Photos from Original Motor Trend Magazine Review
Back in the early ‘80s, and up until somewhat recently, the most thorough review you were going to find about new cars were inside the pages of a magazine. There weren’t 20 YouTube reviews from professional bloggers, shows dedicated to the subject matter, or web media. You could take what the guy at the car dealership told you about a car, and roll the dice, or grab a copy of a rag like Motor Trend and really dig in. This 1981 Buick Regal Indy Pace Car test drive piece gave enthusiasts a look at a car they weren’t likely to know much about prior, and it gives us a look back on when this now classic still had its new car smell.
Back when this car was new, Motor Trend already pegged it as a “little piece of motor racing history” without knowing what kind of reception it would gain over the years. Noting that it is not just another cosmetic hack, the Regal Pace Car was the real deal of the time.
The Regal earned the distinction as the 1981 Indy 500 pace car and earned Buick its fifth pace car in the 65 years of pace car selection like this — it was also the first time a naturally-aspirated V6 was given the honor. During the time, Buick was out the win the hearts of younger drivers.
The 4.1L powerplant gave the pace car 281 horsepower and 262 lb-ft. of torque to work with — it may not seem like much now, but it was a sharp contrast to the 125 hp/200 lb-ft. numbers of the base car. The engine was built with a heavy-duty block and cylinder heads, cast turbo crank, Moroso block girdle, forged aluminum pistons, Sealed Power rings for the Carrillo forged connecting rods, and a custom oil pan. The whole valvetrain was made over to take a high-performance Crane cam and roller rockers. It was setup for fuel fed from a Rochester 780 cfm carb, and ran the exhaust through Weiand headers, into a 2-1/2” exhaust.
The original reviewer notes that handling was amongst the best they had tested in a straight line, and could make effortless lane changing maneuvers at high speeds. They also praised the model for its sporty interior, and high speed capabilities.
Duke Neylan would end up piloting the Buick Regal Pace Car at the Indy 500, and it would be one of the very few times a Buick would pace the big race. The Regal was also a product of its time; reliant on V6 power thanks to two then-recent oil shortages and would lay out the groundwork for the Turbo Buick craze that was just over the horizon. A total of 125 replicas based on the actual Pace Car were ultimately produced, although they were relegated to solid roof body styles and a naturally aspirated 4.1L V6.
Elizabeth is hardcore horsepower enthusiast with unmatched intensity for making things faster and louder. She wakes up for power and performance and only sleeps to charge up for the next project that’s heading to the track. From autocross to drag racing, Elizabeth is there with you, so stay tuned for her unique perspective on horsepower news, builds, tech info, and installs — with her, it’ll never be boring!