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Identical Grand Nationals Found in Oklahoma After 30 Years!

HOT ROD logo HOT ROD 1/12/2018 Phillip Thomas
064-87GN-both-angle8.jpg Identical Grand Nationals Found in Oklahoma After 30 Years!

By any measure of credulity, these two cars shouldn't exist together. We'll start from the top: The G-body coupes were the last of traditional midsize American cars from GM, given a stay of execution while the sedans and wagons were killed off with front-wheel-drive replacements years earlier. Lloyd Ruess, the patriarch of the Grand National's turbo affliction, was replaced by a man tied to those front-drive ambitions by GM Corporate, meaning that 1987 was the last time we'd see the monolithic street fighters from Buick. Thankfully, Ed Mertz, the new general manager of Buick in 1986, drove a prototype of the fabled GNX and the entire program saw its last round of green lights, but everything could've ended much sooner.

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"Growing up in the '80s, we had the Syclones and the Typhoons from GMC. Anything from that era that had a turbo, I was a fan of," Shawn Mathews remembers. "You had Supras and 300ZXs, and in 1987 this was Buick's last attempt to make a name for themselves in that era."

With the assembly lines churning on, two identically optioned Buicks were spec'd and sent to Shattuck, Oklahoma, where they'd be off-loaded at Bill Brown Motors. They arrived with an identical $17,643 sticker price, with just a few electric convenience options tacked on to the turbocharged and intercooled 245hp 3.8L V6. And up until about a year ago, that's about as far as they had made it on paper.

You see, these two Grand Nationals, serial numbers 457991 and 457992, never really left the family dealership. Bill Brown would occasionally hold on to interesting cars from his Buick store, and many became run-arounds before being stored under the dealership—hence the low mileage. Eventually, the dealer shut down and the son of Bill Brown took home these two black-tie Buicks before stuffing them in his garage.

010-87GN_Dust-outside-hood.jpg© Grant Cox,William Avila 010-87GN_Dust-outside-hood.jpg

The Grand National package, a nod to the G-body Regal's success in NASCAR, added the notorious 3.8L V6, using then-cutting-edge sequential fuel-injection and coil-pack ignition along with a beefed up 200-4R automatic with a 3.42-geared limited-slip in the 10-bolt's housing. They didn't have the GNX's torque-arm, but the factory four-link could still stick it to the road for a healthy 13-second quarter-mile with a respectable 6-second sprint to 60 mph. Of course, making more boosted horsepower then was about as easy as it was today, and it didn't take long for people to understand that Buick's Darth Vader coupe could sweat Ferrari and Corvette owners on any given green light—and if it was ASC/McLaren's big-boost GNX, it was a promise.

The exterior trim was blacked out, and 15-inch chrome steel wheels replaced the Regal's geriatric, buffet-line steelies and hubcaps. A subtle power bulge in the hood and spoiler on the decklid were the only boy-racer styling cues, making the Buick the most restrained performance offering from GM at a time when the much slower Trans Am and IROC were battling for sales superiority.

Despite having 807 and 592 miles on their odometers, each car carried its Manufacturers Certificate of Origin (MSO), meaning that neither had been registered with their first true owner. In essence, friends William Avila and Shawn Mathews became the first owners of these Grand Nationals some 30 years after they were built.

This "barn find" came to the duo late one night through Facebook, as William was the resident Grand National fiend that everyone knew. "When he told me it was two Grand Nationals that had been sitting for 30 years, I basically didn't believe him," Shawn told us. William had nearly passed on the two cars since the asking price was astronomical, but he had talked the seller into allowing him to see the cars, and he wanted Shawn's help in the process. "He knew I enjoyed low-mile cars—doesn't matter really what it is—but Buick Grand Nationals and Mustang Cobras, those are our go-to cars."

012-87GN_Dust-bumper-1.jpg© Grant Cox,William Avila 012-87GN_Dust-bumper-1.jpg

"I've had several Grand Nationals, but I'm down to two right now," William said. "I'm one of the only guys who run a Mega Squirt in my Buick; it has a stock-stroke 109 block with forged internals. The fastest I've had it is 9.81 at 130-something mph."

But the seller didn't make it easy on William and Shawn. Communication was slow-going, with the seller falling in and out of radio silence. "I wasn't really believing it, especially in Oklahoma, of all places," Shawn joked. "But he sends me the pictures and I about fell out of my chair. I had to see these things."

When they reached the seller's property three hours east of Oklahoma City in Woodward County, the seller was still suspect of the two, but they were able to quell his concerns and finally see the dust-covered Buicks.

1987-buick-grand-national-twins-barn-find_46_.jpg© Grant Cox,William Avila 1987-buick-grand-national-twins-barn-find_46_.jpg

The two Grand Nationals were so fresh, they still carried their dealer invoices and information packets that were used during the sales process of the car when new. As bizarre as it sounds, both will tell you the "new-car smell" stuck with the interior all these years. While Shawn warmed the owner over, William looked over every detail of the cars. "They had just about every option people wanted, short of T-tops," William said. He also noticed the cars were, in fact, 1987s—not the 1986s they were advertised as, meaning they were more precious last-year cars.

Eventually, Shawn threw the seller a number, but he balked. "I kinda figured that's how it was gonna go, but I didn't want to piss the guy off," Shawn explained. "So a week goes by and I'm texting him every now and then, then the second and third week, and we're still not any closer to a deal. A month goes by, and he calls back with a high number, but we still can't do it." Things trailed off and eventually Shawn got distracted with another Mustang Cobra, but things went awry when the seller of that car also stiffed Shawn. "I'm over having the worst luck! Now even this guy won't sell me his car! So I call the guy with the Grand Nationals back—and he actually answers this time—and I tell him those cars are destined to be mine, that I tried to buy another car, they backed out and gave me my money back, so I feel like these two are meant to be."

They made arrangements to pick up the twins the following Friday, but things once again got weird when Shawn and William tried paying through their negotiated means: cashier's checks. They convinced the owner to head to his bank, where they could wire him the money directly and he could be on his merry way. "We drove three hours back and didn't even stop for gas—we just wanted to get out of there," Shawn recalled. "Other than batteries and fluids, we didn't have to touch a thing. The transmission fluid I pulled out was cleaner than anything I could've bought at a parts store," William joked. "It was awesome, definitely the highlight of my Buick Grand National ownership experience so far."

1987-buick-grand-national-twins-barn-find_35_.jpg© Grant Cox,William Avila 1987-buick-grand-national-twins-barn-find_35_.jpg

The Buicks received their first titled ownership with the approval of a local DMV clerk and judge, and Shawn and William became the first owners of a pair of 30-year-old Buicks. They were able to use the original MSO paperwork to register them just about the same as any other new car, despite the delayed purchase date. "They wanted just about any information they could get, and because it had never been titled and registered, there were certain state fees just like if you had bought a new car—they still want their money on the tax, tags, and license fees, you know!"

After clearing up the paperwork, the cleanup from three decades of storage meant calling in a professional detailer who specialized in oddball projects. After a fair amount of searching and interviews, local Brian Menke of Auto Spa in Oklahoma City stepped up to bring the paint back to its original glory. Brian took paint depth measurements and his team worked over the course of several weeks to painstakingly clean everything possible without disturbing the original parts and finish. This meant that other than the headliners, nothing had to be replaced. A car is only original once, and their restoration of the Grand Nationals reflected that state of mind.

What's next for these inseparable siblings? Shawn and William aren't sure if they want to sell them, but they're currently hunting for a museum to display the two cars in public.

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