As Buick currently claws and scratches its way back into relevance to compete against luxury brands like Lexus and Acura, it's hard to believe that not too long ago, the brand had a car that was mentioned in the same breath as Corvette, Lamborghini and Ferrari. That car? None other than the Buick Grand National. All black with a turbocharged V6 and some of the quickest acceleration of its time, the Grand National, in today's standards, is along the lines of a 2013 Shelby GT500 with both cars essentially being a working man's supercar.

The last Grand National rolled off the assembly line in Flint, MI on December 11, 1987, and to mark the silver anniversary of that somber occasion, Black Air is a documentary of the Grand National from the perspective of the enthusiast, the collector, the media and even from those at General Motors responsible for creating such a sinister legend. Like the car itself, Andrew Filippone Jr. shoots the documentary in a raw fashion, and it definitely helps to show why a low-volume muscle car from the 1980s is still the object of obsession for many automotive enthusiasts to this day. Black Air really does capture the story from all angles, starting from the moment the idea of the car was conjured up in 1980 by Buick's GM Lloyd Reuss to be a "radically different" car, intent on lowering the age demographic of Buick buyers. Three possible design directions were sketched in 1980 including the "stripe package" model that debuted in 1982, but it wasn't until 1984 that the monochromatic black paint scheme and turbocharged 3.8-liter V6 engine, which are now synonymous with the Grand National name, came to fruition.



We also get the viewpoint of automotive journalists from Car and Driver such as Csaba Csere and Tony Assenza. Csere talks about the first time he drove the Grand National in eight-degree Michigan weather, and the car laid down a 0-60 time of just 4.9 seconds – faster than a Ferrari Testarossa and Lamborghini Countach. During burnouts, Csere said "the tires... made not the squealing sound... it was a harsher sound almost like the tread was being ripped off the tires."

Being an enthusiast and collector car, Filippone managed to capture many different stories of Grand National ownership drawing a close relation with how loyal and passionate Ferrari owners are. The cover of the movie calls the car a "strange and curious misfit," and over the course of the film, this is backed up by the fact that it seems like the Grand National caught many of its enthusiasts off guard – like Richard Clark. Clark first met the Grand National in losing to a friend in a drag race with his Ferrari, and now his North Carolina shop has become a Mecca for GN and GNX lovers.



Bob Colvin's Grand National story might be the most impressive for Grand National fans, though. Colvin, from Springhill Motor Company in Springhill, Louisiana, campaigned to get the last GN to be built, and after Buick agreed, he was on hand to document his car as it was being built at Buick City. Not only was it the last Grand National ever built, it also marked the closure of that particular line, and Colvin points out that while many of the line workers were losing their jobs, they were still cheering as the car was being assembled. Colvin still owns the car (which during the movie had less than nine miles on the odometer), and it is preserved in an air conditioned room in his house.

With the end looming, GM celebrated the end of the boxy, rear-wheel-drive G-body cars with the more powerful GNX in 1987 created as a collaboration between Buick and ASC/McLaren giving the fast and powerful Grand National even more speed and more power. In the end, Colvin's car rolled off the line in a bittersweet moment that marked the end of a plant and the beginning of a legacy for the car.



Like any other piece of automotive history, the movie documents cars that have been sealed away in garages, those still laying down rubber on the quarter-mile and even some that are being reborn. In addition to the 70-minute feature part of the film, there are also a pair of interesting presentations recorded during the 2011 Buick Performance Group Nationals (about 43 minutes each) with former GM employees Ron Yuille, a staff engineer talking about the development of the GN's turbo V6, and David Roland who worked on the GNX project. Black Air is only available on DVD starting December 11 on GNMovie.com with a cost of $20 plus shipping.

The timing for this documentary's release couldn't have been better as recent rumors indicate GM might be trying to revive the Grand National and GNX names for new, high-performance Buick models. Also, with the holiday season coming up, this movie is a must-have for fans of the Grand National, and it could be a great movie to watch for any non-enthusiasts, too, as a glimpse into what can spark such a passion.


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  • 43 Comments
      NoBoost
      • 2 Years Ago
      I've always really liked the Grand National. Looking back I'm truly surprised that GM built the GN. It rivaled the Vette in HP/TQ. And the GNX had higher HP/TQ than the 87 Vette but it was also more expensive than a base Vette. If I had 10 "sports" car in the garage, a GNX would be one of them.
      ChaosphereIX
      • 2 Years Ago
      love this car, one of my boyhood dream cars. The first drag race I saw was a GN vs. a Trans Am, the GN blew it away, and I had to ask my friend's dad later what that loud whistle was that I heard as it flew by. Turbo! I was hooked since. Hope GM doesnt screw it up and revives the GN and GNX with proper eye-popping performance credentials rather than some dressing and a slight bump in power. Fingers crossed.
        Dean
        • 2 Years Ago
        @ChaosphereIX
        'one of my boyhood dream cars'?? Is it no longer one of your dream cars? It was my dream car when I first saw it as a kid, I saw one at a Cars & Coffee event, and it's still one of my dream cars!!
          Dean
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dean
          I think for some, dream cars change, for others, some cars will always hold a place in their memories. The Grand National is one of those cars that would be hard to get out of your memory. I'm sure your Optima gets to 60 faster than the Countach, but the feeling the Countach leaves you with will be unmatched. Practicality comes into play at some point too, but that's why certain cars are dream cars. I think 'dream cars' are meant to be out of the realm of possibility...others see it as something of a reward to themselves at one point in their life. As for making the dream a reality, I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure I'd have to be a solid part of the 1%...one can only dream...
      Rich
      • 2 Years Ago
      OOOOOOO, my favorite era!
        Rich
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Rich
        "Muscle car era" be damned, this was turbos, cocaine, shoulder pads!!!
      Polly Prissy Pants
      • 2 Years Ago
      It's ironic how often great product achievements are only possible when kept secret from corporate management. Speaks volumes about how befuddled incompetence is the norm, not the exception in upper management ranks even today.
      PACMK02
      • 2 Years Ago
      The new GNX already exists in Europe. Its called the Opel/ Vauxhall Insignia OPC. 325 hp twin turbo V6 with awd. Come on Buick, paint one all black, add some GNX logos and that would be a modern Buick to remember.
      Jeff Stork
      • 2 Years Ago
      Great article and very excited about the movie. As a Buick employee back in the day, I must point out that the last Grand Nationals were not assembled at Buick City, but rather at Pontiac, Michigan, and that they were the last cars produced there. Buick City was exclusively producing the FWD Le Sabre (H-Body) starting in the 1986 model year.
      Drakkon
      • 2 Years Ago
      The GNs are way cool. My only complaints are the fender vents they robbed from my Celebrity boat and painted black. Every boat of the era had the same vents. I guess they thought we wouldn't notice. I saw an all blank 'Grand National' that someone had chopped the top off and made the world's most ill-fitting convertible top that stood three feet off the trunk when it was 'down.' Sacrilegious. I really really hope it was a Regal with the trim all painted black. Many Mustang 5.0 drivers refused to believe these were fast. Boy, were they wrong.
        Silly Pickle
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Drakkon
        Funny...my wife (gf at the time) had my '89 5.0 and was at a light when 2 guys in a Grand National (she knows what they were because I loved them and she HATED them, still does in fact, and I still love 'em, GN's that is) pull along side her. Light turns green and she nails it off the line. They pull up bedside her at the next light, look over, ok...now we're ready too chicky! Light turns green and she blows them away...again, this time they're even making an effort. They followed her to the mall and when she got out, asked "where the hell did you learn how to drive like that!" Farm girls...don't kid yourself. Some even know how to drive, and she beat 'em fair and square. 5.0's weren't slow either...but then I never lost a race with it myself (except that Vette and the guy in the 85 5.0 with a massive cam and mega HP...otherwise, 22 years ago as it was...no one ever got past my front bumper). A GNX might have been a different story, but I was never afraid of a little old GN...sinister sure, but not unbeatable. Still, I would rather have a GN in my garage than an '89 Mustang.
          JD
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Silly Pickle
          She must have had a special 5.0 or they couldn't drive. My GN ran into the high 13s stock. A friend's Ttype ran 13.7.. stock. Most of the 5.0s ran 14.1-14.5 at the track. It was best that a gear was needed to get the 5.0 a tad quicker into the 13s.
          Karfreek
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Silly Pickle
          And I've beaten plenty of 5.0 with the L98 in my picture....
      Joe Early
      • 2 Years Ago
      Why is he trying to sale a DVD??? Make a nice video, with better music, and post it on youtube. Nobody is going to fork over any money to see a buick that we all have seen before.
        Ted
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Joe Early
        That would be "sell" a DVD. And nobody would do that much work for free.
        Chris
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Joe Early
        Go look and see how much these old Grand Nationals and GNXs are selling for, and then come back here and tell us no one cares.
      Douglas
      • 2 Years Ago
      I hated the car's styling when it first came out, and still hate it. What and ugly brick. This is the reason GM went into the toilet
        David Becker
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Douglas
        Stupid troll comments are stupid
        Tony Love
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Douglas
        u must be the only person in the world that doesnt like the GN. i own a GNX and a GN. bought them new. aAnd they are awesome!!
      First
      • 2 Years Ago
      I LOVED my '86 GN,.....and so did every ghetto punk within 100 yards of it when parked. "Ey mahn, das' a Gron Nashel! Where'joo get dat car?! How much you pay for dat car?!" I couldn't drive it anywhere without it attracting the wrong attention from a (certain crowd we all know and love). It was broken into 5 times and finally stolen on the 5th. Thanks to Lojack, it was found in a couple hours in a backyard in the ghetto. One block away was a salvage yard full of g-bodies (GN's, Monte Carlos, Cutlasses) that was basically a chop shop. I ended up selling it to a collector in Canada, and it was for the better. My younger, hot-head brain was ready to risk going to death row for revenge. I still believe that auto theft will decline when car thieves start turning up dead in parking lots. The car now is part of a collection far away and safe from a risk of being stolen and "donked".
        Chris
        • 2 Years Ago
        @First
        I'm with you on that!! I hate seeing those old GM G-Bodies being transformed into "ghetto sleds" with those gaudy 20'-something rims, and sometimes even non-stock paint jobs. Luckily, I have not seen too many Grand Nationals, or T-Types fall victim to this sort of thing, but I have seen a few Regals, and plenty of Monte Carlo SSs and and Cutlasses be reduced to such lows. I hate to see them take what are otherwise good looking cars, and make them look like something that came with a Happy Meal, or from Toys R Us.
      davebo357
      • 2 Years Ago
      I'm all for this. GM, give us some new RWD turbo V6 cars. I don't care if it's the Grand National or Monte Carlo or what.
      masaki
      • 2 Years Ago
      $20. I think not. Stream it for $5 and I might have watched it.
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