Building a 1987 Buick Grand National, for On The Horizon.

Grand National

This picture was taken the day we bought the car, shortly after giving it a good bath. A little rough to say the least, but we could see that it had a lot of potential.

Door skin repair on the Grand National

One of the first things to address was that big dent in the drivers door. Step one was to expose the metal to see what we had to work with.

Door skin repair on the Grand National

We figured our chances of saving this door were about 50/50. But, after straightening out the backing structure, lots of hammer and dolly work, a little slicing and welding to shrink the sheetmetal, and finally some minimal filler and block-sanding: it actually turned out quite well.

Grand National, broken header panel

Next on our agenda, was to address this disaster.

There are several broken pieces here – the bumper fill (under the headlight) and the header panel (beside the grille). Luckily, the bumper fill is an easy to find part in the aftermarket. Unfortunately, the header panel is not. We ended up sourcing a used header panel, which itself needed quite a bit of minor fiber-glass repair work. The part was from a regular regal, so it also required a little modification (hole filling) to transform it into a Grand-National part.

Once we realized how difficult to find, and expensive, this part was, we sort of understood why somebody might try to repair it with wood. There is really no excuse for treating a Grand National this way though.

Grand National, repaired header panel

With the new pieces in place, and all the parts properly assembled, the front end of the car was hugely improved.

Mechanically, our Grand National was actually in pretty good shape. This car had been in our shop a few times, so we were familiar with it, and had already done quite a bit of work on it.

It needed some brake work, ignition work, a few leaks fixed… the sort of thing you’d expect on any car that’s over 25 years old, and that has been neglected. But there were no major problems to fix.

Grand National Fuel Pump Fiasco

The biggest issue we had was with the fuel pumps. This is what we found nestled under the trunk pan: 5 fuel pumps, plumbed in line, not counting the dead one in the tank. To make a long story short, we put the car back to stock – using a new replacement in-tank fuel pump. This did require some repair on the modified fuel tank.

These cars have a feature to protect their engine; if it detects a loss of oil pressure, it cuts off the fuel pump. Our car would spontaneously do this (even though oil pressure was good), which would stop the engine. The fix was a manual over-ride switch, hidden in the drivers compartment, to manually force power to the fuel pump. In some of the out-takes and interviews, you might hear this car described as the “death car”- failure to engage this switch resulted in the engine losing fuel pressure, which, in turn, took out the power brakes and power steering. Not a good thing when driving in the Utah mountains.

Basset Wheels

Wheel selection for the car was a topic of much debate. The one thing everybody agreed on – the swirl pattern aluminum wheels on the car had to go.

Once we settled on a race style wheel, we decided to go for the real McCoy: Nascar racing wheels from Bassett Racing Wheel. Using these wheels meant that we needed a 15″ tire – we opted for 245/60R15 BF Goodrich Radial T/A’s. All 4 corners got exactly the same treatment. Everything came from Summit Racing.

The Bassett’s, a full race wheel, required special open lug-nuts which – we think – just added to the effect. It’s definitely not the choice for everyone, but we think this wheel/tire combination really gives the car a unique look, and sets it apart as something a little special.

Grand National Seat Covers

The two front seats were in very similar condition. We sourced some reproduction seat covers, which were a very good match for the original interior. Some of the foam also needed replacement, and it took a little bit of work to get the drivers seat power controls all working.

This shot shows the dramatic transformation between new and old.

interior led lighting

With the mechanical issues, sheet-metal, front end, seat-covers, and wheels all sorted out – all that was left were all the little details.

Windows were stripped and re-tinted.

We had the guys at Pro Audio of Utah install a stereo for us.

We also had under-dash multi-color LED lighting installed – at the request of the film-maker.

A new chrome exhaust tip was fitted.

We upgraded the air intake.

Repaired/rebuilt the under-car intercooler air-scoop.

Fitted new badging on the front fenders, hood, and grille.

Did some re-wiring to get all the external lights working.

And; took care of a hundred other little things around the car.

Grand National, in front of Satellite Dishes, Salt Lake City

There are a couple of scenes in the movie shot at this parking garage in downtown Salt Lake City. It made for a nice background.

As you can see, the car is looking a whole lot better here, but is still a little rough around the edges. This was the intent, keeping it in line with Casey’s character in the movie.

Grand National, Utah sunset

Just a nice sunset shot.

Grand National, on the set of On the Horizon

Taken on set, during filming in Southern Utah.

On The Horizon – Official Trailer (2016) 4K from Pascal Payant on Vimeo, featuring the Grand National.


Nice bench.

A pair of Buick Grand Nationals

Not long after filming was complete, one of our customers brought in his Grand National for some mechanical upgrades. You don’t see these cars on the road very often, and it was great to see the two cars together.