In 1962, Buick’s rival Oldsmobile division had created the world’s first turbocharged production car, the F-85 Jetfire, which used Oldsmobile’s version of Buick’s aluminum V8. The Jetfire’s complex turbocharger arrangement, which included water-alcohol injection to prevent detonation, failed to endear itself to either buyers or dealers, and it was dropped after only two seasons. Chevrolet’s simpler turbocharged Corvair engine, introduced a few months after the Jetfire, survived through 1966, but the imminent demise of the Corvair made it a dead end.
The rise of federal emissions standards created a resurgence of interest in turbocharging at several GM divisions. As early as 1971, Chevrolet fitted an experimental Camaro with a turbocharged straight-six. The intention was not to create a high-performance car, but one that would provide V8 power with six-cylinder fuel economy and emissions. Nothing came of it, but it was a harbinger of things to come.
According to Cliff Studaker, who was Buick’s assistant chief engineer for engine development in the seventies, the idea of turbocharging the V6 actually came from a 1974 Boy Scout project that Buick’s engineering department had sponsored. The results were so promising that Buick’s chief of advanced engineering, George Polen, started exploring the possibility of turbocharged production engines, with Lloyd Reuss’s enthusiastic backing.
Although it would have been simple enough to turbocharge Buick’s existing V8, the V8’s days seemed numbered, so Polen’s group concentrated instead on the V6. The first fruit of their labor was Buick’s “Free Spirit,” the pace car for the 1976 Indianapolis 500. The pace car was a heavily modified Buick Century with a turbocharged V6, making over 300 horsepower (224 kW).
Contrary to some accounts, the Buick V6 emblem was developed in the late seventies, penned by Moly Designs. Although associated with the turbocharged Buick Grand Nationals, the emblem was also found on normally aspirated cars.
The pace car replicas sold to the general public were not turbocharged, but Reuss and Buick general manager Dave Collier intended the Free Spirit as more than an exercise. The first production turbo engines appeared about a year and half later for the 1978 model year. The first production turbo six made 150 hp (112 kW) with a two-barrel carburetor, 165 hp (123 kW) with the optional four-barrel. Even the latter was anemic by modern standards, but it was still a lot better than the normally aspirated V6 and on a par with most contemporary V8s. Detonation was controlled with a computerized knock sensor called the Turbo Control Center, a novelty at that time.
Buick sold more than 30,000 turbo cars for 1978. Unfortunately, despite extensive precautions, including a pre-delivery test drive for each turbocharged car, the early turbo sixes fell short in both driveability and reliability (although they were nowhere near as disastrous as the old Vega engine). Turbo sales for 1979 dipped sharply, despite the engine’s new availability on the popular new Riviera.
The MS3Pro Buick Grand National Plug and Play (P/N: MSPNPPro-GNX8487) Fits 1984-1987 Buick Regal with the 3.8 Turbo V6, including Grand National, T-Type, and GNX.
Buick Grand National Plug and Play Model Features:
- Fully Plug and Play Installation – No wiring required for basic functionality.
- Base map is pre-loaded to help your engine start on the first turn of the key
- Real time tuning and data logging with a laptop connection
- 8 GB internal data logging with built in SD card
- Supports most aftermarket wideband sensors
- Fits directly in the stock ECU pocket in the kick panel. No extension harnesses required!
Fully Tunable Engine Control!
- 16×16 Fuel Tables allow high resolution tuning
- 16×16 Ignition Tables
- Multiple Acceleration enrichment strategies
- Closed Loop Idle Speed Control
- Air Conditioner Control
- 6 sequential fuel injector channels with individual trim tables
- Onboard peak and hold drivers support both high and low impedance injectors – No external ballast resistor is needed!
- Allows removal of stock MAF sensor
- Use either factory C3I ignition or coil per plug conversions
- Torque converter lock up control
- Boost control using stock or aftermarket boost control solenoids
Advanced Feature Set (Included!)
- 12×12 Air Fuel Ratio Target Tables for use with wide band O2 sensor for precise tuning and table trim.
- Multiple traction control strategies
- Built-in 3-step rev limiter / launch control with flat shift and burnout rev limiter
- Time based timing / boost increase after launch
- Real time barometric correction
- Internal 4-bar MAP sensor reads up to 44PSI of boost
- Overboost protection
- CO2 based boost control
- Set boost by RPM and throttle, ground speed, or gear (Improve performance with EBC solenoid kit
- Rally style anti lag
- Water injection control – on/off or variable
- Knock sensor input with adjustable sensitivity, crank angle windowing, and more (advanced features require bypassing ESC module)
- Table switching input. Change fuel and spark maps on the fly for different fuels, nitrous activation, etc.
- Input for flex fuel sensor – switch between E85 and gasoline on the fly!
- CANBus connector allows interconnection of other MegaSquirt-compatible devices for additional functions (EGT Input, Automatic Transmission Controller if swapping to a 4L80E, Additional Sensors…..the possibilities are limitless!
What you get in the box:
- MS3Pro Plug in ECU for Buick Grand National
- RS232 tuning cable
- Tuning Software and Documentation on USB memory stick with three base maps included
- 6′ Vacuum Hose for MAP Signal and ‘T’ fitting
- Registered version of TunerStudio and MegaLog viewer included
BUICK REGAL GRAND NATIONAL
Lloyd Reuss left to become chief engineer of Chevrolet in 1978, but he returned to Buick in 1980, this time as general manager. As we discussed in our article on the Buick Reatta, when he returned to Buick, Reuss saw that the division’s market was changing. During his previous stint at Buick, the primary adversary had been Oldsmobile, but by the early eighties, the affluent, upper-middle-class buyers who had traditionally been Buick customers were shifting to imports like Audi and BMW. Reuss was well aware that Buick couldn’t match the luxury imports’ sophisticated engineering or autobahn-bred road manners, but he could reach out to younger buyers with a Bunkie Knudsen-style focus on performance and sport.
Buicks had often been strong performers — the original Century was one of America’s fastest cars before the war and cars like the early-sixties Wildcat had been quite muscular — but they were still oriented toward respectable, upper-middle-class buyers. A Buick was traditionally a car for doctors or perhaps a successful attorney who hadn’t yet made partner. In the late sixties, the division had taken a stab at the Supercar market with the intermediate Gran Sports, but while the later GS and GSX were formidable, they had never sold very well; they were too expensive for younger buyers, but too racy for Buick’s usual customers.
Reuss hired Herb Fishel, a Chevrolet engineer working under Vince Piggins (whom Camaro fans will recall was behind the creation of the original Z/28), to launch Buick’s own performance arm. Finding little help from Buick’s design studios, then run by Jerry Hirshberg (designer of the boattail Riviera and later head of design for Nissan), Fishel obtained permission for designer Gary Smith to do design work for him on a freelance basis. Among Smith’s tasks for Fishel was developing a series of concepts for high-performance Century and Regal models, including the Regal pace car for the 1981 Indianapolis 500, refined into production form by Buick Two studio assistant chief Steve Pasteiner, and the Buick 80X, a performance-oriented promotional model.
The Indy pace car was one phase of Fishel’s performance push; another was a strong push into stock-car racing, which had long been the domain of Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth. Many NASCAR teams used the Regal from 1981 to 1983, with impressive results. Darrell Waltrip won the driver’s championship for 1981 behind the wheel of a Buick Regal. He did it again in 1982 despite strong competition from Bobby Allison, who won the 1982 Daytona 500 even after a collision tore off the rear bumper of his own Regal. Allison finally took the driver’s championship for 1983, which also earned Buick its third consecutive Manufacturer’s Championship.
Buick’s NASCAR success benefited both Regal sales and Buick’s total volume, which reached #3 in the industry for 1982 and 1983 — a ranking Buick hadn’t held since 1956. In late 1981, Buick decided to commemorate that performance with a special-edition Buick Regal Grand National (the original name of NASCAR’s top racing series, since 1971 known as the Winston Cup Grand National). The Regal Grand National, which were announced about a week before Bobby Allison’s Daytona 500 victory in February 1982, was just a trim package, developed by Steve Pasteiner and Moly Designs. It featured a unique black-over-silver two-tone paint job prepared by Cars and Concepts of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Grand National’s standard engine was the 252 cu. in. (4,128 cc) version of Buick’s V6 with a modest 125 hp (93 kW). It could be ordered with the 3.8 L turbo, but no more than 15 or 16 buyers did so. Only 215 Grand Nationals were built in all, a very minor footnote in Regal production.