By on December 18, 2010


It’s hard to believe that The General was once so dominant that it sweated over the fear of being split up by the federal government via antitrust regulations, and that GM’s divisions cranked out more than 25 separate passenger-car engine types (counting Opel and Holden models) during the decade. Why, The General boasted ten different car V8s during the 1960s (not counting earlier models intended for warranty replacements, industrial use, etc); eight of those engines were being built in 1965 alone. Imagine a manufacturer today so mighty that it could offer eight totally different V8 engines (in 14 displacements) for sale in its new cars!

The cost to develop, manufacture, and provide parts support for so many engines must have been staggering; would GM have been better off blurring the lines between divisional identities (and perhaps increasing the likelihood of the kind of Department of Justice antitrust action that, not much later, broke up the Bell System) and cutting down the number of V8 families, thereby freeing up funds that might have enabled the company to, say, offer a line of genuinely import-crushing subcompacts during the Malaise Era? We could argue about it all day long! But first, let’s look at the choices offered to GM car shoppers in 1965:
Cadillac: Cadillac OHV engine, 429 cubic inches
Buick: Buick Nailhead engine, 401/425 cubic inches; Buick small-block, 300 cubic inches (sorry, forgot this one when making the list- MM,/em>)
Oldsmobile: Oldsmobile Generation II, 330/400/425 cubic inches
Pontiac: Pontiac V8, 326/389/421 cubic inches
Chevrolet: W Series, 409 cubic inches; Mark IV big-block, 396 cubic inches; Small-block, 283/327 cubic inches

What do you think? Squanderatious wheel-reinventing excess, or the philosophy of a
winner?

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88 Comments on “Class of 1965: When GM Had Eight V8 Engine Families...”


  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    GM inefficiency, failure to directly address a problem/need, the directives by ego-clowns, and executive incompetence, even then…  runs deep.

    • 0 avatar

      GM didn’t operate as one company back then.  Each brand was it’s own company and had plenty of independence from each other and the umbrella over everything.  It was much, much different (and better) back then at GM than today. 

  • avatar
    william442

    Which GM V8 had the cylinder stagger opposite of all the others?

  • avatar
    dastanley

    I can remember in ’77 (I was 10/11) the big deal the news on radio/TV made about the fact that GM was using Chevy engines in some Buicks, etc.  I mean, it rated a news segment on TV, so it had to have been something.  I guess we just took it for granted that each division would continue to make their own engines as they had in the past – it seemed natural enough.  I can see that from a pure manufacturing and efficiency standpoint it doesn’t make sense to (sort of) duplicate engines.  But from a marketing standpoint, I wonder how many people subconciously were turned off from GM when they started consolidating engines?  God forbid, my 16 thousand dollar luxury Oldsmobile has a Chevrolet engine?  Let’s sue!

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      But from a marketing standpoint, I wonder how many people subconciously were turned off from GM when they started consolidating engines?
       
      I was.  Too bad Cadillac’s last unique engine is such a pos.  And R.I.P. Oldsmobile V8.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      The real scandal was that Chevy engines were put into Oldsmobiles without clearly disclosing the substitution. And after years of advertising about the superiority of the “Rocket” V8.
      Of course it is more efficient to have fewer engine families.  The pollution requirements hastened the consolidation of the engines.

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      @dastanley
      The engine substitutions were a very big deal at the time.

    • 0 avatar
      dastanley

      @dastanley
      The engine substitutions were a very big deal at the time.

      Oh absolutely!  If I were old enough then to have just signed my life away to buy a new Olds and found out after the fact that it had the GM Corporate engine (Chevy), I’d certainly feel deceived.  We had purchased a new ’76 Olds Vista Cruiser the year prior, and so we actually had a genuine Olds Rocket 350 4bbl, although choked down with a first generation cat and a rather tall rear end.  Six years later, this powertrain combo would prevent me from being able to scratch out in my mom’s station wagon in the high school parking lot.  Dammit!

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Yeah, I remember that being a big deal.  I didn’t really get it at the time.  GM had been big into badge engineering for years, and pretty much all their engines were smogged into impotence by ’77.  To those of us who were just getting into cars then, Chevy and Olds were the same car, different grill.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      I remember when the Chevy/Olds engine switcheroo was mentioned on an episode of All In the Family.  Son-in-law, Meathead, used it as an example of every increasing corporate swindling in the US.  Hard for people who weren’t around back then to understand today.  The Olds/Buick/Caddy engines were considered to be more refined, and hence worth a premium over the vulgar Chevy engines.

  • avatar

    Yes, but all the car geeks I knew at the time where saying “why complain, you got the best engine in GM”

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    This was what made GM GM.  In those days, each division was essentially a stand-alone car company.  Each division had its own engineering, engines, assembly plants, and more.  GM corporate was there to keep the divisions in their slots and manage back-office functions like accounting, purchasing, personnel and so forth.
    When you bought an Oldsmobile in 1965, you got an Oldsmobile.  It felt different from a Pontiac or a Buick, and even sounded different when it started and ran.  Unlike in the 80s, there was a HUGE difference between a Cadillac and a Chevrolet.  Put on a blindfold and you could tell within 10 seconds which one you just got into from the sound of the door slam to the feel of the seat.
    To stay on point, was there a bad engine in this entire batch?  These were some great engines.  It is saying something when the Chevy smallblock may have rated in the bottom half.  The Cadillac and Oldsmobile units were some of the best engines ever built.  Certainly better than anything GM is building today.
    I believe that the end of GMs glory years coincided with the centralization of management of the company.  It became much more like Ford and Chrysler but with a difference:  Neither Ford nor Chrysler had ever successfully fielded more than 3 brands, while GM tried to become a centralized company with 6.  It was the road to a long and slow death.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      “Squanderatious wheel-reinventing excess, or the philosophy of a winner?”

      The latter. Unfortunately, it wasn’t by design. In the beginning, GM simply bought up other companies and let them continue essentially as autonomous operations. So long as they continued to make money for the corporation, no one cared.

      But then the finance guys were put in charge on the 14th floor and,in their never-ending quest to save a penny, that all had to go. Seemingly overnight, in addition to sharing body panels, GM cars shared engines, too. It really was the beginning of the end. As the cars started looking more and more like each other, without a different engine in each division’s cars, they actually became exactly like one another.

      Even the stupid American consumer would eventually get wise to these shenanigans and stop buying the more expensive GM brands. Suddenly, Alfred P. Sloan’s business model of “a car for every purse and purpose” didn’t exist anymore. Why would anyone pay more for a Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, or even Cadillac, when they were all powered by the same engines? It was remarkably short-sighted.

      Maybe if Pontiac and Oldsmobile had been allowed to keep their engineering departments (and their own engines), they’d still be around today.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      rudiger makes an excellent point.
       
      It is very difficult to decide whether accountants or government drones make the worst automotive engineers.

    • 0 avatar
      SherbornSean

      GM made better engines 40 years ago than they do today?  I’m not buying it. In general, today’s engines make twice the power from the same displacement, 5% of the emissions, and use less fuel.  Let’s face facts, the good old days weren’t.
       
      And the idea that if Olds and Pontiac had their own engines, they’d be around today is equally hard to buy.  By that logic, VW, Skoda, Audi, Lambo, Bentley, Bugatti and Seat shouldn’t share engines at all.  Just chop about $10B off VW’s bottom line with that one idea.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Imagine a manufacturer today so mighty that it could offer eight totally different V8 engines (in 14 displacements) for sale in its new cars!
     
    This is what people will be saying in 2050 about 2011.

    • 0 avatar
      npbheights

      It will be amusing in 2050 when folks are nostalgic about the early 20-Teen’s lineup of mighty, rear wheel drive, V8 powered …. Hyundai Sedans…

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      And if the internet still exists and sites like this still exist AND avatars still exist, someone will have an Equus as their avatar and people will be as psyched about it as some of us get about your big ole Lincoln.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      V8s are villified/crusified by the press forcing automakers to equip midsize SUVs with only small V6s. AT 4900 lbs, the GMC Acadia AWD Denali would get better MPG with GM’s 4.8L V8 than its over worked 3.6L V6. Consider that the well equipped 5.3L V8 4WD GMC Sierra SLT Crew Cab gets 15/21 MPG vs. that Acadia’s 16/23. That’s a 3.6L midsize vs. a 5.3L Fullsize!

    • 0 avatar
      SherbornSean

      DenverMike,
      A V8 won’t fit in a Lambda.  You would have to enlarge the platform, adding several hundred pounds.  And your fuel savings would out the window.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      SherbornSean,
      You’re right about the Acadia not physically accepting a V8 without major mods but that 3.6L is under powered for an SUV that weighs as much as a Sierra Extra Cab 2WD SLE with a 4.8L V8. Of course an Acadia with its 4.8L V8 would run a more economical final drive ratio as Sierras are meant to haul pallets of concrete mix and the like.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    The eras of duplication, malaise, and the major decline of GM had minimal overlap.

    The era of massive duplication, was largly due to inertia in the company, economy and society, and the lack of competent new entries as competition.  Never attribute GM maintenance of full-vertically-integrated operating divisions to the fear of being broken-up when the more likely inertial of caretaker management mentality is the more likely cause.

    In the early malaise era, the status quo had been broken by the entries of the europeans at the top and the japanese at the bottom/middle.  GM recognizing the cost to add capacity, as well as to maintain capacity, began to address this with the mild move of Chevy mills in Olds bodies.

    In the malaise-recovery era, GM struggled with its own demons of regorganization (can anybody say Super-Groups, or BOC, CPC, without shaking their head?) as well as a re-animated Chrysler and a newly resurgent Ford which had both upped their game (K-cars, Magic-vans, and jelly-bean Taurii).

    Eventually, GM did get it mostly sorted, but if it had faced and addressed the reality of a shifting world and domestic market sooner, things may have played out far differently in the late 80’s and early 90’s as well as the eventual Ch. 7 filing.

    But then again, perhaps GM, as the most global of all automakers, perhaps of all industrial producers, is a perfect case study of how shifts in the technology and transport of information (CA-D/-E/-M and Internet) as well as the globalization of the economy (GATT, WTO, the recovery of Europe into the EU and Euro-zone, and the rise of the Asian tigers) may have been too much for a sclerotic management mentality, or have happened too fast to allow even a forward-looking management to dissolve accretions built-up over years (and successful until late in the game).

  • avatar
    Patrickj

    @ajla
    I think U.S. automakers (or foreign makers in the U.S. market) will be offering V8s for a very long time.  Displacement can get a lot smaller and still be practical.
    Just because a 2.8 liter V8 isn’t as efficient or cheap to build as a 2.8 liter five cylinder or V6 doesn’t mean that the V8 won’t get built and sold for marketing reasons.

    • 0 avatar
      MarcKyle64

      I’d wonder how efficient a 2.5 liter V-8 would be vs. a 2.5 liter V-6 like the one that was in the Contour or the Ecotech 2.5 Four.  I’d assume that there would be friction losses from the extra cylinders, but that might be offset by the smaller more efficient combustion chambers due to the V-8 piston being smaller in diameter but I’m not an engineer.  That’s an good idea for a TTAC article, isn’t it?
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      My view is that there are ten million or more 1.2 to 1.4 liter four cylinders built every year in cars where efficiency is the main goal.
      No reason to think that a V8 with the same piston geometry wouldn’t be successful, even if the pitch of the V8 rumble wouldn’t be quite right.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      @MarcKyle64: as a general rule of thumb, engines are most efficient at around 400-600 cc per cylinder. That’s why three-cylinders are becoming more common at the 1.2 – 1.4 L size. Small displacement multi-cylinder engines tend to have lousy torque curves. That’s why we don’t see little V6s and V8s anymore. The trend is clearly to triples, bigger fours, and big V6s.

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      Back in the day, and I’m talkin’ waay back here, 1930’s. Ford built a V8-60 engine for economy-type applications such as stop-and-start delivery in urban areas. A friend bought a ’37 Ford that had one, a cute little miniaturized flathead Ford motor. The car was slow even though it had about a 5 to 1 rear end ratio, but he didn’t care – he had a hopped-up flathead motor waiting for it. The V8-60 engine was only built for a few years and was replaced with a flathead 4-cylinder that had some commonality with both the current Ford tractor engines and the V8 flatheads; probably because it was cheaper to build.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      “Just because a 2.8 liter V8 isn’t as efficient or cheap to build as a 2.8 liter five cylinder or V6 doesn’t mean that the V8 won’t get built and sold for marketing reasons.”
      I disagree. Very, very few people would buy a 2.8 liter V8 which put out less power and got worse fuel economy than a 2.8 liter V-6 just to get the V-8 label. The dwindling number of people who just have to have a V-8 also want it big and powerful. Time, however, is a cruel beast … and the gotta have a V-8 demographic is dying off day by day.
       

    • 0 avatar
      PeteMoran

      This is a chicken/egg problem. Modern engine controls mean higher speed engines are similarly efficient to lower speed engines at the same volume (for the same volumetric efficiency). The point is; why would you build it?
       
      It’s more obvious in diesel engines. Hino offer a 4L turbo diesel four that is more powerful than than the previous generation 4L turbo six. If you’re building a six (cost) then you’re using it in more powerful applications with a larger volume.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Man the smooth torquey power of an Oldsmobile V8, or the world class assembly quality and smoothness of a Cadillac V8, really making you feel like you had arrived.  On par with Rolls Royce instead of a tarted up lesser model.

  • avatar
    ern35

    The 401 engine in my ’63 LeSabre mated to the ultra-smooth Dynaflow Automatic Tranny was the smoothest, quietest, and fastest drivetrain I ever had—and never an issue over the 8 years I owned the car—jet black with a salmon interior!  On the low-side, and by today’s standards—the bench seats were poor!

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      “Buick, go fast with class.” – That’s what Buick was associated with in my mind.  Even being born in 1977 I was influenced by my father’s preaching of the GM gospel.
       
      I’ve owned a vehicle with the last independent Oldsmobile design the 307V8 (oh wait crap I forgot the 3.5 “Shortstar” V6!)  And sometimes I think I should go grab a GM vehicle with the 3800V6 just to experience Buicks last design (even though they had to sell it away and buy it back to realize it’s value.)

  • avatar
    Mike999

    You have to remember, a V8 compared to what.
    The Chevy 250 cubic inch six cylinder I remember from 1967:
    – 1 barrel carb
    – tractor type, untuned intake and exhaust “ports’
    – 2 speed automatic transmission
    – 105 hp
     
    Chevy spent Zero Dollars “developing” the straight six, Anything would look golden in comparison.
    At the time, Jag’s had overhead cam six cylinder engines, and straight six’s are much smoother then V8’s.
     
    This was about product segmentation.
    – The six had to be a low budget, low performance item, to Sell the V8.
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      MarcKyle64

      Contrast the Chevy 250 with the Pontiac OHC straight six – here’s a quote from Wikipedia:
      The 250ci Engine (4.1L) replaced the 230ci (3.8L) from 1968 to 1969. The base engine produced 175hp while the Sprint versions that came with the automatic transmission were rated at 215hp. While the versions with manual transmission received a hotter camshaft which boosted the horsepower ratings to 230hp.
      I always thought the perfect offbeat street rod would be a Pontiac Ventura with that engine and a little help from Clifford’s Research.
       

  • avatar
    John Fritz

    I can not imagine how GM handled their MRP back then. I manage MRP and jobs scheduling for a small company (50-100 employees). If I had to manage my department and my people with pieces of paper and a Cardex instead of computer keyboards, I don’t know how I would do it.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Desirability and strong reputation + 52% of the domestic market = bushels of money.

      Once the competitive edge is lost (for whatever reason), such practices become unsustainable.

      Inefficiency can be hidden behind profits, but only for awhile, and because it is corrosive in nature, eventually, if unchecked, will lead to collapse (and the bigger the organization, the bigger the collapse).

    • 0 avatar
      donkensler

      And the boatloads of money GM generated in those days was why they could spring for development of a unique platform for the Corvair, a unique platform for the Chevy II, and yet another platform for the Tempest/F85/Special.  Also interesting drivetrain bits like the rear transaxle for the Tempest and the turbo engine in the early Cutlass, the air-cooled boxer engine in the Corvair, and the 4-cylinder engine in the early Chevy II’s, and unique chassis for the full size cars (IIRC early 60’s Buicks used an X-frame without siderails – probably not the best thing in a side impact).  After that they could afford to pay good salaries and benefits to the salaried workers (not for nothing was GM known as Generous Motors), and still pay big dividends to the shareholders.  Ah, the good old days…
       
      I’m with the crowd believing that emissions controls killed off the excess engines.  GM didn’t have enough engineers to modify all of those engines for the increasingly strict standards in the 70’s.  Am I sorry?  Not for a minute.  Considering the number of cars on the road these days, every reasonably major metropolitan area in the country would be uninhabitable by now if it weren’t for the emissions standards.
       
      And while I have a soft spot in my heart for my dad’s ’64 Merc Monterey and the ’69 Dodge Monaco and my own ’66 Chevy Impala convertible, there’s no way I would rather have any of them than my present ’09 Mazda6 4 cylinder as a daily driver.  Way better handling and brakes, way better stability at highway speeds, better acceleration, and an honest 20 mpg in moderate-speed suburban driving.
       
      GM’s problem was they really couldn’t afford the five-brand (six including GMC and seven after Saturn) system once the Japanese stopped the gravy train in the 70’s and 80’s, but it took them too long to get out of it.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    The Olds 307 was truly an excellent engine. I used to buy cars for my family’s taxi fleet and after several years of experimenting, we settled on B-body Delta 88 Broughams with the 307-4sp auto combo. Once the 4sp blew up, we’d replace them with THM350s.
     
    The 307 was smooth and had lots of torque. It was not a powerhouse but it never, ever felt underpowered around town. With the Brougham interior and FE3 suspension, they were the pinnacles of the B-body. I spent literally millions of kms driving B-bodies, having worked my way through university (and grad school) driving taxis, and the Delta 88s were by far the best of the lot. I cannot ever once remember doing anything to a 307 other than water pumps and HEI modules.
     
    Sure, cars now have way more power and drive a lot better, but they are missing that kind of lazy torque that I grew up driving.

    • 0 avatar
      roger628

      Canucklehead, did you by any chance spend any time teaching in Korea and Japan?
      And are you from the West Coast? You sure sound like a guy I met on the plane going home in about December ’94 , talking cars. These Olds taxis were one of our topics. If it’s you how about PMing me at   roger628@hotmail.com.
      I think we may have some mutual acquaintances in common.

    • 0 avatar
      Canucknucklehead

      Yup, it’s me. Sent you an email!

  • avatar
    Mike999

    This was what was in the market in 67:
    http://www.autotraderclassics.com/classic-car/1967-Jaguar-XK_E-331960.xhtml

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    How do you get eight? One each for Caddy, Olds, Buick, and Pontiac, plus small and big blocks for Chevy. The aluminum “senior compact” V8 had already been sold off to Rover, and you specified cars so the DD and GMC V8s don’t qualify.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    The father-in-law was an Oldsmobile man. Pops always said, “You can’t beat a Rocket V8.”

    The beancounters killed it, Chevrolet engines in Oldsmobiles and GM same-mobiles. They were the smartest guys in the room. Numbers mattered, product not so much. Why would they care? Their bonuses were paid today! The day of reckoning was so tomorrow. They were long gone when the inevitable catastrophe struck.

    The magic was gone for Pops. He still bought GM but the brand didn’t matter, whatever he could make the best deal on.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Same for my Dad, but sadly he’s only 55 yrs old and will have to live with the sameness for a long time.

    • 0 avatar
      caljn

      Sounds like the now familiar “I’ll be gone when this blows up” rationalization heard recently on Wall St.
      As someone said, this was the beginning of the end for GM.  It dovetailed with the downsizing of 1977-9.  I guess they thought that was news enough and no one would notice the engine deception.  I don’t recall any lawsuits making the news, but there must have been; and probably quietly settled.
      We had a ’79 Regal used at the time and I remember the disappointment/anger at discovering it had a 301 Pontiac engine when brought in for service.  We saw it was an 8 cyl and just assumed it was the Buick 350. 

    • 0 avatar
      donkensler

      I remember reading and hearing of the lawsuits.  I believe it started when someone brought his Cutlass in for an oil change and the Olds dealer said he couldn’t do it because the car had a Chevy 350 and he didn’t stock filters for that engine, so the owner should take it to the Chevy dealer down the street.  Bad move on GM’s part not insisting dealers stock those kind of things.
       
      After that, every GM advert included a statement to the effect of “engines may be built by other General Motors divisions”.

  • avatar
    ixim

    My 1969 Buick Special had a 350 V8 with a 2speed[!] Powerglide[!] [still!]. Rated about 250hp, I think. Plenty of oomph in that 3200lb sedan; about 22 mpg highway. Didn’t Pontiac, Chevy and Olds have their own 350’s then, or were they all the same, from the same plant? GM did sell a lot of cars in those days, so the multiplicity of similar motors may have been sustainable, despite the obvious manufacturing inefficiencies.

    • 0 avatar
      roger628

      BOP did indeed have thier own plants in those days. BTW you had a Super Turbine 300, not a Powerglide. Superficially similar, the Turbines are a bit beefier, with extra clutch packs, compared to a PG. Also, the 67 and 68s had a Switch-Pitch Converter. These trans all have the BOP bolt pattern and will not bolt up to a Chevy.  

    • 0 avatar

      Roger628,

      The switch pitch feature was discontinued after the 1967 model year.

       The Buick ST 300 had the switch pitch stator from 1964 to 1967 (most with the BOP bellhousing but some with the nailhead bellhousing in 1965-66 for the Skylark GS models).

      And the 3 speed Buick ST-400 had the switch pitch stator in 1965-67 (with BOP bellhousing on the 1965-67 LeSabre 400 and SportWagon 400 and 1967 Wildcat, Electra 225 and Riviera, nailhead bellhousing on the 1965-66 Wildcat, Electra 225 and Riviera)

  • avatar
    John Horner

    In 1965 the GM Divisions really were still divisions. They drew on common corporate resources for some things such as advanced R&D, but ran as almost independent companies with a common banker.
    There is a paradox: Competition (even internal) is good in that it drives everyone to do better. However, competition also means “wasteful” duplication of effort. Imaging, for example, the efficiencies possible if one integrated company made all the available breakfast cereals. Factories could be combined, advertising reduced and many employees fired.
    Back to GM. It was, in fact, when GM “rationalized” engine development and created “manufacturing synergies” that the company began the long painful slide towards bankruptcy. Once upon a time, there were millions of customers who were passionate about Pontiac or Buick or Cadillac, etc. Just as there are Apple fanboys and girls today, there were diehard Pontiac families in the days of old. GM threw that all away, and it started by going corporate with drive trains.
     

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      What’s fascinating about GM’s decision to eliminate dedicated divisional engines is how closely it resembles their much smaller competitors. You got the same engine in a Lincoln/Ford/Mercury or Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth. It’s as if GM brass said, “Hey, let’s use engine commonality like Ford and Chrysler does it! Loyal brand customers might be pissed about it for a while, but they’ll get over it”, not even considering that the lost sales could eventually shrink the company to their competitors’ size. It really boggles the mind with the short-sightedness of doing away with one of the core strengths of General Motors’ divisions.

  • avatar
    mfgreen40

    That many different engines is bad enough but they also had a bunch of different automatic transmissions. GM could have chosen one V-8 and pulled out all the stops to make it the best possible passenger car engine.

    • 0 avatar

      That was true, although by the mid-sixties, they were making an effort to rationalize the transmission lines. By 1965, the four-speed Hydra-Matic, Roto Hydra-Matic, and Dynaflow/Twin Turbine were gone (the Turboglide and Triple Turbine had been dead for a while) were all replaced by the Turbo Hydramatic. They still had the distinct Super Turbine 300 and Powerglide two-speeds, but they were already working on the light-duty THMs that eventually replaced them both.

  • avatar
    Cody

    Probably not the most efficient way to do things, but with NVH and fuel economy not being as big of a deal, and emissions being non existent, the cost of developing all those V8s was probably relatively inexpensive versus the engine programs they have today.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    This is kind of a chicken vs egg thing; was GM successful because of the differences of its divisions or did its downfall begin because of the duplication of resources? Did its sheer size cause margins to become more and more thin and force rationalisation?
     
    John DeLorean seemed to think the latter was the case. “On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors” spoke of how when he took over Chevrolet, the division was a mess, making something like five thousand possible versions of the same basic design and had not really made anything new in over a decade. “All Ate Up with Motor” has an excellent analysis on its Chevrolet Impala page of just what was going wrong and it wasn’t too terribly long before rationalisation did come in, namely in 1968 when Cadillac went to the C Body and B-O-P was formed. Clearly, by 1965, all this duplication was costing GM a fortune. In my opinion, GM did not bite the bullet fast enough, leading to its slow and painful death last year.
     
    In my opinion, GM only needed three lines in 1965, just like it has now. It could have continued to have some real engineering standouts like the rope-drive Tempest and the Corvair while focusing on family transportation (Chevrolet), near luxury (Buick), and true luxury (Cadillac). What we got instead was a tremendous overlap of product and divisions that competed with each other. A good example was the downsized C-Body of 1977. A great design, but the Olds 98 was practically the same car as the Sedan De Ville. They even shared seats, and many other interior parts and the mechanicals, save the motor, were practically identical. Same went for the Buick Electra Park Avenue. The Olds and Buick were significantly less money than the Caddy and this ate into its sales. Caddy responded by ramping up volume on its cars, taking away any cachet they ever had.
     
    Speaking of Apple, they are, in my opinion, the new GM; their products are not nearly as good as its followers claim them to be. It’s all image.

  • avatar

    The bean counters are what killed GM never mind brand loyalty or quality cheap is the answer thats why everything was downgraded to a rebadged Chev.

  • avatar
    spt87a

    The thing that made GM the powerhouse it was is that it mostly acted as a holding company.  All the divisions were mostly free to do their own thing.  Even the parts operations, etc.  All these tens, hundreds of small companies were wildly successful and profitable and made the parent a giant.  When they started running things from the top, the bean counters started eliminating the duplicated functions and legal decided that integrating everything to make it harder to break up would help fend off the anti-trust issue, that’s when things started falling apart.

    Just like our current federal government increasingly dictating what each of us can do, buy, is forced to buy is dragging the entire entity down.

  • avatar

    There’s one V8 missing from that list: the Buick 300 small block. This was a derivative of the architecture of Buick’s aluminum V8 (discontinued after 1963 in the U.S. and subsequently sold to Rover), with an iron block. In 1964 it had aluminum heads, which were replaced with cast iron in 1965. If I recall correctly, some of its components will bolt on to the earlier aluminum engine, which some builders have done.

  • avatar

    Whoops, forgot to include the Buick small-block engine in the list, which was available in a cast-iron 300-cube version in 1965.

  • avatar

    I love Nailhead engines!
     Too bad it’s replacement engine (the ’67 Buick 430) was based the Buick small block as neither are close to be as good as the 401/425.

     Even if my ’65 Wildcat is stored for winter, I can’t resist starting it and driving it in my snowy driveway!

  • avatar
    George B

    I think GM messed up by having more than 3 or 4 distinct V8 engine families.  Then they went too far the other way and put Chevrolet V8s in other GM cars without preparing the customer for the change.  The better way would be to share engineering, cylinder spacing, etc. and make unique variants as required.  More expensive cars might get high-performance aluminum heads while Chevrolet would make do with cast iron ones, for example.
     
    Allowing Volvo to keep unique engines separate from Ford may have helped it survive while making Saab use the GM corporate parts bin may have been the kiss of death.  Truly unique separate engines like turbo inline 5 vs. a V6 help separate brands.

  • avatar
    AaronH

    Mostly it is because Amerika has become so wimpy and effeminate due to public school and TV.

  • avatar
    ixim

    It should be noted that, unlike today, where most engines are designed and manufactured to pretty much guarantee 100,000 mile+++ trouble-free service life, the story was much different up to, at least, the 1970’s. Lincoln, Cadillac and Chrysler engines routinely gave longer, trouble-free service than Ford, Chevy or Plymouth mills. Extra care – select fitting of moving parts, for example, made that happen. Hence the anger over Chevy engines in Buicks. I still recall the days of 50,000 mile valve-and-piston ring jobs on Ford V8’s; new bearings by 100,000 miles, if you got that far. It’s very rare to see blue, gray or black smoke on today’s roads.

  • avatar
    newfdawg

    I first read about the General Motors in a newspaper in 1977; as I recall it the owner of a 1977 Oldsmobile went to an auto parts store to buy a fan belt for his olds.  It wouldn’t  fit and he was informed his olds had a Chevy engine.  He went running off to the dealer and eventually a class action suit followed with GM customers either getting a cash reimbursement or an extended warranty.
    Certainly GM was a hugely successful company as it existed in its decentralized form, but by the 70’s the cost of complying with all the federal mandates on safety and air quality probably made the cost of maintaining separate engine lines for each division cost prohibitive.  However, the backhanded way GM handled it, basically slipping in different engines undoubtedly infuriated a lot of formerly loyal buyers who had been sold on the uniqueness of each divisions vehicles.  That said, General Motors certainly handled it badly by not preparing their customers for the change, and lost a lot of goodwill as the result of it.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @newfdawg: you nailed it. The costs of EPA, CAFE and probably some other anonymous acronym drove the costs up through the roof; they had little choice but to end the other engine programs.
       
      Of course, even after the ‘corporate’ engines became standard issue, each of the surviving had their ’boutique’ engines (for lack of a better term) into the ’80’s and ’90’s. Oldsmobile had the Quad 4 and variants, Buick hung on to it’s split pin 90 degree V6, Pontiac, well not much that I can recall, Iron Duke(?), Cadillac did up the Northstar (and Shortstar, too) and Chevy had the OHV 4’s, 60 degree V6’s and the V8’s. Now GM is truly down to the corporate engines. I can only hope they continue to pour engineering efforts into the downsized lineup.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    All Chevy has to do is paint their engines Chevy Orange again and all will be forgiven! 

  • avatar
    tonyola

    The separation of divisions continued into the ’70s. For example, in 1970, four divisions offered a 350 and a big-block 454/455. However, they all had different bores and strokes (inches):

    Chevy 350   4.02 x 3.48
    Pontiac 350 3.88 x 3.75
    Olds 350    4.06 x 3.38
    Buick 350   3.80 x 3.85
     
    Chevy 454   4.25 x 4.00
    Pontiac 455 4.15 x 4.12
    Olds 455    4.13 x 4.25
    Buick 455   4.31 x 3.90

    So that’s eight different V8s alone in two size categories. This doesn’t even include the 400, 402, 307, 472, 500, etc. or any of the Sixes.

    • 0 avatar
      dastanley

      Notice that the Olds 455 is undersquare.  The 68 and later Olds 400 was a de-bored 455 (or the 455 was a bored out 400), so the 400 was REALLY undersquare.  Most unusual for an OHV V8.  My dad owned a 69 Olds 442 with the 400 4bbl.  I was a small kid at the time, so I didn’t appreciate or know anything about it until long after he got rid of it – dangit.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      The 68 and later Olds 400 was a de-bored 455 (or the 455 was a bored out 400), so the 400 was REALLY undersquare.
       
      Torque RULES!

  • avatar
    Neb

    It was lots of duplication, sure. But it seems like GM lost a metric ton of marketing mojo when they stopped doing it. My uncles still talk of this era, when Oldsmobile had an Oldsmobile engine. Reading about some of the weird unique engines the divisions had 1980 and later, it seems to me that GM did keep around its own: it just stopped doing it in any meaningful way.

  • avatar
    Adamatari

    One cause of this that is largely forgotten if ever even realized by most auto enthusiasts is that the US was a major oil producer at that time. When you produce the oil, efficiency doesn’t seem very important – just look at the crazy vehicles in Saudi Arabia and Brunei… The US was in that mode in the 1950s and 60s. Hence 8 separate V8 engine families. It seemed to make sense at the time (of course, if we could rewind time and conserve that oil, we would be wise to do it) and was nice while it lasted.
     
    It wasn’t dumb for GM then – GM owned the market and the market could support lots of V8s. What was dumb was that they never figured out that the V8 family sedan was dead until they went bankrupt nearly half a century later. They ceded the car market to the I4 Camry and Accord. Of course, they still have the trucks, until the next oil shock that is.

  • avatar
    Loser

    I remember Pontiac fans that would rather buy a Ford than be seen driving a Chevy. Sound strange to people today but that’s how it was.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    x2 about those Olds engines. The ’62 Dynamic 88 I first started driving with the 394 was a torquey  (and thirsty) brute, my ’66 F-85 with the 330 was hands down the quietest and smoothest V-8 I ever drove. Too bad it was coupled with a 2-speed Jetaway. And finally my ’79 Bonneville (floor shift, half vinyl roof w/ power moonroof, buckets and a cruise control) had a 350 Olds engine that was a delight to drive. Torquey and smooth at the same time. 

    The ’84 Olds 98 we owned for 6 years had the 307, and except for the timing chain sprocket fragging, it was pretty dependable-but the emissions carburetor killed it.

    My buddy in high school had a ’63 Olds with the 394–one night we had come back from a 25 cent car wash with 3 Corvair transaxles and 2 Mini subframes in his trunk. Yes, the trunk lid could still close.
    We pulled up between a jacked-up Torino and a Mustang who were obviously squaring off for a race-and when the light turned green, he mashed the throttle and outran both of them…not bad for a granny car.

    Too bad GM killed the marque, they made some nice cars back in the day.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Gm should have concentrated on making a couple of good V8 engines, like ford and chrysler, instead of making all of that junk.
    The small block chevy had valve cover leaks, as well as cam wear problems, both of which took gm 32 years to fix. They had short rods and soft blocks, which resulted in oil consumption problems, as well as valve guide problems. 75 and later heads had thin decks, leading to cracking problems.
    Big block chevies were known for even worse cam wear than the small blocks, as well as valve spring and rocker arm breakage problems.
    Buick 350-430-455 had the well known and documented oiling problems, as well as the pre 86 231 V6.
    Caddies had an oiling system similar to the buicks, and are known for losing prime after sitting for only a couple of days. Olds engines had weak, windowed piston skirts, but that only caused a problem when the engine was severely overheated. Pontiac V8’s had cast iron connecting rods.
    9 inch drum brakes and 2 speed transmissions in mid sized big block musclecars, flexible frames, the list goes on.

    • 0 avatar

      What you say is mostly true but you forget to talk about Buick nailhead engines. They had forged cranks, forged rods and no oiling problems like their successors had. The 401 in my ’65 Wildcat has never been rebuilt, it uses no oil and it performs like if it was 45 years newer.
      The only things I had to replace on this engine were the water pump, the fuel pump, the ignition points and of course fluids and a few oil filters!

      Full size 1965 Buicks (Wildcats and Electra 225’s) have better brakes (12″ finned aluminium drums) than their competitors from the same year (they’re almost as good as the 12″ vented discs with 4 piston calipers in my ’67 Buick). They also have boxed frames and the best 3 speed automatic transmissions (the Super Turbine 400 with variable picth converter).

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    The nailhead was a good engine, I was referring to the engines that replaced it. The 350-430 and 455 had the bad oil pump design.  The pump gears rode against the aluminum housing, wearing it down causing lower end failure.
    The A body cars  and F bodies had the undersized 9 inch brakes.

    • 0 avatar
      Canucknucklehead

      This is very true. I had only one Buick as a taxi, a 1978 Lesabre, loaded and with very low kms when I got it. It only went about 200,000 km before the engine failed due to poor lubrication. I was shocked because the Olds engines never, ever failed and the small block 350s were almost as good. The cast camshaft 305s, however, were not nearly as good but at least they were cheap to fix.

    • 0 avatar

      I know that!
       I also owned many Buicks with 350, 430 and 455 engines… (I still own one one with a 430 and one with a 455, both required rebuilding because of oil pressure problems). Some had good oil pump housings but they still had oil pressure problems. The metal gears in an aluminium housing (integral part of the timing chain cover) expand at different rates and as the engine gets hotter (and these do get hot!) and oil gets thiner, the gears don’t expand as much as the housing resulting in even lower oil pressure. And the nodular iron (rather than forged steel) crankshafts have larger journals than those in the earlier nailhead engines.

      And these engines need to be rebuilt with extremely tight tolerances, otherwise, their oiling systems discharge and they make some bearing noise after being started.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Phil, dunno whether or not you know this, but a company called Poston makes a new timing cover and oil pump assembly for those engines. It’s supposedly a better design than the factory unit and cures the oil pressure as well as housing wear problem.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I heard about these but I haven’t replaced the timing covers when I had my 430-455 engines rebuilt. I did ask for special cam bearings from TA performance, grooved on their back to allow mounting their oiling hole at 9 o’clock (because cams also suffered from poor oiling!).

    • 0 avatar
      Canucknucklehead

      Indeed, those Buick V-8s ran very hot. It was really too bad about that car. It was really nice, white vinyl and loaded, even with HD suspension and rear sway bar. It drove beautifully. Too bad  the engine crapped out so early. A Buick long block was so expensive it wasn’t worth replacing it so I scrapped it. Used the heavy duty rear end with the 11′ brakes on a Chevy we had. Those things ate axle shafts, but that is another topic!

  • avatar
    nikita

    When you have 52% of about a 10million unit market in 1965, each division had adequate economies of scale to produce unique engine families. Remember, the accessories, that is electrical, fuel and other systems were common across GM. Fisher Body forced common door skins starting in ’59. It is amazing that the cars could be made to look so different. BTW, X-frames were also common ’58-’64.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Canuckle…..friend of mine’s dad had a 72 lesabre with the 350 back in the day. It ran beautifully until one day when he pulled into his driveway. Without warning the engine grenaded itself. It shot a rod through the side of the block and knocked the starter right off, and the back of the cam broke off, went through the welch plug in the back of the block and jammed into the flywheel. It only had 98k on it.
    A guy that I worked with in the early 90’s had a grand prix with the buick 231 V6, same oiling system as the buick 8’s. One night on his way to work it locked up on him on the expressway.
    I knew a woman with a regal with the 231 and it blew apart on her. They redesigned the oil pumps on those engines in 86 when it became the 3800.


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