Both the BUICK GNX & PONTIAC 20th ANNIVERSARY TRANS AM are powered by turbocharged Buick V-6 engines and deliver similar performance. But the Trans-Am, unlike the very limited production GNX, is much more available and affordable, blogs Hagerty’s Eddy Eckart.
Nicola Bulgari’s heavily-modified 4.1-liter Buick Grand National and Pontiac 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am. Photographed in Rome, Italy in 1997.
Can a substitute ever be as satisfying as the real thing? It’s a question with which we all seem to struggle from a young age. It’s not always broccoli versus ice cream, either—often, the comparison is much closer, like Matchbox versus Hot Wheels. Each has its high points, and though you may prefer one, and all the hype tells you that it’s superior, the other just might impress if you give it a chance.
Take the 1987 Buick GNX & 1989 Pontiac Trans Am 20th Anniversary Edition, they’re the protagonists in what might be the ultimate 1980s domestic-substitution challenge. Since the Black Buick’s prices remain stratospheric, could it be that the best alternative comes from cross-town Pontiac?
We can see the furrowed brows of the Buick faithful through the screen. Yes, you’ve got a point – despite nearly identical drivetrains, the differences between the BUICK GNX & PONTIAC 20th ANNIVERSARY TRANS AM are black and white, much like the sole color choice offered on each car. Besides, wouldn’t a lesser-trim Regal scratch that GNX itch without the GNX price tag? Buick built thousands of the turbo Regal variants between 1978 and 1987, from the super-niche 1987 Turbo Regal Limited (1035 produced) to the more garden-variety Grand Nationals and T-Types, and they cover a broad price spread, too. But, if you want a range-topping, Ferrari-eating, force-fed piece of 1980s American history, and you like your cars ultra-rare, it’s either the GNX or the ’89 Turbo T/A.
This turbo turf war has its roots in 1978, when Buick made quite the pivot. Hailing from the city that forged the formula for the V-8 muscle car, the Regal Sport Coupe’s fancy turbocharged 3.8-liter V-6 debut signaled a new path to power. Sure, its 165 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque did little to evoke the tire-evaporating 455 in Buick’s departed GS, but it was a step in the right direction. (It was also the only turbocharged domestic on the market that year, with Porsche, Saab, and Mercedes-Benz the only others with turbocharged models in the U.S.)
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