered that we’re not limited to pages or relegated story space, we decided to go all-in and give you the whole performance upgrade story in one super-segment.
We still have to tune the car as of this writing, as we’re looking to upgrade the gauges and install a Scanmaster for more accurate engine vitals and information. And we want to follow-up with track results as well, so we’ll compile that together at a later date.
Truth be told, it’s been a while since we’ve taken Wicked6 to a dyno or to the dragstrip. For the most part, it’s been sitting in the corner of our garage while other projects had earned the forefront of our attention.
However, we do have a dyno sheet from sometime back and our old Quaker City Motorsports Park timeslips (with no changes since) have depicted a best of 14.58 at 97.6 mph.
With the car strapped to the Dynojet rollers, we’ve seen a best of 206.25 hp and 256-lb ft of torque to the rear wheels. Not earth-shattering, but pretty much on par with other Turbo Regals with the modifications ours had before it had went under the knife. We also have to keep in mind that this was on stock boost, with the stock original turbo, the Racetronix fuel system and Kirban induction kit. Results may vary with your own Turbo Buick.
Precision Turbo & Engine Upgrades
Longing for a larger snail with even larger boost output since we’ve first taken Wicked6 around the block, the PTE 6266 turbo, stock location intercooler and 65-lb injectors are a welcome upgrade. If Grand Nationals can benefit from three things, it’s more boost, improved cooling and increased fueling capabilities. The aforementioned Racetronix system was a good start, but our OEM 28-lb injectors are under-tasked; both in terms of factory capabilities and especially for our intended performance upgrades.
We also had the suspicion that they’ve never been properly cleaned since the car rolled off of the assembly line. So while they wouldn’t be quite up to the challenge of our new turbo, we went ahead and sent them off to Injector Experts for a thorough cleaning for a potential future project, anyway. You can read the full story on how that turned out, HERE.
In the meantime, let’s turn our attention to our install and take a closer look at what we’ll be installing.
No matter where you look, the PTE Maximum-Flow Oil System is infused with high-quality hardware, largely made from billet aluminum. It actually looks like a custom piece, but in truth, it’s actually made in-house by some of the best engineering team that PTE could assemble.
PTE’s TA6266 Turbocharger Features:
- Exclusive CEA (Competition Engineered Aerodynamics) compressor wheel machined from a 2618-aluminum forging
- Higher efficiency and faster transient response for maximum power and performance
- 62mm inducer compressor wheel
- Stock Appearing Buick compressor cover with Bolt-On Billet Inlet Bell
- 66mm, 76 trim turbine wheel
- Wastegate actuator optional, but not included
- Available with Buick .63 or .85 A/R
- Available with either a Hydrodynamic 360° thrust bearing system, or an Air-cooled, dual ceramic ball-bearing center housing rotating assembly (CHRA)
Pypes, Kirban, Jet Hot, TA Performance Exhaust System and Downpipe
Airflow — so important! If you’re building a Turbo Buick, an exhaust upgrade is certainly in order no matter what. We had a decent low-restriction exhaust on the car prior to this upgrade segment, but it had aged, had some surface rust, wasn’t coated and just needed an update. We wanted to take it to the next level, in both airflow and efficiency.
It’s been said, and proven, time and time again that the factory exhaust manifolds (some refer to them as headers) flow well enough to support over 600 hp.
Although there are a number of aftermarket headers on the market specifically for ’86-87 Turbo Regals, other Buick enthusiasts have practically beaten us over the head with this fact numerous times — suggesting that if we do leave anything on the car from the factory, that these should be it.
That only stroker engine or LC2s with serious engine work require a header upgrade. So be it. In the end, we elected to stick with them, but the catback and downpipe needed a serious overhaul.
There are still plenty of catbacks out there to choose from, but Dennis Kirban of Kirban Performance — long-time Buick expert and parts supplier — recommended the Pypes 2.5-inch dual catback in 409 stainless steel. It provides excellent flow, without the annoying drone of some of the other systems out there — and the Pypes Race-Flo mufflers did just that!
It’s a direct, bolt-on kit that picks up from the catalytic converter (or downpipe/cat delete in our case) and splits into two operate tubes that ultimately run to either rear corner of the car. The factory exhaust, by comparison, is a single 2.5-inch piece that runs into a single muffler, which then splits into two separate pipes.
This is clearly a more efficient design that OEM, and now thanks to our upgraded turbo kit, will most certainly be taken advantage of at the dragstrip.
Much like our Precision intercooler tubing, we wanted to ensure a cooler engine charge and less heat soak. We also wanted the clean, blacked-out Grand National appearance to extend to the exhaust system as much as possible — essentially masking the exhaust with the coating. The stainless exhaust tubing would have prevented against corrosion, but we felt that the 2500 Series coating from Jet Hot would keep operating and engine bay temps down.
The factory turbo downpipe measures in at 2.5-inches, roughly enough to move airflow from the stock turbo and boost setting. However, our PTE 6266 with over 15-psi. would be heavily restricted if we kept the downpipe in its factory location. So out it went, and in its place we installed a 3-inch diameter piece from TA Performance.
Unfortunately, the TA Performance downpipe is so popular, that “even we” had to wait several weeks for one to become available for our test car — they really are that good and apparently in that much demand!
The TA downpipe basically increase the flow rate of the spent fumes from the turbo to the catalytic converter, that in our case, we eliminated with the help of the Pypes cat delete kit. Our original cat was old, rusted and more than likely, partially clogged anyway.
We wanted to maximize the results of our PTE turbo upgrade, and keeping the stock cat hanging around wasn’t the way to do it. it’s among the most restrictive piece on the entire exhaust and we’re happy to see it go, honestly.
Alradco Radiator and Dual Electric Cooling Fans
If there’s anything that a boosted and modified Turbo Buick needs, it’s an improved cooling system. Ours was still rocking the same unit it left the factory with — or roughly around the time Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction album was released in record stores. Remember record stores?
Now as much as some critics like to keep their car as “original” as possible, it just wasn’t in the cards for Wicked6. Shortly before our turbo upgrade, we developed not only an obvious leak, but the radiator had become discolored to the point that it was almost completely green.
It looked awful, couldn’t handle basic operating conditions and certainly wouldn’t be up to the task off keeping our Buick cool with the larger turbo and planned racing conditions.
Sure we could have replaced it with a stock unit, but if we’re going to put in the wrench time anyway, then we might as well step up or efforts and install something that will be much more efficient and suit our needs here in the 21st Century. Luckily, we found solace in an offering from Alradco.
Alradco is a small but meticulous radiator and electric fan supplier for a number of late-model diesel trucks and GM performance vehicles, including Turbo Buicks. The owner, Pete Ceglielski, is a dyed-in-the-wool Buick fan, and even makes an offering for the first-generation CTS-V — an often-overlooked offering that could use an improved cooling system.
The idea behind Alradco’s cooling system, was two-fold; first, the radiator itself is made from aluminum, rather than steel — which provides a slight weight reduction (off the nose of the car, where you’d need it) and the aluminum design helps improve the cooling charge into the engine.
However instead of the typical, nature aluminum finish, Pete offers them in black powdercoating as well. So for those of us who prefer to keep things low-key or factory-appearing, Alradco offers the perfect solution. Pete reports that the powdercoating is just thick enough to help protect from chipping and provide the OE finish, but isn’t over-applied as to negatively affect the cooling temps.
Wanting to take things further, we also ordered up the SPAL-manufactured twin-electric fans to replace the larger, single unit. It’s available in a single kit with the Alradco radiator, and aides in the cooling charge over the larger, single-spinning factory fan
The one thing that should be mentioned, is the fact that the twin SPAL fans cover more real estate that what the factory unit ever could, so you actually get more cooling capabilities from them over the stock unit. And with the “Slim Fan” design, they fit more snugly against the radiator, allowing for clearance away from the larger Precision intercooler piping. Refer to the side-by-side comparison of the OEM and Alradco/SPAL twin-electric fans below.
About the only thing that was carried over from the OE radiator, was the fitting for the cooling line, and it was a direct fit into the Alradco radiator.
As you can see above, we pulled the top and bottom hoses, coolant lines, and anything else that connected the engine to the radiator or the radiator to the chassis. Of course we also had to disconnect the electric fan connector, as we’ll be plugging it into the SPAL/Alrado harness.
Full Throttle Speed Torque Converter
Well let’s just get this out-of-the-way; our factory torque converter isn’t just going to cut it with this larger turbo. In fact, we tested the car with the stock converter in place and the lag time was ridiculous. Horrifically ridiculous.
Sure, when it spooled it took you to warp speed with very little effort, but at the stop light drags, your opponent would have already covered an 1/8-mile by the time you were even getting into your power band.
The only way to resolve this was to go with a high stall converter from one of our friends in the aftermarket. Happily, Full Throttle Speed answered the call with one of their new 9.5-inch Revolution-X converters.
Designed exclusively for the Turbo Buick, the Revolution-X is one of the latest converters of its kind on the market today, with Full Throttle just releasing them last year.
They’re available in lock-up and non lock-up, in various stall speeds and for 4L80E, 2004R, Powerglide and TH400 transmission applications.
A billet design, it’s smaller, lighter and more applicable to a setup such as ours; it’ll help spool the turbo much faster and free up some parasitic weight.
The 9.5 inch Revolution-X is a sprag converter, so they tend to run much cooler and are more efficient than spragless units. Full Throttle elaborates a bit more on these, by sharing, “we don’t use any ordinary sprag — it is much stronger with larger springs than most others use, at $599.99 (either version; a 2500hp capable unit is available as well) we think this is an extraordinary value for a proven 9-second converter.”
Once we had the converter in the car back together, we took it down the street for a quick blast down the unsanctioned quarter-mile and the difference was between night and day. It actually made us wish we had installed the converter prior to the turbo upgrade, just to see the difference, but it didn’t work out that way.
Turbo Tweak Chip, LT1 MAF and AXiS Interface
Unlike today’s performance cars, however, the Turbo Buick still relied on the old OBD-I style programming; i.e., it has an actual “chip” that houses all of the air/fuel parameters, programming, speed governor, rev limiter, etc. The factory chip was programmed by Buick for the safest possible tune imaginable, while providing sufficient performance. It was calibrated for the OEM injectors, turbo, the factory calibrated 12-psi. of boost, and so on.
Once we start changing things, there will be repercussions later within the rotating assembly if we don’t inform the ECU that we’ve made these adjustments. Besides, if you want more boost and a larger turbo, you’re not going to get your money’s worth out of your modifications if you don’t recalibrate the chip.
Long-time car guy, Buick, TTA and Sy/Ty tuner, Eric Marshall of Turbo Tweak really steered us in the right direction for Wicked6. Like with any EFI-equipped vehicle, ECU tuning goes a long way in regards to performance and drivability.
Turbo Tweak has been around for quite some time, and offers up-to-date software tuning for those of us TR enthusiasts who prefer to stick with the OEM OBDI-style hardware. Even still, the original MAF sensor can be extremely sensitive and more than a little finicky. Over the last couple of decades, Buick tuners and enthusiasts have relied on everything from constant OEM replacements, LS1 updates (with a translator), to ditching it entirely and going speed density.
As it turns out, one of latest and best solutions for us throwbacks is the new v6.1 chip from Turbo Tweak. Based on the v5.7 that’s become a favorite to Buick owners, the v6.1 picks up where v5.7 leaves off, but allows for use with a Powerlogger and wideband O2 system. If a wideband is connected to the Powerlogger, the chip can run in closed loop at full throttle to keep the air/fuel ratio as close as possible to your target setting. The smallest injector you can use with this chip is 50-lb., so keep that in mind when you’re ordering from Turbo Tweak.
Eric tells us that this is an adjustable chip that must be used with a Powerlogger, and you have the capability to make corrections to the air/fuel ratio based on wideband readings. You must also have a wideband O2 system connected to your Powerlogger to use the closed loop full throttle control. It should be pointed out that the chip still uses the stock O2 sensors for all the low-end fueling, idle and cruising calibrations. There’s some additional information about this chip that we’ll let Eric explain further:
“The available user adjustments at this time are:
1 = WOT A/F Ratio – 1st/2nd gear
2 = WOT A/F Ratio – 3rd/4th gear
3 = Mid Boost A/F Ratio – all gears (part throttle)
4 = Base WOT fuel
5 = Spark Timing Offset – 1st/2nd gear
6 = Spark Timing Offset – 3rd/4th gear
7 = WOT TCC Lock MPH
8 = Base Mid Boost fuel (3 to 14-psi.)
The chip is calibrated specifically for certain widebands, so I need to know if you have a LC-1, PLX, etc. There are some widebands that I don’t have calibrations for yet. Basically, the chip works like my 5.7 chip, except there are more adjustable features. It also can read the wideband reading from the Powerlogger and do corrections.
In the chip, you have three target A/F adjustments, mid boost (3-14-psi.), WOT 1/2 gear, WOT 3/4 gear. If you set an A/F of 11.5, it will try to maintain that as best it can based on info from your wideband. You have to make sure your wideband is working properly so you don’t get false info (garbage in, garbage out as they say). The program can add up to 33% fuel, and subtract 10% fuel to maintain the A/F. You can adjust the base WOT fuel to keep the correction inside the ‘window.’ I limited the subtraction to 10% so it can’t get too crazy pulling fuel if something wrong happens.”
Street Chip: for use with pump gas (91-94 octane), and will also work with alcohol injection. 16-17psi boost in most cases (maybe a little lower with 91-octane), WOT fuel will be set up for that boost level, around 18 degrees timing. May not pass emissions testing, but some people have done ok. This chip is not available for cars with the ’84-85 ECM.
Alcohol Chip: for use with pump gas when alcohol injection is being used, timing is increased to around 21-23 degrees, boost is increased to the 20-25psi range, along with some other small tweaks to work better with the alcohol. Alcohol injection MUST be used with this chip. The calibration is made for 100% alcohol, no water mixes. Excess knock will occur if the alcohol is turned off and you go to full boost.
Race chip: for use with race fuel only, NO alcohol injection, high timing around 26 degrees depending on octane and combo, more WOT fuel for high boost. I need to know what your goals are, what boost range you’re going to run, and octane of the race fuel.
The AXiS Interface device allows the replacement of the stock MAF sensor (mass airflow) with newer, more reliable, and higher flowing MAF sensors (cannot be used with a stock MAF). This is one step up from a basic Translator. It also adds the capability to tune fuel and spark advance when used with a compatible chip in the ECM. It can be used with any ECM chip in order to use a new MAF sensor. To use the extra WOT fuel and timing adjustments, a special ECM chip is required, such as the AXiS chip, or an Extender chip (made for the AXiS).
The included AXiS Interface in this combo is a great, cost-effective chip that takes advantage of the features in the AXiS Interface. The chip has no internal parameters to adjust, just plug it in and go! All adjustments are done inside the AXiS box and are permanent, so they can’t be lost if the battery is disconnected. The base spark advance at WOT is about 17-degrees, and can be tweaked up or down using the dials in the box.
The MAF connections are completely plug and play, and the spark control is a one-wire connection! For those who want all of the juicy, uber-techy details on this innovative new product, click the link to instructions for more info: HERE.
Driven and TCI Lubricants
With everything buttoned up, it was time to refill the fluids. Although we had recently installed fresh fluids into the engine and transmission just a few months prior, we felt that it only made sense to pour in some fresh fluids for our revitalized drivetrain.
We’ve run full-synthetic engine oil since we first made our vehicle purchase back in May of 2009. We’ve tested various blends from different manufacturers, but we decided to go along with Joe Gibbs’ Driven Oils this time around.
Obviously Driven has several blends at their disposal, including LS30 for all of the LS-powered vehicles that we have around here. However, our Grand National requires a different blend, considering its factory-installed flat-tappet camshaft. As with just about any older engine, especially those with flat-tappet camshafts, they require a lot of zinc in their formulation.
Sure, you can go with the ZDDP additive, which most enthusiast do, but having the convenience of a pre-mixed blend in one simple pour just makes it that much better. After doing some extensive research on Driven Oils, we drew the conclusion that Driven HR would be our best bet.
It arrives at your door (or your local parts store) in your choice of weight (10×30 in our case) — which is exactly what our Buick calls for — and serves as a single stage oil fill process that you would fill to normal, required capacity. In our case, we had to pour in an extra 1.5 quarts over the OEM requirements, as a result of our oil filter relocation kit from PTE.
Available in synthetic and conventional blends, it’s the perfect choice for Turbo Buick, GMC Sylcone/Typhoon, traditional small-block and big-block powered musclecars, blown street rods and so on. It offers excellent high-temperature protection and is good for loose bearing clearances.
This oil protects against rust and corrosion, even when your engine isn’t running! Driven’s HR delivers proper anti-wear protection for older-style pushrod and flat-tappet engines. It’s also formulated using superior camshaft wear protection chemistry–the same technology that’s propelled Joe Gibbs Racing to multiple NASCAR championships!
For the transmission, we relied on TCI‘s MAX Shift ATF — an off-the shelf, but quality fluid that we picked up at Summit Racing. It reduces damaging heat buildup and wear for long life and more consistent transmission performance. Its exclusive formula is engineered for passenger car and truck automatic transmission applications.
A great benefit to using TCI Max Shift Street Performance ATF transmission, over the off-brand bargain store stuff is that it exceeds exceeds current Dexron III and Merco standards. It’s a high-quality blend that doesn’t hurt your wallet. With a trans rebuild in the near future for the Buick, this was an excellent alternative from using the cheap stuff found at the local dollar store, as well as ponying up a pretty penny for top-notch synthetic. It’s a great all-rounder that provides a piece of mind.
Off to Test and Tune….
With the Winter weather about to hit right after we tightened the last bolt, the tracks up here in the Midwest closed for the season. However, that will give us plenty of time to focus on a few interior details, including installing our new VDO boost gauge, Scanmaster, Dakota Digital gauge cluster and A-pillar gauge pod from G-bodyParts! See you next time.
Precision Turbo and Engine, Driven Oils, Full Throttle Speed, Kirban Performance, Turbo Tweak, TA Performance, Pypes, Jet Hot, Alradco, SCE Gaskets, ARP Bolts, Spoolfool Productions, Caspers Electronics, TCI, Summit Racing
Rick Seitz is the owner and founder of GMEFI Magazine, and 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.