When we showed up at Brian Lorenz's home in rural Ohio to shoot his 9-second Regal Turbo T, we expected to find it the focal point of a shop dedicated to building a wicked-quick street/strip Buick. We were half-right. Along with the go-fast accoutrements in a separate shop building on his property, there was also a tightly packed, extended garage attached to his family's house that contained several more hair-dried Bufords—including an ultra-rare Light Sage Metallic and a D84-code two-tone light brown/dark Turbo Regal Limited. Both of them are among 1,035 Turbo Limited's produced in '87. There was also an '89 Turbo Trans Am in the garage. Clearly, we were dealing with a serious turbo Buick enthusiast. Case in point: the quick turbo car featured here is one of only a handful Turbo T models built in 1987 that were painted Light Brown Metallic. It's only got 17,000 miles on the clock, too. He's owned it for about nine years.
"I've always loved these cars—there's just something about their formal design matched with amazing power that's intoxicating," says Lorenz, an enthusiast ingrained in the scene for years—and a member of Turbobuick.com since the inception of its new board back in 2001. "And even after all these years, people are still finding ways to make them go faster and faster."
Our feature car is a prime example. It's gone as quick as 9.54 at 143 mph, but still has remarkably good street driving manners. And it sure doesn't look the part of a 9-second race car. Apart from a few performance-related accessories inside and out, the car remains very close to the factory-delivered condition. There are no racing seats in a tin-covered cabin and there are no radical chassis or suspension mods.
In fact, Lorenz is quick to point out the sheetmetal on his light brown metallic Turbo T is original and unaltered. Apart from a replacement Dakota digital instrument cluster and a handful of additional digital dials affixed to the side of the gauge binnacle, the cabin looks as staid as anything your grandpa might have driven to Bob Evans for the early-bird special.
"Just about all of these cars have had the quarter panel lips cut or modified, but I wasn't going to do that to a car this rare and original," he says. "This cars still has the original R-12 refrigerant in the air conditioning system that blows cold and it still drives through the factory 200-4R four-speed overdrive transmission and factory 3.42 gears, too."
Well, the trans and rear end are technically original, but they've definitely been upgraded. The same goes for the original LC2-code 3.8-liter engine. Lorenz sent it to renowned Buick engine builder Dan Strezo, at Wheatfield, Indiana's DLS Engine Development. He started with the stock block and added a 3.625-inch stroker crankshaft in place of the stock 3.400-inch-stroke crank, taking displacement to 249 cubic inches (4.1 liters). It was secured with new billet-steel main caps that replaced the original iron caps that are a known weakness in the LC2. The stock caps—the center ones in particular—are prone to cracking in higher-power buildups.
Attached to the block is a pair of Champion GN1 aluminum heads that have been completely worked over by DLS Engine Development to provide even greater airflow. They also lop a few crucial pounds off the front of the nose-heavy G-body. The Champion heads have been popular with Buick builders for about a decade, with features that include valves moved closer to the cylinder bore centerline to un-shroud them for greater flow, spark plug locations moved closer to the bore center for improved combustion, and large 1.9-inch intake and 1.6-inch exhaust valves. The 46cc combustion chambers are shaped differently than stock, too, for greater combustion efficiency.
"They work really well, helping the engine breathe much better," says Lorenz. "With the extra displacement, this combination moves a lot of air very efficiently."
To feed the extra displacement, the original turbocharger was replaced with a Precision HPQ71 billet turbo—so named for its 71mm inducer compressor wheel. It is capable of up to about 40 pounds of boost, but Lorenz pushes "only" about 30 pounds through a ported stock intake manifold and down into those Champion heads to help the 249-inch six-banger crank out right around 700 horsepower at the wheels—or about 840 at the crankshaft.
That's a power-to-displacement ratio of 3.37—or 3.37 horsepower for every cubic inch of displacement. That's very impressive and to put it in perspective, the Corvette ZR1's supercharged 376-cubic-inch LS9 is rated at 638, for a power-to-displacement ratio of a mere 1.68. Heck, a $165,000 Porsche 911 Turbo's 232-cube flat six makes 530 horsepower, for a very admirable 2.28 ratio, but it's got nothing on this modified 26-year-old Buick. And the million-dollar Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport can't touch Lorenz's Turbo T, either. It's 490-cube, quad-turbocharged W-16 engine—basically two V-8s joined at the crankshaft—produces 1,183 horsepower, but that's only a power-to-displacement ratio of 2.41. Feel free to use those trivia tidbits at your next dinner party.
With such impressive output, it's no wonder this car is in the mid-9s, but getting there was a journey. When Lorenz bought the car, it already had a few bolt-on performance goodies and with a bit more tweaking on his part he had it running 10.30s with a stock-displacement combination.
"We did the stroker motor and after a season of trying, it ran 9.90s—but we didn't have the HPQ71 turbo yet," he says. "I got one from Buschur Racing as soon as it was released and the car immediately went into the 9.70s. A few small changes and a different converter is what it took to get us into the 9.50s."
Until the last few seasons, Lorenz did all his own tuning, but now runs an XFI controller, dialed in by Cal Hartline of Hartline Performance in Melbourne, Florida.
"It was running those 9.70 e.t.'s at 138 mph with just the factory-stock GM mass airflow sensor and Red's computer chip with the stock ECM," says Lorenz. "It worked just great, but I switched to the XFI fuel management system to ensure the engine's safety at the power level we were achieving. It has the built-in correction elements and makes the changes in the tune on the fly—things that quarter-century-old ECM just can't do."
Although Lorenz has delegated much of the calibration work to a guy named Cal—sort of like a dentist named Paine or an ice cream shop owner named Cohn—he still performed a number of other fabrication projects on the car, including building a four-inch ram-air inlet for the big Precision turbocharger and scratch-building a 3.5-inch exhaust system using Stainless Works thin-wall tubing and TIG-welding it all up with a Magnaflow muffler.
As we mentioned above, the car still runs an original-style 200-4R transmission and 8.5-inch 10-bolt rear axle, but they're not exactly in the condition they were when the car rolled off the Flint, Michigan assembly line. Lorenz took the trans to his good friend Vince Janis, at Akron, Ohio's Janis Transmission, who is known in the Buick turbo world as a wizard in making these four-speed automatics withstand the output of big-boost V-6s. It's used with a PTC (Performance Torque Converters) non-lock-up converter with a 3,500-rpm stall speed.
The torque channeled by the beefed-up 200-4R is sent via a custom 3.5-inch driveshaft to the 10-bolt rear, which has been rebuilt—also by Janis Transmission—with an Eaton posi unit and Moser 30-spline axles. There's also a strength-enhancing girdle to reinforce the housing and keep potentially catastrophic flex in the (admittedly lightweight) housing to a minimum.
"So far it's all been a very durable and reliable combination," says Lorenz. "We've been running in the mid-9s for a while now and the 200-4R and 10-bolt have definitely proved their worth—although that's thanks to those strategic upgrades."
At launch, Lorenz let's the trans shift itself on the 1-2 shift, which occurs at 5,800 rpm and he manually shifts to third gear at 6,400 rpm.
There is surprisingly little done in the suspension department to help this light-brown Buick launch and track straight and true down the track. Up front, only a set of QA1 adjustable shocks differs from the stock setup, while at the rear, HRpartsNstuff adjustable upper and lower control arms are matched with an adjustable sway bar and, again, QA1 shocks. There's nothing exotic to the setup—just bolt-on parts on a stock suspension and a good deal of practice with the Mickey Thompson ET Street radials to find the optimal launch RPM. To his— and the car's credit—Lorenz has nailed a 1.42-second short time on the M/T drag radials.
"The 60-foot time is pretty good, considering I don't leave hard with this car," he says. "I don't want to risk bending it, such as buckling the quarter panels, which is common on big-horsepower Buicks that launch hard. I leave with, like, 3 or 4 pounds of boost, ultimately sacrificing a little e.t. for a less-violent launch."
For the record, the car has a curb weight of about 3,400 pounds and with a full tank of fuel and Lorenz behind the wheel, the race weight is just shy of 3,600 pounds. He says it tracks straight and smoothly.
"You can feel it ripping and shaking the tires for about the first 100 feet or so, but things calm down after that," he says. "From there it pulls extremely hard through the end of the track."
We can only assume that without a roll bar or even a safety harness, Lorenz's test-and-tune sessions at new tracks typically are one-and-done scenarios, where he glides the mostly stock-looking Buick through tech, rolls through the staging lanes and up to the Christmas tree, then posts a 9-second e.t.—only to find frowning track officials waiting for him at the timing shed.
"It's definitely getting to the point where I have to make a decision on what to do with the car," he says. "I can get away with a few quick passes here and there, but I really don't want to put a cage in the car. I just can't bring myself to cut up such a rare car."
Perhaps he could just transfer his experience and powertrain components to a more "common" Grand National that's not so original or rare, thereby ensuring the preservation of one of the 1980s' most unique and understated factory performance cars.
"It's been more than 25 years since the last rear-drive turbo Regal was built and every year there are fewer and fewer cars left, thanks to accidents, thefts and part-outs," says Lorenz. "The best examples are getting harder to find, but people are still running them hard and going faster. The fastest stock-block car is running 8.70s, which is amazing for a 231-inch V-6."
For enthusiasts of a certain age, these cars will always retain a mythical quality and it's fitting that not all are cut up and irreversibly transformed. It seems that as long as Brian Lorenz is out there, that will be the case.
Car: 1987 Buick Regal Turbo T
Owner: Brian Lorenz
Block: LC2 with RJC girdle, 249cid
Compression ratio: 9:1
Heads: Champion GN1 aluminum, ported by DLS Engine Development, 1.90 intake, 1.60 exhaust valves
Intake: Stock, ported by DLS Engine Development
Cam: DLS hydraulic roller, 218/218-duration
Rocker arms: T&D 1.65:1 ratio
Pistons: JE, forged
Crankshaft: DLS forged, 3.625-inch stroke
Rods: DLS forged
Throttle body: Ported stock with Hemco plenum
Fuel injectors: Precision Turbo 95 lb/hr
Fuel pump: Quad Air dual in-tank
Ignition: Stock coil-near-plug with Magnacor wires
Engine management: FAST XFI, tuned by Cal Hartline of Hartline Performance
Power Adder: Precision billet HPQ71 turbo
Wastegate: TiAL 38mm
Intercooler: Cottons front-mount
Exhaust system: TA Performance turbo manifolds, 3.5-inch downpipe, Magnaflow mufflers
Transmission: 200-4R, built by Janis Transmisson
Torque Converter: PTC 3500-stall non-lock-up, 17-blade
Driveshaft: 3.5-inch chromoly
Front suspension: stock control arms and springs, QA1 adjustable shocks
Rear suspension: HRpartsNstuff adjustable upper and lower control arms, sway bar, QA1 adjustable shocks
Rear end: 8.5-inch 10-bolt, 3.42 gear, Moser 30-spline axles, Eaton posi unit
Brakes: SSBC slotted rotors and pads, big rear brake shoes with S-10 manual wheel cylinders
Wheels: Weld Alumastar 2.0 15x6 front, 15x8 rear
Front tires: BFGoodrich 205/70R15
Rear tires: Mickey Thompson ET Street radials 295/55R15
Fuel: VP C16
Best 60-ft. time: 1.42