1961 - 2004, Land Rover stops using the Buick Fireball V8

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Nov 27, 2003.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Staff Member

    Jul 6, 2001
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    Flaming Out: End is near for well-traveled Buick Fireball V8 engine


    By RICHARD TRUETT | Automotive News
    (08:30 Nov. 27, 2003)

    Welcome to the automotive version of "What's My Line" Guess today's mystery guest.

    I was born small and light, just 215 cubic inches and 318 pounds, in 1961 in Flint, Mich. My corporate parents were General Motors, British Leyland/Rover Group, BMW AG and Ford Motor Co. I have worked for Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Rover, Land Rover, MG, Triumph, Morgan, Marcos, TVR and others.

    Who -- rather, what -- am I?

    If you said the venerable all-aluminum Fireball V8 engine that first saw duty in the 1961 Buick Special, you win.

    The lightweight V8, which GM ended up selling to Rover, turned out to be one of the industry's longest-running and most versatile workhorses.

    But the end is near.

    When the redesigned Land Rover Discovery comes to the U.S. market next year, it will be powered by an overhead-cam Jaguar engine, not the Buick aluminum V8 that Land Rover has used since 1970. Production of the V8 ends next summer, just shy of 1 million units, says Land Rover employee Roger Crathorne.

    Development work on the engine started in 1958. It was the first mass-produced, all-aluminum, American-made engine, according to Buick: A Complete History by Larry Gustin and Terry Dunham.

    Cliff Studaker, 81, a retired Buick senior project engineer who oversaw development of the Fireball V8, says GM had no idea that the engine would be so versatile, flexible and tunable. The job was to design a lightweight engine for Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac compacts.

    With a two-barrel carburetor, the engine made 155 hp. With a four barrel it was rated at 185. Engineers at Oldsmobile tweaked their version, adding special heads and an optional turbocharger. The turbo Olds 215 Rockette engine cranked out 215 hp.

    "We knew it was setting the stage for things to come," Studaker recalls. "It took some special development work on bolt engagements and torques so as not to strip out aluminum threads, matching the cast iron main bearing caps to regular production blocks."

    After building about 750,000 of the engines, GM decided to drop it at the end of the 1963 model year. Studaker says that although the engine got great reviews for power and smoothness, cost was an issue. So GM abandoned it.

    "The reason we stopped using (the V8) is that the economy took a turn," Studaker says. "It was an expensive engine to build, a lot more than cast iron - close to 50 percent more."

    According to The Rover V8 Engine by David Hardcastle, a Rover official spotted an unused Buick V8 engine at a boat engine factory while visiting the United States in 1966 and learned that the engine was out of production. That year, Rover struck a deal with GM. Rover bought the blueprints and all the production tooling for an undisclosed sum and began producing the engines in England.

    Buick's chief engineer, Joe Turlay, retired and moved to England to work for Rover. Turlay helped Rover set up the engine's production lines and make improvements in casting the aluminum block, pistons and heads.

    Throughout the years, the Rover Co., which became part of British Leyland in 1968, and its successor companies constantly improved the engine. Rover tried three times without success to sell the engine in the United States before it finally became a hit in the 1986 Range Rover. The ill-fated Rover 3500S of 1970, the Rover 3500 SD1 five-door of 1980 and the 1979-81 Triumph TR8 sports car all used versions of the Buick-designed engine. Also, the engine was used with success in the low-volume Morgan +8 roadster for more than 20 years.

    Bill Baker, Land Rover's longtime public relations chief, credits the aluminum V8 with helping the Range Rover get off to a good start in the United States in 1986.

    "It was ideally suited to the Range Rover because of its compactness and torque," says Baker. "Other SUVs had V8s, but ours had a certain elan to it because it was the only all-aluminum one."

    When the engine re-entered the American market in 1986, it had undergone a major transformation. Modern electronic fuel injection and an electronic ignition system combined with a stiffer block and other internal upgrades turned the little engine into a powerful charmer.

    Place a 2004 engine next to the original, and you would never know the two are related. The valve covers, ignition system, water pump and fuel system have all been improved over the years. The displacement has grown from 3.5-liters (215 cubic inches) to 4.6 liters (288 cubic inches).


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