When I started this blog last year, I ran a series of posts on what I wanted my next car to be. While that list hasn’t really grown, there is an ever-increasing list of old cars that I’d like to own one day. I know that owning multiple classic cars is impossible at this point in my life and unlikely anywhere in the near future – I can barely keep up with maintenance and projects on one – but I tend to get irrationally attached to cars and have a hard time selling them. Part of the problem is that I have a hard time selling a car for less than I have in it, which is almost always the case – most cars don’t appreciate in value, and even if they do, it’s not often on pace with the amount of money invested in upgrades and repairs. The bigger problem is that after owning a car for a while and spending copious amounts of time under the hood and behind the wheel, I form a kind of bond with it that I have difficulty explaining. It’s silly and detrimental to my ability to pursue other cars, but it’s just the way I’m wired. Maybe there will come a time when dealing with the Tempest’s nagging issues will get the better of me and I’ll want to part with it, but I doubt it.
What’s more likely is that I will stumble upon a car that I just have to have, and finances or space will force me to sell the Tempest. While it will be bittersweet, there are a number of cars that would limit the regret factor. I’m going to limit myself to cars that I could reasonably expect to own – no Hemi ‘Cudas or Ferraris here – which is still a pretty long list. At the top of that list is my personal Eleanor, the 1987 Buick Grand National.
As a child of the 80’s, I don’t have the same nostalgic feelings about 60’s cars that people a generation older do. I like them and I always have, but they don’t have the same visceral, “time capsule” effect on me that 80’s cars do. Which is a shame, because there were a lot more cool cars in the 60’s than there were in the 80’s, mostly due to reduced horsepower, flaky, dead-end electronics, and funky styling. In fact, almost every car that was cool in the 80’s has not aged well – Trans Ams, IROC Camaros, Fox-body Mustangs, Corvettes, Whale-tail Porsches, and even Ferrari Testarossas look very dated and out-of-style at this point. Let’s not even discuss El Caminos (although I still think they’re cool). Where recent “retro” car designs have dipped into the nostalgic well and been successful (think Beetle, Mustang, and Camaro), those have all referenced cars from the 1960’s. I don’t see anybody reaching back to revive 80’s automotive styling any time soon, even as music and fashion have.
There is, I would argue, one car that contradicts this fact – the Buick Grand National. Taking a conservative grandpa car, dipping it in black paint, and cranking up the horsepower will always be cool (see also: 1994-96 Impala SS, 2004-current Cadillac CTS-V, 2003-04 Mercury Marauder, most of the Mercedes AMG line). Buick, shockingly, was the first to realize this when they took the insanely boring Regal, mated it to a turbocharged V6, and slathered it from top to bottom in the darkest paint they could find. In doing so, they managed to one-up intracompany rival Chevrolet, whose Monte Carlo SS looked the part but was lacking in the horsepower department, even with a V8. There’s even a documentary coming out that details the discrepancy between Buick’s image and the all-out performance and evil look of the Grand National.
For a time, the Grand National was the fastest car around, especially in limited-production GNX form. The ’87 cars were the best of the bunch, with increased horsepower and more options. But when GM transitioned the mid-sized cars to front-wheel drive in 1988, the high-performance models died off. Having seen these cars new as a kid, they’ve always had an effect on me and I’m still drawn to them every time I see one at a car show or on the street. These days, you can expect to spend between twelve and eighteen thousand for one in good shape. Low mileage, original cars usually command prices in the upper twenties, and beaters can be had for around eight grand. It would be a financial step up from the Tempest for me to buy one at today’s prices, but not necessarily out of the realm of possibility. In exchange, I’d have a car with an entirely different attitude, driving dynamics, and style – while the Tempest is more of an antique, with creaks, rattles, and 60’s handling, the GN has tight steering, air conditioning, and and entirely more modern feel; in the intervening decades GM had pretty much perfected the body-on-frame chassis, even though the two cars are remarkably similar from an engineering standpoint. Would I miss driving an old car (even though no one but me would consider a 1987 model “new”)? Absolutely, until the turbo spooled up and those sinister taillights rocketed into the distance.