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Precision Turbo Upgrade On A 1987 Buick Grand National - Turbo Buick Basics, Part 3

Replacing A Tired Turbo And Adding A Handful Of Bolt-Ons For An Easy And Safe 49 HP

Dan Foley Mar 1, 2010

In the last installment we left off installing and dyno testing Pypes hi-flow exhaust system on our buddy Tim Cairone's '87 Buick Grand National. We realized gains of 38 hp and 35 lb-ft by ditching the stock, restrictive exhaust. Issues with the tired, stock turbo (leaking oil, smoking intermittently at idle and while driving) prevented us from risking a strip test on the Pypes exhaust. We called the folks at Precision Turbo for their advice-should we go with a stock-rebuild or upgrade to a stock-appearing type turbo? Precision offers a large assortment of different size, direct bolt-on turbos for the Turbo Buick, and for our intended build-up Precision recommended we upgrade to its PTB-5758 turbocharger. It's the latest midsized unit for the GN, using the most recent in turbo technology (compressor and turbine housing shape, billet compressor wheel), which will bolt right in place of the original, tired-out turbo.

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It was easy to remove and replace (R&R) the tired turbo for the new Precision Turbo, and we chose to bolt on the stock wastegate/exhaust elbow housing and downpipe to the new turbo for a fair test (stock 34mm vs. Precision's 58mm compressor wheel). A testdrive told us the larger turbo was slower to spool, but hitting harder at full boost (19 psi). To find out how much more power the new turbo developed, we visited our friends at Tune Time Performance for dyno testing. After Matt Hauffe (Tune Time's tune-master) put the hammer down on TT's Mustang chassis dyno we realized 25 more hp (from 278 to 303 rwhp) with the same torque output (440 lb-ft). While the larger turbo made more power, its added turbo lag showed both torque and horsepower peak at 500 rpm higher. This is a natural occurrence-the larger the turbo, the longer it takes to spool.

We hoped the added turbo lag wouldn't hurt the e.t.'s as much as the added power should help, but at the track we could only launch at 0-1 psi of boost. Our 60-foot times worsened from the previous 2.1 to 2.3 (full boost wasn't until 100 feet down track). Also working against us was a bad-air summer day (85 degrees, 55 percent humidity, 29.74 barometer, 3,000 feet altitude corrected). Even under these conditions we saw gains in trap speed of over 4 mph, but only dropping a tenth (best e.t. of 13.50 at 104.68 mph) due to the excessive turbo lag.

However, we heard RJC Racing's new hybrid boost controller would help the boost come in quicker, and we were equally as quick to dial them up to give it a try. Meanwhile we also wanted to test out a couple bolt-ons to better take advantage of our new turbo, which might also aid spool-up. A 3-inch downpipe from G Body Parts was first on the list, replacing the stock 2.5-inch piece should in theory reduce backpressure and (hopefully) turbo lag. A testdrive after first installing the RJC Racing boost controller confirmed its effectiveness, as did the G Body Parts 3-inch downpipe. The bigger downpipe added a tangible increase in power as well as responsiveness, and after installing these two products we felt there should be a big reduction in e.t.'s (hopefully into the 12s).

In the meantime, of course, we had to quantify these improvements on Tune Time's chassis dyno, and to see just where peak power occurred. Our seat-of-the-pants feel was confirmed as the the power curve did in fact come in sooner and last longer. Peak torque (450 lb-ft, 10 lb-ft gain) was now 500 rpm lower and horsepower (303 hp, 0 hp gain) occurred at the same 4,500 rpm. With the power curve broadened by 500 rpm (previous 3500 to 4500 rpm, now 3,000 to 4,500 rpm), it helped make Tim's GN feel faster and deliver better all-around driveability.

Next up on our test quest was to exchange our throttle body for a ported stock unit from Jose Motor Sports. While working on the induction we would remove the plenum "hat'' (aka doghouse) and install an RJC Racing Airflow Distribution Power Plate. The RJC ADPP has proven, after extensive research and testing, to evenly distribute and maximize airflow to all the cylinders through the lower intake manifold. This enables the Power Plate to eliminate low airflow to the front cylinders, which notably cause lean knock timing retard conditions. It's a well-proven performer used by many of the fastest Turbo Buicks. Jose Torres (Jose Motor Sports) has high regards for the RJC Racing ADPP-he uses one on his 9-second ride (March '08) and mentioned we'll love the results. And we did. On our test loop, after installing the ADPP and ported throttle body, we felt better throttle response and a noticeable power increase.

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Unfortunately, the next day on our ride to Tune Time we felt slippage in First and Second gear. Good thing dyno testing is done in the gear with a 1:1 ratio (Third gear in a 200-4R). The RJC ADPP lived up to its reputation, and we were impressed to learn that we picked up 15 hp (without any knock retard issues). This enabled us to add more timing (4 degrees) and fuel (10 percent) to gain another 7 rwhp. Now the A/F was at a safe 11.8 to 11.9:1 This was great considering our previously lean A/F conditions. At that point we left the new tune alone, thanked the Tune Time guys for all the dyno testing, and drove home.

In a perfect world we could have strip-tested the results from the new turbo, boost controller, bigger downpipe, and power plate, but in this real world the transmission went south, slipping away. We missed our track test day, but felt the Buick could have dipped into the 12s. Once the transmission is rebuilt and teamed-up with the right stall speed converter, we'll get to see what a gain of 117 rwhp and 190 lb-ft of torque is worth from the bone stock baseline (14.25 at 94.53 mph). Hopefully, the over-100,000-mile Buick V-6 motor continues to survive the added boost and the host of bolt-ons. Stay tuned.


Precision Turbo & Engine
Hebron, IN 46341
Tune Time Performance
Lakewood, NJ 08701
RJC Racing
Tooele, UT 84074
G Body Parts
Bethel, NC 27812
Jose Motor Sports
Camden, NJ 08104



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