Special to The Union
Some cars are made “bad,” souped up by their owners, and some are built “bad.” The latter is the case for John Pritchard’s very rare ’87 Buick GNX. Don’t feel ignorant if you’ve never heard of a Buick GNX. They were a one-year-only model, and only 547 were made.
And 1987 was not exactly a banner year for performance cars, which makes John’s hot GNX even rarer. In fact, the online GNX Registry shows only three in all of California, making it ultra-rare. John had once owned a turbo-charged ’87 Buick Grand National (a GNX is the extreme sports version) and loved it, so he started looking for that ultimate version of the Grand National. When he saw an ad in 1990 for the GNX in New Jersey, he hopped on a plane to check it out.
The condition of the car was excellent. The owner had bought it new (at $10,000 over list, no less), and it had low mileage. Mechanically it was sound with the only issue being an aftermarket air cleaner. The interior was immaculate. Although the car had been garaged since new and was never driven in the winter, the owner had had the car detailed every year, which had almost worn through the paint. However, finding any GNX was difficult, and one in such excellent condition unheard of (it even included the jacket and limited printing book on the GNX that originally came with the car), so John bought it and shipped it home.
Now, John is a skilled enough craftsman and gearhead to modify a Corvair to run a V-8 engine and did exactly that, so you might think he would hot-rod his Buick. It wasn’t necessary, since this car was hot by any standards. Although it was running only a 3.8L V-6, McLaren Performance Technologies/ASC made modifications for Buick, including adding special suspension, using a bigger, intercooled turbo and reprogramming Turbo Hydramatic 200-4R four-speed O/D auto trans for better performance (underrated at 276 HP).
The result was a car that would do the quarter mile in 13.5 seconds and do zero to 60 in 4.7 seconds. Not bad for a little V-6 in a heavy car!
On the outside, Buick eliminated emblems, added fender flares and side portholes and used 16-inch mesh-style wheels. In the interior, the GNX has a custom dash with S/W gauges and a dash plaque with its number (John’s is 111 out of 547). For color, like Henry Ford’s Model T, Buick offered the car in a choice of black, black or black. Options were rather limited too: none. All GNXs came fully loaded with tilt steering wheel, air conditioning, cruise control, an alarm that disables the car if tripped and power windows, seat, antenna and door locks.
After buying his GNX, John had to find an original air cleaner and a replacement catalytic converter to pass smog, which was no small challenge. Then, the power antenna broke, and John had to remove the fender from the car to fix it. Good thing he’s a gearhead. When someone backed into the rear fender, John stripped down his GNX and had the whole car repainted, solving the over-buffed paint problem. Now he can just enjoy driving it, getting 24-25 MPG out of his hot Buick on the freeway!
But you won’t see John’s valuable GNX parked at the local supermarket for two reasons. He says that it’s not great for “putting around town,” but if he “gets on it,” it’s fantastic. That’s because the turbo doesn’t kick in until about 25-30 MPH, making it a bit sluggish off the line. Also he’s more than a little careful about where he parks it.
“I can’t just park and walk away,” he said. “I have to be within earshot of it.”
But if you see him cruising down the highway, you will know he’s enjoying driving his bad-to-the-bone Buick.
For more information about the Roamin Angels Car Club, go to http://www.roaminangels.com, call 432-8449, write to Roamin Angels, PO Box 1616, Grass Valley, CA 95945, or just stop by IHOP on Taylorville Rd. Some Friday at 6:30 am for breakfast.
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