The Buick Regal was a mid-size automobile produced by General Motors' Buick division from 1973 through 2004, during which Buick also used the Century name on mid-size models; the two frequently shared bodies and powertrains.
The First Generation Buick Regal 1973 - 1977
Buick had been the first GM division to bring a personal luxury car to market with its full-size 1963 Riviera but was otherwise slow to react to the developing mid-size personal luxury market, which Pontiac created with the 1969 Grand Prix. Buick introduced the Regal in 1973, technically as an
up-market variant of the Century, to move them more seriously into the category.
A highly-trimmed, notchback coupe, the first Regal shared its front and rear styling with the Century, but its greenhouse (window area) with the Grand Prix, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. Like its corporate cousins, it featured the newly fashionable opera windows, which were small fixed rear-side windows surrounded by sheetmetal, instead of the traditional roll-down windows. The model lasted five years with minimal changes, although there was a fairly substantial facelift in 1976, which incorporated the recently legalized square headlights. It was most commonly powered by GM's corporate 350 in³ (5.7L) V8, although some V6-powered units were produced. The Century designation was quietly dropped from this body around 1975.
The Second Generation Buick Regal 1978 - 1987
A downsized Regal appeared for 1978 with a new turbocharged version of Buick's venerable 231 in³ (3.8L) V6, a combination that lasted 9 years and helped give the Regal an unexpected reputation for performance. Despite the model's newfound performance, it was still hampered (from a performance perspective) by a soft suspension, small wheels and tires and the unavailability of a manual transmission, largely because the intermediate personal luxury market was the Regal's intended target, not the sports car segment.
A facelift in 1981 gave the Regal a much more aerodynamic profile, helping make it possible for the car to compete on the NASCAR racing circuit, where it enjoyed several decent seasons. V8s for street use were still available, but had shrunk to 265 in³ (4.3L), and the V6 was rapidly gaining popularity. In 1982, a new Century appeared on a front wheel drive chassis, but the former rear wheel drive Century sedan and wagon were not discontinued. These models were simply rebadged as Regals, and for the first time the name appeared on a full model lineup.
The Special Edition Buick Grand National and GNX
1987 Buick Regal Grand National T-Type Regal coupes, aimed at the performance market, appeared at this time, but the real news came in 1982, when the Regal Grand National appeared. Named for the NASCAR Grand National racing series, this car incorporated a 4.1 litre V6 with 125 hp or an optional 180 hp turbocharged 3.8 V6. It also featured T-tops, front and rear spoilers, a striking gray and silver paint job with a matching
interior. There was no Grand National in 1983, but it returned in 1984 wrapped in its familiar all black paint. The turbocharged 3.8 became standard and would continue to be refined with fuel injection and intercooling. In 1987 it reached 245 hp.
1987 also offered a lightweight WE4 (Turbo T) option which is extremely rare today. Only 1,547 of this variant were produced. The only differences between a WE4 and the base Grand National were interior trim package, rims, exterior badging, and aluminum bumper mounts. The rear spoiler was only available as a dealer installed option.
By 1985, the Grand National was acquiring a reputation as modern muscle car, but the days of the G-body were numbered. For the final year, 1987, Buick introduced the GNX at a
$11,000 premium. Produced by McLaren/ASC, Buick under-rated the GNX at 275 hp and a very substantial 360
lbf-ft of torque. This was created so as to be "Grand National to end all Grand Nationals," as the next model year converted the chassis to front wheel drive, which, Buick engineers admitted, simply wouldn't be able to put down that much power. Changes made included a special Garrett ceramic-impeller turbocharger connected by a ceramic-coated pipe to a better intercooler. A special computer chip, low-restriction exhaust, and reprogrammed Turbo Hydramatic 200-4R transmission with a custom torque converter and transmission fluid cooler completed the drivetrain modifications. Exterior styling changes include vents located on each front fender, 16 in black mesh style wheels with VR speed rated tires, and deletion of the hood and fender emblems. The interior changes of the GNX included a serial number on the dash plaque and a revised instrument cluster providing analog Stewart-Warner gages including an analog turbo boost gauge.
The acceleration performance of the GNX outpaced the factory's power claims: 0-60 mph took just 4.7 s with a 13.4 s/104 mph quarter-mile. According to contemporary sources, these numbers made the GNX the fastest production sedan ever built. This claim is somewhat controversial—the car had two doors but its interior volume and structure made it a sedan rather than a coupé, and just 547 examples were built. GNX #001 is currently owned by Buick and sometimes makes appearances at car shows around the US. Although many quicker cars have been built, including a number of quicker modern sedans, its performance was truly impressive for the time. A contemporary Porsche 930 hit 60 mph in 5.0 seconds and ran the quarter mile in 13.6, roughly equivalent to the GNX, which cost much less and could out-accelerate the naturally-aspirated 911 of the day. The muscle cars of the 1960s had the power to beat the GNX, but the tires of the time could not transform this into speed, not to mention the numerous techniques employed in the GNX allowed the car to transfer all the power to the ground, such as a ladder bar that ran from the mid-section of the car to the rear axle, so as to increase traction. This is also the reason why a GNX will actually lift the rear end up when the car is about to launch heavily. The GNX never made much of a road-track competitor to cars like the 911, but it could certainly hold its own on a drag strip.
Famously painted in all black, the Grand National and GNX were ferocious drag strip competitors and are highly collectible today. The sinister, stealthy appearance coupled with the fact that the Grand National was initially released during the height of Star Wars fever earned it the title Darth Vader Car.
The Third Generation Buick Regal 1988 - 1996
A new Regal appeared in 1988 on the GM W platform. This version both departed from and returned to Regal tradition. It was a departure in being the first front wheel drive model, and in having no serious performance option or edition; there was no V8 engine and the V6 no longer offered a turbocharger. It did return to the original concept, however, in being offered as a coupe only, aimed once again squarely at the personal luxury buyer. The decline in that market, though, was becoming noticeable to all the manufacturers, and in 1990 the Regal again got a four-door sedan version (as did the Grand Prix the same year). This generation ran with few changes for nine years.
The Regal was offered in base Custom and upscale Limited trim lines, with a Gran Sport appearance package added in 1991. The 3.8 L V8 was unique to the Buick W-body, giving the car some performance to differentiate it from the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and Pontiac Grand Prix with which it shared many of its components. Anti-lock brakes were made standard on all but the base Custom cars in 1992, and the grille was redesigned again for 1993. Along with the new look came an electronically-controlled automatic transmission and LeSabre-like rear lights and bumper.
A driver's-side airbag was added for 1994, though the motorized seatbelts remained. Other changes that year included the deletion of the Limited coupe, standard ABS on all models, standard power windows, and 20 hp more in the base engine. Dual airbags were new for 1995 along with a new interior. The large engine gained 35 hp for 1996, and only the Custom coupe remained. Although 1996 was the last year of this model, production continued into 1997 as the replacement model was late.
The Forth Generation Buick Regal 1997 - 2004
In 1997, the Century and the Regal simply became versions of the same car, sitting on a revised W platform that was shared with the Oldsmobile Intrigue, the Pontiac Grand Prix, and the Chevrolet Impala. A four-door sedan was the only model offered, and differences were mostly cosmetic. As the
up-market version, the Regal offered larger engines and fancier trim, and once again boasted a newer version of the 231 (3.8 L) V6. While the Century was mainly a reliable, economy-minded car based upon the W-body, the Regal was fitted with many amenities, including heated leather seats, a Monsoon 8-speaker surround sound system, dual climate control, and expansive interior space. Few changes occurred during this version's seven-year run.
This period held the fastest Buick since the days of the Grand National, the Buick Regal GS. This car was now supercharged instead of turbocharged and produced a very respectable 240 hp and 280 ft·lb
of torque. It has gained a reputation amongst those who know automobiles as a 'sleeper', or a car that performs better than one would expect from its looks.
The final 2004 Buick Regal rolled off the assembly line on June 1, 2004.