"Hey! Watch this." A skinny man with a three-day grizzle comments to the guy next to him. We are all perched intensely close to the dyno, watching each car take turns making pulls. "You can usually tell how much power a car makes by how fast it spins up," he says as a '68 Chevelle slowly chugs its way up to redline. The big-block Chevy made a respectable 320 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque. "See what I mean? Nothin'! Now get a load of this!" Mr. Grizzle says pointing to his 1987 Buick Grand National being loaded up on the chassis dyno. You can tell this isn't your dad's Grand National. For one thing it has massive tubs and it's loud. So loud, in fact, the already deaf dyno crew starts inserting sound deadening earplugs. We can tell we are in for a treat. The car jars the entire audience with an earth shattering, instantaneous, bwap!
And then it was all over, the car had made an astounding 1,600-plus horsepower at the rear tires. Even with a conservative estimate of 20-percent loss from the drivetrain, the small-block pumps out close to 2,000 horsepower at the crank. The man who built this monstrosity of a Grand National is Jim Schmittinger of West Bend, Wisconsin. Jim built the car on a dare. He was told that he couldn't build a drag radial streetcar that ran 7s with a small block on E85. Having owned 42 Turbo Buicks and three GNX's, the platform he'd use to accomplish his goal was an easy decision. And thankfully he found the perfect specimen on an online car website. An all-original, 36,000-mile black Grand National that the previous owner had advertised as having "show paint" turned out to be anything but; however, that is what you get when you purchase a car sight unseen. Jim had to completely repaint the car in the classic gloss black with a bit of pearl to match its heritage. The outside shell was left completely intact minus a Glasstech hood and trunk to fit the GN stock look while shedding weight. All work was completed by Daryl Kuhn of Country Side Auto Body in Horicon, WI.
The interior retains its stock cloth seats, console, and dash while a full array of Autometer gauges keep all the vitals in check. A 25.3 SFI certified rollcage keeps the GN safe up to 6.50-second e.t.'s and was installed by Clocks Off Racing of Racine, Wisconsin. Beyond that, the only obvious intrusion into the interior is the massive Chisled Performance air-to-water intercooler that resides directly behind the passenger headrest. This massive icebox cools 25 psi of boost from the 106mm Precision billet wheel turbo, reigned in by an AMS1000 boost controller. Jim custom built his own set of 2-inch headers that feed the turbo before terminating through a 5-inch exhaust system.
Despite some scorn from fellow GN faithful, a Dart Iron Eagle raised cam small-block Chevy was the chosen bullet this go-round-a necessary evil for accomplishing Jim's goals. Measuring a conservative 406 cubic inches and built by Jim's company Schmittinger Motorsports, a Callies crankshaft commands Oliver connecting rods and Diamond Racing pistons. A Melling oil pump controls the lubrication with help from a custom aluminum oil pan. A custom ground and highly secret camshaft comes courtesy of Mike Moran Motorsports, which rounds out the short-block. The heads are aluminum SB2.2 designed by GM for NASCAR motors that were CNC-ported and flow 422 cfm on the intake and 317 cfm on the exhaust. These high-flowing heads are made to accommodate high-spinning motors, so naturally they come with titanium intake valves measuring 2.150, and since it is an E85 motor Jim gets away with using titanium on the 1.60 exhaust valves as well. The rest of the valvetrain is equally as impressive with Pacaloy springs and Jesel Pro shaft-mount rockers, with staggered ratios (1.85 intake, 1.80 exhaust). A trick 6AN cooler line was run between center cylinders to help cooling under heavy boost.
The intake manifold is a custom tunnel ram design by M&M Competition Engines of Indianapolis, Indiana. The intake is fed by a 105mm Wilson throttle body and 275 lb/hr injectors from Mike Moran to meet the extra demands of E85. Similarly a massive Weldon mechanical 12 gallon-per-minute fuel pump was required and is regulated by an Aeromotive adjustable billet fuel regulator set at 42 psi. Ignition is provided by a custom-made LS3 coil setup by Murray Hersh, who also tuned the FAST XFI fuel management system. Murray made use of the new Intelligent Traction Control feature, as well as wired up a remote start via Jim's cellphone, to keep some street manners (believe it or not) in this 7-second ride.
A Turbo 400 built by Master Transmission in Minnesota was needed to harness the turbo SBC. Typical features such as a reverse manual valvebody, billet drum, billet input shaft, trans brake and a JW Racing bellhousing make the three-speed capable of handling over 1,600 rwhp. Shifting is handled by a Cheetah E-Shift, and a Neal Chance Pro Mod 5000-stall, bolt-together converter gets the GN off the line in 1.30 seconds to the 60-foot. A chrome moly driveshaft connects the TH400 to a Strange 9-inch with 3:49 gears. The axles are Strange 40-spline and held together through a Strange spool.
No expense was spared on the chassis either, tubular front control arms from TRZ reside top and bottom with AFCO double adjustable shocks wrapped in Hyperco coils. Though it is still mostly a streetcar, a manual rack and pinion add to the challenge of turning sharply and all bushings were tossed in favor of rod ends. Jim fabricated his own upper and lower control arms for the rear and had Clocks Off Racing fab up some custom rear-end mounts to his liking. AFCO shocks and Hyperco springs were used in the rear as well, with a sway bar from H&R Parts & Stuff to help the traction control do its job properly. Mickey Thompson skinnies wrapped around Weld Racing rims make up the front rolling stock, and 295/60/15 Mickey drag radials cover more Weld rims in the rear. Wilwood provides the stopping power with 4-piston brakes front and back.
Jim comments that it took him six straight months of solid work to get the car the way it sits now. "I have always loved G-bodies," Jim remarks, "I have had over 40 Grand Nationals. I just love the black I guess." Jim goes on to say with a smirk, "Die hard GN guys cuss me out." Well Jim, we certainly can see why they would, but honestly, with a machine this well built it's hard to argue with results! Jim loves the fact that he can punch a code into his cell phone to start the car, run 7s at the track, drive it anywhere and only pay two bucks a gallon for his troubles. Next time someone dares Jim to make a wicked car like this, we hope he calls us.
Car: 1987 Buick Grand National
Owner: Jim Schmittinger
Block: Dart Iron Eagle, 406cid
Compression ratio: 9:1
Heads: GM SB2.2, CNC ported by M&M Competition Engines, 2.15 intake, 1.60 exhaust valves
Cam: Mike Moran custom solid roller
Rocker arms: Jesel shaft-mount 1.85 intake, 1.80 exhaust
Pistons: Diamond Racing, forged
Rings: Seal Pro Street .043
Crankshaft: Callies, forged
Rods: Oliver, billet steel
Throttle body: 105mm Wilson
Fuel injectors: Mike Moran 275 lb/hr
Fuel pump: Weldon 12gpm mechanical
Ignition: Murray Hersh custom LS3 coil setup FAST XFI, tuned by Murray Hersh
Power adder: Precision Turbo 106mm
Intercooler: Chisled Performance air-to-water
Wastegate: dual TiAL 60mm
Exhaust system: Schmittinger Motorsports 2-inch custom turbo manifolds, 5-inch downpipe
Transmission: TH400, built by Master Transmission
Torque converter: Neal Chance Pro Mod, 5000-stall
Driveshaft: 3.5-inch chrome moly
Front suspension: TRZ tubular control arms, AFCO shocks, Hyperco springs
Rear suspension: Custom upper and lower control arms, AFCO shocks, Hyperco springs
Rear end: Strange 9-inch, 3.49 gear, 40-spline axles, spool
Brakes: Wilwood 4-piston front, rear
Wheels: Weld Racing 15x3 front, 15x10 rear
Front tires: MT ET Front Runner 28x4.5
Rear tires: MT drag radial 295/60/15
Fuel octane: 105 (E85)
Race weight: 3,400 lbs.
Best ET/mph: 7.81/193
Best 60-foot: 1.30
Current mileage: 36,740