From the GM High Tech Performance Magazine (reprinted with permission)


Screaming into the low 11s in a 1985 non-intercooled turbo Regal Buick.

By Robert Gross
Photography by the author

During the six years that the Grand Nationals and T-Types were manufactured for public speed consumption, the only models that enthusiasts attribute any power to are those made in the two final years. It's no secret that the key to additional power in the 1986-87 turbo Buicks was the intercooler. But that doesn't mean the previous non-intercooled V6s weren't quick.

The 1985 turbocharged 3.8L SFI engines made 200 horsepower at 4400 rpm and 300 lbs.-ft. of torque at 2400 rpm. With the installation of the intercooler the following year, power figures were increased to 235 hp at 4000 rpm and 330 lbs.-ft. of torque at 2400 rpm.

Most turbo owners feel so strongly about the intercooler being the key component to making power that many pre-1986 models have been converted to reap the benefits of the cooler incoming charge. Although many owners make this conversion in search of lost power, Lee Thompson of Anderson, Ind., looked upon it as a challenge to see what kind of power could be made in his 1985 T-Type without installing an intercooler.

To date Lee's fastest pass is an 11.50 ET at 115 mph, making it one of the fastest non-intercooled Buicks to run down the quarter-mile. When Lee bought this Light Blue Metallic Regal back in '88, he simply liked the color and had no idea that it was a turbo car, and for that matter, he didn't really care.

"I originally got it for my wife," Lee tells us. "It had 30,000 miles on it and was real clean. I didn't even know anything about turbochargers."

So for a few years his wife used the Regal as her daily ride. She grew tired of it and they stored it for two years. Then in 1992, Lee's son, Dwayne, suggested they enter the car at the GS Nationals in Bowling Green, Ky. Since it was clean and rare, the car did well the three years they presented it as a show car.

"In 1994 we figured that since we brought it to the Nats, we may as well make a few passes with it," Lee explains. "That's how we got into racing."

Lee's first modifications included a K&N filter, slicks, open exhaust system, and an ATR computer chip, which allowed the turbo to make 15 psi of boost. The Regal was consistently running 14.0s at 94 mph. Lee then modified the stock exhaust manifold and fabricated a 21/2-inch downpipe and was soon running 13.7s at 100 mph.

Forget the intercooler. A modified John Craig turbo and O-ringed ported heads and a Ruggles cam do the job nicely, thank you.

During the winter of '95, the engine was tweaked. The original 231 was decked and bored .040 over. The stock crank, rods, and Sterling hypereutectic cast pistons were balanced and blueprinted, and the main caps were replaced with stronger steel caps. Weber Racing in North Ridgeville, Ind., ported, polished, and O-ringed the heads to handle more boost and increase flow. A Ruggles camshaft sporting a duration of 210° intake/205° exhaust at .050 inch lift activates the valves. Fuel delivery is provided by a Red Armstrong XP pump, Kenne Bell pressure regulator and 30 lb.-hr. injectors. A 1987 computer, coil pack and ignition module spark it to life.

The 200-R4 transmission was rebuilt by Transmission Specialists, in New Castle, Ind., with stronger clutches, increased line pressure and a 10-inch torque converter. The stock 3.42 gears remain.

When Lee and Dwayne brought their Regal to the track, it ran an impressive 12.60. Then a special hybrid turbocharger built by John Craig of Limit Engineering dropped it into the 12.20s. At the time Lee was proud to have the fastest non-intercooled turbo Buick, but he really wanted to start seeing some 11-second ET slips.

Another, more highly modified John Craig turbo along with a custom chip, 40-lb./hr injectors, a 3-inch downpipe, 90/10 front drag shocks with nylon bushings, and boxed rear lower control arms for added traction resulted in the ET Lee was after.

Now not only are Lee and Dwayne picking up 11.50 timeslips, but they also have one of the fastest non-intercooled Buicks, and certainly one of the prettiest.