Jan 18, 2014

Week 3: 1987 Buick Regal GNX

"We have around 114 million pounds of debt." -Gerard Lopez

If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, I believe that I may have inadvertently created the first super-highway.  You see, when one is paid to drive a car for a living, there comes with it a certain amount of unspoken expectations that one is expected to follow.  You might think that being paid to race cars for several hours each weekend would include 5-star hotels, celebrity status and enough supermodels to satisfy Max Mosely.  Even if you aren't a Formula One driver, automotive journalists enjoy quite a few luxuries that the average enthusiast can only dream and read about.  Who needs Hollywood when you can obtain the same lifestyle whilst doing over 200 mph?

   What they don't talk about, at least not often enough, is the dark side.   When you're a top Formula One driver you're expected to win championships, and if you aren't a top driver, you're expected to be one the following year regardless of what you're given.  Likewise, journalists are expected to attract more and more viewers and readers each year, until eventually everyone on the planet becomes so obsessed with automobiles that the Kardashians can no longer find employment.  Even pizza delivery drivers are expected to be at their destinations within 30 minutes, even if that's in another country entirely.  Above all else, the principle expectation that every driving profession requires is this: DON'T BREAK THE DAMN CAR!


   As with nearly every tale of regret, it all started innocently enough.  One of the audio technicians and I were having a spirited debate about the differences between Van Halen and Van Hagar while waiting for delivery of this week's car.   The technician, who's name has been withheld until the trial, preferred the sex-driven lyrics of the man-child David Lee Roth, while I preferred the maturity and depth that Sammy Hagar introduced.  Both of us agreed that the differences between 1984 and 5150 were about the same as those of James Carville and Marlee Matlin, and both of us agreed that although the two were distinctly different, the sound was still uniquely Van Halen.  It wasn't like today's music, when every time you turn on the radio you are assaulted by something from a glorified YouTube user, who's music is nearly indistinguishable from Madonna.

   When the transport truck arrived with the car, I took the opportunity to jump, and clocked the technician across the jaw.  He had just paraphrased the American Vice President Joe Biden when he said "Sammy Hagar is nothing more than a noun, a verb, and Cabo Wabo."  While he was regaining conscientiousness, I was busy unloading the Darth Vader of Detroit, the 1987 Buick Regal GNX.  While the tech briefly thought about retaliation, it was the sound of the Buick's V6 that reminded him that I still had the upper hand, on top of being handed a lethal weapon.  Another wrong word and he might give me the satisfaction of knowing what it's like to lay down tyre marks of a color other than black.  But instead of being focused on revenge, I was distracted by the sudden flood of disappointment that filled my brain.

   Ah, GM...


According to Polyphony Digital (via Translator-san):
  "In 1987, the Buick company made the decision that, within the year, production would have to come to an end for its high-performance Regal Grand National, which was released three years earlier in 1984."

 "At the time, the Grand National was a limited production model designed to draw attention to Buick's high-performance.  However, every model eventually must come to its and, and for the Grand National it was the "Grand National to end all Grand Nationals."

  "The last Grand National later to be called the GNX, was also the ultimate Grand National produced by ASC/McLaren, a company with an excellent reputation for turbo tuning, who had built a factory in Los Angeles."

 "ASC took orders from Buick, and chose to fit the cars with Garret AiResearch ceramic impellers and over-sized intercoolers, with specially-ordered engine management computers from Bosch.  What resulted was a car that was special even among other specialty cars.  One that distinguished itself from so-called mass produced cars."

  "The engine used the same 3.8-liter V6 turbo as the normal Grand National, with maximum output raised from the normal 242 HP to 276 HP.  Due to the qualities of a turbo charged engine, this could easily be taken to over 296 HP with only minor modifications."

  "It could do 0 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, and the quarter-mile in 13.4 seconds.  It goes without saying that these were world-class times for the mid-eighties."

  "Only 547 of these cars- whose name means "Grand National Experimental"- were built, but most of those are now well maintained by dedicated fans of the car."

  If there's anything more annoying than a muscle car enthusiast, it's the brands they follow.  Don't get me wrong, during the Golden Age each produced fine examples for their time, and each have built icons that have managed to stand the test of time.  While Ford gave us the Mustang, they also completely ruined it with the sequel, the Mustang II.  Likewise, Chrysler (pronounced Mopar) introduced the Charger, then years later forgot to give it a manual transmission.  Chevrolet produced the Camaro to give rapists a form of transportation, and the Corvette to compete with pensioner's retirement plans.  It's as though they've stumbled upon the cure for baldness, then followed it up with products that ensure that you go bald with no possible cure.

   So even though I've only driven the car exactly 5 feet and no more, the amount of disappointment I feel has been psychologically conditioned into me because I've seen what those brands have become.  Ford experienced the same feelings when it first broke into the SUV market, Chrysler needed a Ford executive to bail itself out before ending up where it is again, and General Motors somehow thought that Geo and Saturn were brilliant ideas.  This conditioning is only reinforced when you visit Detroit, now financially and morally bankrupt by it's own gluttony and greed. If ever there were a Mecca for cock-ups, this is surely it.  Yet I'm "expected" to be impartial.


Performance (as purchased): January 10, 2014, Black (Do you really have to ask?)
Displacement: 3,791 cc
Max. Power: 289 HP @ 4,500 rpm
Max. Torque: 377.9 ft-lb @ 3,000 rpm
Drivetrain: FR
Length: 200.6 in., Height: 54.6 in., Width: 71.6 in., Weight: 1600 kg
Tires: Comfort (Soft)
Performance Points: 434
Mileage: 263.2 mi.

   After looking over the numbers, you might ask yourself "why can't this be love", but let me assure you, lurking beneath the skin of our barely legal Regal is the heart of the problem.  You see, ever since the departure of Bunckie Knudesen, General Motors has been run by accountants.  They handle everything from administrative tasks like payroll, technical tasks like fuel economy and build quality, to labor disputes and vehicle design.  Rather than lose a few pennies in order to print dollars bills, they'd rather save those pennies and the associated labor that it takes to print the money.   Instead of ensuring that the rest of its lineup has the same research and development as the CTS or Corvette, they blow it on ridiculous advertising and cheap materials.  GM had the Nikola Tesla of the muscle car, and rather than milking his talent while dancing the night away, they can't even finish what they've started!

   So it's with an incredible amount of trepidation that I took delivery of this week's car.  The old saying goes: expect the worst, hope for the best, and that couldn't be more appropriate than right here, right now.  Although Buick has been in the business longer than anyone else in America, they aren't exactly known for their hair-raising performance.  There were certainly marks in the 60s that held reverence with knuckle-draggers like the Skylarks and Wild Cats, but as soon as folks like John DeLoran and the aforementioned Bunkie left, Buick reverted back to the luxury brand they were before.  Also, it's worth keeping in mind that with the exception of styling, GM products were built then like they are now, by swapping parts from a bin.  The styling may be original but then again so is a receipt, and how many of you keep the receipts from your accountant?  Don't worry... I'll wait.


   The producer and I left the car in the expert hands of our Super Best Friends at the Superest of Aguri to ensure that the car was up to spec, while we made travel preparations and enjoyed the comforts of central air conditioning.  It'd be up to them to guarantee that the car was safe and in perfect running order, a task made infinitely easier by the current owner who keeps the car in immaculate condition.  Although I can't begin to fathom why, Buick owners remain exceedingly loyal to the mark and typically own more than just one.   Rare cars like this are made even more exceptional by the lack of changes needed.  At nearly 30 years old, the wiring, bushings and paint look like they've just come directly from the factory.  Even the tyres had the correct inflation.  The only change we made was the oil because horsepower is like cocaine, and just like in the 80's, everybody wants some.

   A few hours later it was determined that instead of enjoying an exotic location like Panama or Monaco, we'd instead head back to The Green Hell to put the Grand National through its paces.   I believe I would've had better luck debating the back of Helen Keller's head than with the producer, because every objection I had was met with reminders of who I worked for and the debt I owed.   Rather than poke a volcano and pray to the gods to prevent an eruption, I signed the consent forms with the belief that our trip to the Nurburgring Nordscleife would go just as smoothly as it had with the Volvo before.  The only difference, and the root cause of my apprehension, was that neither the producer or myself actually owned the car. Driving an asthmatic  Volvo would be a piece of cake compared to flogging a Buick, let alone a turbocharged Buick, and then there are the expectations which are increased exponentially by the addition of a third party.  Regardless of my concerns, I was clearly in no position to either bargain or object.


   Our arrival in Der Fatherland went smoothly enough, our luggage actually making the trip instead of being rerouted to Singapore, and the hotel wasn't a shed.   Likewise, our arrival to the gates of The Green Hell also went without hindrance or delay.  I was beginning to think that I was worried about nothing until we started discussing the details about the run.  I'd almost completely forgotten about my previous apprehensions until the owner, Jamie, showed up to look over his car before we began.   "No problem," I thought, "I'll just drive like Ann Coutler in church and no one will be the wiser."  With no electronic equipment to betray my feedback to the producer and writers, it would be like getting a free lap along a lovely countryside without any traffic.

   "We'll be monitoring your run with this" the producer said, holding up a stop watch.  I've never pretended to be Doyle Brunson, but I must've done something right because I didn't see any reaction from his face or mannerisms to my reaction to the news.   I hoped that I looked like the original icecream man Kimi Raikkonen on the outside, because inside I was screaming like a petrified little girl.  I was given a target time of eight minutes, forty five seconds, which around this track is no small feat.   Rather than driving Ms. Daisy, I was expected to be running with the Devil.  Granted, I've been on flat out high speed runs here before without incident, but in cars known for their balance and handling.  Buicks are known for their luxurious handling, which is infinitely different than the performance driving that I'd actually be doing.  The Best Friends advised me that the Buick had revised shocks and springs compared to the base model, but to be honest it came as no consolation at all.

   Minutes later... I was off.

   To be honest, I don't remember much of the accident.  What I do remember is waking up to metal being peeled away from all around me, then the helicopter ride to the hospital, then waking up to Jamie crying on about his damaged baby.  While he and the insurance adjuster were screaming, and with the equivalent of enough narcotics for several third-world nations in my system, what was meant as an apology and desperate plea for mercy instead came out as "so, that's 546 then?"  Had I not slipped back into unconsciousness a second later, I might have paid for that remark.  Understandably so.

   Despite much whinging, I was released two days later.  I hadn't suffered any life-threatening injuries from the accident, but you'd never know that from the bills that arrived a week later.  Our producer had managed to find another GNX and was able to procure its use with only one condition, that it be used in a race.  I expressed my relief (I wasn't), and my producer expressed his gratitude (he wasn't).  After going over the numbers, taking this opportunity to drive the Grand National would be the only means of paying off my medical bills, nevermind the car I'd also have to pay for.  Rather than swimming, choking, or even drowning in debt, I became the poster child epitome of it.

   Work hard kids, and all of this can be yours...


   Learning from our previous mistakes, this time I'd be given a fair go in an effort to get acclimated and accustomed to the nuances of the Buick.  Some around the office that had watched the video felt that I had reacted to the car's tendencies rather than inducing and controlling them, and for all I know they could very well be right.  Even though my concussion and time had passed, the only thing I remembered from the incident was to take two pills every 12 hours for pain, and then to not make any plans for the following few hours.  We met up with owner of the second car, Chuck, and were taken on a lap around the Datyona International Speedway.

   While I can appreciate the accomplishments of Buick and the Grand National in NASCAR, it's absolutely physically impossible for me to stay awake beyond two consecutive left turns.   When we left the pits, Chuck began educating us on the nuances of Daytona.  Down the back stretch he pointed out Buick's long-time association and success within NASCAR, as well as the differences between the production car and its racing counterpart.  By the end of the second turn, it was lights out.   I'm not a doctor but I'm pretty sure that Automotive Narcolepsy is a thing and I have it.  Indanapolis 500?  I can't even get a mile and a half into it without passing out like the town drunk on an all night bender. Sprint races?  I could have the exhausted plugged directly into my ears, yet still be asleep before the end of the first lap.

  Two weeks later, off the narcotics and with plenty of discomfort, I once again dressed in Nomex to tempt the hand of fate in the crucible of motorsport.  A group of Regal enthusiasts nearby had rented the quasi-infamous Trial Mountain circuit, and it would be there that I would compete amongst the other amateur boy racers.  The entrants weren't strictly limited to Regals, but there were plenty of them.  A Flock of Regals, you might say, with the other notable entrants being a Honda NSX and S2000, as well as a Dodge Ram pickup.  I'm not sure why that person though that circuit racing a pickup truck on a technical course like Trial Mountain was a good idea, but I'm almost certain that it has to do with local government cuts to education spending.  Or drugs.   Or both.

   In the actual race, I was quite relieved to find that although I'd recently been through a traumatic accident, I still maintained the racer's desire to win.  However, while being in a stock Grand National, I was also hampered by my lack of acceleration relative to those around me.  Combined with nerves of pudding, the first few laps served to evaluate my skills and the tendencies of the car.  Oddly, somewhere between the accident and the race, I seemed to have discovered... control?


   I can't say for sure what exactly popped back into place in my brain, but by the second lap I got much better and more aware of inputs needed and changes to the environment around me.   It was then that the Honda S2000 began his attack, and with my newly found sense of control, I was going to be damned if I let another car by!  Turn after turn we went head-to-head, the S2000 pulling out it's knife and taking stabs every time I bothered looking.   If I'd found the absolute leading edge of performance, he'd have to surpass it in order to get by!  Despite being in the slower car, I was giving everything that both the car and myself had to give, and it seemed to be working.

   When the checkered flag dropped, my blind and greedy rage-filled determination had actually produced a positive result.  While you might not be surprised, I sure as hell was, because usually those rage-filled runs end in a similar manner to that which happened in Germany.   This time, however, I had the supreme satisfaction of not only the final result, but also the knowledge that there was absolutely nothing more that car could've done.  We both were completely spent, and although exhausted, we'd manage to keep a much faster car behind us as well as earn a podium finish.  As far as I was concerned, that was a win.

​   After the many celebratory alcoholic refreshments, Chuck expressed his appreciation for the showing that the car earned.  I wouldn't have to worry about funding the repairs to the Jamie's GNX, as Chuck took over the expense as an opportunity to meet up with a fellow GNX owner.  And from what I understand, Jamie's car is 90% restored already.  The money made from the race covered a majority of my medical expenses, and the exposure from the excitement of the race has already landed us a lead on our next car to test.  Given everything that's happened during our test, that's a miracle!

   So, then, what's not to love?

   Well, I ain't talking about love.  The Buick managed an impressive performance against stiff competition, on a road course no less, but it leaves me with far more questions about why GM doesn't replicate this success with other cars.  For instance, the CTS-V is now gathering its own cult following similar to the GNX, and it has also thrived on The Ring.   And while that might seem like a good thing, remember that it's happening at the expense of the Camaro.  If there's one thing that's hated by accountants more than I hate muscle car enthusiasts, it's expenses.  It's only a matter of time before some bean counter finds the executive that's creating these performance variants, and axes them, too.  It might seem like their cars offer dreams of pretty women, but since the 60's, General Motors hasn't exactly had a history of letting engineers have their poundcake and eat it too.

  Although the GNX has made me hot for teacher, she'll eventually end up as the lunch lady, and that's no fault of Buick's.

*The views and opinions expressed in this review do not necessarily reflect those of the manufacturer, the publisher, GTPlanet.net or it's members, nor anyone with an IQ above 3.  If you have a history of epilepsy or seizures, consult a doctor before use.  Certain patterns may trigger seizures with no prior history.  Before using see the instruction manual included with your system for more details.  For previous reviews, please visit: McClarenDesign's Very Serious SLS AMG Reviews of the Car of the Week N Stuff.   All videos were filmed before a live studio audience.  Car setup monitored by Dark Lion Racing's GT6 Tunes and Tricks app on Android, as administered by Super Best Friends Super Aguri.  No goats were harmed in the making of this review that we are aware of.  This product may cause significant hair loss, headaches, and damage to the immune system.   Best wishes to Michael Schumacher!

-Super Previous Super Reviews-
Insightful... but bollocks: Introduction To Failure (or How I went from a Very Serious SLS AMG to Super Best Friends Super Aguri)
Week 1: '10 Peugeot RCZ

Week 2: '88 Volvo 240 GLT Estate