On Sunday, I spent the afternoon covering the 39th Annual Old Wheels car show in Columbia. Instead of using the Missourian’s previous car show coverage as a guide, I wanted to approach the story as an automotive enthusiast—by featuring a unique 1986 Buick Grand National at the show and examining it’s monumental impact on the automotive industry.
However, my article never made it past the copy editing desk, as I was deemed unqualified to include any information about the car that wasn’t gathered from an “expert source.” As an avid car enthusiast since elementary school, I don’t understand why I’m not qualified to speak about cars. While I understand the need to verify information, I shouldn’t have to contact an expert source to rehash common automotive knowledge.
When a Motor Trend or Car and Driver reporter writes an article, he or she doesn’t say, “According to the 1986 Automotive Encyclopedia, the 1986 Buick Grand National was only available in black.” It simply states that the 1986 Buick Grand National was only available in black. If every single sentence in their article had to be attributed to expert sources, nobody would bother to read their reviews and their readership would plummet. Automotive journalists are expected to be creative and draw in their readers through unique story telling methods.
Even though my story wasn’t published, I’m very happy with the final result and will be sure to keep a copy of the article to send to potential employers. While the story may seem abstract for the Missourian, it falls right in line with traditional automotive journalism.
Going fast with class
By Jordon Shultz
COLUMBIA — If Darth Vader had a license to drive, his car of choice would unarguably be the legendary Buick Grand National.
Only available in black, the Grand National’s svelte body lines and menacing demeanor was uncharismatic for automotive manufacturers during the 1980s, and even more so for the conservatively styled Buick brand.
Twenty-seven years later, the iconic muscle car seemed all but forgotten until Columbia resident Wayne Sommers brought his 1986 Buick Grand National to the 39th Annual Old Wheels Car Show on Sunday at the Historic Nifong Park.
The show featured more than 100 classic and modern automobiles from the early 1900s to present day, but very few leave behind a legacy quite like Sommer’s Grand National.
When the muscle-car craze of the late 1960s and early ‘70s ended due to environmental smog restrictions, high performance automobiles quickly faded into oblivion.
The next two decades of the automotive industry were characterized by increasing fuel-efficiency demands and practicality. Car manufacturers and consumers believed that performance and fuel-efficiency were mutually exclusive.
In the early 1980s, Buick vowed to unite the two with the introduction of the Buick Grand National in 1982. Equipped with an optional 3.8L turbocharged V6 that produced 175 horsepower and 275 feet-pounds of torque, the inaugural production model was a far cry from Sommer’s 1986 Grand National, but it was clear that Buick was headed in the right direction.
Prior to the 1980s, if you wanted to go fast, a V8 was the only option. Automotive enthusiasts were appalled by the increasing popularity of V6 engines, and they never imaged a V6-powered-car could surpass the legendary performance of the muscle-car era.
In 1986, Buick finally conquered its initial quest with the release of its revised Grand National, which featured a turbocharged and intercooled 3.8L V6 that produced 235 horsepower and 330 feet-pounds of torque. To the dismay of enthusiasts and manufacturers alike, a V6 Buick was among the fastest production cars in the world.
The startling news was enough to get the attention of Wayne Sommers in the late months of 1986. When it was time for his wife Trudy Sommers to get a new car, he floated the idea of the hot-rod Buick for her new daily-driver.
However, she had been looking at smaller four-door economy cars, and wasn’t interested in the idea of a high-performance coupe.
Nevertheless, Wayne Sommers continued his avid search for a Grand National. After being told by Columbia dealerships that it was too late to get one, he began to lose hope, until he drove by the Buick dealership in late 1986 and found one sitting on the lot.
“I called my wife and said go look at this car now,” he said. “This is the car you want.”
However, Trudy Sommers was repulsed by the styling of the Grand National.
“It was ugly, there’s no chrome on it and I don’t want it,” she said. “It’s as simple as that.”
However, her opinion soon changed after the couple test-drove the Grand National that afternoon.
“She drove it, and from then on, you couldn’t get her out of it,” he said. “She fell in love with the power. When she’d leave the house I’d go stand on the front porch and listen to her leave and she’d chirp the tires in second every time.”
The Buick Grand National truly was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The car’s reserved styling and quiet exhaust made the car a silent killer on the streets, which infuriated Corvette and Mustang owners during the late 1980s. The fact that a V6 Buick would outrun their brand’s flagship performance model was appalling.
After 27 years, Wayne and Trudy Sommers’ Grand National only has a little over 33,000 miles and the couple has no intentions of selling it. The car still features its original paint and upholstery, and looks as if it was just driven off of the showroom floor.
As the legend of the Grand National fades into automotive history, Wayne and Trudy Sommers’ pristine example reminds enthusiasts of the iconic Buick model that reintroduced performance to the American automotive industry.