Richard Clark: The Buick Grand National Guru

Buick Grand National

As a long time Ferrari aficionado, Richard Clark of Burlington, NC was happy camper anytime he could climb behind the wheel of his Ferrari Testarossa.  He even used it to commute to work when the weather was good.

One day, a local police officer and friend of Clark’s stopped by his workplace and challenged him to a race to the local diner; loser buys lunch. Clark thought it was his friend’s way of offering him a free meal.

They met in the street – Clark in his Testarossa and the cop in a blacked-out Buick Regal.  The two squared off and within a matter of seconds, the Buick was leaving the Ferrari in the dust.

Clark admits that, at the time, he had “no idea what kind of car it was,” but he soon learned he’d be buying lunch and the car that beat his Ferrari was a 1987 intercooled turbo Buick Grand National.

Suddenly, the Ferraris no longer piqued Clark’s interest; he wanted a Grand National and he set out to find one for himself.

“The ‘87s had been sold out,” says Clark, “so it took me the better part of a year to find one for sale.”

Extended Production

While most assembly lines shut down and retool for the coming model year during the summer, Buick kept right on pushing the 1987 Grand Nationals along the line until December 11, 1987, when the last Grand National rolled off the assembly line in Flint, Michigan.

“About a year later, I had some trouble with the engine,” Clark explained. “So I took it to the dealership for service. When I got it back, it was running worse than when I’d brought it in!”

Black Air Buick Grand National

While mechanically inclined, Clark had never cared about working on his own cars. He purchased a few tools and began “tinkering” with his Grand National’s 3.8 liter V6.

“Suddenly there were more tools, then after that, there was a parts car,” he shared. “Then I started buying them up. I’ve parted out dozens of them. People seem to think I have a junkyard out there.”

Clark taught himself or learned from others how to properly tune a GM 3.8 liter, turbo-charged V6. Soon, he became an expert in all things Grand National.

There are many misconceptions about the value of the 1984-1985 models years versus the ’86 and ’87 years.

“People see those ‘84s and ‘85s going for cheap on eBay, so they come into my shop thinking they can get an ’86 or ’87 cheap too,” he laughs. “But there’s a world of difference in power and reliability. In 1986, Buick finally got it right, and those two years (’86 and ’87) were stellar performers!”

However, even more coveted is the 1987 Buick GNX – a car that started out as a Grand National, but was then shipped to AC McLaren for upgrades in appearance and power.

“The McLaren-modified GNX received flared fenders for wider tires, as well as some interior upgrades, including better dash gauges,” explained Clark. “But the larger and quicker spooling turbo combined with a much improved exhaust system made the car outperform any car available at the time.”

Buick Grand National

Clark purchased a GNX from a Buick employee. The car has just 6 miles on it. He then purchased a 2nd GNX as a daily driver, but his most prized possession is “GNX #33.”

“The #33 GNX was owned by Heinz Prechter of American Sunroof Company,” Clark recalls. “It was a sunroof-equipped GNX that I attempted to buy from him several times, but he wouldn’t budge. Then, he committed suicide and his family put the car up for a sealed bid auction in 2006. My bid won and I now own the “33.”

As time passed, Clark purchased more and more “parts cars” for his blossoming Grand National-only repair business. He’ll begrudgedly work on earlier models of the T-Type V6 Regal, but prefers to repair and improve the ’86 and ’87 models. People have traveled from as far away as California and Canada to have their Grand Nationals serviced at Richard Clark’s Garage.

“I don’t know anything about any other cars,” Clark admits. “I’m just a one-trick pony with these Buicks.”

Clark holds a convention of Grand National owners in early May of each year, as well as tuner days.

“We have some dyno days here where some of the best turbo tuners in the country show up,” he explains. “After the tuning, we race!”

With Piedmont Dragway just 15 minutes away in Julian, NC, the Buicks parade to the strip to test their ETs.

Clark now owns the largest collection of Buick Grand Nationals in the world. He welcomes visitors to take a look around at the shop and the backyard full of GN parts cars.

“Some people might be upset to learn that some of my parts cars only need a fresh battery to start them up,” he laughed. “They’re actual running cars!”

With a full-time assistant mechanic, a window and weather strip guy and another full-time painter, Clark normally has 8-10 GNs in his shop during any given day.

“I have a bevy of friends who come in to work part-time as well,” he added.

Got a GN? Check out Clark’s Facebook page for contact information.

Here’s an amazing short video of Clark’s back lot:  https://www.facebook.com/frankie.walker.7528/videos/638714056277826/

Check out the full hour documentary about the Buick Grand National called “Black Air:

About Keith MacDonald 8 Articles
Keith MacDonald started his automotive writing career at the young age 45. When not writing auto reviews for his local Vero Beach, FL newspaper, he's written 2 street racing novels, "Woodward Avenue," and "Woodward Avenue II: Ground Pounders."
  • MaladoitFL

    I got a chance to drive one back in ’91. The acceleration and torque blew me away.

    • J.Griffin

      The amazing thing was the
      track times these cars turned with
      street tires.

      It was all about using Turbo lag to your benefit.

      Turbos have come a long way since then but there is no doubt about it-

      The Grand National is ESSENTIAL
      to any complete history of Turbocharging in Drag Racing.

      How ironic it that it will always be seen as a successful
      “stock” DRAG car…
      not as a Grand National
      circle track “stock car”?

      The only bad side of Turbos
      was consistency of E.T.’s but that,too,
      has come a long way….

  • J.Griffin

    Dear Ed:

    I have a little Vega with a 727 cubic inch blown alcohol injected mountain motor running full slicks through a ‘Glide
    and a narrowed Ford 9 inch.

    I’ve got the fastest ride around here….
    except for this guy with one of those Buicks.

    Everytime we square off,
    he’s waiting for at me at the other end eating a hot dog!

    What am I going to do?
    -Jealous John

    Dear John:

    Buy a hotdog stand!

    -Ed.

    • Dave Herrington

      There’s always someone with more money or talent, but just like your Vega, that Buick is nowhere near stock so it really isn’t about it being a GN/GNX it’s about who spent the most money and utilized their or someone else’s talents wisely. Who nows, it may not even have the V6 motor in it anymore?

      • J.Griffin

        That was originally a cartoon statement hung in the shop
        BUT
        for the money,
        nothing is faster than a GN.

        My
        (not stock but still a V-6 single Turbo)
        GN was NEVER beaten-
        it would stand against cars with
        more money,power and tire…
        but maybe that was just the driver!
        😎
        Peace,
        -g

      • MaladoitFL

        That makes no sense, Dave. The car rolled off the factory line as a turbo V6 Regal Grand National. Only the 500 or so GNX cars received special treatment at McLaren – yet they remained V6s. Perhaps I misunderstood your post?

  • John Songer

    Kind of sickens me they all are just sitting there wasting away. Guess it’s better than those people who are pulling the “tiny motor” out and installing LT and LS turbo engines. Some will never learn, displacement isn’t always the answer.

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