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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

How Buick's Fireball V-6 birthed one of the most successful engines in history | Hagerty Media

Search the internet for "greatest engines of all time," and you'll turn up the usual suspects: Chevy small-block, VW flat-four, Porsche flat-six, street Hemi. Aside from three years on Ward's 10 Best Engines list, the Buick V-6 never makes the leaderboard, but it should.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/how-buicks-fireball-v-6-birthed-one-of-the-most-suc...
42 REPLIES 42
CFH
Pit Crew

I really enjoy these stories about the history of automobile development. I think that it is important to understand the evolution of things to gain an appreciation for those things. And I also enjoy Redline Rebuild and DIY for education I receive in automotive technology. Thank you.
RICKS-GARAGE
New Driver

I have been building Buick V6 engines since 1970. I ran one in a dirt IMCA modified. I had one in a Olds Starfire that had the IMSA body panels from GM. I am now working on the 215 from a Oldsmobile F85 for a show car.
Tinkering with these engines, most of them were the odd-fire, led me to discover how to smooth out the odd-fire engine by modifying the timing chain and removing the tensioner. The dirt car would run 7500 rpm all day long. I was told by a Buick executive that they build the 198 first then made the aluminum V8 afterwords. The 215 was not build in the same plant as the V6, nor did it share any parts, in fact the block bolt pattern on the 215's is unique, no other bellhousing will bolt to it. They used a "slim-jim" transmission that was also unique. It had a dual clutch configuration that would later be used on the road course Porsche's, then later went in full production. Rick
Spuds
Advanced Driver

led me to discover how to smooth out the odd-fire engine by modifying the timing chain and removing the tensioner.
=======================
Yes.When my 67 Commando in 2015 with 105k on engine skipped the timing chain on the phenolic timing gear i went the same route,steel gear,no tensioner.With the pertronix ignition and their 40,000 volt coil it starts and runs with authority, that timing is super.Yup,thats a fantastic engine.
MickHannickle
Intermediate Driver

The 198 cu. in. V6 and 215 cu. in. V8 couldn't possibly share the same bore and stroke because 198 is not 75% of 215.

Sajeev
Community Manager

You are absolutely right! Fixing that now. 

PRScott
Intermediate Driver

nice catch!
millbuna
New Driver

The aluminum 215 V-8 and iron 198 V-6 shared the same bore spacing and general architecture/accesory mounts. The aluminum V-8 used iron cylinder sleeves and hardened valve seats
Utopia1
Intermediate Driver

The eventual "3800" this engine turned into was truly one of GM's best engines. Efficient, smooth, quiet and durable. My dad had them in both a Bonneville and a Park Avenue in the late 80's and early 90's. Great engine!
Air_and_Water
Intermediate Driver

My folks were car shopping in '98 and were looking at the Olds Intrigue. Mom asked "should we wait for the new engine coming next year?" I said "Absolutely not! This is a fantastic engine!" The replacement was a twin overhead cam V6, but had notably less torque than the 3800, so they put a lower final drive in it so it wouldn't lose in a drag race. With all of that sophistication that was "required by the marketplace" it got worse mileage than the old, very durable and smooth pushrod V6! It's a good example that shows newer doesn't necessarily mean "better".
JohninNC
Detailer

What if Buick made this car today, basically the same body massaged a bit (Foose?) but a fresh version of the car with all the latest safety stuff... that would be awesome.
DT
Detailer

Please don't mention Foose. I was soooooo tired of his abominations from Hagerty every month. I'm afraid they might bring him back !!!
61Rampy
Detailer

Thank you! I like Foose; he is an incredible artist. But, when took pen to paper to try and "fix" the Jaguar XK-E, I stopped looking at his stuff.
ppointer
Intermediate Driver

Love these stories. Thank you for all of the research and the great article!
HASCpres2019
Intermediate Driver

I had a CJ5 with the Dauntless engine in it. It had had a rough life before I bought it, including being used as a snow plow. It still had lots of spunk, up to about 55 mph. The gearing in the CJ saw to that.

I still have a '92 Buick Park Avenue ,which I bought used in 2000. It has seldom seen a northern winter and despite having over 302,000 KM. on it, runs like a watch. It's only one year away from qualifying for Historic plates ! It's semi-retired now, but I still prefer it for road trips over modern SUVs.
TA76
Intermediate Driver

Best overall engine GM built.
Patrician
Intermediate Driver

These motors could be used for paint mixers until 1988 when Buick added a balance shaft. Then they idled like Swiss watches. One problem I remember with these motors they would eat up timing chains. The plastic chain gear would break up and fragments would get stuck in the oil pump relief valve keeping it open. Let's face it. A V-6 is not a naturally balanced motor unless an extremely heavy crankshaft is used like the Ford 2.8 motor. Then the trade off is the motor tach up quickly.
OldRoad
Instructor

Ford's 2.6 Cologne motor was a smooth operator. Hypoid gear driven solid lifter cam made for some tight RPM torque. Those little V6 screamers were actually based on Ford's FE blocks. The intake manifold makes up half of the rocker cover sealing surface when mounted to the cylinder heads making the other half. It is not the weight of the crank that makes the smooth difference. FOMOCO designed their V6 engines based on 6 individual connecting rod journals instead of 3 connecting rod journals on the GM V6. That is your smooth idle difference. GM soon followed suit which made all the difference in idle quality. Doing so made the firing degree intervals even steven.
Patrician
Intermediate Driver

When I first started working for Ford in 1974 the Mustang 2 came out. The car sold like they were giving something away. I was one of the junior guys in the shop. So I got "stuck" working on them. The old timers hated them. Too compact. You had to take the battery out to change the spark plugs on the left side. You had to lift the motor and drop the rack to do a starter. The cam gear would shred and the engine once again had to be lifted in the car and take half the car apart. The car was way ahead of its time. Today every car you have to take out everything to get to what you need to take out.
acooper529
Intermediate Driver

The early 3.8 odd fire was "funny" with it's "boogedy, boogedy? idle. Traded an airplane 1/4 share (that I was stuck with) for a 1929 Model A Hot Rod with one of these. It was an older build.
Also worked on many of the later 3800 Gen1, Gen2 and even the Bonneville Superchargered ones.
These things ran so good that is one my top 5 favorite GM motors. Also had several with the loud knocking at idle, which turned out to be ONLY a broken ($300.00) damper/harmonic balancer assemble. A quick back and forth on the front alternator nut would confirm the problem.
Maestro1
Advanced Driver

I've had a couple of Buicks with V-6s Craig and they were excellent. Trouble free, decent mpg, and all the rest of it. Well done.
GC
Intermediate Driver

I agree, the 3800 V-6 was a great engine. Had it in both an 86 Buick LeSabre and a 2000 Pontiac GP. Don't know if they were of the same "Gen", but they both had very good performance and the same characteristic "snarl".
OHCOddball
Intermediate Driver

Early Buick V6 was not the same as the later V6 so be careful comparing. And late evolved as well. Late V6 didn't use parts from the early one. Early 225 was basically 3/4 of a 300 V8 and had common crank pins for cylinder pairs (90 degree V made for a shaker). The later V6 was based on the later Buick V8 architecture and had split crank pins to try to kill some of the shake. Later 3.8's had balance shafts. GM wanted to use the same machinery to build V8's and V6's so a lot of compromises had to be made. A 60 degree V6 is inherently more balanced (and compact). Look at the 2.8-3.3 that Chevy used in the front drive cars and the S10.
Tim
Advanced Driver

Will there be a part two that takes us through the '80s and '90s? It would be interesting to see how we got to the Grand National. I remember as a teen thinking what a great (sort of) sleeper hot rod the '86 GN was and wished for a time that I had money to buy one.
Mike_E_V
Intermediate Driver

Growing up in the 50's & 60's a neighbor had a 64 Skylark 4 door sedan with a factory three speed and the 300 CID aluminum V8. The car was quite quick for what it was. Of course his son and I raced it where ever we went. We were told not to blow it up as retorquing the heads on a rebuild usually led to stripping the threads in the aluminum block. Heli-coils were still new then and untried so we took it easy from then on.

JGeske
Intermediate Driver

My mother had a 1989 Buick Electra Park Avenue with the 3.8L naturally aspirated. For a car the size of a city block, that thing moved. It became my pimpmobile when I got by driver's license and it was passed to me. It was crazy that I simultaneously had the largest, oldest, fastest, and most luxurious car in my class. Driven sensibly, it returned almost 30mpg highway, and yet it would still lay you back in the seat when you put the pedal to the floor. Plus, those velour bench seats were amazing for a high school student and his date if you catch my drift.
stevecobb45
Detailer

This story is just the start. I think mentioning the Grand National Regal, the GNX Regal & the 1989 Indy Pace car Twentieth Anniversary Turbo Trans Am would have shown the final development of the 3800. I was always told the odd-fire Buick V6 was a Buick 307 V8 with two cylinders chopped off. I've seen these first V6's still using the V8 distributor with two of the plug post omitted. A larger bore got it up to 231 CI. I have owned an 87 GN & currently own an 89 Pace Car & both are awesome cars. Hemmings Motor News currently has a Pace Car on the cover of this month's magazine. Good story though.
1950Willie
New Driver

Wow! bringing back some memories. I never checked how many were made, but I had a '63 Skylark with a factory 4-speed and limited slip rear. This was the high compression 4-barrel engine, and that thing would rev! This was the late 60's, still in high school. Lots of kids had 327 Chevies, but most were automatics. They couldn't touch my little Buick! The automatics were true slushboxes back then. Had a ton of fun with that car, it was tough to find decent tires for the 13", 4 lug wheels tho! And I went through a lot of them!
TrustyRusty
Intermediate Driver

Interesting that the Oldsmobile 215 V-8 was not even mentioned in the article, nor was the Buick 231 V-6 or the 229. In addition, 1977 was not the first turbocharged GM engine; it was the 215 Oldsmobile "Jetfire", aluminum V-8 with 215 HP out of 215 cubic inches. Buick and Olds were 'holding hands" with their little aluminum V-8s; so, it's hard to figure why you left Oldsmobile out of the article, save for the much heavier 330.
TrustyRusty
Intermediate Driver

Interestingly, the Olds 215 was used in sports car racing, such as the Lotus 19, but the Buick 215 never made the cut...
Iso_Grifo
Detailer

Buick isn't a company I think about when it comes to great engines, but after reading this article and thinking about it, they made at least three: This V6 family, the aluminum V8 bought by Rover, and their famous straight 8.
turbobill
Intermediate Driver

Like the V6, the aluminum V8 made it into the new millennium too.
sego
Intermediate Driver

Love the 215. Great story and thanks for sharing.
turbobill
Intermediate Driver

My first car was a '62 Buick Special wagon with the 198 Fireball V6. Some years later I owned a couple.of turbo Buicks.

As far as I'm concerned, the V6 Buick should place right behind the Chevy small block for the most famous engine in automotive history!
mrhammered34
Pit Crew

I had my first experience with the Buick V6 when I bought a 1984 regal T Type ,I needed something dependable because my long distance drive to O'Hare where I worked as a mechanic from my home just across the boarder in Wisconsin, I drove the car spring ,summer and fall, it spent the winters under a car cover, as years went by I noticed the durability of that little V6, with almost two hundred thousand miles on the odometer it never burned a drop of oil, I was so impressed by that engine I found another turbo regal and pulled the driveline out and use it in my street rod, in a sea of LS powered rods the little turbo V6 is just as powerful.
1956olds98
Pit Crew

Second car I bought at 16 was a 65 Buick Special convertible, 6 years old, with the Fireball V6. The car only had 52500 miles, but they were well used. The car was not well taken care of, but I was determined to keep that car. Had a timing chain and engine mount replaced, body work from both doors on back when I was rear-ended, and it looked good from 10 feet away. Easily got 22-26mpg on the highway at 55mph. Top end was 102mph. I recently sold a 65 Buick Special Deluxe convertible with the 300 V8, that I drove for 10 years. 21mpg. Both GREAT ENGINES!
Pete
Pit Crew

I had a 2001 Buick Regal with the supercharged 3.8 V6. It was rated at 240 hp which, I suspect, was under-rated. As another owner once described it to me, it "runs like a scalded dog!" It was a great engine. The transmission, a 4L60E, not so much. After installing the 3rd transmission, I sold it. The 4L60E just didn't seem capable of handling the torque.

Regarding the balance of a V6, a while back I had to replace the intake manifold gasket on the 4.3L V6 in my '99 Chevy Astro. Upon removing the manifold, I saw a weird-looking shaft that was driven by the timing chain. I then learned that this was a "balance shaft." I'd never heard of such a thing before.
Mike_E_V
Intermediate Driver

I especially like the Buick engine chart shown in the article. I have owned several of the 63-65 Riviera's and so many folks at the car shows always thought the Wildcat 445 and 465 emblem on the air cleaner was the cubic inches. Of course it was the torque rating which always confused them.

Alb
New Driver

The Buick late 1980"s V6 engine was banned from pro stock drag racing because it produced so much horse power it was blowing away the V8's at the time. I believe the fasted V6 Buick was raced and built by Buddy Ingersol.
cbD520
New Driver

"Purchased a '79 Le Sabre Sport coupe, (new) , CameW/ "Turbo" V-6. Head gasket blew BEFORE 10,000 Mi., Car fell apart BEFORE 50,000 MI., was SO screwed up, had to be Junked. These engines were JUNK !
SJ
Advanced Driver

Great article, brings back memories.
Realsmith
New Driver

Anyone remember Jim Ruggles over at Peachtree-Dekalb airport in Atlanta ? He did a engine built for Buick that was very successful.

Gary_Bechtold
Instructor

Pretty cool story. I have fond memories of the 3.8V6 in the Regal Turbo, Gran National & GNX. Pretty amazing motor and great cars. The 3800 Supercharged V6 in the front wheel drive Regal's weren't too bad either but the turbo cars are my favorites.