Rover's Vikingship The Rover V8
The American Connection
Rover's Vikingship

The old Buick V8

I n the late fifties the American Car Industry began to feel the impact of imports from europe. People wanted smaller cars which were more economical on fuel because the prices of this fluid 'gold' had been rocketing after the Suez crises. Especially the Buick dealers felt the pressure. The import from GM's German subsidiary, Opel had been assigned to Buick in 1958 and took away quite some customers who thought American steel was oversized and overweight. Also VW with the Beetle and Renault were selling quite well in the States.

GM reacted with a series of compact cars from Chevrolet with the controversial Corvair and the three compacts from Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac. These last three were all based on the same building platform.

These compacts were named the Buick Special, Oldsmobile F-85 and the Pontiac Tempest and could be had in sedan, wagon, coupe and later on in convertible body shapes.

Pontiac Tempest Badge 1,2 kB

Now to lift a heavy iron V-8 in these compacts would spoil the handling. A V-6 would be nice, but then in America only a V-8 is considered to be a real engine, so an aluminium V-8 formed a very good alternative for an iron V-6 lump.

An aluminium engine wasn't common at all in those days, especially not in "iron" America. Based on an iron 235 V-8 a scaled up (253 aluminium engine was made by GM's central engineering and tested in Chevrolet's in 1952. Later on a larger 283 engine was made around Chevrolet bottom parts to made direct comparisons with an existing iron engine. All these engines had wet-liners unlike the later developed engines.

In 1957 the word was "GO" for an aluminium V-8 production engine, coded project X-100. It was first drawn up as a 180 engine but was soon redesigned towards 215 The engines were designed by Buick and by then aluminium engine design wasn't a first for Buick as they also designed the aluminium V-8 for the XP-300 and Le Sabre experimental cars. The first Buick 215's were tested in Opels and Corvair's, remember the engine was to be used in a 'small' car, something Buick didn't have at that moment.

dry-liner with the grooves 11,1 kB

There were problems with the pistons at start up scuffing the aluminium cylinder walls. So iron liners were used. Buick chose for dry-liners to prevent introducing eight chances of water leakage and dry liners also gave a stiffer block than wet liners. The use of dry-liners didn't do much good for the transfer of heat to the cooling circuit but as a trade-off power loss through wall friction was less than with an aluminium cylinder wall. The dry-liner also gave the engine a slightly higher octane requirement than if wet-liners would have been used.

The centrifugally cast liner was held rigidly in the block by machining grooves in the outer liner wall, expensive, but very effective.

To create a stiff block the crankase was extended below the crank centerline as had been done with the XP-300 engine. This also gave a very rigid engine-gearbox assembly.

The combustion chamber was matched to the dished piston leaving an area around the rim for good squish effects. The spark plug was placed in the middle to give short flame travel. Setup this way the combustion chamber was halfway between a wedge shaped head and a hemispherical head. Reducing the depth of the depression in the piston upped the compression ratio to 10.5 a trick also used in the later Rover engines.

An aluminium engine expands more with temperature than a cast iron engine. this would also mean more play in the valve train when the engine was cold. To prevent this the engine was designed with hydraulic valve lifters which eliminated play and allowed easy maintenance.

Generally the aluminium V8 was built up like most american V8's. Where the engine was different was in the positioning of the oilpump/distributor. With the Chevy small block and other V8's these were located at the back of the block. For the Buick V8 the oilpump/distributor was driven from the front by a driveshaft ahead of the timing chain. This cleared the distributor from the inlet manifold but made it more perceptible from water. In practice however this has never proved to be a problem. Later V-8 designs like the 5.0 Ford V-8 also put the distributor at the front.

Let's have a closer look at the differences between the Buick, Oldsmobile and Rover V8's. No, we're not talking about the Pontiac 215-V8, because that one was the same as the Buick.

From one to eight

The first internal combustion engine was constructed by the frenchman Jean-Joseph Etienne Lenoir and patented in 1860. The first motor car was born when he installed this engine in 1863 in a small three wheeled carriage.

The internal combustion process was improved by Nikolaus-August Otto into the now well known 4-stroke cycle. The first car with an Otto engine was the Benz threewheeler from 1885. The Benz wasn't the first car! (sorry Germans!), but it was the first one built commercially.

The first cars from Lenoir, Benz, Daimler were all one-cylinders. But two cylinders soon arrived with a narrow angle V-2 from Daimler/Maybach in 1887 which was replaced in 1895 with a two cylinder in-line engine.

Panhard was the first car manufacturer who introduced the four-cylinder in 1897.

The first six-cylinder came from Spijker, a Dutch car company, in 1902. The car was also the first car in the world with four wheel drive! However this Spijker wasn't a real production car. The first car in production with a six-cylinder was the 18 hp from the British Napier company in 1903.

The first 8 cylinder was built by the frenchman Clement Ader in 1903. He already built V-4's and combined two of them to form the first V-8 but only three or four of these engines have been built.

It was Cadillac that built the first commercially succesful V-8. It was a 5,1 litre with 70 hp and was introduced in 1914. From then on the Americans took the lead in V-8 production and continue till 2004.

1961 V8

1961 V8

Buick Fireball V8 16,2 kB


 BuickOldsmobileRover (1968 P5 spec's)
Combustion chambermachined combustion chamber, dished pistons Larger machined combustion chamber, flat pistons Cast combustion chamber, dished pistons
CylinderheadFive bolts per cylinder Six bolts per cylinderFive bolts per cylinder
Valves 1.480 inch inlet
1.300 inch outlet
1.522 inch inlet
1.30 inch outlet
Valve stem diameter 0.002" thicker and 0.25" longer than Buick
1.50 inch inlet
1.30 inch outlet
Valve springsstraight conicalstraight, double coil
Camshaft timing 29/71/67/33
Rocker ratio 1.6
timing 29/71/67/33
Rocker ratio 1.6
timing 30/75/68/37
Rocker ratio 1.5
BlockAluminium pressure die-cast Aluminium pressure die-cast Aluminium sand cast
Cylinder liners Iron liners placed into the pressure die before casting the block Iron liners placed into the pressure die before casting the block Iron liners pressed into the block after sandcasting the block
Rocker coverStamped steel Stamped steelAluminium casting
Carburettor 2 or 4-barrel Rochester2 or 4-barrel Rochester Two 1 3/4' SU HS6 carbs
Engine weight144 kg
318 lb
159 kg
350 lb
170 kg
375 lb
Power 150 bhp at 4400 rpm 155 bhp at 4800 rpm 160 bhp at 5200 rpm
Torque 210 lb.ft at 2800 rpm 220 lb.ft at 2400 rpm 210 lb.ft at 2600 rpm

In 1960 the all new aluminium V8 (or aluminum as it was called in America) went into full scale production. There were difficulties with the liners and the failure rate could sometimes be fairly high.

The cars were received reasonably well at first but did not live up to the expectations at GM. When fuel prices went down again the pressure from imports became less and soon the compacts grew. By 1964 the 'compacts' already had grown into intermediate size!

With bigger cars coming up, the production problems and problems with servicing because often the wrong cooling fluid was used, GM decided to cancel production of the aluminium V8's for the 1963 season.

So how well did those compacts sell?

Car modelNo. built Available engines
Buick in 1961
Special Sedan 4d
Special Sport Coupe
Special Wagon 4d
Special Wagon 4d, 3S
Special Deluxe Sedan 4d
Special Deluxe wagon 4d
Special Skylark sport coupe
215 V8
155 bhp
Skylark with 185 bhp

Buick in 1962
Special Sedan 4d
Special Coupe
Special Wagon 4d
Special Wagon 4d, 3S
Special Convertible Coupe
Special Deluxe Sedan 4d
Special Deluxe wagon 4d
Special Deluxe Convertible Coupe
Special Skylark hardtop coupe
Special Skylark convertible coupe
198 V6 135 bhp
215 V8
155 bhp in the Deluxe series
Skylark with 190 bhp

Buick in 1963
Special Sedan 4d
Special Coupe
Special Wagon 4d
Special Wagon 4d, 3S
Special Convertible Coupe
Special Deluxe Sedan 4d
Special Deluxe wagon 4d
Special Skylark sport coupe
Special Skylark convertible coupe
198 V6 135 bhp
215 V8
155 bhp in the Deluxe series and Skylark
Skylark with 200 bhp

Oldsmobile Jetfire 9,5 kB
Oldsmobile F-85 Coupe 8,0 kB
Car modelNo. built Available engines
Oldsmobile in 1961
F-85 Sedan 4d
F-85 Club Coupe
F-85 Wagon 4d, 6P
F-85 Wagon 4d, 8P
F-85 Deluxe Cutlass Spt Cpe
F-85 Deluxe Sedan 4d
F-85 DeLuxe Wagon 4d, 6P
F-85 DeLuxe Wagon 4d, 8P
215 V8
155 bhp

Oldsmobile in 1962
F-85 Sedan 4d
F-85 Club Coupe
F-85 Wagon 4d, 6P
F-85 Wagon 4d, 8P
F-85 Convertible cpe
F-85 Deluxe Cutlass Sport Coupe
F-85 Deluxe Sedan 4d
F-85 DeLuxe Wagon 4d, 6P
F-85 DeLuxe Cutlass conv cpe
F-85 DeLuxe Jetfire hardtop Coupe
215 V8
155 bhp
185 bhp in Cutlass
215 bhp Turbo in Jetfire

Oldsmobile in 1963
F-85 Sedan 4d
F-85 Club Coupe
F-85 Wagon 4d
F-85 Deluxe Cutlass Club Coupe
F-85 Deluxe Sedan 4d
F-85 DeLuxe Wagon 4d
F-85 DeLuxe Cutlass conv cpe
F-85 DeLuxe Jetfire hardtop Coupe
215 V8
155 bhp not in Cutlass and Jetfire
185 bhp in Cutlass
215 bhp Turbo in Jetfire

Pontiac Tempest Advertisement 26,8 kB
Car modelNo. built Available engines
Pontiac in 1961
Tempest sportcoupe
Tempest Sedan 4d
Tempest Custom Sedan 4d
TempestSport Coupe
Tempest Wagon 4d
Tempest Custom Wagon 4d
4 cyl
110 bhp (Man.)
130 bhp (Auto)
215 V8
155 bhp

Pontiac in 1962
Tempest sportcoupe
Tempest Sedan 4d
Tempest Coupe
Tempest Safari Wagon 4d
Tempest Convertible Coupe
4 cyl
110 bhp (Man.)
115 bhp (Auto)
215 V8
185 bhp

No Pontiac Tempest in 1963 with the 215 V8, instead a 326 iron V-8 was offered as an option.

Well as you can see, with almost a million cars being produced in about three years, the compacts from Buick, Olds and Pontiac sold rather well, eventhough the compact from Chevrolet, the Corvair outsold them. For european manufacturers these numbers for one model alone were enormous!. Remember it took Rover 12 years to sell 320,317 P6's and 10 years to sell 296,169 SD1's! With these numbers it is not so strange to see how the Americans could afford to give the whole line-up a new face-lift every year!

Then after around 750,000 engines being produced the 215 aluminium engine was history for Buick. But still its heritage was carried further into the Buick 300 and 340 V-8's. In principle this was an enlarged iron cast version of the 215. The engines had the same bore to bore and bearing dimensions. and were equipped with a 3.4" stroke crank with larger bearings and a different rear seal assembly. This block was also a bit taller and had a larger bore.

Now there's even more, the 215 was also used as a starting point for the design of an iron 198 V-6. This engine replaced the 215 in the compacts. Later on it was enlarged to 225 after which the tooling was sold to Jeep.

Then GM bought the tooling back and made a 232 version in 1975. The front covers of this engine still will fit the front of the Rover 3.5 litre!

American Compacts
Utterly Conventional?

The 215 V8 was reasonably conventional apart from the aluminium being used and the distributor location. But how about the rest of the cars? The three were all built around the same platform and so there wasn't much variety.....

Well, the Buick and the Oldsmobile were utterly conventional with a bog standard live axle setup. The Pontiac Tempest was different, very different.

The car had the swing axle setup at the rear from the Chevrolet Corvair, not one of the best setups around but it worked reasonably well if not pushed to the limits. At least it worked better than the same setup in the Corvair where the flat six in the rear messed up the roadholding too much.

John DeLorean, yes from the later DeLorean cars, was head advanced engineering at Pontiac and he put the transmission in unit with the differential. Later Porsche used this transaxle setup with the 928 and Alfa Romeo with the Alfetta's and GTV's. The transaxle gave the Tempest with its light standard four cylinders or the optional aluminium V8 a very good weight distribution.

Even more remarkable was the driveline which had no joints in the driveshaft! Because the driveshaft rotated at enginespeed it turned much faster than a normal driveshaft and had to take less torque. Therefore it could be made smaller in diameter.

1961 Tempest flexible driveline 4,5 kB

The long thin axle needed two additional bearings to prevent drive-line vibrations. Because there were no joints to take up the curving of the drive-axle the axle had to withstand changing push and pull forces every revolution. However in practice there were never any problems with this setup. The advantage of this system was a very low transmission tunnel and lots of foot room because the transmission was in the back, but the system was never used on other cars again.

1961 Tempest rear axle setup 11,1 kB

The Olds with fire
The Jetfire

Together with the 1962 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder (oh those marketing guys and their names!) the Oldsmobile Jetfire Hardtop Coupe was America's first high volume car equipped with a turbo from Garret AiResearch.

It gave 215 bhp and thus reached the famous 1 hp per goal. With certain fuels there was carbon built up in the combustion chamber which increased compression and resulted in pre-detonation, No wonder with a 10.25 compression ratio!. The detonation problem was solved with a water-injection system (50% water,50% methylalcohol, called 'Turbo Rocket Fluid').

In manual form it dashed in 8.5 seconds to 60 mph and the turbo engine gave the car a top speed of 107mph. However the water-injection system proved to be unreliable and for 1964 a 330 V8 replaced the turbo V-8. As always there is no substitute for cubic inches....

Pontiac Tempest Convertible 11,5 kB
1968 Rover V8 35,3 kB

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