One of the most tired cliches in all of autojournodom is "Darth Vader's Ride." You've read it one million times, I've used the phrase several
hundred dozen times and we think of it every time a pitch-black Corvette Z06 passes by. It's old, it's worn and until further notice, the Maybach Excelero owns that appellation forever. Nonetheless, we're old enough to remember the first time an all-black coupe was mentioned in the same sentence as the Dark Lord of the Sith. Twenty years ago, it was good old Car & Driver that (as we recall) created the trope when they subtitled a piece on the special-edition Buick GNX, "Darth Vader, Your Car Is Ready." For a 12-year-old car nut with Empire Strikes Back bedsheets and two or three shoe boxes filled with Star Wars trading cards, that was enough to peg the GNX as the coolest car ever. Even better, my father's childhood friend Joe Silverman showed up to my Bar Mitzvah in a pitch-black GNX and took me on a joyride. Obviously, that was the highlight of my passage into manhood. Two decades later, very little has changed.
The first thing you need to understand about the two-door GNX — dubbed the "fastest production sedan in the world" (more on that later) — is that it's not just a hopped up G-body. Of course it is exactly that, but it is also a last gasp, a closing argument, a punch before dying. The GNX is Ali rope-a-doping Foreman in the jungle. No, check that – the last great Buick was the equivalent of George Foreman beating Michael Moorer to regain the heavyweight championship at the age of 45, two decades years after he lost the title to Ali. The GNX is the legitimate heir to the legendary GSX. You see, GM's RWD G platform was set to be replaced by the FWD A-body chassis in 1981. But due to high sales (hint, hint) the General decided to keep the Gs around for a few more years. The GNX then, was the final chance for Buick's engineers to show the world their unholy yet good stuff. And boy did they.
In 1982 Buick introduced the Nascar-inspired Grand National package for the aging Regal. For a small sum you could get an optional turbocharged (but not intercooled) 3.8-liter V6 good for 180 hp. Not bad for the early '80s. The car disappeared for a year and then popped back up in 1984 with fuel injection and an intercooler. Power continued climbing year by year and by the time 1987 showed up – the final year for the G-bodies – GM's juiced 3800 was cranking out a very respectable 245 horsepower. But that wasn't nearly enough. So, 547 fully optioned (though no t-tops or sunroofs) Grand Nationals were handed over to ASC/McLaren for a bit of polishing.
Remarkably, ASC/McLaren didn't alter a single bolt on the engine. But everything else was tweaked to within an inch of its life. Out went the factory turbo and in came a fast-spooling, ceramic-impellered Garrett turbocharger. The intercooler was beefed up and cold air was fed from it to the turbo via a ceramic-coated pipe. A Performance chip was added. The transmission was reprogrammed (though, still mechanically stout enough to handle the extra twist), a special torque-converter was added and a transmission-fluid cooler was bolted in place. A custom, low-restriction exhaust was fitted. The GNX was the only Regal ever offered with 16" wheels. These were machined from a lightweight alloy and were wider in the back than the front (P255/50VR16 vs. P245/50VR16). Wider arches, functional heat-sapping fender vents, a strengthened aluminum pumpkin and gallon after gallon of black paint were all part of the kit.
Results? The official numbers were blood-pumping. 276 hp, 360 lb-ft of torque, zero-to-60 in 5.7 seconds and the 1/4 mile in just over 14. Let's put this in perspective. The Corvette in 1987 was capable of hitting 60 mph in 5.9 seconds and turning a 14.5-second quarter mile. A Porsche 928 S4 of the same vintage was good for 5.5 seconds and 13.9. Those numbers are basically identical to a 1987 911 Club Sport's. Ferrari's wild-looking 12-cylinder boxer-engined Testarossa, a real live supercar, managed 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and the quarter mile in 13.6. Only the Lamborghini Countach LP500 QV was significantly faster, hitting 60 mph in 5.2 and breaking the 13 second barrier with a time of 12.9. Still, as the GNX only cost $29,900 (the GNX package was jaw-dropping $10,995 option over the Grand National's $19,000-ish sticker). The Countach? How about $100,000, more than three times as much.
Only thing was, the GNX's factory numbers were bullshit. GM being GM, it didn't want any of its vehicles outperforming the Corvette. So Buick was forced to fib. When the press cars were handed out, journos discovered actual power was closer to 300 horses and an unbelievable 400 lbs. ft of torque. The ASC/McLaren boys also went to work on the chassis, essentially building a dragster for the street. They ditched the rear control arms in favor of a ladder bar/panhard rod setup. The back of the ladder bar attaches to the passenger side of the differential (to prevent left-side up, right-side down twisting during brake stands) and the front attaches to a frame crossmember. For further stability they added a stamped diagonal brace behind the rear seat. All this tuning added up to a shocking zero-to-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds and quarter-mile best of 13.26 at 104 mph. Essentially, those were Countach numbers from a Buick sedan (although the Regal had just two doors, its structure and interior volume made it a sedan, technically – this is still being argued). These numbers are competitive even today; a Shelby's GT500 takes 4.5 to hit 60 mph and covers the 1/4 mile in 12.9.
The GNX also looked the part. All 547 dash-plaque numbered examples were black-on-black with all the badges (save one in the grill) deleted. Few cars have ever looked more bad-ass. Fewer still ever tried. The GNX is just evil, especially from the rear. That makes sense, considering the rear is the vantage point from which you'll most likely observe a GNX. (Look at those taillights!) Darth Vader indeed. Sadly, 1988 was the year Buick decided to "damage" itself and pursue the AARP/golfer set. But no matter how screwed up the Tiger Woods brand is today, none of that sadness can detract from the infamous glory of the GNX. My dream? To one day take a GNX onto a golf course and do some serious donuts. Which is of course, to paraphrase George Carlin, the kind of dream that kept me out of the really good schools. So be it. A final note: we're well aware that the GNX can't turn left or right. It was never supposed to.
[The Jalopnik Fantasy Garage appears every Tuesday. Readers vote the cars in or out. The idea is that we'll have 50 cars in our Fantasy Garage, the world's greatest mechanic and endless wads of cash. Would you like to nominate a car for the Fantasy Garage? Write email@example.com with the subject line "Fantasy."]
The Jalopnik Fantasy Garage, So Far:
RUF RT12 | Maserati Quattroporte Executive GT | 1978 Aston Martin V8 Vantage | Honda 1300 Coupe 9 | 1931 Daimler Double Six 50 Corsica Drophead Coupe | Ferrari 288 GTO | Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 | 1970 Buick GSX 455 | First Generation BMW M Coupe | Bugatti Veyron 16.4 | Ford GT | Citroen SM | Porsche 928 | Jensen FF | DeTomaso Vallelunga | Audi Quattro S1
2006 Woodward Dream Pre-Cruise: A Fleet Of Buick Grand Nationals And A GNX Get Their Cruise On; Crowning The King Of 1986: Audi Quattro S1 vs Ford RS200 vs Lancia Delta S4 vs Peugeot 205 TI6 [Internal]