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Written by Double Dragon
Wednesday, 28 November 2012 14:41

1987 BUICK Grand National- Jim Wangers


87 grand national jim wangers logo

Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

Pontiac Motor Division maintained third place in sales during John DeLorean's charismatic leadership period of the 1960s. The Pontiac performance era created many Pontiac devotees. One of DeLorean's most avid 'soldiers' was advertising executive Jim Wangers whose job promoting Pontiac became an all consuming lifestyle. Pontiac dedication produced a triumph in marketing which has carried across the decades as witnessed by the many GTO clubs and shows in existence today.

Even after the DeLorean period ended, Jim Wangers kept returning to his beloved Pontiac. First as a Pontiac consultant and later as the owner of the Motortown Corporation which implemented final assembly for Jim's creation named the 1977 Pontiac Can Am.

87 buick grand national jim wangers

What would it take to induce such a fervent Pontiac believer as Jim Wangers into another brand of car? The answer is the 1987 Buick Grand National. Jim makes no bones about the Grand National,

"In my opinion this is one of the best cars Detroit ever built."

His only complaint is that,

"It should have been a Pontiac."

The Grand National was the first car in decades that Jim couldn't purchase fresh off the factory floor. His Pontiac connections didn't get him in the door at Buick. Jim had to buy the Grand National off a dealer lot. Despite paying a dealer markup, Jim was delighted with his new Grand National. In stock form these cars were true revivals of the classic era of musclecars.

Jim's serial number prefix 1G4GJ117XHP decodes as follows:

1 = Manufacturing Country USA
G = GM
4 = Buick
G = G body
J = Regal. GM didn't bother to specify which Regals were Grand Nationals in 1987.
1 = Two Door Coupe
1 = Restraint System uses manual belts
7 = LC2 3.8L SFI Turbo engine (available on all Regals, standard on the GN)
X = Check Digit
H = 1987 model year
P = Pontiac, Michigan assembly plant

The 1960s formula was reproduced: an intermediate car with some unique body identification coupled with a savage drive line priced at an affordable cost. The difference this time around was that it was 1987 and nothing other than the Grand National could match the performance standards of the 1960s. The Grand National met and exceeded the good old days straight line muscle while also passing emissions. The GN also returned decent fuel mileage when driven moderately enough to not invoke the turbo.

This wasn't the first time Buick came out with a musclecar that dominated the competition. Buick sat out a large segment of the 1960s musclecar wars under the radar with restrained styling on the Special GS and Riviera GS. Buicks were hindered by the derogatory 'nailhead' reputation that hot rodders placed on their engines. Coming from seemingly nowhere, Buick stunned everyone with the 1970 GS 455 Stage 1. The new induction system of huge valves feeding into massive cubes worked right. Buick was in Hemi territory with this engine. Buick didn't stop with King Kong power. Buick dazzled everyone by combining the 455 with the wild striped and spoilered GSX. If Dodge or Pontiac had unleashed this atom bomb of a car everyone would be knocked out, but because it came from modest Buick the car nuts were absolutely flabbergasted.

Like most of the other car companies, once the musclecar flame went out, Buick moved onto other things. The GS was kept around on the colonade A body now renamed Century, but it was a forgotten car by the mid seventies. As the 1970s flipped over to early 1980 Pontiac kept the faith with the Trans Am, while Chevy held on with the Corvette and Camaro. After the Duster 360 died, Chrysler revived the Roadrunner (an image package developed with some help from Jim Wanger's company Motortown) to fill its spot, but they didn't really have anything happening until the turbo Laser and Daytona briefly appeared. These turbos were fast up to 50 mph and then lost ground to their contemporary V8 competitors. Ford also played with a turbo GT Mustang before getting serious about developing the V8 Mustang 5.0. After briefly dabbling with turbos, everyone was making their way back to the old faithful V8 as the solution to lost performance.

Olds revived the musclecar days with a few 'tape package' 4-4-2 and Hurst/Olds cars that were reasonable with the 350, and even held a decent line with 307 smog engines. Chevy came out with a 165 horsepower 305 smog engine Monte Carlo SS. Everyone had an 'almost' musclecar. Guys could build them into the real thing with some 'Day Two' work, but out of the box they were 15 to 17 second quarter mile cars. Meanwhile no one noticed that Buick hadn't given up on the turbo, despite Chrysler and Ford losing interest.

With the developing market of quasi muscle cars available it was evident that buyers wanted looks and handling and would pay for it. If someone could duplicate the lost 1960s straight line performance then you would have a complete package. Suddenly out of nowhere Buick got their turbo worked out and dropped the bomb: the Grand National. Just like 1970 and the GSX 455 Stage 1 all over again, everyone was blindsided.

Significantly, Buick linked the Grand National option numerically as a progression of the GSX option. The GSX option is designated WE1 and the GN is WE2. Like the GSX, the Grand National wasn't just blindingly fast. The GN came with a similarly wild appearance package, spoilers, heavy duty suspension and fast ratio steering. Interestingly, the standard rear axle in the GN (which came standard with A/C) was the same as the GSX 'A/C' axle ratio: 3.42:1.

Where did the Grand National come from? No one saw this coming, but the Buick turbo had been around for a few years. Buick surprised everyone when a turbo powered 1976 Buick Century went around Indy 500 as the official pace car. Buick brochure tech articles mainly pointed to the turbo as a way to improve fuel economy and emissions. Buick extolled the virtues of an engine that only paid the gas and smog price under conditions of hard turbo use, otherwise you sailed along in luxury but with econo box numbers.

Aside from purportedly solving the CAFE standards, Buick was intently focused on developing some performance. Buick paced Indy 500 again in 1981 (4.1 V6 naturally aspirated Regal) and 1983 (twin turbo 4.6 V6 Riviera). Buick placed the 3.8 V6 turbo into a few 1978 Regals and Le Sabres. The availability expanded in 1979 to include the Century and Riviera. Still no ripples in the pond of complacency. People were vaguely aware of the fine tuning being done over at Buick.

Turbos were lost in a sea of GM innovation. Olds was also busy solving the CAFE standards in their own fashion by creating automotive diesel engines. Cadillac grabbed some attention when they tried out the V8-6-4. The Olds diesel and Cadillac V8-6-4 pissed off owners who perceived them to be problematic experiments. The Buick turbo thing seemed to be just another experiment destined to fizzle out and dropping sales seemed to support that perception as the 1980s unfolded.

Then suddenly Buick had it together in one package. You got the blacked out exterior, the seats with the turbo logo that were reminiscent of the old 1970 GSX prototype (those seats didn't make it to production in the GSX) and of course, a turbo with its issues solved and the ability to smoke everything else built that year. Over the next few years, the intercooler was figured out and a switch to SFI induction brought the Grand National together. It looked like a musclecar, it seated four like a musclecar, it performed like one but it was a new car with a warranty. Finally you could walk into a new car dealership and drive away in a real musclecar that could pull off classic quarter mile times immediately after leaving the dealership floor. Better than the 1960s musclecars, you could also drive it to work every day because the V6 without turbo delivered terrific gas mileage.

Buick placed the nifty turbo logo all over the car, even under hood as seen on Jim's 1987 hood insulation.

87 grand national jim wangers hood insulation logo

Jim Wangers couldn't resist the Grand National despite having Pontiac imprinted right into his bone marrow. Soon Jim owned one and after breaking it in and tuning it he was out on the street punishing all contenders.

87 grand national jim wangers d side engine

Before long, Jim's Grand National was the recipient of 'Day Two' upgrades to the turbo unit.

87 grand national jim wangers engine front

Many Grand National owners took things to the next step with the cars just like the 1960s musclecar guys used to do with headers, cams and ignition. This time around computer chips and turbos were being tweaked. The bigger turbo on Jim's car sends it into the low 13s in the quarter mile on a consistent basis.

Aside from the usual horsepower increases, a less frequently seen upgrade Jim made was a switch to a set of analogue VDO instruments. Jim wanted to be able to read his gauges and switched out the factory ones in favor of legibility. He also put on a set of GNX wheels.

87 grand national jim wangers GNX rear wheel

Jim was having fun with his Grand National but he soon owned two turbo cars. Pontiac used the Buick engine to release the 1989 Turbo Trans Am Indy Pace Car. Jim had to own that one. You can read about Jim's Turbo Trans Am in the ONE OWNER section of this website. Once he had the Turbo T/A Jim focused on getting his turbo kicks from the Pontiac.

Jim sold the Grand National to his nephew in the mid 1990s. Years down the line, the Grand National ended up back in Jim's collection, still in the family and still as fun to drive now as it was 25 years ago.

The car has logged a few more miles than the usual super low miles typical of a Wangers fleet machine but is still in good shape.

87 grand national jim wangers driver seat

For instance, there is some wear showing on the driver's door armrest pull shown below for, but nothing drastic. Any chips or scratches incurred on a Wangers car are fixed immediately, so the car is still very presentable.

87 grand national jim wangers driver door pull

Now that Jim is 86 he is selling off some of his cars including this Grand National. See the FOR SALE section of this website for more information.

UPDATE. Jim's 1987 Grand National sold. Jim owned the car from his purchase of the car as a new model off a dealer lot until he sold it to his nephew in the 1990s. The car returned to Jim around the new century meaning he personally owned it about 20 years. It was in the family for 27 years.

Last Updated ( Friday, 14 May 2021 14:53 )