Tuesday, May 29, 2012

2012 Regal GS: Best Driving Buick in a Generation

I joined Buick during the glory days of the Turbo 3.8 litre- the Grand National was announced the year I started with them. Every male under 30 and quite a few of the women at Home Office bought one (myself included) and proceeded to spend a Michigan winter going diagonally coping with the awesome power and serious lack of traction those black beauties provided. We loved them dearly, but they were hardly a balanced automobile. The motoring press loved it as much as we did. Tony Assenza from Car and Driver Magazine road tested the legendary GNX in April of 1987 and wrote of it, "In a world of sleek shapes and refined manners, the GNX is an ax-wielding barbarian laying waste to everything in its path.”

Fast forward twenty five years to 2012. In my driveway is the 2012 Buick Regal GS. It's the singularly most powerful car Buick has produced since the Grand National- but it's a sleek shape with refined manners. Will I like it?

Let's start with some background. I went to the press launch for the Regal back in 2010 and drove both the 2.4 conventionally aspirated 182 HP and the 2.0 Turbocharged 220 HP versions. I described the Epsilon based mid sized sedans as "well tailored and well mannered" and thought they were an excellent addition to the Buick line up. I found the 2.4 to be a bit sluggish and the 2.0 Turbo to have a very pleasing power band, but didn't think of either as an "ax-wielding barbarian."

The GS version is highly modified from the base model. The 2.0 Litre Turbo in the GS is the High Output Ecotec 2.0L Turbo and it's 270 HP exceeds the '87 Grand National's 245 rated HP and falls just short oif the GNX's 274, but since both those engines were underrated, its probably about on a par with the Intercooled Grand National. It is offered with a 6 speed manual or 6 speed automatic transmissions.

There are lots of unique touches. It has a deep skirted front fascia flanked by Bi-Xenon HIS headlamps and a unique rear one with dual exhaust ports. There are special rocker panels. a rear spoiler, and 19" twin spoke alloy wheels with Pirelli tires. Peek through the spokes and note the big Brembo calipers. Pirellis and Brembos- is this Heaven? No, this is Buick.

The interior is offered in ebony leather only, with special touches such as a leather wrapped F1 style steering wheel, piano black dash trim. and leather trimmed sport seats. A Special GS Interactive Drive Control system offers standard, Sport and GS settings for the suspension. GM's Intellilink is standard, along with a pretty killer 336 watt Harmon Kardon Audio system with 9 speakers and XM Satellite radio.

Options are few, and colors are limited. 20" polished wheels and performance tires, power sliding sunroof, GPS Navigation, and three extra cost colors out of the five available. Quicksilver and Smoky Gray are standard, White Diamond, Carbon Black Metallic and Crystal Red Tintcoat are optional.

My test car was finished in the Crystal Red Tintcoat and features the meaty 20" wheel package. I found it to be quite a handsome and purposeful looking car and others seemed to agree. I found neighbors in the driveway admiring it, and found it to be a topic of conversation from the couple at the table next to mine when I parked it at an outdoor cafe. All good signs as far as I am concerned.

But enough looking, time to see what happens when the rubber meets the road. Touch the starter button and the 2.0 Turbo comes to life. It's smooth, Buick V8 smooth and the exhaust note is quiet. Shift into drive and the car feels powerful, but doesn't play all of its cards. In fact, you could drive the GS in drive and your impression would be a smooth, well balanced sport sedan with a poised ride, excellent handling and crazy good brakes. You'd praise the engine torque, and would probably be a bit at odds with the six speed automatic- which seems to default at least one gear too high for the sporting driver- and no sport setting. That should be an easy enough fix for such a sporting ride.

So to transform the GS, the driver need do three things- Select "GS" suspension mode, Turn off the Traction Control, and shift over to manual stick mode. The well balanced GS is now one crazy mother. Steering and ride are both tightened, and the Turbo soars up to redline without the slightest hesitation, I wish the manual stick was the tiniest bit quicker, and in all due respect to the six speed automatic, I'd go for the six speed manual in a heartbeat. But the car is now crazy fun, and sticks like glue to the tarmac. The Brembo brakes are killer and bring the GS down out of harm's way in no time flat.

I have to say that the Regal GS is the most fun I've had behind the wheel of a Buick since the Grand National. And as much as I'd like to see Buick paint it black and produce a Grand National version, the Regal GS is a lot more sophisticated than the ax wielding barbarian of old and a heck of a lot better choice as a family sport sedan. In fact there are a lot of sedans costing a great deal more that better look in their rear view mirrors.

And I still want a black one.

(Cross posted on the Palm Springs Automobilist)

Friday, May 25, 2012

BUICK Set the Pace at Indy Six Times

One year after the 100th Anniversary of the Historic Indianapolis 500 race, let's take a moment and remember some of Buick's role in this iconic American Experience. Buick was one of the first manufacturers to take part in racing at the Indy track, and won several events in 1909, two years before the first Indianapolis 500 of 1911. Many, many Buicks were also raced at Indianapolis including factory sponsored racing engines as recently as the 1980's.

But Buick has also served as the Official Pace Car at Indianapolis on six different occasions, and created some very special cars to suit the role.

The first Buick Pace Car was a 1939 Roadmaster Series 80 Convertible Sedan. It used Buick's most powerful 320 cubic inch OHV straight eight engine in a slightly smaller chassis for high speed performance. Although nearly stock in appearance, The Roadmaster had no trouble maintaining the high speeds required of a Pace Car.

The next time Buick was selected as Pace Car was 1959. This was a great opportunity to showcase the all new 1959 Buick with its swept back fins. A white Electra 225 convertible with red bucket seats was specially prepared for the event. Following the race, the car itself was presented to race winner Rodger Ward.

The 1975 Buick Pace Car wrapped itself in the red, white and blue. A loaded Century Colonnade Coupe with 455 V8, bucket seats, and T-Tops was chosen and finished off with a patriotic red, white and blue flag-derived paint scheme which was very much in keeping with the Bicentennial mania that was sweeping the country. In addition, white Le Sabre convertibles were supplied for race executives and a fleet of replica Century coupes, with the same cosmetic treatment, were offered through Buick dealers.

Buick was the Pace Car again in 1976, but this time the technology was all new. The 1976 Century Pace Car featured the first Turbocharged V6 engine which was specially developed for this high speed application. This concept would lead to turbocharged V6 engines in the 1978 model year, and ultimately to the legendary Buick Grand National. It was finished in an aggressive color scheme of silver, red, and black, and again replicas were offered through Buick dealers, but they had conventional 350 V8 engines.

The Buick Regal was chosen as the 1981 Indianapolis Pace Car, again showing off Buick's V6 power. This time, a highly modified 4.1 litre V6, conventionally asperated, developed 281 horsepower and helped further establish the performance reputation of the Buick V6. The actual pace car had a Targa-style roof with an integral roll bar, and was finished in a unique color scheme of silver and dark maroon with bright red and orange trim.

Buick's most recent trip to Indianapolis was in 1983. That year a special Riviera Convertible was chosen to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Buick's personal luxury car. A special color scheme of two shades of tan, a leather and suede interior, a fuel injected turbocharged V-6 engine and even genuine wire wheels set the car off. A replica coupe called the Riviera XX was offered through Buick dealers, although only 500 were ever made.

So when you sit back and enjoy the 101st anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, remember that Buick has been a important part of the Indianapolis story. Many times, we've set the pace.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Make it Easy with Reynolds Courtesy Loaner Vehicles

The big news out of Reynolds this spring is our fleet of brand new Courtesy Loaner Vehicles. We've selected a fleet of 20 of our most popular Buick and GMC models- including Regal, LaCrosse with eAssist, Enclave and the GMC Acadia and Yukon for our fleet, and equipped them with the most popular options for your comfort and convenience.

You can reserve a Courtesy Loaner Vehicle directly when you make your service appointment- either live with your Service Advisor, or from the comfort of your own computer with our Online Service Appointment System. No more third parties or shuttling down to a Car Rental Agency- it can all be handled right here at Reynolds. And when your vehicle is in for warranty service, the loaner vehicle is on us.

And there's more good news- After 90 days, the low mileage Buicks and GMC's are removed from service and sold at very special discounted prices. And even better- they also qualify for all new car incentives. So don't think of them as used, just think of them as test driven a few times. And if you find yourself in a Courtesy Loaner Vehicle that you really like, you can even tag it so it can be yours when it comes out of loaner service.

To shop our Former Courtesy Loaner Vehicles currently available, click on  the banner atop our website at www.reynolds1915.com or give our Sales Department a call at (626) 384-4450.

To make an appointment with your Service Advisor, call (626) 384-4453 or use our convenient online appointment form.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

2012 GMC Terrain- Tonka Truck for the Soccer Mom Set

I have a long history with mid-sized GMC utilities. I had a first year four door Jimmy back in 1993, another Jimmy in 2000 and a 360-based Envoy in 2002. All were mid-sized utilities which were based on a truck frame and powered by some version of a six cylinder engine. The GMC Terrain replaced the Envoy in 2009 as a crossover vehicle based on the GM Theta platform, and while I've had extensive experience with the Theta derived Cadillac SRX, I'd never actually driven the Terrain.

The first thing that stands out about the GMC Terrain is the styling. Love it or hate it, you're unlikely to ignore it. I think it's massive angular design theme is masculine and distinctive. It's a Tonka truck come to life. or the Brave Little Toaster as a Transformer. A massive grille with red GMC lettering, exaggerated wheel openings and slab sided body panels, combined with a very squarish roofline give the Terrain a highly distinctive silhouette. Highly detailed headlamp assemblies and chunky chrome door handles, mirrors and roof rails added to the look. Not to me missed are the 18 inch chrome wheels. It's certainly a car whose design statement is unapologetic. And the market seems to like it- sales have steadily increased each year since it was introduced. No one in the parking lot will mistake it for a Lexus RX.

The styling theme continues on the inside. The test car had a jet black interior which was just that- black leather trimmed seats with subtle red stitching, a few silver painted accents on the dash, but otherwise an ocean of black leather, vinyl and plastics. While some of the textures didn't seem totally premium to me (are you listening, dash pad?) the overall effect was smooth and masculine, and not overdone in any way. The seats were comfortable and supportive to boot, and having driven several of these over the years, I will say that the overall interior, while again not luxurious, is far superior to what was offered a couple of generations back. And a shout out for the rear seat, which benefits from the most generous rear seat leg room I've experienced in a midsized crossover.

My test car was an SLE Level 2 (base price $31,260) which benefited from the long list of interior featured included in the Level 2 package- tastefully stitched leather trimmed bucket seats, spit folding rear seat, leather wrapped steering wheel, 8 speaker upgraded audio with Bluetooth and XM Radio, memory driver's seat and even front seat heaters. Of course, the usual gaggle of power conveniences were included also, as well as a power sunroof and a power tailgate.

The stanndard engine on the Terrain is a 2.4L four cylinder producing 182 HP, but our test car was equipped with the upgraded 3.0 litre DOHC V6 engine ($1500), along with the Cargo Package ($350), Trailering Package ($350), and GMC's Intellilink, a 7" color touch screen which GMC describes it as "Hands free smartphone integration with Bluetooth, streaming audio, and voice activated audio controls." Easy to use and it even has Pandora Streaming audio- clearly it's the best bargain of the entire option list at $100. Including freight, the Terrain listed at $34,255.00 and the only major option missing was navigation.

Once behind the wheel, I was immediately familiar with the 3.0L "high feature" V6 from driving the 2011 Cadillac SRX. The engine produces 264 HP and 222 lb/ft of torque, so it's powerful without being a rocket ship. It's paired to a six speed automatic transmission, and EPA rated at 17 city/ 24 highway. I made a run to Orange County and back and got 24 on the way down, and a very satisfying 27 on the way back. In fact my overall mileage for the week was just over 20, which I consider very acceptable.

If I had to choose one tern to describe the overall driving experience, it would have to be smooth. The engine idles imperceptibly, the transmission shifts are silky smooth, the ride is boulevard smooth. The unitized platform and the four wheel independent suspension help see to that. It's not a performance car nor did I enter any autocross competitions, but overall it is a comfortable cruiser. I certainly found no objections in the ride and handling department, and was especially pleased by the amount of road feel in the steering- it wasn't a typical novocain feel, nor did it feel like a truck- again, a nice smooth balance was achieved.

All in all, I think GMC made the transition to a crossover quite nicely with the Terrain. The lowered center of gravity and improved handling and ride make for a better overall vehicle for passenger use. So if you're looking for a midsize crossover that's smooth, capable and comfortable without breaking the bank or looking like it belongs to the soccer mom set, you might check out the GMC Terrain. It's got a lot to offer.

From our friend the Palm Springs Automobilist. Test vehicle provided by General Motors Company.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Feature Car: '54 Buick Super- Out of the Stream of Commerce

 This beautiful 1954 Buick Super convertible is a rare car indeed. One of only 3,343 produced that year, it still wears its original color combination of Casino Beige with a matching top and all original interior of two shades of green. It is one sweet Buick. But the story behind it is just as sweet as the car.

In the spring of 1954, Ruth Helm bought the car off the showroom of the  Buick dealer in Hollywood. Both Ruth, who was president of the Hollywood Democratic Club, and her husband Harvey, who was the head writer for the George Burns Show, were repeat Buick customers. Ruth traded in her 1947 Buick convertible. Harvey would buy a new 1955 Century convertible the following year.

The car's current owner, retired GM interior designer Blaine Jenkins, was a student at Art Center at Pasadena when he first laid eyes on the Buick. It was 1955, and he had come west to study automotive design. His mother suggested he look up a college friend of hers that turned out to be Ruth Helm. He became good friends with the Helms, who quickly became almost like an extra set of parents to him. He also took an immediate liking to the Super, and recalls that it was the same color of his Grandfather's new 1955 Super sedan back in Kansas. He recalls driving both the 1954 and 1955 convertibles, including a trip to the VIP opening of Disneyland (George Burns was not without influence) in the 1955.

Blaine kept in touch with the Helms after college and his subsequent move to Detroit to work for General Motors, and visited them on trips to Los Angeles. He continued to communicate with Ruth after Harvey's passing in 1965, and recalls his surprise on a visit in 1968, when he saw a new Electra convertible in Ruth's garage. But sitting next to it, covered with a tarp, was the old 1954 Super. Apparently Ruth hadn't been impressed with the trade allowance the dealer had offered her, and decided to keep it instead.

Ruth's health had declined in the 1970's and one day in 1976 Blaine received a letter from the Helms' attorney advising him that she had passed away and that it was her wish that he should have the old Super. He shipped it to his home in Michigan where it was reconditioned mechanically and repainted in the original Casino Beige color.

When Blaine retired from GM in the 1990s', he moved to Palm Springs bringing the Buick along with him. Absolutely stock except for the addition of a set of accessory wire wheels, it remains in largely original condition today and is a regular visitor to classic car shows in the desert.

The garage wall alongside the Buick is adorned with photographs of the Buick through the years, including several with the Helms. One photo shows Ruth standing behind the brand new Super convertible alongside the highway in Palm Springs. The car now lives minutes away from where the picture was taken. I find it remarkable that after Ruth wrote a check to the dealer for the car brand new in 1954, it has not been resold. She kept it thirty-two years and then willed it to Blaine, who had now had it for thirty-six. Almost sixty years since it has been in the stream of commerce. And Blaine certainly has no plans to ever sell it.

Thanks to Blaine Jenkins for sharing the amazing story of his rare Buick. Hopefully we'll get to see it at the next Reynolds Buick Open House. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

FAST FRIDAY Part VI: GNX- The Grand National to end all Grand Nationals

Buick executives had known that 1987 would be the final year of the Grand National and as we said before, decided to send it off in grand style with an uninterupted production run of 20, 193 WE2 Equipped Grand Nationals and an additional 6,362 Turbo Coupes, which seemed like more than a fitting tribute to Darth Buick.

But as you are probably aware, the Grand National story was far from over. The decision has been made within Buick to offer a specially modified ultra-GN in extremely limited numbers to give their old friend a really outstanding send off in a whirlwind of publicity.

The car would be called GNX in homage to the 1970 GSX, and a very small run of 500 cars was envisioned. At those numbers, a regular production line was impossible, so they turned to their friends as ASC/McLaren, fresh from their run of building Riviera convertibles, to handle the task.

GNX 443 on our showroom floor
While the internal engine was unchanged, a number of mechanical modifications were made. The stock turbocharger was replaced with a special Garrett turbo that featured ceramic bearings and was designed to run at 15 psi of boost. A special intercooler was also fitted and plumbed with ceramic/aluminum coated pipes to keep the charged air cool and dense. Functional louvers were fitted to the fenders to carry heat away from the engine bay. The transmission was beefed up, reprogrammed and fitted with a unique torque converter and a special transmission cooler. A unique ECM chip was developed for the GNX only and a special dual exhaust system was utilized. These changes allowed Buick to advertise 274 hp and 360 ft/lbs of torque, although the actual numbers were much closer to 300 and 400. As any GN fan knows, Buick tended to be very conservative in announcing the Grand National's power, and GNX was no exception.

Pete Reynolds with GNX 443
The chassis was highly modified as well. The rear suspension was a five link design that featured a longitudinal torque ladder bar with a panhard rod to handle all the torque. In addition, there was a ladder reinforcement fitted to the frame, an additional brace behind the rear seat and special performance P245/50VR16 Goodyear Eagle Razorbacks in front and P255/50VR16's in the rear on unique black snowflake 16 inch wheels with GNX centers. The wheel width was one inch wider in the rear. 

Spence Lyon with GNX 443
The exterior features wheel flares to accommodate the special wheels and tires, the cooling vents in the front fenders and special GNX emblems replacing the Grand National badges.  Inside looked like a stock Grand National except for a special dash cluster with Stewart Warner gauges and an individually numbered dash plaque that ranged from 1 to 547, representing the slightly updated production total. 

GNX 443 comes outside to play
The car shown here was our own GNX, number 443, which arrived in July of 1987 and stayed around, owned first by Pete Reynolds and then our Sales Manager Spence Lyon, until it finally went to a new home in 2004.

GNX 443 under the Reynolds sign
Tony Assenza from Car and Driver Magazine road tested the car in April of 1987 and wrote of it, "In a world of sleek shapes and refined manners, the GNX is an ax-wielding barbarian laying waste to everything in its path.”  We can think of no finer tribute.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Turbine Drive Buick '60: Buick's All Time Best

In addition to the traditional automobile brochure, the direct mail piece started to become popular in the late 1950's. It was smaller than the full brochure, but offered much more information than the traditional postcard and was an attempt to get people excited enough to call the dealership. It is sometimes referred to as a "teaser."

Buick was only in their second year with McCann-Erickson when this piece was created and the two were still dialing in their message. Mc Cann believed in heroic photography that made the car into the star, and although full brochures included both photography and rendering, this 1960 direct mail piece is exclusively done of photography. It's a very glamorous piece indeed and makes extensive use of lifestyle depiction and well dressedmodels.

There's an understated tone to the piece. The cover shows no car at all, just a peaceful woodsy outdoor scene. The colors are done in cool blues, with a few brighter accents but the overall impression is soft and reassuring. The launch slogan of The Car: Buick 59 was not retained and the new tagline is The Turbine Drive Buick '60. The venerable Dynaflow has been renamed Turbine Drive, and much emphasis is being placed on Buick's updated styling, and new Mirromagic instrument panel, along with performance and comfort that are traditional Buick virtues.

It's not known how effective this piece was as the industry was still suffering the effects of a severe postwar recession and Buick wouldn't recover sales momentum until they launched the compact new '61 Special. But nonetheless it's an awesome of early McCann-Erickson for Buick and is worth checking out.

Friday, May 4, 2012

FAST FRIDAY: Grand National Part V: 1987

1987 would be the final year of the Grand National. Although Buick knew that the end was in store for the mighty monster, they certainly didn't let the news ruin the party. In fact, they decided to go out with style and make it a year to remember for muscle car enthusiasts worldwide.

The car itself was little changed. The 3.8 Litre Turbocharged and Intercooled powerplant was rated at 245 HP @ 4400 RPM and the Torque was pegged at 355 ft/lbs at 2,000 rpm. The only exterior change was new all black grille without the bright header, leaving the only the badging as bright trim. The chrome wheels introduced in 1986 were carried over and the interior was unchanged.

Options were pretty much carried over from 1986 and included Hatch Roof (CC1) or Silver Glass Astroroof (CF5), Electronic Rear Window Defogger (C49), Electric Door Locks (AU3), Remote Electric Trunk Lock Release (A90), Manual Seat Back Recliner (AT6), 6-Way Power Driver Seat (WG1), Power Windows (A31), Electronic Cruise Control (K34), Front Seat reading lamps (C95- N/A with CC1), Electronic Instrumentation (U52), Theft deterrent system (YA6) and Twilight Sentinel Lamp Control (T82). Not all options were available through the production run as the order guide was revised during the year.

The phase out wasn't due to a lack of sales success. The impending deadline would be the introduction of the new GM W-Body front wheel drive intermediates for 1988 - GM was in the midst of converting all of its platforms to front wheel drive. The LeSabre went FWD for 1986 and converted the entire Flint complex to front wheel drive production. That move forced the relocation of Regal production to Pontiac Michigan to be built alongside the rear drive Grand Prix, and the new 1988 W-Body Regal would be front wheel drive, so the Grand National would be going into forced retirement.

But the production schedule was wide open, so Buick could schedule as many of the Intercooled Supercars as they could find engines for. And schedule them they did. Sales soared, especially as word spread that this would be the last year. The Pontiac plant was scheduled to be closed, so Buick took advantage of the opportunity to continue production (with a simplified order guide) all the until December 11,1987, when the final Grand National was assembled.

Happily, that car exists in time capsule preserved condition today. In total, a staggering 20,193 WE2 Grand Nationals were made- more than ten times the quantity of the 1984 model- plus another 6,362 Turbo coupes, for a staggering total of 26,555 units. A fitting tribute to a Buick that had become a legend.

But even that wasn't all- there was also a "Grand National to end all Grand Nationals"- but that's for next time.