Sunday, September 4, 2011

BUICK GRAND NATIONAL/GNX: BLACK AIR!

Buick’s uncharacteristic ‘Bad Boys' are the focus of a new documentary being shot by New York City Indie filmmaker, Andrew Filippone.
 “The GNX is an ax-wielding barbarian laying waste to everything in its path. It rockets to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds and squirts through the quarter-mile in 13.5 seconds at 102 mph,” wrote Tony Assenza in the May 1987 issue of Car & Driver.

The 1980s were lean years for muscle car enthusiasts. There were some bright spots: Corvette, 5.0 Mustang, IROC Camaro, Firebird Trans-Am and turbocharged-intercooled Buick Grand National/GNX. Arguably, the rare, high-boost GNX was the car to beat on the street and strip. BLACK AIR: THE BUICK GRAND NATIONAL DOCUMENTARY treats the revered GN & GNX as high-powered cultural phenomenons. If heavy metal music was a car, it would be a GNX!
Boosted Grand Nationals and Turbo Regals were built from 1984 to 1987. The idea behind the GNX concept (The Grand National To End All Grand Nationals) was hatched at Buick when Lloyd Reuss was General Manager. While the GNX was still in the development stage, Buick’s reins were turned over to Ed Mertz, also an engineer and GM Vice-President. Reuss moved up the ladder, eventually settling in as GM’s President

NOTE: In 1982 Lloyd Reuss brought me in as a PR consultant/contract agency to represent Buick and handle media relations on the East Coast. We (PMPR, Inc) had the GM PR contract from 1982 through 1999 and, in 1987, I authored BUICK GNX, the VIN-numbered coffee table book, left,  Buick gave to each GNX purchaser.

The GNX program was kicked off on April 25, 1986 with a memo and a presentation to Buick’s Chief Engineer, David S. Sharpe. It was titled: 1987 REGAL GRAND NATIONAL ‘SPECIAL EDITION.” The program was to create a dramatic "send off" for the final 200 production Grand Nationals. In a presentation to Buick management on August 25, 1987, Mike Doble, Manager, Buick Engineering’s Advanced Concepts Group, clarified the Special Edition project’s objective:
1987 GRAND NATIONAL GNX
“Create a limited-production Grand National that achieves a memorable place in the history of high-performance automobiles, one that car collectors will want to own and that automotive writers will never forget.”
The projected build was 200 vehicles. That number would grow to 547, with GNX #s 001, 002 and 500 retained by GM and Buick. Serial number 002, above at Pocono Speedway, originally assigned to my New York Press Fleet, was sold years later to a dealer after I had tried in vain to arrange its sale to Joe Oldham, Editor-In-Chief, Popular Mechanics magazine. Both Joe and his son Scott, currently Editor-In-Chief, Edmunds InsideLine, had driven #002 and fell in lust with it. Joe and Scott knew how fast that early-build GNX was and Joe didn’t want to pay the “vig” of $10,000 or more that dealers were adding on.
Powered by a special 3.8-Liter/231-cubic-inch Buick V6, above, rated at 276 horsepower at 4,400 rpm and 360 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm, a typical loaded Grand National with the $10, 995 GNX option package had an MSRP price of $29, 000. Actual horsepower was closer to 300 and early transaction prices were as high as $50,000!

While Buick built the basic Grand National ($17, 865) ASC, partnered with legendary race-engineering firm, McLaren Engines, was responsible for its modified (15-psi boost) engine and transmission, installing Goodyear Eagle Gatorback tires and special wheels, and engineering the performance rear suspension and exhaust system. They also executed interior and exterior body modifications including instruments and trim. GNX Prototypes #s 1 & 2, below, at Milan Dragway, Milan, MI, October 24, 1986 ran 13.30s and 13.40s with trap speeds as high as 104.38 mph.

Buick and the GNX pissed off a lot of people at GM in 1987. Chevrolet management and the Corvette Group believed that whenever quicker and faster cars were built at GM, Chevrolet would build them. They also didn’t appreciate the red & yellow “I Brake For Corvettes” bumper stickers that were popping up around Flint, Buick’s hometown. The GNX was quicker on the street and the quarter mile than a Corvette and at GM, that’s usually a NO-NO!

Then there was the late GM Chairman, Roger Smith who passed down the edict, “No GM cars would be subject to the (1978) Federal Gas Guzzler Tax.” However, the Buick GNX Team must have missed that memo! The 1987 GNX was rated at 15-mpg City and 23-mpg Highway and was subject to a Gas Guzzler Tax of $650.

After almost three decades, Grand Nationals and GNXs, left, are still respected as iconic performance vehicles that have achieved true cult status. Andrew Filippone has done an incredible job telling the story of what he respectfully refers to as Buick’s “Misfits.” He has spent a couple of years tracking down GN & GNX owners, racers and collectors, media who drove the cars and the key players responsible for engineering, styling and marketing at Buick & GM. He’s doing it all: Interviews, shooting the video, editing and taking it to final cut. And, he’s doing it on his own dime! It’s scheduled to be released in 2012.

For more information about BLACK AIR, THE GRAND NATIONAL DOCUMENTARY, and the Buick GNX:

Check out Andrew’s two-minute “Misfit” teaser video at, http://www.vimeo.com/27452222

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Black-Air-The-Buick-Grand-National Documentary/199753063411653?sk=wall

In 1987, Popular Mechanics ran a stock GNX against a twin-turbo Callaway Corvette: The GNX blew the Corvette's doors off: http://youtu.be/C0F-MdFIuOk

For more information about the GNX, please visit, http://www.buickgnx.com/

3 comments:

Carl Rychlik said...

What an awesome documentary about Buick's Grand National and GNX! I'm really looking forward to the release! These cars will never lose the public's interest.

Scott Teeters said...

Those cars NEVER looked "stodgy" to me. The first one I saw I thought, "That's one nasty, bad-ass car! You GOTTA love it!" Clearly, the Chevy guys were asleep. This is going to be a FUN film!

Anonymous said...

Dude really do love them even as a kid my father work for gm starting off at if I rememe right like$3.25 an hour , but anyway I use to have three of these cars,now im down to two and a custom 1985 buick regal with a 355 boil 40 over with over 500 hp in but my two gn or still factory .one is ttops and the other one has a power hole but now I waiting on the new one to hit the streets but got to keep the orig one