From restrained, budget creations to high-dollar celebrity builds, the 2022 SEMA has it all. And we’re now here to focus on the latter, with Kevin Heart using the Las Vegas show to introduce the latest muscle car in his collection, namely the 1987 Buick Grand National “The Dark Knight”.
Now, as some of you know, the actor and comedian already has a 1987 Buick GNX (Grand National Experimental) in his garage. However, with only 547 of those Corvette and Ferrari-beating models being built as a last hurrah, that car needs to be preserved as a piece of history.
As for the Dark Knight, a Batman theme chosen by Hart, this is one of the over 20,000 Grand Nationals built for the final 1987 model year, a now-restomodded machine he can actually drive with little worries.
One would argue that the values of the base cars are also different, as GNXs are six-figure rides, while Grand Nationals stay in the five-digit range. But, given the kind of high-dollar build we have here, that may no longer be relevant.
What are the Buick Grand National and GNX?
This chapter in the Buick story dates back to the mid-1970s, when the fuel crisis-fanned Malaise Era determined Detroit’s Big Three to seek downsizing solutions. Super-sized V8s with serious compression ratios were no longer an option, at least not for mid-size offerings. So, GM started experimenting with a smaller-capacity V6 that would rely on turbocharging for efficiency or muscle, depending on the application. And, thanks to new electronic tech like knock sensors and persistence, the result was a success.
Fast-forwarding to the 1980s, the regular Buick Regal received a Grand National sportier version aimed at capitalizing on the carmaker’s NASCAR success, hence the Cup Series-inherited name. And, following a shy 1982 debut with a naturally-aspirated V6, the label went away, but it returned in 1984 in a formula that would strike gold: a turbocharged 3.8L V6 making 200 hp (that was massive back in the day) and a sinister all-black appearance.
The turbocharging made Grand Nationals easier to modify compared to the surviving N/A V8s of the era, so it didn’t take long before custom examples broke into the 13s quarter-mile arena, a performance that still means something today. Things got better and better from there, culminating with the said GNX, which was given an extra performance treatment by McLaren (yes, that McLaren).
And, thanks to its 276 hp and 360 lb-ft, a seriously underrated official output, the GNX could cover the 1/4-mile in 12.7 seconds, one-upping giants like the Ferrari F40 (the Las Vegas event also introduced a pink F40) and the 930 Porsche 911 Turbo. Oh, and speaking of other SEMA 2022 debuts, have you seen Bisimoto’s Moby X Porsche 935 EV tribute? It’s built on a 930!
Factor in the Star Wars era marketing stunts introduced by the carmaker and entertained by the media (e.g. “Dark Side” mentions) and you’ll see why the Grand National and the GNX became so important.
Back to Kevin Hart’s SEMA 2022 car debut
As with his “Michael Myers” 1969 Plymouth Road Runner, Kevin Hart’s 1987 Buick Grand National was built by Dave Salvaggio of Salvaggio Design in collaboration with designer Sean Smith—note that the Mopar, as well as the $825,000 custom C1 Corvette that the actor grabbed at a Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction back in 2021, accompanied the Buick during its debut at the 2022 SEMA’s Magnaflow exhaust booth.
The star attended the event with his two sons, Hendrix and little Kenzo Kash, as you’ll notice in the second Instagram clip below. And we’ll thank build contributors Carrozzeria Casados and Violette Customs for the images in the gallery.
There are no GNX-style fender flares here, the factory T-tops are retained and so is the V6 engine. However, as stated by its builders, this is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, so you can expect a complete engine overhaul with a big turbo, as well as a proper choice for the automatic transmission present on the vehicle—that tube bracing in the engine bay is there for a reason.
Kevin Hart’s 1987 Grand National also features plenty of carbon, with the wonder material being used for the front end and the hood (hello, power dome!), among others. As for the wheels, these come from HRE.
The interior also stays true to the factory appearance, albeit using materials that are on another level and a digital dashboard, among others.
So, basically, with his Dark Knight SEMA 2022 debut, Kevin Hart, who featured the car in his Instagram story at the time of press, introduced a battle between Batman and Darth Vader.
The official details of Kevin Hart’s 650 hp 1978 Buick Grand National
The body, with its carbon pieces and its slightly reworked lines (i.e. the door lines and custom handles) sits on a custom Salvaggio frame. As for the suspension, the front axle sports DSE X-Gen 595 hardware, while the rear features a four-link Panhard setup.
The connection to the road established via Ultimate Performance coilovers, while the 19-inch HRE 501 wheels conceal massive Brembo GT brakes that can torture those Toyo Proxes R888R tires just as much as the… Cadillac engine.
To be more precise, the restomodded Buick is animated by a Cadillac ATS-V 3.6L twin-turbo V6, which was installed by Gearhead Fabrications. However, the engine received a single-turbo kit and an exhaust coming from (surprise!) Magnaflow, plus a Comp Cams aggressive cam. And, via a remap done using an HP Tuners module (have you seen the Hellcat-restomodded genuine 1970 Superbird in their booth?), the unit has jumped from 450 to 650 hp.
Yes, the Cadillac’s GM 8L90 eight-speed automatic transmission was retained, together with the inginition key’s proximity sensor. And the comedian will be able to keep track of everything via Holley instruments placed inside the 3D printed dashboard.
And, thanks to the YouTube video below, we get an extended, high-quality version of the unveiling that was previously only showcased on Instagram.