One day I was driving past my buddy’s house and saw this car hanging out in the back yard. I only saw the rear end but it was unmistakable. A black Buick Regal. Back in the 80s, a black Regal usually meant one thing – turbo V6 power… Was it a Grand National? A GNX?
A quick online chat and I find out its a 1986 Buick Regal T-Type. Essentially it was a Grand National with a different option set. This one had sat for a very, very long time after the previous owner ran it into something and was apparently spooked by its power. $500 later, it’s in my driveway.
I wasn’t exactly rolling in “restore a Buick from the 80s” money, but I always revered stories of the shade tree mechanic, fixing things as best they could with what they had on hand. I began reading up on the model and first things first, I had to get the engine running. Any modern engine needs 3 things to run. Fuel, spark, and air.
All this one needed was fuel, I fired it up and it purred. Now back then, I lived in a 2nd story walk-up apartment in an old farm house, big dirt driveway. The landlord was hesitant but as long as I kept it out of the way, he let me work on it. I really had no clue what I was getting into with this car. In my head I saw drag strip monster…
In reality, the rear main seal on the motor was leaking… the turbo wastegate was disconnected… the interior stank of death… and there were maggots… so many maggots…. in the floorboard carpet, and a fair amount of body damage on the front end. I had a toolbox and tons of pluck.
I was also in my early 20s, and still very, very stupid. One night after I’d gotten the car running, installed new plugs, wires, oil, and new front pads/rotors, I decided to give it a quick test drive. Late one night I pulled out onto the road, drove down to the intersection, turned around, and punched the gas. The car launched like it was possessed.
As I approached my driveway on this quiet road, I pressed the brake to slow down so I could pull in. My big smile rapidly faded as the brake pedal fell to the floor and the car did not slow down. I’d lost my brakes. The e-brake wouldn’t lock, but between downshifting and using the e-brake, I was able to slow the car enough to get it back in my driveway.
I get half way up the driveway, and turn it off. Hands shaking. I checked the brakes, every time I pushed the pedal down, a blast of brake fluid shot out the rear of the car, a brake line’s years of rot finally made it fail under load. Ok, I’ll get it back to its parking spot and worry about it tomorrow, right?
I turn the key – nothing. Car was dead. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? I reach out to my only gearhead friend in town, and he stops by. Apparently starter motors had a device called a solenoid which actually triggers the motor. Those stick. He looks under the car, smacks the starter solenoid with a hammer, and the car immediately fires up the next attempt.
The next day, I pick up a new starter motor and a length of brake line. These cars are still popular to this day so getting a pre-bent brake line was an option, albeit expensive. I removed the old line, and bent the new one to match. With the car jacked up, I tried for about 2 hours straight to get it installed and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t do it.
After going through multiple lines, I determined that I’d need to drop the rear end on the car (lower the rear axle out of the way to get the new brake line installed) – which I wasn’t ready to do. What I did instead was install a bleed screw where the line was disconnected, bleed the line, and leave the front brakes in charge of keeping the car stopped for now.
Now you might notice (if you’re a fan of the Regal) that the turbo is bypassed from the intake in that photo above. Well, did I mention I really did not know anything about turbo cars earlier? I recalled seeing old Grand Nationals and GNX’s where the driver would press the brake, and press the gas to build boost and the torque would lift the car.
One day I was showing this to my buddy in my driveway (same friend who showed me how to fix a starter) when the turbo went. A cloud of blue smoke shot out of the tailpipe and the turbo itself made a hideous noise. After parking the car, that’s when I discovered what a wastegate was, and that it was disconnected. Without that, the old turbo generated too much boost and died.
Ok – so I need a new turbo (brakes are still shot) so I go online, order a new one, new injectors, and all the trimmings. Pluck is overriding common sense more each day with this car. I tried to swap out the turbo, but the bolts are rusted to the down-pipe. Despite a liberal coating of WD-40 and attempting to use a back-out tool where you drill into the screw and back it out with a special bit… it wasn’t happening.
I was in over my head, dumped, depressed, and my self confidence had left the room. The car had more to fix than I could do in my driveway, so I gave up and sold it. Fun fact, when you put one of these up for sale on a message board for this model car – a friendly guy will show up the next day with cash and a flatbed.
Looking back, I should have kept it. There wasn’t anything on that car I couldn’t eventually learn to fix, but the timing wasn’t right, and I was impatient. Partway through the ownership of this Regal, I replaced my Neon with another Intrepid. That’s a chapter I like to call “Don’t buy a Dodge to make someone jealous.”