During the heyday of the American muscle-car craze, the Detroit mantra for horsepower was "Bigger is always better."
Then big changes started occurring in the 1970s as a reaction to rising gas prices, higher inflation and steeper insurance premiums. Performance fell out of favor with the car-buying public during this time of uncertainty.
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However, a shrinking market wouldn't keep the automakers from letting a few hot machines slip out of their factories. How else can you explain anomalies like the Buick Grand National?
Produced during 1980s, the Grand National wasn't your grandparents' stodgy, grocery-getting Buick. Unlike its four-wheeled predecessors that relied on eight cylinders, the Grand National utilized a V-6 engine, bolstered with a turbocharger to make its tire-smoking magic.
John O'Connell owns a 1987 example of this fast machine, the final year of the model's production. The last Grand National rolled off the assembly line on Dec. 11, 25 years ago this week. O'Connell can attest to the auto's all-out performance nature.
"I don't race the car, nor do I take it to the drag strip, but even on the open road or tollway, I quickly figured out why it was the fastest production car of 1987," the Lake Zurich resident said. When the Garrett T-3 turbocharger kicks in, it actually throws you back in the seat, he says.
"The car will get away from you in no time if you're not careful to watch the throttle."
After being assembled in the Pontiac, Mich., his coupe was sent to a buyer in Ottawa, Canada, before eventually making its way to a 2006 auction in Pennsylvania. It was purchased by a Roselle dealer and brought back to the Chicago area, and shortly after O'Connell made the acquisition.
"The vehicle was in good cosmetic condition, but mechanically neglected," he said. With the help of his son, John Jr., the gear head performed a proper overhaul. At some point the 231-cubic-inch V-6 had been fitted with an aftermarket intake system, which was the first thing to go.
To aid in the exhaling process, the well-worn, low-restriction exhaust system with dual mufflers was replaced with a new unit. The Turbo-Hydramatic 200-4R transmission received a rebuild and a new torque converter.
To put the race-ride back into the suspension, new coil springs and shocks were mounted at each corner. The interior also got a refresh: new upholstery, door panels and roof panels to the gray and black cabin.
The all-black exterior is made even more sinister with the addition of factory blacked-out bumpers, headlight and taillight trims and grille. To bring back some sparkle to that sinister demeanor, the original 16-inch wheels were rechromed.
Performance for the Grand National was rated at a 13.5-second, 102-mph quarter mile with a zero-to-60 mph time of 4.7 seconds.
"I honestly feel GM stubbed their toe when they built these highly potent cars," O'Connell said, because its engine outperformed those in GM's standard-bearer. "I'm sure there were a lot of Corvette owners who were more than a little disappointed with their purchase."
O'Connell said there is a documentary, "Black Air," being released this week in conjunction with the 25-year anniversary to commemorate the Grand National powerhouse.
"It's mind-blowing to think that the stereotypical '60s and '70s muscle cars commonly had such displacements as 409, 440, 455. Here's this V-6 engine and for all practical purposes, is half the size," he said. "Despite that, it still runs with the big boys."