Automakers, especially American automakers, have made plenty of engines by lopping off cylinders here and there; you can make an inline-four out of an inline-six or a V8— as we have seen with such cut-down sensations as the Iron Duke and Trophy-4— and you can make a V6 out of a V8. Chrysler did just that with the 3.9 Magnum engine and Chevrolet did it with the Chevy 90° V6 engine, but those two were built in piddling quantities compared to the 25 million examples of the fantastically successful Buick V6, an engine that stayed in production for nearly a half-century.
Every Buick V6 made is a close relative of the Rover V8 Photo by British Leyland
The ancestor of the Buick V6 is the Buick 215 V8, an innovative lightweight V8 with aluminum block and heads that debuted in 1961. This engine turned into iron and gained much displacement with GM later in the decade, but today we know the 215 best as the Rover V8. Rover bought the 215’s tooling from GM in 1965, and went on to build these engines well into the 21st century, nearly as lengthy a production run as its Detroit V6 cousin.
During the late 1960s, some Jeeps came with Buick V6 (aka “Jeep Dauntless”) power. Photo by Kaiser-Jeep
The cut-down version of the Buick 215 appeared early in the going, with the “Fireball” 198-cubic-inch V6 available in 1962 Buick Specials. Like most V8 engines, the crankshaft of the Buick 215 had two connecting rods per journal; if you use a cut-down V8-style crankshaft to make a V6 crank using this philosophy (in order to save money by reusing a bunch of the V8’s tooling and components), the resulting engine will be an “odd-fire” design with cylinders alternating fire at 90° and 150° of crankshaft rotation. The odd-fire Buick V6s felt and sounded pretty unpleasant, but they made good power for their size and proved to be quite rugged. GM produced 198- and 225-cubic-inch Buick V6s through the 1967 model year, at which point Kaiser-Jeep bought the tooling and built “Dauntless” V6s through 1971. Yes, the Buick V6 family tree is an especially gnarled one.
Once back in GM’s hands, production of the Buick V6 exploded starting in the 1975 model year and continuing through 2008. Photo by Oldsmobile Division, General Motors
After certain geopolitical realities conspired to double the cost of go-go juice in North America, the suits at GM freaked out due to a dearth of engines that sucked a bit less fuel than their bestiary of big-cube V8s. Making a quick phone call to Kenosha, they bought back all the Dauntless V6 tooling that had been gathering dust since American Motors took over Kaiser-Jeep and proceeded to churn out 231-cubic-inch V6s starting in the 1975 model year. In 1977, GM finally sprang for an even-fire crankshaft, with cylinders now firing every 120 degrees, which went a long way to de-harshify the “gallon” engine. Every extant-in-1975 GM division went on to put 231s (later renamed the 3.8 and then the 3800, as part of the communist infiltration of American institutions rising influence of the metric system) and other Buick V6s in their machines. Versions with other displacements, ranging from 3.0 to to 4.1 liters, different bellhousing patterns, different deck heights, et cetera, came and went, as did superchargers and turbochargers, but the heart of the Buick V6 design remained the same all the way through the 2008 Buick Lucerne.
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