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Darth Buick: The Buick Regal Grand National and GNX

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Darth Buick: The Buick Regal Grand National and GNX

Written by Aaron Severson

Saturday, 29 August 2009 00:00

Although it's best known for building stodgy middle-class sedans, GM's Buick division has occasionally cultivated a rather racy image. The 1938-42 Buick Century was among the fastest cars in America before World War 2. The V8-powered Century of the mid-fifties was hot stuff, and the big-engine GS and GSX of the late sixties and early seventies ranked among the most fearsome of muscle cars.

In the mid-1980s, Buick took one last stab at the performance market with a ferocious turbocharged version of its popular Regal coupe, a malevolent-looking, all-black street rod that even Buick executives dubbed "Darth Vader."

This week, we look at the origins of the Buick Grand National and GNX.


Buick's curious excursion into turbocharging in the late seventies and early eighties was mostly at the behest of Lloyd Reuss, a bright young engineer who rose from Chevrolet's engineering department to the presidency of General Motors. Like his spiritual successor, Bob Lutz, Reuss is generally beloved of auto enthusiasts, who see him as a more politically astute version of John DeLorean: rakishly handsome, enthusiastic, and above all, a committed car. Outside the lens of automotive fandom, Reuss is not as well regarded; in their book Comeback: The Fall & Rise of the American Automobile Industry, Wall Street Journal reporters Paul Ingrassia and Joseph B. White characterized him as something of an empty suit, the product of GM's deep-seated cronyism.

Looking at Reuss's early career, we can see their point. Early in his career, Reuss was an engineer working on the Camaro. About a year after John DeLorean's arrival at Chevrolet in February 1969, DeLorean made Reuss chief project engineer for the new subcompact Vega, GM's much-anticipated response to the threat of imported compact cars. That plum assignment turned out to be a debacle; the Vega became one of GM's costliest disasters, with a host of serious reliability problems that resulted in high warranty costs and embarrassing recalls.

Although it's hardly fair to lay the Vega's problems solely on Reuss's shoulders, a less well-connected engineer might have been sacked for it. Unlike DeLorean, however, Reuss had taken care to make the right sort of friends. Instead of being fired, Reuss earned a promotion to assistant chief engineer of Chevrolet. He nextly tried valiantly to redeem the Vega's honor with the sporty, limited-production Cosworth Vega. Unfortunately, the twin-cam Cosworth proved another lost cause: overpriced, underpowered, and a financial loser. Again, rather than being made to fall on his sword, Reuss earned him another promotion, this time to chief engineer of Buick.



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