Would it be worth it to restore this '86?


New Member
Feb 14, 2018
I'm just looking for some opinions on the specifics of this situation. I acquired my late father's 1986 T-Top Grand National earlier this year. The engine is out of the vehicle and torn down a good bit as he was in the process of rebuilding it. I did not really know my father so I have no idea about the current state of the engine. The car has not run since at least 1999, possibly longer. I had planned to have the engine rebuilt and the car restored to running order but have been running into road block after road block. Here's some quick facts about the situation and I'd like to hear your opinions on how to proceed.

-I live in Central PA - approximately 2.5 hours from Jim Dunn's Turbo Buick shop down by Philly
-The car is currently in my Aunt's garage. The engine was on a stand a previously but I moved it onto a pallet and tire.
-The car has relatively little rust but has not run for nearly twenty years (it still has the stock tires up front!).
-I think it would be best to have the engine rebuilt as I am not sure of the quality of the engine or my father's work done to it so far.
-The car itself would need approximately $5000 in parts and labor (not including engine rebuild or transportation to get it down to Philly) to get it running well.
-An engine rebuild would add another ~$4500.
-The car itself has some minor cosmetic issues. One small dent in the drivers side door, a cracked grill, a broken taillight, and a falling headliner.
-The car has 39,900 miles and I'm almost certain the odometer is accurate.
-I paid $1,000 for the car.
-I have $8,000 saved which was specifically being saved for this and was the upper limit of what I wanted to spend (this was my plan before I realized the cost of an engine rebuild)

However, in my conversations with Jim Dunn he seems to think it wouldn't really be worth paying the money to fix it up. He suggested maybe purchasing an engine to put in it (rather than rebuild) or selling the car as a project and using the savings + sale money to buy a running one if I wished to. Now I'm doubting myself and would like to hear some more opinions. Is there a more cost effective way to go about this? Unfortunately I can't work on this myself as I'm going to be moving to a city soon and will not have a garage (nor do I have the skills/tools to do so) and my Aunt is selling the house she lives in so I am pressed for time. Hearing some outside opinions would be great.

Here is a link to some photos.
It's absolutely worth fixing . a running low mile 86 gn even with t tops is easily worth 15 k. And possibly more especially if no rust. If you don't have ability or skills to do any work yourself it could get expensive in the wrong hands. You paid a grand for it is a steal all day long. Any one on this board would have jumped on that deal. Racers not interested in t top cars but plenty others are. Original owner 39 k miles is low low low miles and highly desirable to an enthusiast even without a running engine. These cars are a blast to drive and quite unique and this forum is a great support system to help you get that car back in shape. Go for it!
It is absolutely worth fixing,the question is if you are the one to do it. 8,000 is not gonna get that car where you wanit. Jim is an expert and can def put it back together. I personally have been involved in building two. I can tell by looking and with you saying you wont be able to do alot of the work yourself,plus no garage and no tools your gonna need twice that amout just to get the car decent looking. Also it looks like it in need of paint and body work,at (least) 5-6 thousand and that's conservative. Im just trying to give you a realistic view, these car are awesome, but they cost a friggin fortune to get rite. A total frame off is what needs to be done to that one if you want it correct. Either decide if your gonna do it rite or sell it. You need at least a year and 40,000,that will get you a 20,000 car. Good luck and best regards Gene.
Unless you have an attachment to it and plenty of spare $, I would sell. It's definitely worth fixing, but the road will be long and full of surprises along the way. Consider a trans rebuild and new fuel system, plus the brake powermaster is probably dead.
Sell it as a project. Unless you feel this car is special to you, it will cost way more than 8k to get in good shape, especially since you have no experience with them. This would be something a TB owner with lot of spare parts and plenty of hands on experience could turn around and make a worthy ride of. Wish I had the space, I'd make an offer.
You don't have the expertise or a place to store the car. The car will turn into a money pit. I would sell it.
I would also like to point out that I did not expect a full restoration right away and was not including paint and detailing in my budget. The goal was to get it running well and focus on looks at another time. Not sure if that influences anything. I appreciate everyone's responses and am taking them all into consideration.

Unforeseen mechanical issues worry me, and unfortunately I'm pretty far to have it looked at in detail to know for sure what I may be dealing with.
Just ship it to Richard Clark, Steve V, Bison, Anderson, Cruz, Cotton, Mchale, Dunn....or your shop of choice...with a blank check in the glove box. Put a sign on the front seat with the words "Please fix my car". Report back in 6 months. :)
Just ship it to Richard Clark, Steve V, Bison, Anderson, Cruz, Cotton, Mchale, Dunn....or your shop of choice...with a blank check in the glove box. Put a sign on the front seat with the words "Please fix my car". Report back in 6 months. :)
If he doesn't sell it , and I do sense a little attachment to the car, I agree With you GNRick leave it with one of the vendors you
mention and PRAY !!
If you are moving to a city and the garage you have is disappearing, where will you store/park it?
My 2 cents, unfortunately these 30 year old vehicles require you to .
A) have a strong mechanical ability and patience or.
B) extensive monetary resources to repair and maintain these vehicles.
If you can't answer yes to A or B it could be a painful and slippery Sloap moving forward.
The ending result could be a 20k garage ornament!!
Would it be worth it to restore this '86?

A no-brainer answer is No

Sell it as is or part it out.

That car had a hard life for having that many miles on it. I've owned a couple with over 100k miles on them and had very little wear and tear to show it.

Like already said you will spend more on it than it will ever be worth. Not counting the time on doing it.
Ditto for selling it and investing in a driver that's been sorted. With the engine removed, no telling what parts are missing that could be potentially expensive to complete. This will get expensive and time consuming if you decide to proceed. Someone with expertise in these cars will buy it and built it and love it.
If of any interest to you, I have just pulled a good running 109 engine from a GN and installed a well built, 4.1 stroker in its place.

I plan to check the bearing and freshen the heads.

For $2200 exchange of your engine part-for-part, this would be a good start financially if you plan to keep the car.

This engine has only a few thousand miles since we did a complete rebuild.
Unfortunately Moving to a city and having no garage is pretty much a death knell to your plans. These cars don't last long on city streets. As all the others have mentioned These cars get expensive in a hurry especially if you farm out all the work. Good luck with what ever direction you go.
Do NOT sell it! It was your dads car? That’s worth something in itself. If you sell it then it’s just gone. You absolutely can get it on the road for under $8000. It might not be a show car like most people expect them to be but you will still have a blast driving it. You have the connection to the car through your dad and you can make your own memories while you drive it, upgrade it, and learn to work on it. Instead of people saying “oh you don’t know how to work on these??? You should sell it.” Hell no! How about learn to work on it. I bought mine ten years ago and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. And it sat outside in the not in a shop for years while I drove it everyday. Really hope you haven’t sold it.
^^^^I hear you but he had no relationship with his dad. That really takes the sentiment away. It might be fun driving it but then again it might be smelling like oil and idling like crap. You really need a speciality mechanic. And he will be living in the city and most likely have no garage. Where can he work on the car? In the street? I am not saying sell it because he doesn’t know how to work on it, I am saying that it definitely seems to be more of a hassle to keep a car with no known history, an engine that is currently on a pallet and a tire, and was already quoted around $9500 from a reputable Buick guru. He still would have to wait many months and pay and arrange for shipping. If the car is legit low mileage and doesn’t have rust under the T tops selling it in pieces shouldn’t be too difficult.
Tommy you still out there? What are you feeling here?