History Of The Turbocharged Buick 3.8L V6, GM's Mightiest '80s Muscle Car Motor (2023)

  • Story By
    Benjamin Hunting

The story of the Buick Grand National (and its hopped-up sibling, the GNX) is a familiar one to muscle car fans: in the early '80s Buick took its Regal coupe, outfitted it with a turbocharged V6, and proceeded to stomp all over every other American car in a straight line. This included the Corvette, which was reduced to playing second fiddle alongside the GNX until it left the market after 1987.

History Of The Turbocharged Buick 3.8L V6, GM's Mightiest '80s Muscle Car Motor (1)

The history of Buick's focus on turbocharged V6 engines, however, goes much deeper than the Grand National and its siblings, and starts earlier than the revised Regal's debut. The GM brand was at the vanguard of the turbo revolution that dominated much of the '80s performance landscape, and it spread its boost through a surprisingly wide swathe of its line-up.

Indy 500 Leads The Charge

It all began in the mid-1970s when Buick was offered the chance to pace the Indy 500. This was a tall order in an era when General Motors had smog-choked most of its V8 engines to the sub-200hp level, and the automaker had get creative to come up with a car that could stay ahead of an open-wheel racer until the green flag was waved.Although for 1975 Buick simply threw cubic inches at the problem (outfitting its mid-size Century sedan with a 455 cubic inch V8 that was decidedly hotter than stock), the following year it decided to innovate.

History Of The Turbocharged Buick 3.8L V6, GM's Mightiest '80s Muscle Car Motor (2)

This time, it took a 3.8L V6 and installed a draw-through turbocharger that worked with its four-barrel carburetor to stuff a whopping 22 psi into the motor. Running at a mere 6.0:1 compression, the setup was good for a healthy 306hp and 370 lb-ft of torque, and marked the first time a six-cylinder engine had ever been used to pace America's race. Buick offered a pace car replica in dealerships, but the factory Century stuck with a V8 as the turbo used at Indy was deemed too exotic for the street. It wouldn't be until 1978 that the initial turbocharged Buicks began to trickle out into dealerships.

Luxury And Power

The first Buick turbos were more modest than the designs that had lapped Indianapolis. Horsepower was cut nearly in half, checking in at 165 ponies for four-barrel models, as a result of an increase in engine compression (8.0:1) and a related drop in boost (a more reasonable 6 pounds from a T3). Torque approached V8 levels, however, with 285 lb-ft available. GM was also experimenting with electronic knock control, which relied on sensors to claw back ignition timing if detonation was detected.

History Of The Turbocharged Buick 3.8L V6, GM's Mightiest '80s Muscle Car Motor (3)

The turbocharged V6 was initially installed in the Regal and Lesabre 'Sport Coupes,' which represented half of all turbo cars on the market at that time (with the Saab 99 Turbo and the Porsche 911 Turbo filling out the roster). By 1979 the Buick family added another pair of models (the Century and the Riviera), featuring new cylinder heads that added five horsepower into the mix for Regals and LeSabres, 10 extra for the Century, and 20 more for the Riviera (thanks in large part to better exhaust routing on the bigger cars). Torque fell slightly to 265 lb-ft for the smaller cars, with the Riviera leading the pack at 280 lb-ft.

History Of The Turbocharged Buick 3.8L V6, GM's Mightiest '80s Muscle Car Motor (4)

Chevrolet borrowed the Buick V6 turbo for the G-body Monte Carlo in 1980 and 1981 (selling a respectable 20,000 units) but by '82 the family of turbos was pared down to just the Regal and the front-wheel drive Riviera (both known as the T-Type since the previous year), presenting two very different driving experiences. In 1983, the final year of the first-generation Buick turbo V6, the luxury-oriented cruiser peaked its torque at 290 lb-ft, with horsepower for both models checking in at 180.

Fuel Injection Changes Everything

1984 proved to be the most important year for the 3.8L turbo V6, as it marked the move to sequential fuel injection. The difference in output figures was immediate: 200 horses and 300 lb-ft of twist were now standard. Even more important, however, was the vastly improved ignition system which could more closely control the marriage of boost and fuel delivery, and allowed the use of up to 12 psi from the turbo. This improved reliability and tunability, making the Regal a stealthy choice for performance fans who craved a bit of comfort in their daily driver.

History Of The Turbocharged Buick 3.8L V6, GM's Mightiest '80s Muscle Car Motor (5)

It's here that that Grand National trim of the Regal came into the popular consciousness. Although the name had been introduced for a very limited run in 1982 (with just over 200 units being sold in two-tone gray), by '84 the decision was made to go all-in with a blacked-out Grand National as the range-topper for the Regal line. The car was shockingly quick, easily besting Mustang and Camaro V8s of the day despite its larger size, and it nipped at the heels of the much more expensive Corvette.

History Of The Turbocharged Buick 3.8L V6, GM's Mightiest '80s Muscle Car Motor (6)

Two years later, the Regal sharpened its talons even further thanks to the use of an intercooler, which bumped horsepower to 235 and increased torque to a healthy 330 lb-ft, earning the V6 engine a new name (the LC2). By this time the Riviera had switched platforms, which made Buick's rear-wheel drive mid-size coupe the only turbo game in town.

History Of The Turbocharged Buick 3.8L V6, GM's Mightiest '80s Muscle Car Motor (7)

Buyers could choose from T-Type, Grand National, and for 1987 only, WE4 (a lightweight model known as the Turbo T with an aluminum turbo housing) and GNX versions of the car, each of which could happily spin the rear wheels. The T-Type was also renamed the T-Package for '87.

History Of The Turbocharged Buick 3.8L V6, GM's Mightiest '80s Muscle Car Motor (8)

The GNX was a true monster, offering up 276hp and 360 lb-ft of torque thanks to the presence of an improved Garret T3 turbo producing 15 psi of boost, a massive intercooler, more aggressive engine controls, a free-flowing exhaust system, and upgraded suspension and transmission details.

History Of The Turbocharged Buick 3.8L V6, GM's Mightiest '80s Muscle Car Motor (9)

The GNX was identified through its mesh wheels and badge-deletes, and the interior included a dash plaque that let you know which of the 547 examples you happened to be driving. The car could hit 60 mph in just over four and a half seconds, and was easily the quickest American vehicle of its day.

Pontiac Borrows A Beast

For 1988, the Buick Regal went the route of the Riviera before it and transitioned to a new platform (also front-wheel drive) that left the 3.8 turbo V6 on the shelf. Still, the motor itself had one last shot at dazzling muscle car fans when it appeared between the front fenders of the 1989 Pontiac 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am.

History Of The Turbocharged Buick 3.8L V6, GM's Mightiest '80s Muscle Car Motor (10)

Featuring a set of different heads and stronger internals, the revised LC2 engine in the Trans Am produced more than its advertised 250hp and 340 lb-ft of torque (with boost having been raised to a 16 psi). The coupe boasted a quarter mile time in the lower reaches of the 13 second mark.

History Of The Turbocharged Buick 3.8L V6, GM's Mightiest '80s Muscle Car Motor (11)

Only a few thousand of these vehicles were built, largely to use up 3.8L V6 engines sitting in Buick's warehouse. It was to be the final hurrah for an engine that had been turning heads and snapping necks among Buick fans for two decades, and it marked the last time that GM offered a turbocharged passenger car for nearly 15 years.

More From Driving Line

  • Want more details about turbo Buicks outside the Grand National's influence? Check out these alternative Buick muscle machines that rocked a turbo mojo.


How much horsepower does a Buick Turbo 3.8 have? ›

It produced 300 hp while the commemorative edition only had a V8 with 165 hp.

What was the fastest Buick in the 1980s? ›

Back in 1987 the fastest U.S. production car ever to be produced was the Buick Grand National/GNX. I have owned three turbo Buicks in the past.

How much horsepower does a Buick Grand National V6 Turbo have? ›

Powered by a 3.8-liter V-6 that put out 200 hp, and a more impressive 300 lb-ft of torque, these Buicks were only a touch slower than a V-8 powered Corvette or Camaro. But they had a ton of tuning potential. In 1986 they got intercoolers and a few tweaks that took the power up to 245 hp and 355 lb-ft of torque.

What was the fastest Buick muscle car? ›

That meant the GNX could hit 60 mph from a standstill in 4.7 seconds, according to Car and Driver. To put that in perspective, this was faster than the Corvettes, Ferraris, Porsches, and even the Lamborghini Countach. For a brief period, the fastest production in the world was the Buick GNX.

How much horsepower does a 1987 Buick Regal 3.8 turbo have? ›

The 1987 Grand National was equipped with a sequential fuel injection 3.8-liter turbocharged V6 mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. This combination was good for 245 horsepower and 355 foot-pounds of torque.

What was the fastest muscle car in the 80s? ›

The Pontiac Firebird 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans AM was the fastest muscle car of the 80s even thought it didn't have a V8 under the hood.

Did Buick ever have a muscle car? ›

1965: Buick's first-ever muscle car—the Buick Skylark GS—debuts with a 325hp nailhead V-8 displacing 401ci. 1970: Buick offers its largest, most potent V-8 big-block muscle car ever, the 360hp, 510 lb-ft GS455.

How fast was a 1987 Buick Grand National? ›

Car and Driver (May 1987) recorded a 4.7-second zero-to-60-mph run and a 13.5-second quarter-mile at 102 mph.

How much HP can a Buick 3.8 V6 handle? ›

What you really need to ask is, "How much horsepower can a stock Buick V6 block withstand?" The consensus of Buick V6 experts such as Ken Duttweiler (Duttweiler Engineering) and Mike Tomaszewski (TA Performance) is around 550 to 600 hp. "They'll take that amount for a good while," Duttweiler says.

When did GM stop making the 3.8 V6? ›

For 2009, GM's more contemporary 3.9-liter V-6 replaced the 3800 in Buick's Lucerne, but it lasted a tad longer in the Buick LaCrosse and Pontiac Grand Prix. Production of the renowned 3800 V6 engine officially ended in August 2008, nearly 10 years beyond the automaker's original plan to abandon it in 1999.

Is the Buick 3.8 V6 a good engine? ›

Even if the performance figures weren't spectacular, the nearly flawless construction, beefy internals, ease of maintenance, and great fuel efficiency, make the 3800 - particularly in Series II and III guise – one of the best V6 engines ever built.

What is the best year of the Buick Grand National? ›

Today, Grand Nationals are on every list of collectible American cars of the 1980s— the most desirable being the 1986s and last-of-the-line '87s.

What year Buick Grand National was the fastest? ›

The 1987 model was both the most powerful of the Grand Nationals, producing 245 bhp and 355 lb ft of torque and outpacing its V8 contemporaries like the Corvette and the Camaro. Car and Driver magazine clocked the '87 at 4.9 seconds in the 0 – 60 mph dash, faster than the Lamborghini Countach.

What is the rarest Buick Grand National? ›

It's not black on black, but the 1982 Grand National may be one of the rarest Buicks to carry the name. Like Memorial Day weekend in the Spring, Labor Day weekend - often signaling the unofficial start of the Fall season - is brimming with traditions.

What Buick beat the Corvette? ›

The Buick GNX (which stood for Grand National Experimental) was a limited-run car, only being sold for the 1987 model year. It retailed for around $30,000 when new – around $70,000 today – and had enough performance from its 3.8-liter turbocharged V6 to outrun a 1987 Chevy Corvette.

What was the fastest car in 1987? ›

1. 1987 Porsche 959 — 3.6 seconds.

What turbo is on a 1987 Buick Grand National? ›

Improvements included a Garrett T3 turbocharger with ceramic impeller and GNX heat sheild, larger capacity intercooler, reprogrammed engine management and performance suspension with torque bar and GNX-only rear differential cover.

How fast was a 1987 Buick Regal GNX? ›

It ran to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds and clicked through the quarter-mile in 13.9 seconds at 98 mph. The GNX, with 55 more horses and an additional 25 pounds of mass, rockets to 60 in 4.7 seconds and squirts through the quarter-mile in 13.5 seconds at 102 mph.

What is the top speed of a Buick Regal 1986? ›

At 3,800 pounds, this 1986 Buick Regal isn't light, with the G body chassis underneath, as well as a full cage in the cabin. Still, it has more than enough power to put it to work. Top speed is well over 200 mph.

What was the first muscle car to hit 200 mph? ›

This 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona Was the First Car to Top 200 MPH.

What was the first muscle car with turbo? ›

Oldsmobile won the race against its sister division, Chevrolet, to be the first American manufacturer to offer a turbocharged car with the introduction of the Jetfire in April 1962. Chevrolet's Corvair Spyder with its turbo engine would debut later that year.

What is the fastest production Buick? ›

Buick has announced that the Regal GS is the fastest Buick ever. It hit 162 mph at the Nevada Open Road Challenge, good enough for a second-place finish in the 135-mph class.

What was the biggest Buick ever made? ›

The Buick Electra 225 nameplate was introduced in 1959, with the “225” referencing the model's overall length in inches. By 1975, the Electra grew to become the longest vehicle ever produced by Buick. It measured 233.7 inches from bumper to bumper.

What muscle car did Buick make? ›

The 1970 Buick GSX is perhaps the most famous muscle car that Buick built. See more muscle car pictures. Despite respected Buick muscle cars such as the GS 400 and mighty GSX, the "gentleman's car" division of General Motors was an unlikely source of high performance in the 1960s and early '70s.

What was the horsepower of a 1987 Buick Grand National? ›

The GNX's 3.8-liter V-6 developed 276 horsepower at 4400 rpm, and 360 pound-feet of torque at just 2400 rpm, courtesy of an uprated Garrett ceramic vane turbocharger and recalibrated engine-management system.

How much horsepower does a 1985 Buick Grand National have? ›

The turbo increased both fuel economy and performance, bumping horsepower from 105 to 165 on the 231-c.i. V-6, and was installed in the Regal Sport Coupe. Entry-level and Limited trims could be equipped with one of two naturally aspirated V-6s, or with a two- or four-barrel 305-c.i. V-8.

How fast was the 1986 Buick Grand National? ›

With the deeper-breathing turbo and intercooler, the 1986 Regal Grand National had a 0-60 time of 4.8 seconds, a full second faster than the same year Corvette, and could run the quarter mile in 13.7-seconds.

What is the most powerful Buick V6? ›

Under the hood of the ridiculously powerful 1987 Buick Grand National is a V6 that has been modified to use the full potential of a big turbo. The heads have been swapped out for TA heads and the rest of the modifications total up to an incredible 1000 horsepower at the crank and 900 wheel horsepower.

How many miles will a 3800 V6 last? ›

One of the reasons why the 3800 has had such a long production run is that it has been a very reliable, trouble-free engine for the most part. Many of these engines have racked up well over 200,000 miles with normal maintenance.

What car has a forged 3.8 L V6? ›

The 721 hp Forged 3.8L V6 is an engine originating from the 2017 Nissan GT-R Premium.

How much horsepower does a 3.8 V6 have? ›

In box stock form, the 3.8L Essex V-6 produces 145-150 hp at the crankshaft.

Does GM make a turbo V6? ›

The company currently offers a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 in the Cadillac CT5 and CT5-V and a 3.6-litre twin-turbo V6 in its Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing. The latter vehicle is the most powerful, pumping out 352kW and 603Nm.

How long does a 3.8 V6 engine last? ›

As long as you keep it well maintained, well over 300,000 miles is easily possible. These engines are fantastic, the shame is that most cars they came in are terrible. In most cases the engine will outlast the car it comes in.

What Buick has a Corvette engine? ›

9 1995 Buick Roadmaster Estate

It came with the 5.7L V8 of a Corvette so even though it weighed 4500 pounds, it could still get up to speed all right with its 260-hp engine.

Is Buick more reliable than Ford? ›

According to Consumer Reports, while Buick is less reliable than Japanese automakers like Mazda and Toyota, it's unequivocally the most reliable U.S. car brand – edging out brands like Ford and Chevrolet.

Who made Buick engines? ›

The division's founder, David Dunbar Buick was building gasoline engines by 1899, and his engineer, Walter L. Marr, built the first automobile to be called a Buick between 1899 and 1900.

What is the difference between a 1986 and 1987 Buick Grand National? ›

For the 1986 model year, Buick slotted in the final piece of the Grand National puzzle, by installing a Garrett air-to-air intercooler between the turbocharger and the throttle body, boosting horsepower to 235. For 1987, that package was reprogrammed for 245 horsepower.

What engine is in a 1986 Buick Grand National? ›

The 1986 Grand National's 3.8L V6 turbo engine now produced 235 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque with the help of an intercooler and a sequential port fuel injection system.

Was the 1986 Buick Grand National the fastest production car? ›

The car was almost two seconds faster than its corporate cousin, Monte Carlo SS, in the quarter mile. It was the fastest production car made in America in 1986. Customers began to take notice and sales more than doubled to 5,512. More Grand Nationals were built in 1986 than were built in 1984 and 1985 combined.

What was the fastest American made car in the 80s? ›

The Vector W8 was the fastest American car in the '80s. Powered by a huge 6.0-liter V8 engine that made a staggering 625 hp and over 600 lb-ft of torque, the Vector W8 could go from 0 to 60mph in just 4.2 seconds. The W8 could also reach a fantastic 242 mph top speed.

What was the fastest American made car in 1986? ›

There were a few fast muscle cars, though, including the 1986 Buick Regal Grand National. It was the fastest car made in America to 60 mph with an official time of just 4.9 seconds.

What was the Buick Grand National sister car? ›

The Buick Regal T-Type was the sister car to the infamous Grand National.

Is the Buick Grand National a muscle car? ›

The American Icon

Despite being based on the Regal coupe, the standard mode of transport for Floridian retirees, the Grand National was somehow faster than a Ferrari for half the price of a Corvette. So how did Buick manage to design a $15,000 muscle car that could keep up with a Countach?

What was the highest selling Grand National? ›

Expectations were high for the last 1987 Buick Grand National ever built when it crossed the auction block with no reserve at Barrett-Jackson's Scottsdale auction on January 29. Those expectations were met and exceeded when it hammered for a shocking $550,000.

How much hp can a Buick 3.8 V6 handle? ›

What you really need to ask is, "How much horsepower can a stock Buick V6 block withstand?" The consensus of Buick V6 experts such as Ken Duttweiler (Duttweiler Engineering) and Mike Tomaszewski (TA Performance) is around 550 to 600 hp. "They'll take that amount for a good while," Duttweiler says.

How much hp does a 3.8 engine have? ›

Chrysler 3.3 & 3.8 engines
3.3 & 3.8 engines
Power output150–215 hp (152–218 PS; 112–160 kW)
Torque output180–245 lb⋅ft (25–34 kg⋅m; 244–332 N⋅m)
PredecessorChrysler Slant straight-6 Chrysler LA 239 V6 engine AMC straight-6 engine Mitsubishi 6G7 V6 engine
21 more rows

How much horsepower does a GM 3.8 supercharged engine have? ›

Type:3.8L V-6 (L26)
Horsepower:200 hp (149 kw) @ 5200 rpm (Monte Carlo/Impala, Grand Prix, LaCrosse/Allure)
Torque:230 lb-ft (311 Nm) @ 4000 rpm (Park Avenue/LeSabre, Bonneville, Grand Prix, LaCrosse/Allure)
225 lb-ft (305 Nm) @ 4000 rpm (Monte Carlo/Impala)
Fuel shut off:6000 rpm
36 more rows

How much HP does a 3.8 L Whipple add? ›

That's why Whipple has increased the runner length to increase efficiency. With all these new upgrades, Whipple says its new 3.8 liter supercharger will be able to generate up to a whopping 830 HorsePower and 640 LBS of Torque.

Does GM still make the 3.8 engine? ›

The 3.8-liter V6 engine was built by members of UAW Local 599 in Plant 36 at GM Powertrain Flint North. Workers here have known for years that the engine was being phased out by GM, but only found out recently that the line would run for the last time Friday.

How much horsepower can you get out of a supercharged 3800? ›

Run on pump E85 from a local station, the turbo 3800 produced an easy 418 hp and 387 lb. -ft. of torque. Raising the boost up to 12.6 psi resulted in 534 hp and 488 lb.


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