PROJECT GNX

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					                               PROJECT GNX
                             Exclusive! Across the desert in
                              America’s quickest musclecar

This article originally appeared in Car Craft Magazine, September 1987.The layout of the article has been kept as close to
 original as possible, with the omission of advertisements, etc. It is also obvious which picture covered two pages. The
   article was all black and white. The pictures were not scanned at a high resolution in order to conserve file size and
                                                      download time.
                       PROJECT GNX
                 A 2000-Mile Validation, Calibration, and Celebration
By Paul Garson                            showdown with a nuclear-tipped RF-          Was I excited? Did I sleep in my
                                          1O1C Interceptor.                         clothes with three cameras around my
“Mounted high atop the barbed wire          I’d be joining a select crew of         neck? No, but I did duct-tape my radar
fence, television cameras scan back       ASC/McLaren and Buick engineers and       detector to my forehead.
and forth across blunt angular            designers in a cross-California/Arizona     GNX DAY ONE—On a sunny SoCal
silhouettes shrouded beneath thick,       shakedown cruise to evaluate the final    Friday afternoon I flew north out of the
gray tarpaulins. Something dark,          calibrations, and if necessary, de-bug
                                                                                    hubbub of L.A. to the quiet serenity of
something Secret lays hidden, and         any minor glitches prior to the GNX’s
carefully watched, in the quiet           production run. But who are these guys    Santa Maria, and immediately bumped
Michigan community of Livonia. . .        at ASC/McLaren that Buick would hand      into Dean Battermann, project
Project GNX.”                             them the GNX project? ASC Inc. is a       manager for McLaren, who had flown in
   These images, sounding like a ”60      maker of limited-edition vehicles with    to pick up the GNX validation ride,
Minutes” expose popped into my head       headquarters in Southgate, Michigan.      which had already set sail earlier in the
when. I got the word from the boss:       They’ve worked on the 1982-85 Riviera     week from the Mesa, Arizona, GMC
“The GNX trip is on!” Little did I know   convertible, and designed GNX’s trick
                                                                                    proving grounds. We shared a taxi to
what was in store for me as I began       bodywork and interior layout. McLaren
packing my Minolta spy camera and the     Engines Inc. of Livonia, Michigan,        the Santa Maria Holiday Inn and came
CIA-replica sunglasses for what was       worked with Buick on the development      upon an awesome scene. Side by side
officially designated the “GNX            of the 1985 Indianapolis 500 pole-        sat two silver Buick T-type Turbos and
Validation Ride.” Who would have          winning car, and on the futuristic        two very black, very bad-looking GNXs,
guessed that a dream assignment           Wildcat concept car. McLaren was          16-inch super meats, shark gill “bun
behind the wheel of America’s Number      responsible for all the GNX               burner” hood vents, trunk-mounted CB
One performance car would involve a       engine/suspension performance
                                                                                    antennas, and all. Did they look “Fed.”
mud wrestling contest and a final         development.
   Grouped around the cars were the         mann, McLaren Project Manager. Actu-
 “flight crew,” the validation enterprise   ally, it would be Mike McQueer and         View from the canyon top, courtesy of
 headed by Mike “Capt. Kirk” McQueer,       Chris Riffle of McLaren who would be       GNX, was spectacular as was the Buick’s
 McLaren Project Manager; Mike Doble,       operating the calibration equipment,       handling.
 Buick Advanced Concepts Manager;           twisting the switches and reading the
                                                                                        feel confident signing their name to
 Tom Yakes, McLaren Car Build Super-        dials on the NASA-style monitoring de-
                                                                                        the final product prior to its release to
 visor; Chuck Jensen, Buick Engineer;       vices attached to the test vehicles. The
                                                                                        the customer.
 Lou Infante, McLaren Director of           other members of the crew would be
                                                                                           A quick glance into the trunk of one
 Corporate Planning; Joe Fitzsimmons,       conducting a combination
                                                                                        of the T-type Turbos revealed about
 Buick Car Line Manager; Greg Bryem,        subjective/objective real world
                                                                                        300 pounds of monitoring and telemet-
 ASC Comptroller; Chris Riffle, McLaren     evaluation of the GNX to make certain
                                                                                        ric devices, part of the calibration
 Project Engineer; and Dean Batter-         that Buick, ASC, and McLaren would
                                                                                        equipment linked to the GNXs. Riding
                                                                                        the GNX’s dash was a standard GM In-
What do you do on a Friday night when                                                   strumentation Interface Unit, with a
you’re driving a prototype GNX? Go                                                      multitude of digital readouts which
dirt-track racing, of course. Mike, with                                                linked up with the car’s ECM (Electron-
Lou riding shotgun, took the GNX on                                                     ic Computer Module). This device
evasive track maneuvers. Tom Yakes                                                      helped keep close tabs on the inter-
piloted second GNX “entry.”
                                                                                        cooled turbo’d V-6’s performance
The GNXs caught up with a pair of                                                       throughout the trip. It was also impor-
fighter bombers in the middle of the                                                    tant for evaluation of the recalibrated
Arizona desert.                                                                         PROM (Programmable Read Only
                                                                                        Memory) In the ECM designed to
                                                                                        improve full-throttle operation. In
                                                                                        addition, the GNXs carried multi-
                                                                                        channel thermocouple probes which
                                                                                        were tapped into various parts of the
                                                                                        engine and engine compartment where
                                                                                        they fed back data on 10 to 20
                                                                                        different operating temperatures
                                                                                        including ambient, oil, and exhaust. A
                                                                                        bank of pressure probes were plumbed
                                                                                        into the manifolds, turbo-chargers, and
                                                                                        intercoolers, and relayed information
                                                                                        to a cluster of gauges mounted on the
                                                                                        dashboard of one of the T-Types. Mike
                                                                                        had also brought along a lap-top
                                                                                        computer that could interface with the
                                                                                        various instrumentation carried aboard
                                                                                        the test vehicles.
                                                                                                       Another trick piece of test
                                                                                                     equipment was the fiber-optic probe
                                                                                                     the McLaren engineers insert into the
                                                                                                     turbo to test the new lightweight
                                                                                                     ceramic turbine while in motion. In
                                                                                                     other words, there was enough high-
                                                                                                     tech electronics to outfit a lunar
                                                                                                     module.
                                                                                                       I also learned that all this testing
                                                                                                     helped create another historic first for
                                                                                                     the GNX. This very limited production
                                                                                                     specialty car also boasts not only high -
                                                                                                     output turbo boost, but an OEM-
                                                                                                     backed 12-month, 12,000-mile warran-
                                                                                                     ty, and is serviceable through your lo-
THE ULTIMATE                                                                                         cal Buick dealer. This is the result of
                                                                                                     the rigorous OEM-standard quality, du-
AMERICAN                                                                                             rability, and EPA testing conducted by
                                                                                                     the pro’s at McLaren. It didn’t come
MACHO                                                                                                easy. Seven prototypes were built, and
                                                                                                     run through the wringer including a
MACHINE?                                                                                             high-altitude test in the Rockies, a
                                                                                                     36,000-mile EPA evaluation, and sever-
   The most exciting American car since the                                                          al 10,000-mile chassis/transmission
Cobra? That’s the general consensus with                                                             checks, each 10,000-mile test translat-
the arrival of the Buick regal GNX. It’s big,                                                        ing to 100,000 miles of real world driv-
it’s black, and it’s bad, blistering 0-60 mph in                                                     ing. The nearly 2,000-mile Phoenix-to-
5.4 seconds, and clocking 13.4-second/104-                                                           Phoenix loop on which we were em-
mph quarter miles. More than a straight-line       The Buick GNX by ASC/McLaren will be the          barked would be the last leg of the val-
rocket sled, the GNX is suspension-tuned to        first U.S. production car to use a turbocharger   idation series as the GNX, 98 percent
                                                   employing a lightweight, high-performance
hug the corners like a Grand Prix car.
                                                   ceramic rotor. The unit was developed by
                                                                                                     ready for the customer, would get its
   The GNX was developed from the Buick            Garrett Automotive of Torrance, California. The   final fine-tuning and calibration adjust-
Regal Grand National, a car built to               special rotor reduces mass for quicker            ments, if needed.
commemorate Bobby Allison’s efforts in             acceleration response.                              Greg and Joe were leaving the trip at
Grand National racing with a 1983 Regal.                                                             this point, flying back to their Mid-
The car stirred up a storm of auto-sport                                                             western offices, and we had a long ride
interest. It was the hottest car on the new                                                          to San Diego scheduled for the
block, a real “musclecar” in the old tradition     Warner analog instruments. You could call         morning, so I thought it would be an
of the Pontiac GTO, the Z/28 Camaro, and           the GNX a luxo-super-sport, because               early-to-bed, early-to-rise night. It
the Dodge Hemi. Even the FBI liked them            along the with the sizzle you also get            made sense. It was logical. It was
so much that they bought 100 Grand                 power steering, power window locks,               boring. However, after dinner,
Nationals for their agents.                        AM/FM/cassette radio, and air conditioning        someone mentioned there was Friday
   Then Buick decided they wanted                  so you stay cool while the GNX burns up           night circle trick racing at the nearby
something with even more muscle and hotter         the pavement.                                     Santa Maria Speedway. “Let’s do it,”
looking than the already very hot Grand              Originally, only 200 GNXs were                  was chorused, and four turbo-packing
National. They wanted to make automotive           scheduled for production, but customer            Buicks blasted off into the night, the
history. Thus was born the very limited            interest (rather, customer frenzy) bumped         gung-ho GNXs taking point.
edition GNX, an instant legend, already            that 547, the cars to be hand-built at the          The “Buick Bunch” descended on the
demanding collector status and skyrocketing        McLaren plant in Livonia, Michigan. For all       raceway, the ground already shaking
purchase prices.                                   practical purposes, all the GNXs have             beneath our feet as Sprint cars dug
   Developed by ASC/McLaren Engines, the           been sold. In fact, although the original         holes to China on the third-mile dirt
GNX concept car features a modified Buick          sticker price was $26,000 ($8,000 above           track. The grandstands and hillside
turbocharged and intercooled 3.8-liter V-6         the “regular” Grand National’s price),            overlooking the course were overflow-
producing 300 horsepower at 4400 rpm               dealers have reportedly been paid $40,000         ing with fans. Midget racers and full-
(compared to 245 for the “standard” Regal          and more for one of the rare GNXs. At             blown Modifieds were slip-sliding
Grand National). Dressed all in tuxedo black       least one dealer is planning an auction,          around the boggy oval, the sky raining
like the Grand National, the GNX differs from      with 500 invitations sent out. A $100,000         clods of dirt. Ducking for cover, we
its progenitor in several ways, including the      GNX? Perhaps. We know that one                    soon decided it was safer out on the
improved turbo and intercooler combined            customer already offered $400,000 for 10          raceway than in the stands.
with recalibrated engine control computer          GNX’s months before a single one had                Moments later, two GNXs rolled onto
technology for more boost and top-end              been built.                                       the track, the announcer identifying
performance. Major improvements to the               Is the GNX worth it? Like they say,             the mysterious barnstorming Buicks.
suspension include the addition of a               beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and         The sound of several thousand people
longitudinal torque bar and panhard rod to         performance is at the end of the driveshaft.      shouting and yelling can be unnerving,
reduce wheelhop and improve hard launches          With the GNX you get both brutal beauty           especially when you don’t know if
and handling. TheGNX also sports fender            and beautiful performance. Sadly, only a          they’re hostile or friendly. Then Mike,
flares, 16-inch alloy wheels (the Grand            very lucky few will enjoy the GNX                 with this writer as passenger/photogra-
Nationals wears 15-inchers) and Eagle GT           experience,and so the GNX will enter auto
tires, plus dual exhausts, and Stewart-            history as part machine… part myth.
pher, nailed the pedal to the metal,      gauges and the bikini-clad beachgoers.    cars, tended to pull over to the
and the GNX dirt-tracker was born.           But the twisty canyon action of        shoulder for unscheduled rest stops.
Ninety miles an hour through hard-
                                          Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles was the   During the cross-desert cruising, the
packed sludge can be a real test of
traction, but the GNX hung tough, and     real highlight of the day. The hills      GNX’s new PROM computer chips were
the first lap was handled with rip-       echoed with the shrill roar of            evaluated, with special attention given
snorting ease.                            battalions of Ricky Racers tearing        to hot-weather spark testing. Not a
  I got out to take some action shots,    around the blind curves on hyper-quick    knock was to be heard as the GNXs
and before I could say “Fuji” film, a     motorcycles, sharing cliffside thrills    whirred turbine-smooth through the
roar went up from the crowd. I            with a smattering of Porsches and         shimmering heat waves.
glimpsed a black blur revolving and       Corvettes. They found some                  We pointed the GNXs toward
spinning at the end of the back           unpopulated stretches and warmed up       Phoenix, stopping only when we
straightaway. A little voice in my head   the gatorbacks, while I ping-ponged       chanced upon a pair of camouflage-
screeched, “Please, not the retaining     around in the backseat trying to take     painted McDonnell-Douglas RF-101C
wall!” My fears proved unfounded as       photos.                                   Interceptors sitting alone and untended
Mike and co-pilot Lou Infante pulled up      From mountain goat to luxo-cruiser,    in the middle of nowhere. We snapped
in front of the grandstands, flesh and    the GNX next took us freeway flying as    a few photos, looked for Tom Cruise,
metal unscathed. We could now rest        we headed south to San Diego, passing     and then Mike led the way to Phoenix.
assured that Mike’s “controlled dough-    scenic attractions as the California        Once we arrived at Phoenix, the
nut” had indelibly imprinted the GNX      State Fruit Fly, Illegal Alien Check      GNXs now very close to the Mesa GM
on the Santa Maria map.                   Point, and the San Onofre Nuclear         Proving Grounds, the votes were taken
  GNX DAY TWO-Mike and the crew           Power Plant (why did all our radar        and the preliminary calibration data
assembled at 7:00 a.m., and initiated     detectors start whistling the theme       evaluated. Aside from changes to the
“cold start” testing procedures during    “Gone With The Wind?”).                   instrument panel to allow for clearer
which the GNX’s ability to start-up          GNX DAY THREE – Back on the road       reading of the turn signal indicators
cold, warm-up, stop, start, and restart   again, we proved “the shortest            and gauges, no major changes were
again while cold was evaluated. The       distance between two points is a GNX.”    deemed needed. The new computer
Grand National had experienced some       I climbed behind the wheel and            chips had checked out, all operating
cold start glitches, but McLaren had      practiced “passing maneuvers” and         temperatures and pressures had been
obviously rectified the problem, as the   “long-term maximum operating              spot on. In other words, the GNX had
GNX performed flawlessly in the cold      temperature test runs” when the           passed with flying colors. Besides all
start category. After a hot breakfast,    opportunity arose, not to mention         the technical information gained on
we hit the trail for Los Angeles where    some radar detector evaluations. We       the trip, the GNX had given this CAR
we dropped off Lou Infante, who had       would flick on our headlights, clip on    CRAFT staffer one of those rare
to fly back to his office. We also        our dark shades, and buzz, obeying the    memories, we shared good-byes, and a
picked up some Sunday cruise time on      speed limit, in tight formation like a    mutual consensus that ASC/McLaren
the famous Pacific Coast Highway,         CIA convention through local towns.       and Buick had made automotive
drifting in the sea of beach traffic.     More than once, law officers followed     history. We raised our glasses and
The Midwestern guys seemed especially     us, at a distance.                        together toasted the GNX. . .
to enjoy the drive along Malibu and          “Winning by Intimidation” took on      America’s quickest factory musclecar.
Laguna, alternately checking the          new meaning on the interstates as
battery of onboard GNX monitoring         slower-moving traffic, noting our four

				
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