Ok­la­homa’s Silent Twins

For 30 Years, These Iden­ti­cal Grand Na­tion­als Sat To­gether With No First Owner

Hot Rod - - Lt5 First Look! - Phillip Thomas Grant Cox

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...

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