Never meet your heroes! '86 Grand National

Jon Early

Active Member
It's time to start a thread because I haven't really showed my head in here much other than the 3800 section.

I've been a big fan of Buick power since I was pretty young. A family friend who you may already know got me into these when I was still eating off a kids menu. After a lot of toying with a bunch of junk throughout my teen years and never fully scratching the itch, I decided to buy a GN in 2016 no matter what it took.

I found a 45k mile '86 in what appeared to be excellent condition. The car came with a literal truck bed full of totes which contained most of the factory parts, receipts, memorabilia, and some old speed parts. The car had some questionable modifications done to it and clearly sat for some time, but nothing that couldn't be easily reversed. I was too excited to pass it up, so I got a cashiers check rode a Greyhound bus from Indy to Chicago, (I don't recommend that!) bought the car, and drove it home. I fully admit that it wasn't the most responsible thing to do, but I have no regrets despite the story I'm about to tell you.

At this point, I was 24 and had never had a nice classic car. I had also never successfully completed a project to my liking, so I thought having a car that was already nice and needed very little would be super easy.... Oh how naïve I was. I will say that first summer was a blast though.

I was incredibly excited to bring a Buick to the GS Nationals. It felt like a right of passage. However, the brakes were getting sketchier all the time, and the car had an intermittent brake light. I knew that the Powermaster was failing me. I rebuilt the master cylinder with Kirban's seal kit, and installed a new accumulator. No dice. It was time to do some actual diagnostics. I lost a lot these pictures, but I came up with a series of fittings that would allow the unit to function with a pressure gauge teed off the switch. As luck would have it, the pump did not have the guts to make enough pressure, and I finally found this out two days before I was supposed to leave.

I was very pouty at work, but still had a glimpse of hope. I started scrounging the internet for local G-body parts cars, and my luck turned around. There were two El Caminos in an Indianapolis junkyard that had the stuff I needed for a vacuum conversion, and O'reiley had a reman master cylinder, so I took a half day, and bolted up there. I have very few pictures of these efforts but that's because I was thrashing as fast and as carefully as I could from lunch time until my test drive at 1:00AM. Sure enough, the car made it to BG.

While I was there, I rolled over 47k and blew out one of the original bumper fillers. :(

I was bummed that I couldn't fix my Powermaster, but I made do.

About a month later I would bring my first big heartbreak.

This was the worst car accident I had ever been in. While coming home from an Indiana Chapter GSCA meeting, I smoked a raccoon on a dark highway doing 55 mph. It ruined the air dams, "trash can mod", Precision intercooler shroud, intercooler mounts, intercooler fan, and ATR "rock catcher" scoop. I couldn't believe it.


I had a welder friend help me straighten and weld up the shroud which turned out okay.

I saved the passenger side air dam, but the driver side was a lost cause. I ended up replacing it with this ATR scoop which didn't fit at all.

Then I whipped up this intercooler bracket which I thought looked way nicer than the Precision piece anyway.

...and cruise I did. Man, did I think I was hot sh** in this car! It had 42lb injectors, alky injection, Precision SLIC and plenum, Accufab 70mm throttle and adjustable regulator, and sticky Mickys. Most people my age hated the smoothies, but I thought they were perfect for the car.

Driving season came to a close, so I started attempting some updates. First order of business was taking care of this atrocious DIY hot wire.

While at it, I figured it was a good idea to replace the unknown age ATR pump. I bought a Racetronix 255 drop-in unit as suggested by Full Throttle.

I'm still so impressed by the fit and finish of the Racetronix parts!

I took a trip down to Boost Crew after work one day to pick up a set of fillers. I really enjoyed the unexpected tour of the shop. They have some cool guys and badass operation.


I thought some head light covers would be a cool period-correct addition that would also help my banana shaped buckets. Two birds, one stone?

The next spring I started noticing that my shorts were getting caught getting in and out of the car, and I actually yelped when I saw this.

I would have thrown a fit if the original covers were damaged, so I quickly removed the seat and sent it to a reputable interior shop near Chicago to get re-foamed.

They did an excellent job! They even fixed the stretched part.

Here she sits in a clean garage waiting for another GSCA meeting to happen.
First arrival!

I wasn't a fan of the American Racing decals so I added this little touch. Sometimes it's the little things.


I never thought that this was a slick look and I was worried about the Alky controller doing permanent damage to the dash pad.

So I experimented with locations. I actually loved this other than needing to nod down to far to see the Scanmaster, but I knew that I needed it somewhere that wouldn't ruin the original Buick ambiance.

Another summer went by without much fuss and we started gearing up for the 2017 GS Nationals. It was a rainy one!

Parked in her usual spot!

My work later had a car show where I got my first trophy!

Then I bought a power logger. I didn't know a thing about tuning, but I knew I was going to have to learn if I ever wanted my car to progress. Who doesn't? While I was upgrading the Scanmaster, I decided to go all out with the mounting. I can't take credit for the idea, but the man who did is a genious!

See where it's going yet?

This is still one of my favorite modifications to the car.

I've been told by a lot of people that they like watching the numbers flash when they drive behind me!

From a cruise I went on. The photographer took some good shots!

I still obviously loved this car, but it was starting to drag on me a bit. I had spent a ton of money on it, and was still repaying the loan I took out. None of that was exactly the true issue, but more so that I felt like I was always hurting the car in some way or another even when I was fixing it. Something was always breaking, getting ugly, or otherwise being a pain in the rear. In the end it resulted in the car being a little less stock and not in a good way. I had learned that this car was not like the other piles of junk that I had owned in the past. It required a lot of extra care to keep it both looking and performing well which were not things that I wanted to learn how to do the hard way on my dream car. I also loved how much of a time capsule this car was, so pulling it all apart to get build the racecar I always wanted was not going to happen either.

I was in a really bizarre pickle. The GN was my dream car that I was scared to work on, drive, or modify. My solution was LAME V6. I still wanted to build something Buick powered, but I wanted to do learn on something that wouldn't break the bank or make me feel bad for "ruining". It was a huge success in boosting my confidence in wrenching, fabrication, and overall ego. The only downside was that a lot of focus was shifted away form the GN.

Here she is at the Midwest Buick GS/GN show.
That was random. I broke the passenger seat return spring. I still haven't gotten a new one that's adequate, so let me know if you have a parts seat!

All my turbo turds!
all the turbo turds 7-18.jpg

And another GSCA meeting.
GSCA 7-18.jpg

GS Nats 2018

I always hated how awkward the Precision shroud looked from the side, but I've always loved this picture nonetheless.

The following winter I decided to focus on getting the Camaro together, so I put the Buick in storage.


It was really tough leaving it somewhere I couldn't see it every day.

After picking up some tools and learning on a couple other cars, I decided to get the AC working among other repairs. It was the first order of business after the car was pulled from storage. Managed to work on three cars at once!

I had gauges, a flushing kit, green orings, a bunch of r134a, ester oil, dye, a powder coated accumulator from Kirban, new orifice tube, and conversion fittings with black caps. Overall I'm happy with the results, it looks completely factory, and performs adequately. If I knew what I know now, I'd change out the orifice tube for the Ford part, but oh well. The system been leak free for over three years and I don't want to disturb it!


Nice compressor o-rings.


It's kinda funny how in-between eras of manufacturing the turbo Regals lie. Sometimes I forget that under the port fuel injection lies cork gaskets. lol

I really don't like these PCV grommets.


As usual it didn't take long to run into my next issue. The nationals were coming up and I'd once again be scrambling to diagnose and reapair an issue. The alternator was squeaking as confirmed by spinning it manually. Off to ebay! I liked the factory unit, so a rebuild was the only option.




This was also an amperage upgrade too so I even managed a small performance upgrade through my efforts. I was seeing 14.5V at idle which was quite a bit more than I was used to.
Although I was dangerously close to Nats time, I noticed some ugly stuff that I couldn't live with. I didn't even know this car had a ported intake.


All the hardware was hardware store garbage. A lot of them them being the wrong size and stripped out. It's no wonder why I had never been able to make a clean pass or dial this thing in. There were vacuum leaks all over the place!


Fun times

and the plugs were in desperate need of being changed. It looked like they were gapped by Ray Charles too.

The car made it to Bowling Green though, and my wife actually wanted to come with this time!

When I pulled the car out of the barn in 2020, I was not as enthusiastic about it as usual. I had spent the whole winter on Camaro stuff, and wasn't ready to quit. I knew having both stalls filled would mean not as much work would get done. Besides, COVID ruined doing car shows and events anyway.


I had made some attempts to tame the jungle that was my alky control wiring and decided it wasn't worth the effort. I can't speak for new systems, but mine was a HUGE mess and I couldn't find a good way to tuck away the brain, so I let the kick panel sag and look bad.

If I couldn't fix the problem I would at least fix the symptom.

What a huge difference that made!

That was about it for 2020. Shamefully, I worked on the Camaro all summer.


Going to storage 1 10-20.jpg

By 2021, the Grand National was starting to feel like burden. Sure It was paid off and my "dream car", but I wasn't driving it, working on it, or even wanting to do either one. I wasn't ready to give it up though, so I decided to give it a makeover when I pulled it from the barn again.


Batesville tunnel 4-21.jpg

The alky system had been giving me problems since day one, but so had many other things, so I decided not to open that can of worms just yet.

This gigantic piece of expensive aluminum was on its way out though.
1666121834628.png was the worthless cold air intake I made.

Well this is odd.

yet visually satisfying to me.

I was also ready to address some oil leaks that were driving me a bit nuts.

I finally cleared out the "free hardware bin" that is my intake. :LOL:
The heater fittings were being a bear, and by this time I was already cutting it close to Nationals as the dates were switched to may.

There was no saving the pipe. Luckily Highway Stars was able to send a new one fast.

Peeling off cruddy original heater hoses made me feel bad for the car. I felt very neglectful.


I'd say those valve cover gaskets were shot!

Much better.

A socket finally got this off.

Well it certainly doesn't help that somebody seems to have RTVd the heater pipe in place. (n)


Much better!

More neglect: Vacuum hose edition


I pulled the original intercooler out of my stash of original parts and started getting ready to hang it. The shroud wasn't going to do it for me.




Hog rings

Melted in

and plastic welded!
Far from perfect, but much better than I found it.


Juuuust a bit of a size difference. It hurt to remove performance parts, but the Precision piece is so bulky and a huge bitch to install and remove especially with bent brackets. The ease of installation of the stock intercooler was a big relief.


Quickly sold the kit!

New heater pipe arrived just in time.

Nothing like having two turbo 3.8s under construction in a two car garage. o_O

I bought another up pipe to drill into. I wanted to preserve my original.

and the finished product! I was in love with the car all over again. It's clearly not 100% stock, but it looks the part to an untrained eye.


Believe it or not the car felt better and more consistent than it ever had. It wasn't faster, but definitely healthier. Since I was happier with the car, I tried to embrace it a little more. I liked that the air box was sturdy, but I wasn't about the lack of sound and performance.

Yep, that's a center cap from a Thunderbird. :LOL: It works a lot better than the lower half of the airbox!


I was losing interest in the smoothies partially because the car was so stock, but also because the offsets never fit my taste. They were stock wheel sized with no staggering. It was just wrong. I sold the wheels with roached tires on them, and drug these out of the basement.

Once again, I was falling back in love with the car. It looked and ran so much better.

Even my wife is obsessed!

Cruise with the buddies.

This is all the cliff notes of course. As you can tell, this car has been a bit of a wild ride for me and not always the fun kind! Next post will be about the more current situation.
Very Nice Write up! Powder coat the turbo heat shield.

Very Nice Write up! Powder coat the turbo heat shield.

Thanks! Powder and ceramic coating a bunch of parts is in the long term plans.

This this driving season is already over, and it not much different than the years past.

The biggest difference being was that I didn't take the Buick to the Nats this year. I finally got the turbo 3800 car road trip and track ready which was a feat I never thought I'd accomplish. It's far from perfect, but I accomplished my initial goal of turbocharging a RWD 3800 driving it to the nats, racing it, and driving it home. Instead of being happy with that redirecting my attention, I bought 3800 cylinder heads, and a whole bunch of other Camaro parts.

Anyway, the car was pulled out of storage after summer had already began.

and it looks like I forgot to mention that I scored a new set of air dams at the Nats in 2021 because they're already installed! I always liked the air dam scoop but mine wasn't functional nor did it fit right. I'm happy with the change.

I drove the Camaro to the barn to pick it up with my wife. Then we both cruised together to a car show about half way home. It was fun being able to show both cars off at once,



I was antsy to work on something because I had been using almost all my free time to soup up the Camaro for a few years until that point. However, I had promised myself that I would stop and just enjoy driving it.

That itch doesn't go away though, and the GN was good enough. While cleaning up the garage I found this old relic buried on a shelf. It's the old rock catcher! It hadn't moved from that spot since 2016, and for some reason I felt the urge to fix it. I figured if I haven't thrown it away yet then I have to do something with it.





Y'all need a mind reset........AZ winters are the time to work on AND race your car. :)

Ain't no snowed in or bad roads here in the winter time, 70 degree temps and dry conditions..... Unless you want to climb up the Catalina Mountains !


I even extracted all the broken bolts and replaced them. I still don't understand why I did it because there's no chance of me putting this back on a car. In fact I cleaned the huge K&N and ran I on the Camaro for a little while. If anybody wants this thing for some reason let me know! You can have it.

Anyway, I hadn't driven the GN at all since bringing it out of storage. It was being finnicky as always, the alky pump seemed to be dying AGAIN, and the little annoyances with difficult fixes were getting very discouraging. It got to the point where I was ready to sell it. Let's be real. 2022 is a great year to cash out!

During our community garage sale, I managed to have a couple serious conversations but I enjoyed talking with many others who recognized what it was.

When our garage sale concluded, I started asking the wife how she felt about seriously selling the car. While she was was totally on board with throwing a sign in the car and seeing what happened, she was not cool with posting it online for a competitive price. She loves this car and the attention it brings. Which really threw me for a loop. I still didn't know exactly what I wanted out of this thing, but one thing seemed for certain. This car was sticking around, and I had better not screw it up.

I wasn't ready to give up my plans for the Camaro, but I was close enough to having all the parts needed for a proven 500whp 3800 combination that I could justify putting the GN off for another year. In the mean time the Camaro was still on the road, and a massive hunk of fiberglass had been sitting in our spare bedroom for a few years.

This was a very long overdue win for me and the car. I bought a full set of Spool Fool fillers when the front right blew out several years prior. The rears started looking like crap soon after but never actually fell apart. When I swapped the fuel pump I foolishly "cleaned" the tank with brake cleaner not expecting to remove all the undercoating and make the tank look like it's melting for the following five years. Having the bumper, tail lights, and fillers out seemed like a great time to correct that.

Eastwood rust encapsulator seems to match any underbody and works great on light rust.

Also, the Spool Fool single piece filler fit way nicer than I expected. The fronts required a lot of adjustments, but this one plopped right on.


This was a huge weight off my shoulders.

Fun addition for those who don't believe that disintegration is inevitable. This is a picture of the fillers a minute or two after I removed them.

This is a couple hours later. I had not touched anything!

After that, I figured I would take on a little side project that doesn't involve taking a car down. Many will think I'm crazy. That's fine, but I miss the Powermaster. Years ago I scored a parts unit from a wrecked car for $75. I'm not sure if that's good because the brakes worked fine until the wreck or bad because the brakes failed and CAUSED a wreck. :ROFLMAO: Either way, It seemed worth swapping pumps. Worst case scenario would be that both pumps are bad and I have two core units to send to Kirban for $150 each. I can't lose!
Another little side project I did while bored at work was make a bench test harness for the Powermaster. I think my 12V power supply has enough guts to power this thing on the bench and confirm that it's ready to go.

But there's no way to secure a powermaster in a vise without damaging it. I had a lot of scrap metal, a box full of leftover bolts, and a welder sooooo don't judge its ugliness! It's sturdy and it works.

What I failed to think about was the powermaster's appearance. The motor body was rusty, and the vacuum booster still looked great. I didn't think I could justify throwing this thing on even if it did work, so I moved this to the "when I have spare time this winter" list.

From there I was too busy to work on anything between home improvement and life in general. Before I knew it, it was time to put a car away and I was determined to throw heads and a cam in the Camaro. After making it about half way to the barn I gave it some throttle, and noticed that the car was very sluggish. That was when I noticed something a bit concerning in my mirror.

Nope. I'm not smoking tires. That's blue smoke, folks. :(

There was no way I could justify storing the car like this. I rapidly made a big change of plans, turned around, parked the GN at the house, and brought the Camaro to storage. Let me tell you, that was probably the most nauseating drive I had ever made. I could hardly breathe!

Welp. That'll do it! Notice anything missing?
The nut and a few chipped off blades were just chilling in my intake tube.


Remember how I said that I felt neglectful while peeling 35 year old heater hoses off the heater core? This felt like kicking a puppy. This was the last straw. The Camaro was gone, the garage belonged only to the Buick for the first time in five years, and I had gained plenty of knowledge and patience to build a car right.

Plenty more to come....
I feel your pain there. My nut decided to take a vacation also. I also found pieces of turbo parts in my oil pan. You should take the turbo apart and see if anything is missing.
Nice write up, thanks for taking the time.