The cars we loved.

1986 Buick LeSabre GN: The Forgotton Grand National

1986 Buick LeSabre GN

1986 Buick LeSabre GN

Ask anyone about the Buick Grand National cars and they will most likely mention the Regals made from 1982 to
1987. Near the end of that amazing run of turbo charged V6 coupes came a strange anomaly in the form of the
full-sized LeSabre coupe. In some ways it could be argued that the almost one-off LeSabre Gran National did not
quite deserve the label because it was not turbocharged. What it lacked in get up, it made up for with style and
practical handling performance in a unique big front wheel drive coupe.

The whole ideal of applying the name to the larger LeSabre came out of the need to qualify the newly downsized LeSabre coupe for NASCAR duty. Previously, Buick used the Regal, until aerodynamic advances by the competition led to the decision to use the new front wheel drive LeSabre as the Regal replacement n the ovals. By using LeSabres for NASCAR, Buick had hoped to improve sales of its larger LeSabre by lending it the Regal’s sporty image.

The improvements gained from racing were primarily aerodynamic. In the case of the LeSabre, modifications to its rear quarter windows allowed better airflow therefore reducing drag. From an aesthetic point of view, simply adding a cover over part of the window made for a larger blind spot, but the small speed gains on grueling NASCAR tracks was worth it. The resulting modification had to find its way to production cars to qualify, so a limited run of modified LeSabres were built at the Buick City factory in Flint, Michigan. The cars differed from the run of the mill Le Sabre significantly, especially aestetically. A large front spoiler, black out trim, sport FE1 suspension, 15 aluminum wheels and a dual exhaust suggested this was no ordinary LeSabre.

Under the hood was more conventional, if not a duplicate of any other LeSabre with its off the shelf standard 3.8 L sequential fuel injected V6, something of a corporate engine for Buick, as it was found in many of its cars. At 150 hp, the LeSabre Gran National was not the quickest car off the line, considering it had to move over 3,000lbs of car. But then straight line performance was not the mission of this LeSabre.  Unlike the Regal Grand National, the LeSabre
never got turbocharging. In fact, the point was made subtly with the addition of LeSabre’s own Grand National badge.
It like the one on the Regal’s had the turbo shaped curved graphic, but was red on the LeSabre as opposed to the turbo Regal’s yellow. Rumor has it that Buick was in the process of testing a turbo version of the upcoming 3800 V8 to be used if the LeSabre Grand National ever made it to long-term production. This was probably untrue considering that the newly designated “sport” models of the  LeSabre called the T-Type would be naturally aspirated. The LeSabre GN did get similar suspension upgrades to the GN Regal including thicker anti roll bars and FE 1 suspension as mentioned before.

LeSabre Grand National Interior

LeSabre Grand National Interior

While the outside might have been the most dramatic departure from the standard leSabre, the interior had its share of sporting touches also. Some concession to sport was made with a three spoke leather wrapped steering wheel, but the rest of the interior looked like a standard LeSabre, down to the kitchen counter looking dash. All LeSabre GNs were grey with very little bright work and only a little LeSabre badge on the passenger side of the dashboard to alert occupants of what they were in. Other luxuries of the day that were shared with lesser LeSabres were cassette stereos with ETR radios(some with AM stereo capability), power windows, air and of course three speed automatic transmissions. According to Buick, all the cars produced were black, with records indicating at least one red car and promotional material suggesting tha the cars would be available in white also.

Completed cars were shipped from the factory, directly to Daytona Florida. The intention was to sell them in Buick dealerships in the Atlanta and Jacksonville sales zones. Only about 112 cars were made in a single run in December 1985. The cars came with commeritive items celebrating Buicks participation in NASCAR with a special cooler, and other race related items. Bobby Allison ran a LeSabre in 1986 for the Miller race team with the modified rear quarter window. Allison didn’t win at Daytona that year but placed highly at many races and eventually won at Talladega in the Winson 500. The ideal of a LeSabre Grand National came and wentalmost  as fast as it was conceived.  The low production numbers insure that the LeSabre Grand National will take its place among the most rare of modern sport-oriented Buicks.

88 LeSabre T-Type

88 LeSabre T-Type

Some of The notoriety and knowledge from racing would be shifted to a line of sporty LeSabres wearing the T-Type badge after 1986.  Many of the Lesabre GN exterior treatments like the blackout trim,sport wheels and spoiler would find their way to T- Type  models in the following years.  Sales of the T-Type performance cars were low, probably due to traditional customers being confused and thinking they stumbled upon a Pontiac dealership by mistake instead of the tranquil Buick haven they had become accustomed to. Buick would eventually wake up from its performance car dreams and restructure its line up, concentrating more on its traditional luxury cars and leaving the sport part to the people over at Pontiac. This handing over of the batton to Pontiac is no where more evident than Buicks most powerful and advanced turbo V6 ending up in a Trans-Am in 1989 due to an engine surplus caused by the turbo Grand National cars demise.

1986 Buick LeSabre Grand National

1986 Buick LeSabre Grand National


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This entry was posted on November 28, 2010 by in 80's Cars, Buick and tagged , , , .
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