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How Buick’s little aluminum V-8 saved Britain’s bacon

#1

Like the kid who flunked fifth grade and then grew up to become a decent stockbroker, the troubled youth of GM’s 215-cubic-inch (3.5 liter) aluminum V-8 didn’t hinder its fruitful life. Born in 1961, this resilient engine introduced turbocharging to production cars but failed to earn a sufficient U.S. audience, whereupon it was sent to England to live out its life in everything from Range Rovers to TVRs. Along the way, this mill, commonly known as the “Buick aluminum V-8” for reasons that will soon be explained, inspired countless designs and enabled a cottage sports-car industry. It was the only American engine design ever to win a Formula 1 title. One could argue that GM’s aluminum V-8 was every bit as ingenious as the Chevy small-block.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/04/17/buicks-little-aluminum-v-8
#2

IIRC the rejection rate at GM’s foundry was up to 95% due to the bone headed idea of casting the liners in place. When the block cooled, whadda ya know, the liners often shifted. Rover also improved the design by chroming the rocker arm shafts to prevent premature wear.
5.0 liters? I believe the largest Rover version was 4.6L. There may have been an odd variant in Australia with 5.0L but this would be a rare bird. Also, the Repco-Brabham by 1966 was indeed of GM origins but was a completely different block since the GM block required so many modifications they found it easier to cast their own block.

#3

I was a 16 year old car nut in 1961 and I recall these cars well. Gasoline was relatively inexpensive, and these cars were not terribly fast or exciting. Other cars and engines were more reasonably priced, powerful and reliable at the time. Also, many of us thought that the idea of a carburetor feeding raw gasoline vapors into a hot metal turbo shared with red hot exhaust gases sounded more like a potential grenade than a reliable source of power.

#4

Turbocharged Rocket V8s and Spyder Corvairs bring back memories. My first car was a 1965 Corvair Monza with a transplanted 1963 145 cubic inch motor. It was a total piece of junk and dropped a quart of oil every time I parked it. I rebuilt the engine in my driveway during the summer with the help of a mail order company that sold Viton seals for the push-rod tubes (where most of the oil leaks came from) and a friendly Chevrolet parts counterman. My dad had a 1966 Corsa 180 (turbocharged) and he put a lot of time and work in the engine and turbocharger. We finally ended up with a single SU 2 inch CV carburetor on it (from a Jaguar at the junk yard). Next year a student came in with a seized turbocharger form a Rocket V8 he found in a junk yard (dad worked at a technical college where they taught auto mechanics, body work and metal fabrication). As a class project the metal shop teacher pulled the turbocharger apart and fabricated new bearings from some sintered bronze blanks we found (the original ones were some aluminum-like alloy). The carbon seals were intact and with another summer of fabrication, that turbocharger sat on my 145 cubic inch Corvair engine. I had to cut a hole in the rear deck lid to allow it to close over the SU carburetor I salvaged and re-purposed. I drove that car another two years before I destroyed the engine from detonation when driving it in the mountains. Dumb kids!

#5

In 1964 I was 16. My dad had just bought a 64 Impala with the 327 250hp engine and a powerglide. One of my high school classmates dad had one of the Olds F85 with the 215hp turbo with a 4 speed. In the 1/4 I would normally beat him by 3-4 car lengths. Loved it everytime we raced.

#6

You are quite correct, Rover and their surviving subsidiary company, Land Rover, never made this engine with a larger capacity than 4.6 litres. But when Blackpool based TVR cars commissioned their own version of the engine, made by their own subsidiary TVR power, for some of their cars they took the opportunity to make some of their own capacity versions. These ranged from a short stroke 2.0 litre supercharged version for the Italian and Japanese markets, (only one made in the end), to larger bore and longer stroke, 94 mm × 90 mm (3.70 in × 3.54 in), 5.0 litre versions…Later on, 5.2, 5.3, 5.5, 5.7 and 6.0 litre versions were developed for owners racing their TVRs
In addition, while Rover was part of the ill-fated conglomerate British Leyland, (that takeover occurred just after Rover bought the rights to the V8), the Australian subsidiary Leyland Australia made a tall deck version, (17mm taller measured from crankshaft centreline), with the original 215 bore and an equal stroke to give 4.4 litres. This was for the Leyland Terrier truck and the P76 sedan. With their longer stroke, these engines are easy to take out to 5.0 litres by boring out to take GM Holden 3.3 l/202c.i.six pistons.
In addition, in the same way that the Buick V6 was an iron version of a cut down alloy V8, Buick made an iron version of the V8 in 300, 340 and 350 c.i. versions, crankshafts from these can be swapped into the Buick/Rover alloy block for bigger capacity as well.
The one thing that has curtailed further development of these lightweight engines was the introduction of GM’s LS alloy V8.
Nevertheless, some of us persist. I am building up a 6.2 litre version using a P76 block and the later Range Rover fuel injection for installation in a Rover P6.

#7

Good info. I’m familiar with taking a 300 crank and putting it in a 215 or Rover 4.0/4.6 block. The '64 Buick 300 was the only one equipped with aluminum heads and aluminum intakes. The heads have slightly bigger ports and valves but they can be ported and larger valves installed. As I have discussed with folks at D&D Fabrications if one of this blocks needs sleeving then it no longer makes sense to use one of these engines when a junkyard LS can be had for much less. TA Performance makes some neat cylinder heads for these engines but the cost just doesn’t make sense when compared to an LS.

#8

I had a 1962 MGA in 68 and I bought a used Buick 215 to put in it. When a friend and I went to pick it up another guy came in and wanted to buy the 2 barrel carb and manifold because he could not find a rebuild kit for his 4 barrel carb. I told him I would swap with him. It took half and hour to find the right carb kit and we rebuilt the carb on the side of the road. When we bought the engine the owner of the junk yard was going to get a fork lift to load it into the pickup, we said no and each grabbed an exhaust manifold and picked it up an put it in the truck. It was that light. I rebuilt it with JE pistons and a Crane cam. I think the engine was about 80 lbs lighter then the 1622 cc engine that was in the car. I never did get to put it in, but I think I was the first to try to use the engine in a MGA. I would still love to try it again in the 62 MGA that I have now. It would be a great match. Oh well wishes never come true.
Thanks for listening. Bob J

#9

Last year I bought a Triumph Stag with a Buick 215 installed. I had never heard of this motor before, a little before my time. Neat motor, has a Holley 4 barrel, very even powerband. To bad GM didn’t develop it more…

#10

You lucked out. I wish I could have finished mine… I’m sure it improved both power and handling a lot. The engine is a lot lighter and should of made a huge difference. I bet you can give Corvettes and Camaros a good run.

Bob Jensen

#11

Always wanted to put one if these in the Willys CJ.

#12

I am building a radial custom 63 T-bird and was trying to find a unique engine. I stumbled upon an Oldsmobile 215 that had new Egge pistons and polished crankshaft. I have all of the pieces, it just needs minor michining on the deck and heads. 1/3 of all 215 production was the Olds version. I can lift the bare block with one hand and put it in the back of my truck. I have the Rover intake that I will be making up plates to mount 6 small Holley 94 carbs. For the exhaust I found Rover SS headers that I will cut off and weld to 302 Ford roadster SS headers, 1/4" difference in port spacing…

#13

No mention of the 200 hp Buick offering for 1963. 215 with 4bbl carb and no supercharger. 10.5:1 if memory serves.