Buick’s black beast was effectively the Dodge Demon of its time. Never underestimate the wrath of Darth Vader.
The Buick GNX ranks as one of the most underrated American cars of all time. Featuring on the latest instalment of Donut Media’s Everything You Need to Know series, the GNX was a souped up version of the Buick Grand National which started out as a regular Regal, and changed people’s perception of the manufacturer in the 1980s at a time when Buick was associated with underpowered family-friendly sedans. Its imposing all-black appearance earned it the nickname ‘Darth Vader.’
Its life, however, was short-lived as it was manufactured during the Grand National’s final year of production - but this only makes it more desirable today. Buick’s success in the 1982 NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National Series spawned the Grand National package which was fitted to 215 charcoal gray Regals. It was only an appearance package: the majority of cars were fitted with a naturally 4.1-liter V6 that produced a whopping 125 horsepower and 205 lb-ft of torque. 35 of them were fitted with a turbocharged 3.8 liter V6 with 175 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. But it wasn’t until 1984 that the Buick Grand National started to become a force to be reckoned.
Sporting its now iconic all-black paint, Buick’s turbocharged 3.8-liter engine became standard in the Grand National with fuel injection and computer controlled ignition that increased the power to 200 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. Its performance wasn’t far off the Corvette C4 at a time when emissions regulations were restricting the performance of sports and muscle cars.
Two years later, the Grand National’s power was upgraded to 235 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque. As hard as it was to believe, Buick was now making America’s fastest production car, as the Grand National could hit 0-62 mph in under five seconds and sprint down the quarter mile in under 14 seconds, making it faster than the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Pontiac Firebird at the time. In 1987, Buick gave the Grand National the ultimate send-off with the GNX, standing for Grand National Experimental. Enlisting the help of McLaren, 547 Grand Nationals were given a new interior trim package, bigger turbochargers and intercoolers and reworked suspension.
It was so powerful that Buick underrated the performance of the monstrous GSX to 276 horsepower and 360 lb-ft of torque to avoid tarnishing the Corvette’s image as GM’s flagship sports car, despite being quicker than the C4 Vette. Incredibly, the Buick GNX was able to blitz the quarter-mile run in 12.7 seconds at 113.1 mph which put it in supercar territory, beating the Ferrari F40 by 0.3 seconds. With a 0-62 mph time of 4.6 seconds, the only car that was faster than the GNX at the time was the legendary Lamborghini Countach. Effectively, Buick’s black beast was the Dodge Demon of its time, even if it wasn’t allowed to do wheelies.
While we’re currently enjoying a renascence of American muscle cars like the new Mustang, Camaro ZL1 and Challenger SRT Hellcat, there’s still hope that the Buick Grand National will be revived in the future, as Buick filed trademarks for ‘Grand National’ and ‘GNX’ a few years ago.