Home » Buick Made A Second Grand National Out Of The LeSabre Then Forgot To Add The Grand Part: Glorious Garbage

Buick Made A Second Grand National Out Of The LeSabre Then Forgot To Add The Grand Part: Glorious Garbage

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I know two words that can make a General Motors enthusiast’s heart skip a beat: Grand National. The sinister coupe and its turbocharged V6 have captivated the hearts and minds of car fans for over 40 years. What if I told you Buick didn’t just give the Grand National treatment to the Regal? Indeed, Buick also made a LeSabre Grand National. It was black, it looked serious, and it even had a NASCAR tie-in. There was just one problem, as Buick had forgotten about the whole “Grand” part. Like all Glorious Garbage entries thus far, Buick paired a great performance name to the LeSabre, but it was all show and no go.

Now, this is not to say the LeSabre Grand National was a bad car. We have a lot of GM front-wheel-drive fans in our audience and had Buick given these cars just a little more spice, this could have even been a Holy Grails entry. Glorious Garbage celebrates cars that miss the mark, but are still glorious in their own little way. Somewhere, someone loves these LeSabre Grand Nationals more than the Regal-based Grand National and we love that. Someone who cares about rarity might even be excited to hear that Buick produced 113 or 117 LeSabre Grand Nationals, making it rarer than the Regal Grand National and possibly the rarest LeSabres.

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Yet, the rarity might be the best part about the LeSabre Grand National. Buick even placed the Grand National turbo badge on these cars and they weren’t even boosted. Let’s take a look.

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When you look into the history of the Regal-based Grand National, you’ll read about how Richard Petty won the first race of the 1981 season, the Daytona 500, from behind the wheel of the Regal. The Buick Regal became a dominant force in racing with Darrell Waltrip racing a Regal to championship wins in 1981 and 1982. This was a perfect moment for Buick to use the Regal as a vehicle to improve its image with younger car buyers and the automaker wasted no time cranking out a hot and dark Regal. A year later, the Grand National started as an option package before it became its own model.

Through the wizardry of a turbocharger, the V6-powered Grand National was nearly as fast as a Corvette. Adding an intercooler made it a V8-killing muscle car that left GM’s own sports car in the dust. Toss in black paint plus blacked-out trim and Buick was ready to embrace an image of being the bad guy:

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By 1986, the Regal’s competition on the track had caught up. As Mac’s Motor City Garage writes, the Ford Thunderbird began laying waste to GM’s racers and something had to be done. Chevrolet tossed in its Monte Carlo while Pontiac submitted the Grand Prix. Buick decided to pull the Regal out of the competition. Its replacement came a bit out of left field. Buick tapped its aerodynamic H-body LeSabre for track battle.

Yes, the LeSabre was a front-engine, front-wheel-drive car with a transverse V6. But that didn’t matter, NASCAR approved the new vehicle, along with the H-body-based Oldsmobile Delta 88, for competition. Of course, the racers would be tube-frame beasts with rear-wheel-drive and powerful V8s, but they would at least look like the showroom models thanks to a slick body.

One change made to the body of the LeSabre for racing was the addition of a pair of aerodynamic window panels. Check them out in the image below:

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Miller American Racing via eBay

Apparently, the panels smoothed out the rear, reducing drag. To make this mod legal for racing and as a promotion for racing fans, Buick decided to sell a racing-inspired LeSabre to the public. Only this time, Buick would not even half-ass the job.

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National Without The Grand

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Buick via eBay

In keeping with its mission to attract the youth, Buick modified a handful of LeSabres into what it called the LeSabre Grand National. Unlike the Regal Grand National we all know and love, Buick didn’t add any extra ponies to the LeSabre Grand National. Instead, you got RPO WE2, which is largely an aesthetics package applied to a black or white car.

The most notable difference between a regular LeSabre and the LeSabre Grand National is the addition of plastic window panels. As noted, these helped make the racing body legal. Here, they’re just covering up a regular glass window. You also got alloy wheels, which were used on other Buick models, and the LeSabre’s touring suspension package. Buick didn’t even fully commit to blacking out the car, as you’ll see chrome trim still present. Pop open the door and you’ll spot an unchanged gray cloth interior.

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Also unchanged is what’s under the hood. You get a 3.8-liter V6, but it’s making the same 150 HP found in other LeSabres. That’s bolted to an automatic transmission. All H-body LeSabres came with a 4T60 four-speed automatic transmission and the Grand National was no different. As for the H-body itself, the platform launched in 1986 and featured unibody construction, independent suspension featuring MacPherson struts, and the vehicles that rode on the platform had windshields with a steep rake.

Perhaps the biggest insult was the addition of the badging from the Regal-based Grand National. Only, the turbo-6 badge is all red, as opposed to red and yellow on the Regal Grand National. Yet, as you just read above, there wasn’t a turbo in sight. Depending on who you ask, Buick made 112 or 117 of these and the price was $1,237 ($3,465 today) on top of a regular $14,108 ($39,524 today) LeSabre. All of the LeSabre Grand Nationals had the same equipment, so what you see is what you get, no matter which one you buy.

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Apparently, Buick was supposed to make more of these, but the decision was made to stop marketing Buick as a performance brand. Instead, Buick began pushing its image toward luxury and comfort. The LeSabre Grand National ended up being sold for just a single year and was replaced by the LeSabre T-Type. By 1988, LeSabres were even taken out of NASCAR. Buick ran just three in 1986 and four in 1987.

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Thus, we’re left with a car that’s simultaneously much rarer than the Grand National we all know and love, but also one that is less desirable. It is, after all, just a regular LeSabre with Grand National badges and some plastic window covers. The suspension upgrade should make it a better driver, but it’s unclear by how much.

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Buick via eBay

Still, the LeSabre Grand National is a special car. If you own one of these, you get to say you own a seriously rare car. I’d also be willing to bet that few people you run across will know that Buick made a Grand National that wasn’t based on a Regal. In other words, you’ll almost certainly be the only one at a car show with one of these. And if you’re a fan of the LeSabre, the Grand National is almost certainly the rarest of them all.  Also, this is a case of rarity not equaling value. Here’s one for sale for just $8,500, and I bet you could negotiate the seller down further.

So, I welcome the LeSabre Grand National with open arms. It’s Glorious half-assed Garbage, and one I’d be happy to see in real life.

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Kasey
Kasey
3 months ago

I’d like to see a Glorious Garbage entry on the Suzuki Works Techno (SWT) appearance package offered on the Suzuki Aerio and Reno.

LTDScott
LTDScott
3 months ago

I’m a sucker for low production attempts at sporty versions of regular cars like this.

The Buick Century Gran Sport was the A-Body version of this complete with a similar “6” fender badge although with unique wheels.

https://barnfinds.com/only-1500-built-1986-buick-century-gran-sport/

Mike B
Mike B
3 months ago

Not even bucket seats – so disappointing. That said, I like the steering wheel, simple dash, and that bench looks oh so comfy. I kind of miss riding in GM cars from this area, they were quite comfy to be in.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
3 months ago

The T-Type LeSabre looks better than this…

Madewithgenuineparts
Madewithgenuineparts
3 months ago

The wheels do make a more affordable substitute for someone trying to find sawblades from a C4 for their MK4 VW though!

Christo Arvanitis
Christo Arvanitis
3 months ago

My takeaway from this was what I saw in the Grand National ad linked in this article. As (I assume it’s him) George Thorogood sings, “200 horsepower”. Is that right? All that fuss over 200hp? Am I missing something. There’s a guy in my neighborhood in MA and it is his pride and joy. Cool piece of automotive history but was that all it had for juice?

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
3 months ago

The last (1987) GNX had 276 horsepower, the regular Grand National reached 235, and that doesn’t sound like much today, but you have to remember this was peak malaise. At the time, a base Corvette pushed 240 bhp, a Ferrari Testarossa made a brain-melting 390 bhp, and a Porsche 911 Turbo made 300. The time was different, “advanced” cars were using single-point EFI and we hadn’t figured out how to overcome catalytic converters yet. Then, consider that the Grand National cost 20 grand to the Corvette’s 30, and made more power. Given the current Stingray costs 64k and makes 500hp, a regular Grand National would be the modern equivalent of getting a Scat Pack for 40k, that’s a 10 grand discount.

Mike B
Mike B
3 months ago

In addition to what Ricardo said, legend has it the power figures of these cars were underrated by GM.

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
3 months ago

I do remember when these came out and the uproar of the turbo shaped badge. Kinda like if someone slapped a “turbo” badge on an electric car today… oh, wait…

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
3 months ago

The “glorious” is silent.

Ben Chia
Ben Chia
3 months ago

Oh gosh I remember this! I had a toy car of one of these when I was a kid. It looked pretty cool.

beachbumberry
beachbumberry
3 months ago

It’s wild how much more of an old man car the next generation of le Sabre was. I had a 96 I inherited (seriously) and loved that car. It was a couch with wheels, was reliable, carried 6 people, and got surprisingly great gas mileage. Also had plastic fenders.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
3 months ago

I guess when GM comes out with the TiKTok edition Equinox, I should buy one and shrink wrap it for 30 years.

Dar Khorse
Dar Khorse
3 months ago

Holy cats! What a cynical cash-grab on the part of GM. That was really interesting, Mercedes. Thanks for caring the torch for, um, Torch. After Jason, you and Adrian are tied for “favorite Autopian writer” in my book.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
3 months ago

These were just a joke. As were almost all production based NASCAR wannabe cars, especially in the 80s. Even the SS Monte Carlo and Pontiac Grand Prix offerings were a laugh, and absurd to consider. Unless you go back to the Daytona Chargers and Plymouth Superbirds. They were truly the closest to what was actually racing than anything offered since.

But this piece of shit makes me ill just to look at. But not surprising for GM at anytime in history.
And thanks Mercedes.

Last edited 3 months ago by Col Lingus
Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
3 months ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

The Monte SS and the Grand Prix just made me mad as a kid – great looking cars, but completely half-assed where it counted. I mean, tuned port injection was right there on the shelf at GM. All they had to do was bolt it on. Neither of those cars ever being offered with the L98 350 – or, if that was too much to ask, at least the LB9 305 – was a damn shame. I would look at “homologation” cars like the GP 2+2 and wonder why they had absolutely no guts. If they exist to be accepted for NASCAR, why the hell aren’t they just as fast as you can make them? I mean, hey, General, I know it’s 1986 and all, but you’ve still got more available beans than this to put under the hood. Meanwhile, over at Buick, the Grand National is like “Yeah, what the hell’s the matter with you guys?”

Of course, that was around the time NASCAR cars resembled the “factory” models less and less each year, resulting in this damn thing, and carrying on to “the car of tomorrow,” which is unavailable in any form at your local dealership. Make stock car racing stock again.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
3 months ago

I want to see them replace the truck series with a SUV/CUV type series at this point.

rctothefuture
rctothefuture
3 months ago
Reply to  Col Lingus
rctothefuture
rctothefuture
3 months ago

“There ain’t nothing ‘stock’ about stock car racing”

GM had no need to make the NASCAR street cars the fastest or the most interesting. They wanted to win at the track and get a sucker into a Caprice or a Bonneville for his family. The idea of building a “race car for the road” isn’t necessary when people just associate your brand with racing success. Could GM have made the Monte and GP the hottest thing around? Sure they could, but who would buy them? Would it be worth all that effort at the time when there was plenty of profit to be made elsewhere? Look at the Grand National, most folks don’t know it was named for NASCAR, they think it’s just the name Buick chose.

The Grand National was only supposed to be a trim package for the Regal. The fact that Buick decided to throw in a Turbo 6 similar to their Indy program was in some ways more of an engineering test than anything else. Most turbo projects from GM had been abject failures, so if they could make a successful V6 Turbo program, it would show that GM could keep up with Chrysler and Ford in the technology department. The fact that the car was so quick, menacing, and fun to drive came from the engineers more than the accountants.

The Grand National program is a lot like the Fiero. Take something that was just supposed to fill one role (Fiero=Commuter Car, Regal GN=Trim package) and then turn into a performance car to rival the Corvette. Then in 1988, kybosh the whole program and move on like it never happened.

Mike B
Mike B
3 months ago

I always thought that too – the L98 should have been offered in ALL V8 vehicles GM made in that era.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

> But this piece of shit makes me ill just to look at.

Idk why but that made me lol

T-Keith
T-Keith
3 months ago

The T-type did indeed replace the Lesabre Grand National, it had the same option code (WE2). I believe both got a shorter drive gear and gran touring suspension (FE4) and 15″ aluminum wheels(14s were still the standard), so it’s not fair to say they did nothing for performance.

The T-type got bucket seats and a console shifter, rear spoiler(88-89) a unique steering wheel and a full gauge cluster with red/orange lighting. Obviously it would have been nice to get the turbo, but they did have a lot of additional sporty features. They also made an Electra T-type which got some of the above features, in a subtler package.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
3 months ago
Reply to  T-Keith

Growing up, one of my good friend’s dad had a LeSabre T-Type. It was actually a pretty cool car. I mean, yeah, it’s no E30 M3 or anything like that, but still decently cool. Last I heard he still has it.

Angular Banjoes
Angular Banjoes
3 months ago

This “Grand National” was a stupid, cynical, low-effort marketing exercise at best. Slap some ugly plastic panels over the rear windows, stick a GN badge on it, paint it black, and call it a day. I hate it. Oddly though, I actually kinda love the T-Type that came after. I know they’re effectively the same thing, but the facelifted H-Body just looked so much better, and without the (incredibly tenuous) NASCAR connection, it felt more like a genuine product instead of a marketing exercise.

Mthew_M
Mthew_M
3 months ago

These, at the very least, are good looking cars. Shame they didn’t do anything about the power, but, the 440T-4 couldn’t handle anywhere near the power of the Turbo 3.8, and the S/C 3800 L67 we all know and love was still a few years away. I think the bigger problem though was that the Cadillac 4.1 V8 was already being outshone by the 3.8 V6 in the ‘lesser’ brands, and boosting it would have just added insult to injury.

rctothefuture
rctothefuture
3 months ago

The switch to the LeSabre was also due to the fact that Buick didn’t want to change the aero profile on the Regal for NASCAR competition. They knew the LeSabre had done much better in initial aero mockups when competing against the Chevy and Pontiac AeroCoupe’s. Nothing much else was beating the Thunderbird at the time. So instead of re-designing the Regal for NASCAR, they went with the LeSabre which was already “aero” enough.

I remember reading a book about the Allison race team and that they didn’t want Buick to pullout of NASCAR. But, Buick’s engines were big in IndyCar and Buick was basically told by GM brass to focus on being a “luxury” brand. So they made engines for Indy and GT cars which was much more “luxury” than redneck NASCAR. It’s also why they only wanted Pontiac and Chevy going forward, but they kept Oldsmobile as Olds was planning on being a “new technology” brand with their Aurora V8’s into the 90’s.

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
3 months ago

Wow, do those window panels look like shit. It’s like they started to do a landau top, but left the vinyl off.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

They do look like filler plugs for a carriage roof – wonder if Buick dealers could order the parts for that purpose?

VanGuy
VanGuy
3 months ago

Mercedes, that last link is broken…unless that was intentional because you wanted to buy it for yourself before sharing it with us.

MikuhlBrian
MikuhlBrian
3 months ago

The Buick LeSabre Grand National package wasn’t to make the street cars look like the NASCAR, but the other way around. The GN Package was sold so that the NASCAR Buicks could have that different side rear window treatment.

During that time of NASCAR, the bodies of the racecars had templates to match those of a production spec vehicle. Window shapes were the same as on the production cars. In order for the NASCAR version to have those different windows, the manufacturer had to have that available to the public at least in a limited fashion. It’s the same reason that in 1986 the Monte Carlo went Aeroback and the Pontiac Grand Prix went with a bubble back in the 2+2 package.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
3 months ago

Is it wrong that I kinda like how these look?

I agree that they should have done SOMETHING to the powertrain to make it quicker though. They put GN-adjacent turbo V6’s in front drive vehicles before this, I think they could have done it again.

Mthew_M
Mthew_M
3 months ago

If the vehicle you’re referencing is the Riviera, totally and completely different FWD system. Rivieras (and Eldorados and Toronados) are longitudinal FWD pre-’86. The 440T-4 (later called the 4T60 for 1 year) in the transverse cars would have become a wear item with the turbo, even with the boost turned pretty far down.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
3 months ago
Reply to  Mthew_M

Yep, those are the ones. I thought that the 440T-4’s (and later 4T60’s) were relatively strong as far as transverse auto transaxles go? I don’t have much experience with them, but I’d be shocked if they were worse than the Ford AXOD’s of the same era.

Marc Fuhrman
Marc Fuhrman
3 months ago
Reply to  Mthew_M

But GM did use the 440T-4 in a traverse turbo V6 car: the ’89 Pontiac Grand Prix Turbo.

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
3 months ago

One of these showed up on the old site for NPOCP. Dude wanted $15k for his “rare” warmed over LeSabre badge job. Not much support in the voting.

V10omous
V10omous
3 months ago

I’d also be willing to bet that few people you run across will know that Buick made a Grand National that wasn’t based on a Regal. 

Guilty as charged.

If I saw one of these, my first and overwhelming reaction would be laughter at the guy who dressed his LeSabre up like a GN.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago

God, the Roger Smith era was just all around the absolute worst period in GM’s history, and that includes the time they sold off all their assets and went out of business

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