Oklahoma’s Silent Twins
For 30 Years, These Identical Grand Nationals Sat Together With No First Owner
By any measure of credulity, these two cars shouldn’t exist together. We’ll start from the top: The G-body coupes were the last of traditional midsize American cars from GM, given a stay of execution while the sedans and wagons were killed off with frontwheel-drive replacements years earlier. Lloyd Ruess, the patriarch of the Grand National’s turbo affliction, was replaced by a man tied to those front-drive ambi- tions by GM Corporate, meaning that 1987 was the last time we’d see the monolithic street fighters from Buick. Thankfully, Ed Mertz, the new general manager of Buick in 1986, drove a prototype of the fabled GNX and the entire program saw its last round of green lights, but everything leading up to this story could’ve ended much sooner.
“Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, we had the Syclones and the Typhoons from GMC. Anything from that era that had a turbo, I was a fan of,” Shawn Mathews remembers. “You had Supras and 300ZXs, and in 1987 this was Buick’s last attempt to make a name for themselves in that era.”
With the assembly lines churning on, two identically optioned Buicks were spec’d and sent to Shattuck, Oklahoma, where they’d be off-loaded at
Bill Brown Motors. They arrived with an identical $17,643 sticker price, with just a few electric convenience options tacked on to the turbocharged and intercooled 245hp 3.8L V6. And up until about a year ago, that’s about as far as they had made it on paper.
You see, these two Grand Nationals, serial numbers 457991 and 457992, never really left the family dealership. Bill Brown would occasionally hold
on to interesting cars from his Buick store, and many became run-arounds before being stored under the dealership—hence the low mileage. Eventually, the dealership shut down and the son of Bill Brown took home these two black-tie Buicks before stuffing them in his garage.
The Grand National package, a nod to the G-body Regal’s success in NASCAR, added the notorious 3.8L V6, using thencutting-edge sequential fuelinjection and coil-pack ignition along with a beefed up 200-4R automatic with a 3.42-geared limited-slip in the 10-bolt’s housing. They didn’t have the GNX’s torque-arm rear suspension, but the factory four-link could still stick it to the road for what was for the time a healthy 13-second quarter-mile with a respectable 6-second sprint to 60 mph. Of course, making more boosted horsepower then was about as easy as it was today, and it didn’t take long for people to understand that Buick’s Darth Vader coupe could sweat Ferrari and Corvette owners on any given green light—and if it was ASC/McLaren’s big-boost GNX, it was a promise.
The exterior trim was blacked out, and 15-inch chrome steel wheels replaced the Regal’s geriatric, buffet-line steelies and hubcaps. A subtle power bulge in the hood and spoiler on the decklid were the only boy-racer styling cues, making the Buick the most restrained performance offering from GM at a time when the much slower Trans Am and IROC were stickered-up, yet battling for sales superiority.
Despite having 807 and 592 miles on their odometers, each car carried its Manufacturers Certificate of Origin (MSO), meaning that neither had been registered with their first true owner. In essence, Shawn Mathews became the first owner of these Grand Nationals some 30 years after they were built.
This “barn find” came to the duo late one night through Facebook tags, as Shawn’s friend William Avila was the resident Grand National fiend who everyone knew. “When he told me it was two Grand Nationals that had been sitting for 30 years, I basically didn’t believe him,” Shawn told us. William had nearly passed on the two cars since the asking price was astronomical, but he had talked the seller into allowing him to see the cars, and he wanted Shawn’s help in the process. “He knew I enjoyed low-mile cars,” Shawn continued. “Doesn’t matter really what it is—but Buick Grand Nationals and Mustang Cobras, those are our go-to cars.”
“I’ve had several Grand Nationals, but I’m down to two right now,” William said. “I’m one of the only guys who run a MS3-Pro in my Buick; it has a stock-stroke 109 block with forged internals. The fastest I’ve had it is 9.81 at 130-something mph.”
But the seller didn’t make it easy on William and Shawn. Communication was slowgoing, with the seller falling in and out of radio silence. “I wasn’t really believing it, especially in Oklahoma, of all places,” Shawn joked. “But he sends me the pictures and I about fell out of my chair. I had to see these things.”
When they reached the seller’s property three hours east of Oklahoma City in Woodward County, the seller was still suspect of the two, but they were able to quell his concerns and finally see the dust-covered Buicks.
The two Grand Nationals were so fresh, they still carried their dealer invoices and information packets that were used during the sales process of the car when new. As bizarre as it sounds, both will tell you the “new-car smell” stuck with the interior all these years. While Shawn warmed the owner over, William looked over every detail of the cars. “They had just about every option people wanted, short of T-tops,” William said. He also noticed the cars were, in fact, 1987s—not the
1986s they were advertised as, meaning they were more precious last-year cars.
Eventually, Shawn threw the seller a number, but he balked. “I kinda figured that’s how it was gonna go, but I didn’t want to piss the guy off,” Shawn explained. “So a week goes by and I’m texting him every now and then, then the second and third week, and we’re still not any closer to a deal. A month goes by, and he calls back with a high number, but we still can’t do it.” Things trailed off and eventually Shawn got distracted buying another Mustang Cobra, but things went awry when the seller of that car also stiffed Shawn. “I’m over having the worst luck! Now even this guy won’t sell me his car! So I call the guy with the Grand Nationals back—and he actually answers this time—and I tell him those cars are destined to be mine, that I tried to buy another car, they backed out and gave me my money back, so I feel like these two are meant to be.”
They made arrangements to pick up the twins the following Friday, but things once again got weird when Shawn tried paying through the negotiated means: cashier’s checks. They convinced the paranoid owner to head to his bank, where they could wire him the money directly and he could be on his merry way. “We drove three hours back and didn’t even stop for gas—we just wanted to get out of there,” Shawn recalled. “Other than batteries and fluids, we didn’t have to touch a thing. The transmission fluid I pulled out was cleaner than anything I could’ve bought at a parts store,” William joked. “It was awesome, definitely the highlight of my Buick Grand National ownership experience so far.”
The Buicks received their first titled ownership with the approval of a local DMV clerk and judge, and Shawn became the first owner of a pair of 30-year-old Buicks. They were able to use the original MSO paperwork to register them just about the same as any other new car, despite the delayed purchase date. “They wanted just about any information they could get, and because it had never been titled and registered, there were certain state fees just like if you had bought a new car—they still want their money on the tax, tags, and license fees, you know!”
After clearing up the paperwork, the cleanup from three decades of storage meant calling in a professional detailer who specialized in oddball projects. After a fair amount of searching and interviews, local Brian Menke of Auto Spa in Oklahoma City stepped up to bring the paint back to its original glory. Brian took paint depth measurements and his team worked over the course of several weeks to painstakingly clean everything possible without disturbing the original parts and finish. This meant that other than the headliners, nothing had to be replaced. A car is only original once, and their restoration of the Grand Nationals reflected that state of mind.
What’s next for these inseparable siblings? Shawn isn’t sure if he wants to sell them, but he’s currently hunting for a museum to display the two cars in public.
01] One of the few times that the cliché, “It’s barely broken in!” is a fact: 592 miles. You can also see the segmented LED tachometer and boost gauge in the lower-right corner of the cluster, unique to Grand Nationals.
02] The “6” logo was a nod to turbocharged Indy Cars, though the Grand National package is a nod to NASCAR. Darrell Waltrip (1981, 1982) and Bobby Allison (1983) won drivers championships in Regals, though Buick would never see big-oval success while the Grand National model was in its prime.
03] Shoving up to 15 psi of boost means heat, which lead to Buick adding an air-to-air intercooler in 1986. l success while the Grand National model was in its prime.
[ The 245hp 3.8L V6 found in the regal started life as the “Fireball” V6, based on Buick’s own 215ci aluminum V8. Though it was an iron block its entire life, the 3.8 survived production from 1961–2008. [ The much lauded “distributor-less ignition...