Bad to the Bone, Indeed By JOHN WEBBER (08:30 May 19, 2003) In 1987, Buick officials decided the company's Regal-based, turbocharged V6 Grand National had just about run its course, so they pushed it out kicking and screaming, well, smoking anyway. They created the Grand National Experimental, the last hurrah for the line. The marketers called the GNX B-B-Bad to the Bone. For once, the marketers got it right. Buick set out to build a high-performance car that was handsome, fast and exclusive. Drive a GNX and you'll find that Buick aced its goal on all three counts. Buick sent 547 fully loaded GNs, already quick enough for most, to ASC/McLaren Specialty Products, along with a long list of modifications. Chief among them was a special Garrett turbocharger with a lightweight ceramic impeller, an improved intercooler and ceramic-coated connecting pipe. Next came a special computer chip and low-restriction exhaust. The Turbo Hydramatic 200-4R transmission was massaged for firmer shifts and it got a custom torque converter and tranny cooler. Under the GNX, the rear axle's longitudinal torque bar and Panhard rod were designed to keep things in place when the hammer dropped. Fat Goodyear Eagle Gatorback tires fitted to 16-inch alloy wheels helped put the power to the road. Special fender flares allowed room for those bigger wheels and tires. A row of horizontal vents adorned each front fender, and they worked, too, drawing heat away from the engine. Understated GNX badges highlighted the grille and trunk lid. The only available GNX color was menacing black. Buick put together a potent package. The factory claimed 276 horsepower at 4400 rpm and 360 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm from the 3.8-liter, but performance figures suggested much more. The GNX easily reached 60 mph in 5.5 seconds and ran the quarter-mile in 13.43 seconds at 104 mph. Top speed was electronically limited to 124 mph, impressive stats from a 3500-pound car that started life as a frumpy Regal. Performance didn't come cheap. While a loaded GN listed for $18,295, the GNX option added $10,995, bringing the sticker to $29,290. Dealer markups sent the actual price higher still. Orlando-area collector Rocky Dunkman bought the GNX you see here from its original owner in 1997. Dunkman also has two Grand Nationals, so he knows his Buicks. He has been drawn to these cars since he was a teenager; Dunkman's first GN was a 1985 model. His prize, GNX 479, shows fewer than 11,000 miles and still boasts its new car smell. The car starts without drama and idles quietly, no big cam shake or loud exhaust noise. Slam the pedal down and it snaps its leash. Launching hard, the GNX gets stronger as turbo boost builds. The distinctive turbo whine adds to the fun, and the transmission runs the gears with firm shifts. Unless you're on a long stretch of road, you'll run out of room fast. Despite its weight, the car is agile and stays flat on the curves. In short, it does whatever you ask with no fuss. "You would never think a car like this would be able to get up and do what it's able to do." Dunkman says. "You put your foot down and it goes to the cutoff." Like all GNXs, this stealth machine carries its own numbered plaque on the passenger-side dash pad. It has Stewart Warner white-on-black gauges in place of the stock instruments. At shows, Dunkman finds even the tuner-import crowd is drawn to his GNX. "The kids know what it is and ask a lot of questions, he says. I think it's because of the turbo, and the things they are doing with their imports." Each GNX came with its own numbered, leather-bound book, and each new owner got a personal letter, cap and leather jacket. Just 16 years after it appeared on the scene, the car has developed a cult-like following. It's an exclusive club, but you can spot its members by their wide grins.