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Older car enthusiasts remember the Buick Grand National Regal GNX as the coupe that kept the muscle car flame burning in the 1980s. Younger fans may remember it as the black 80s car Dom Toretto drove at the beginning of Fast & Furious. Either way, it is an American icon.

GNX stands for “Grand National Experimental” which just may be the coolest car badge ever. It was a special edition of the final model year second-generation Grand National (1987) that was modified by McLaren to rocket to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and run the 1/4-mile in 12.7. That made it faster than the Ferrari F40. With its menacing looks and vertical grille, it rightly earned the nickname “Darth Vader” car. What’s more, only 547 of these bad boys were made. That’s like Dodge Charger Daytona numbers!

So when Latchman Raghunandan bought a GNX in 2002, he was thrilled about it. He loved and drove that car. Right until it was stolen from outside a restaurant in Belleville, New Jersey in 2012.

Rear trunk of a black Buick Grand National GNX muscle car.
1987 Buick Grand National GNX | Bring a Trailer

Raghunandan put up “stolen” posters and hunted high and low. He may have even given up. But then in 2019, his Buick Regal GNX appeared in a police impound lot just seven miles from where it was stolen. So Raghunandan went to the Essex County police and said, “Thanks for finding my car. Can I have it back?”

Their response: “What car?”

Records show that law enforcement officials indeed claimed they did not have a 1987 Buick Grand National GNX in the impound lot. Even though they did. So Raghunandan lawyered up and took them to court. Finally, they admitted they had one. But they shared the VIN, said it didn’t match his, and that the case should be closed.

Raghunandan did a bit more digging. It turns out that the VIN was for another car that was long since totaled and scrapped. So he pressed on. See, it was in the police’s best interest to keep the car. They had taken it in a drug bust and under “civil forfeiture” laws could auction the $150,000 muscle car and keep the money. (Value source: similar GNX on Bring a Trailer) I have to say they could have been more accommodating. And neighborly.

Black Buick GNX muscle car
1987 Buick Grand National GNX | Bring a Trailer

But buckle up, it gets weirder. A drug dealer named Angel Tirado, who was serving seven years in jail, sued the police saying they had seized his Buick unjustly and he wanted it back. He claimed it wasn’t worth anything because it was a clone he’d built…in 2012. In 2021, an overwhelmed judge tossed out both cases, giving it back to the police.

So Raghunandan sued them again, this time for the right to inspect the car. See, they hadn’t even let him on the lot. He and his mechanic found the VIN had definitely been change and serial numbers on parts had been filed off. It still had his aftermarket stereo–which was a store brand only carried by one store in the world. And to top it off, his keys still unlocked all the doors and the trunk.

Why did Raghunandan fight so hard to get his GNX back? Because he’d promised his son it would be his someday.

So like Star Wars, the saga of this “Darth Vader” Buick GNX may be scary and dramatic. But at its heart, it’s just a fairy tale about family.

Next, read how muscle car enthusiasts reunited a California man with his stolen Barracuda, or see a Buick Grand National GNX for yourself in the video below:

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