The cars we loved.
As Buicks go, the turbo cars like the Gran National and GNX get all the attention and rightfully so. They established Buick as a luxury performance brand on par with BMW and Audi for a brief period in the late ’80s. While those cars grabbed headlines with their class setting performance, Buick relied on a series of more modest turbocharged Regals to prop up it’s luxury performance aspirations and pay the bills.
The Buick Regal T-Type was the more sedate counterpart to the Grand National or GNX. Actually the Grand National and GNX were a type of T-Type, but that’s a different if not more confusing matter altogether. By all appearances the T-Type looked like a standard Regal in its most base form. The only giveaway that there might be something more to this car than a comfortable floaty ride was the bulge in the hood and the attractive turbine blade rims. The interiors looked similar to other Regals except up front where they almost always had bucket seats with the shifter (almost always a automatic) mounted on the floor. This was a muscle car era throwback in a time when most cars (even some performance ones) used column mounted shifters.
Buick started adding turbos to it’s cars as early as 1978, well in advance of it becoming a trend in Detroit and Japan. Turbo cars went under trim designations like Sport Coupe before breaking off into Gran Nationals and T-Types. The T-Type designation first appeared on the Riviera and soon blossomed to nearly every car in its lineup by 1987. By that time everything from the small Somerset Regal to the big Electra could be had with a turbo.
It wasn’t until 1983 that the first Regal got the T-Type designation. The aerodynamic post 1980 cars were ideal for a boosted engine. They were right in the sweet spot of Buicks line up. A mid-sized near luxury car with some sporting aspirations, but never so much to draw the wrong kind of attention. Very little distinguishes one year of Regal from the other during this time. Aside from small variations in the grille or changing rim styles, the casual onlooker might assume the car went unchanged for five year run.
The T-Types started with a 3.8 liter V6 OHV engine that produced 190 hp. By 1987, the final year for the’Type’, the cast iron engine had gained electronic fuel injection an increased power to an impressive 245. The only more powerful option would have been to move up to the 276 hp GNX.
The T-Type represented the best of both worlds. Its sleeper looks spoke of elegance and style while still able to eat up the quarter mile in 13 seconds.
Despite its charms, Americans were discovering the wonders of the Accord and other more modern and efficient mid-sized cars. Sales had steadily been falling as the boxy proportions of the G-body design were looking dated in a time when cars were steadily moving to the jelly bean aero look.
Turbos are once again everywhere. Where Buick used them to augment power with increased fuel efficiency, today’s car makers seem to have the same goals in mind as ever stringent regulations and consumer demand has forced the Mustang and M3s of the world to increase power and efficiency.
I don’t know why Buick does not stress it’s heritage as a leader in the development of turbocharging in America. Then again Buick today is mostly refaced Opals from Europe and marketers would rather you believe that turbos are the latest innovation from a more Euro-like Buick. If only more people realized their father’s Buick has been there and done that a few decades ago.