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Feature Stories

Boulevard’s Classic Buick ‘Not For Sale’

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 24
11/29/2013


by Kirt Ramirez


Kirt Ramirez

It’s the oldest new car on the showroom floor.

A brand-new, glossy black 1987 GNX two-door coupe sits on display at Boulevard Buick in Signal Hill. It has never sold. Around 500 GNXs were made to conclude the Buick Regal Grand National series – which ran from 1985 to 1987.

In 1985, the series produced 2,102 Regal Grand Nationals, then 5,512 in 1986. Finally in 1987, 20,193 were produced, according to Consumer Guide Automotive. Then Buick wanted to end the series and commemorate it by doing something special. It had 547 ordinary Grand Nationals transformed into what would become a souped-up collector item – the GNX.

Grand Nationals came with the usual items like an automatic transmission, power steering, power windows, V6 engine, cassette player, air-conditioning and others.

But when Buick involved ASC McLaren to enrich the last of the Grand Nationals, the GNX was born. GNX items included Eagle gatorback tires, aluminum 16-inch wheels, GNX-modified engine, GNX-modified transmission, performance rear suspension, engine air vents, body modifications, instrumentation package and GNX emblems, the sticker reads.

The altered automobile looks innocent enough for running errands and buying groceries. But it is in fact a Buick with an attitude that can go 0-60 in 4.7 seconds and can travel a quarter-mile in 13.5 seconds at 102 miles per hour, according to Consumer Guide Automotive.

The Los Angeles Times once said if Darth Vader had a car, this is probably what he would drive. The paper added that Reggie Jackson, Burt Reynolds and Sylvester Stallone used to cruise in these autos.

The GNX original sale price was $29,389. Today – 26 years later – the virgin car protected at Boulevard Buick is worth well over $100,000.

“I thought of it as my retirement,” said Boulevard Buick dealership co-owner Brad Willingham. “It’s an asset.”

Willingham said the car is not for sale at this time. However, someday – perhaps – when he feels the time is right, he might put it on auction. Or – possibly – if someone has all the money up front and makes him an offer he can’t refuse, then he might give in.
But for now, “We tell people it’s just not for sale.”

Willingham recalled one night at the dinner table in 1975 when he was 12, how his dealership-owning father, Jim Willingham, talked about having received the last two Jaguar XKEs that his dealership would get. His father said if he were smart, he would keep them as they would not be made anymore.

However, the cars were sold three weeks later. Had the father kept those collectors, they would be worth a lot today.

“I learned from that. When the GNX came along and it didn’t sell, I said ‘I’m gonna keep it,’ ” Willingham said.

“That’s what taught me you can let these cars go, but you’ll never see them again,” he added. “When they say they’re not building them anymore, that’s when you take note.”

Today Willingham’s GNX only has 169 miles on it. Willingham starts it up once in a while. “I’ve taken it to a couple of auto shows and driven it around to keep it in shape.”

The dealership received two GNX’s in 1987, but only one sold. “We tried to do a silent auction – we didn’t get one bid,” Willingham said. “We kept it on the showroom floor and one kid wanted to buy it but had no credit. We’ve hung on to it ever since.”

Willingham said he and his business partner, Ron Charron, sometimes bicker about the car being on the floor, since it takes up space. But the car stays.

“To my knowledge, there is one dealer on the east coast that has one that has never been sold,” Willingham said. “This is one of we think is only two.”

GM found out about Willingham’s prize and sent him a letter a few years ago to inform him the warranty is no longer valid.
Front desk receptionist Chelsea Bates said people always ask her about the car. “When they see the original sticker and that it’s never been sold, they’re like, ‘no way, I want this car.’ ”

Meanwhile, Boulevard Buick is discounting many 2013 cars, trucks and SUVs during Black Friday weekend at Cherry Avenue and 28th Street. The website is Boulevard4u.com.

Asked how business is doing, Willingham said “Business is good” and that he and Charron acquired Coast Cadillac and moved it next door a couple of years ago to 2850 Cherry Avenue.

Times were bad in 2008 and 2009 during the GM crises and great recession, but are good today and getting stronger, he said.
Willingham and his father, Jim, were the first father and son to be presidents of the Long Beach Rotary club, with the father serving in 1977 and the son in 2008.

kirt@longbeachcomber.com