Who in 1962 could have imagined that the Buick 90 degree V6 would still be powering new Buicks in 2008? No one, especially back then when technology was still changing so rapidly. The Buick V6 rivals the Chevy small block for longevity and ubiquity, and I suppose one could argue that at least in passenger cars, the Buick V6 essentially replaced the SBC with the change to FWD as the most common engine.
Car Life took a look at its birth, technology and performance.
Car Life gets right to the (painful) point as to why the V6 came to be: the aluminum V8 was expensive to build, even more so because we now know that Buick’s aluminum foundry had to reject many of the block castings, at least in the early days. And of course it wouldn’t likely be common knowledge yet, but it also would soon become known as a somewhat problematic one, due to issues of overheating due to the copper radiator coils being affected from incompatibility due to incorrect coolant and such.
Buick decided very early on that in order for the Special to be truly successful, it needed a cheaper and more economical power plant. They explored several options, including a large four based on their large V8, a la Tempest, but it would have also been heavy, as in over 500 lbs. An inline six just wasn’t going to fit in the engine compartment, and wouldn’t be all that light either. So the decision evolved towards a V6 adaptation of the 215 cubic inch aluminum V8. Makes perfect sense, except of course for the less-than-ideal 90 degree cylinder banks.
By increasing the bore and stroke, the resultant V6 displaced 198 cubic inches, only 17 less than the V8. Its weight was only moderately heavier than the featherweight (324 lbs) V8. Obviously, the issue of its “odd fire” 120 degree crankshaft was somewhat of an issue. It results in a primary rocking couple, but large counterweights at the ends of the crankshaft counter that fully. A secondary coupling, at twice engine speed, is handled by special soft engine mounts. “In driving this car, it is virtually impossible to tell, without looking, whether a V8 or V6 is under the hood”.
Well, one didn’t have to look; just listen. I distinctly remember a friend of my brothers pulling in the driveway in his ’62 Special V6 while I was nearby. It sounded…odd. A bit like someone had pulled a couple of spark plug leads off a V8. Well, that’s an exaggeration, but it did sound odd, as in “odd fire”
Here’s what it sounds like. And boy, does this 231 version ever look lost in the mighty maw of a Colonnade Special.
A key element to the successful adaption of the aluminum V8 to the iron V6 was in pushing the limits of thin-wall casting techniques. It and the Falcon six were pioneers in this, resulting in considerably lighter engines (370 lbs for the V6, without flywheel).
The V6 also pioneered the use of cast iron connecting rods, using pearlitic malleable-iron, which GM had already begun using increasingly for crankshafts. before anyone throws out the tired old line about how forged cranks and such were the true signs of a quality engine, please remember that Ford pioneered the use of nodular cast iron cranks quite some years earlier, and for anything but all-out racing, they are perfectly suitable.
Of course the key element was to reuse as many parts a possible from the V8, which included main and rod bearings, wrist pins, valves, springs, pushrods, valve lifters, rocker arms, and a number of others.
One key benefit of the 120 degree crankshaft was that it made possible a truly balanced intake manifold, something that V8s and inline sixes inherently do not have, and cause some cylinders to not run at maximum peak output as a result. That also helps explain why the four cylinder engine has superior torque output (an a per cubic inch basis) than V8s and inline sixes. A 90 degree V6 allows non-overlapping manifolds, with a resultant higher torque peak.
Buick claimed that the V6’s maximum torque (205 lb.ft) was superior to comparable inline sixes. As a point of comparison, the new Chevy II 194 six was rated at 177 lb.ft. And Chrysler’s 170 and 225 slant sixes produced roughly 6-9 % less torque per cubic inch. The V6’s torque was only 15 lb.ft. less than that of the aluminum V8, but also 5-9% more economical, and up to 18% more economical than competitive inline sixes. Impressive numbers, which help to explain its enduring appeal.
CL felt that subjectively, it was “almost impossible” to tell the difference in performance between the V8 and V6. With the optional 4-speed manual, CL predicted that it would do 0-60 in about 11 seconds.
In closing, CL (rightly) predicted that the thin-wall casting used in the V6 and Ford’s new small V8 “has probably sounded the gong for further use of aluminum in cylinder blocks“. Sure enough; the Buick aluminum V8 would be gone after 1963, and both Chrysler and AMC’s aluminum block sixes would also have a short lifespan.
The video above (a Buick Special, actually) running with a 1970s odd-fire engine does not really show its “paint shaker” personality – the late versions must have used much stiffer engine mounts. The early Fireball engines used mounts that were very flexible. Here is a video that shows the engine doing its shimmy-shimmy-shake on an engine stand:
For an engine design that Buick kind of backed into as a way to cut costs, it turned out to be one of the most successful designs ever. I was sorry when GM finally pulled the plug on it.
Thats a ’64-up 225 because it has the B-O-P bellhousing flange. I imagine the increase in displacement didn’t help things. But even a split pin even fire crank still needs a balance shaft to be perfect.
Oops; I missed the first few seconds of that video, and just saw that very voluptuous front fender and “Monte Carlo” came to mind.
I actually found the video you posted earlier, but an engine running on a wobbly engine stand without its properly-designed mounts isn’t exactly quite representative of how it is when mounted. They did not shake that much mounted in the earlier cars either; we raised the hood of my brother’s friend’s ’62; it was noticeable, but not like the one in this video.
That green mess shakes because it has an audible miss at idle .
I like the sound it makes off idle .
Pop’s had a Jeepster with this engine it did not lack power for anything .
I agree about the miss at idle. I have had to replace many a distributor bushings on the 225. This was caused by the distributor bushings being worn on the underside of the housing do to the side load. This in turn would cause a slight miss at all rpm, as the points could not maintain it’s correct gap at times.
Back in the late 1960’s there was an aftermarket breakeress ignition system that used an “eye” and a shutter disc ~ this compensated for distributor wear at the same time it forced the coil to it’s maximum output, this helped wake up many an older work rig .
A large four based on Buick’s large V8, a la Tempest, would have been rough as well as heavy. Pontiac’s approach to taming their Trophy 4, the rope drive, proved to be a dead end.
According to Joe Turlay, Buick general manager Ed Rollert was very close to pulling the trigger on a slant-four, balance issues and all, because Buick was really up against it on the cost of the aluminum V-8. Turlay told him that he’d already done on the math on the V-6, insisted it would work much better than a four, and said he could have it ready to go in a hurry (which indeed he did — they went from that conversation to full production in less than a year).
Years ago, (about 10) a friend and I were going to lunch at a golf course that had a killer prime rib special on Fridays. It was mid summer, and guess what was in the parking lot? A ’62 Buick Special convertible, with a 4 speed!!! As someone who grew up around these I immediately began to drool. I have looked at hundreds of these since I was a kid (now 56)
and never seen one with the 4 speed. Even had its original Brailey & Graham license plate frames on it. They were a local Portland, OR Buick dealer, so the car has been in the local area all its life See attached pic for proof. What a find. Didn’t bump into owner, so don’t know if V6 or V8
It’s a V8, as that’s what came standard in the bucket-seat Skylark.
This machine had no Skylark badging, and everything you see here could be ordered on the Special Deluxe as options.
True, but if you read the third paragraph of the article, it states that the V8 will be standard on the mid-level 4100 series and the deluxe 4300 series Skylark, and that the V6 will only be standard on the base 4000 series. (the brochure confirms that).This is clearly a Special DeLuxe (4100 series). I suppose it could have been ordered with the V6, so it is theoretically a possibility.
And 62 Skylarks have the Buick tri-shield in the center of the grill, this car does not. Everything screamed 4100 series. I know these cars well.
I had a 2005 Impala with the 3800 series 2 engine which is a descendant of the original Buick V6.
Drove the car 251,000 miles from new and the engine still ran fine….outlasted the body of the car which rotted out.
The only mechanical issues that I encountered were leaking intake manifold gaskets and leaky coolant elbows.
Coolant was routed through the serpentine belt tensioner via plastic elbows which ran from the engine block to the tensioner. Those elbows were prone to cracking and I replaced those elbows with aluminum ones.
Another odd thing, I have the factory shop manual for the ’62 Special, and they actually offered a police package for it, complete with a massive Leece-Neville alternator for it. I reckon this package was only available with the 185HP V8 (which, BTW, was upped to 200HP for ’63)
Too bad Buick didn’t offer a 4BBL option on the V6. You know Chevrolet would have. 🙂
Or going a step further, giving the 231/3800 a second life as a truck engine who would have replaced the 4.3 V6 under the hood of the Silverados and Sierras.
And the 4.3 was said to have been basically a 5.7 liter engine with two cylinders lopped off.
The 4.1L version of Buick V6 in early 80’s had a 4 pot carb.
Indeed, but I was talking about the original ’62 198
Had an ’83 Cutlass Supreme with the 231 V6. Only maintenance was oil changes and one set of spark plugs. Slow as can be at a stop light, but hummed on the interstate. The rear seal leaked like crazy, kept a case of oil in the trunk to top off ever 500 miles. Final gave it up when the A/C crapped out.
I always wondered why a V8 version of Buick’s 3800 V6 was never built.
The Buick 300/340/350 was essentially a Fireball V-6 with two more cylinders, in basic architecture, at any rate.
The financial wherewithal and engineering prowess of General Motors in the 1950s and 60s can never be overstated. You could start with the 1955 small-block Chevy, but from 1960-1963 they introduced no fewer than FIVE brand-new (or highly modified) engine designs…
GMC V-6 – Corvair H-6 – Pontiac “Trophy” I-4 – Buick Aluminum 215 V-8 – Buick V-6
…as well as so many new ideas and variations of automatic transmissions that I’ve lost count. Oh, and let’s add two of the first commercially viable applications of turbocharging!
I don’t think we’ll ever see such innovation from a major corporation again.
The Trophy 4 was an ultra-cheap derivative of the Pontiac 389, with a total cost of (according to the people who worked on it) about a million dollars. The whole point was that it was NOT a new or highly modified engine, since Pontiac didn’t have the budget for that at the time.
It was less new than the 1963 Cadillac 390, which had no startling new features (and the same bore and stroke as before), but had an all-new shorter-deck block and a new Armasteel.
Er, new Armasteel crankshaft, rather.
We got thousands of it descendants from GMH in Holdens, they seem to go ok and fairly tough manifold o rings fail but little else goes wrong if they are maintained a bit, In Commodores I found the old 3.8 a better engine than the later 3.6.
Here is my canadian built 1965 Oldsmobile f-85 Deluxe with the Econ-o-Way V-6 ”Buick engine”.
Here is the car.
It reminds me of The Wonder Years featuring Kevin Arnold’s first car when his grandfather gived it to him at the end of the episode (and lost it later at a poker game).
It’s interesting that despite the original alloy V8s short life it spawned two very long lived and well regarded aluminium block V engines.. the second of course being the rover V8 that did duty in various capacities and cars up until 2004… And is still in production in limited numbers I believe.
I think the text’s assumption that the quoted weight of the aluminum V-8 didn’t include the flywheel is mistaken. Buick and Oldsmobile were not very clear on this point, but Hot Rod subsequently put the V-8s on a scale, and from that, it appears the 324 lb weight Buick quoted included the flywheel. (The bare engine, without exhaust manifolds, starter, or generator, was under 300 lb.)
They weighed the Buick V-8 WITH flywheel and starter, but sans exhaust manifolds and generator, which was 289 lb. The exhaust manifolds were in the realm of 25 lb, and while I don’t know how much the Delcotron generator weighed, a generator weight of 9 or 10 lb would give you about 324 lb complete. (Buick also quoted 318 lb in some sources, which I’m guessing is with the lighter automatic flex plate rather than the manual transmission flywheel.)
When in high school in the late 60’s I often rode to school with the neighbors in their V-6 Buick Special. I really hated the thing. Accelerating gave a galloping sensation. Cruising revealed the constant thrumm-thrumm-thrumm that you felt through the floorboards with your feet and from your elbows on the armrest. I once drove a mid-70’s Buick Century with the resurrected V-6. It felt the same way, although it was a torque-monster. I eventually owned an 89 Olds 88 with the even-firing version of the engine. Now that was a truly great engine.
GM was rather clever to build this, although they were terribly hard on timing chains and gears-even in ’74 or ’75 when GM bought the tooling back from AMC. They were not the most durable 6 cylinder out there at the time. But yes, the 3800 descendant of this engine was great.
This discussion wouldn’t be complete without addressing the terrible lubrication system of the V-6, along with all of the other Buick engines, the 215, 300, 340, 350, 400, and even the 455. The oil pump hanging out the timing cover had difficulty drawing the oil clear from the pan. Often periods of non use results in the pump loosing it’s prime as the oil drained out, and no oil pressure. Daily use prevented the issue. Refer to the Buick shop manual their procedure to prime the pump. But even with regular use, it took excessive time for oil pressure to build as compared to designs like the chevy with the oil pump right in the pan. Owners of wrecking yards like myself can point to numerous Buick engines with knocking rods, low oil pressure, and broken crankshafts. After Buick changed the oil pump the 3800 was reliable. But it took Buick over 20 years. Oldsmobile perfected their 5.7 diesel engine in 1 1/2 years with the DX block.
BTW Paul, I sent you a related email the other day. If you didn’t get it, you might want to check your spam folder.