Buick LeSabre Grand National

Remember when NASCAR was rooted in reality?

When guys like Smokey Yunick built 7/8 scale cars to cheat the rules (among other things), and when manufacturers had to actually homologate their production cars if they wanted them to race? Now it's like full-scale RC racing: template bodies on a tubular steel chassis.

This isn't to say there isn't a ton of remarkable engineering in NASCAR, but to make the race cars go quickly these days has little in common with the era in which Buick raced the LeSabre Grand National in the Winston Cup.

Don't consider this car as anything other than a footnote: General Motors themselves can't figure out if they've built 117 or 112 Buick LeSabre Grand National coupes. (Which sort of doesn't surprise me. I'm not exactly convinced anyone at GM truly knew what was going on in the 80s.)

Buick and the other divisions of GM had decided that to stay competitive with the imports they'd need to go front-wheel-drive across the board. The resulting H-body platform for the larger front-drive cars (Oldsmobile 88, Pontiac Bonneville, Buick Electra) was well-received, with the LeSabre made at the now-demolished Buick City plant lauded for its quality.

This switch to front-drive for production cars helped to send NASCAR in the direction it is in today. Having manufacturers willing to compete against one another is essential, but who wants to see a bunch of V6-powered front-drive race cars banging fenders at Daytona? (Well, besides me and anyone who enjoyed the Lumina vs. Taurus battle in Days of Thunder.)

NASCAR thrives on close racing. Find an old race from the 60s or 70s and there'd be laps between first and second place finishers. Even as regulations began to tighten, models like the Dodge Charger Daytona were able to skirt the rules by offering a street version to the public. Fifteen years later, in 1985, the performance gap between models was so small that to gain an advantage Buick used the popular Grand National badge to sell a LeSabre with different rear windows.

That's it. On normal LeSabres, the window behind the driver extends all the way back to the rear C-pillar. On the Grand National, a plastic triangle was installed so that Winston Cup cars could have that area built in sheet metal, improving aerodynamics—I'm not sure why, the profile? The curve of the pillar? Leave a comment online if you'd like to explain it. The excellent beforeblack.net lists all changes:

  • Available in black and possibly white. (Black more common.)
  • All are based on LeSabre Coupes (two-doors).
  • 3.8 SFI Liter V6. Production cars were NOT turbocharged, but a prototype may have been.
  • Wheels are 15-slot 15" x 6" aluminum. Also used on Electra, Park Avenue and Riviera (Hollander Interchange).
  • Emblems use all red V6 logo. Although the Buick parts books list Regal GN emblem part number, this is a mistake.  The Red V6 emblem was available and had a separate number..
  • Special interior treatments.
  • Rear, side windows covered with louvers. Window opening much smaller. (Compare production car to race car.)
  • Hood Ornament is same as 87-89 LeSabre T TYPE.

The rest was regular LeSabre: 3.8-litre V6 engine and a 4-speed automatic. If you'd like one, they've inexplicably been sold for as much as $19,800

This story was inspired by the great Jalopnik thread about the rarest normal car, and specifically commenter tomslick's response.

Sources