By on January 1, 2011


Back in the day, where could you go for a cheap supercharger? Maybe grab a grungy 8-71 off a million-mile transit bus? Thanks to GM’s decision in the early 1990s to plop Eaton blowers on all manner of 3800 V6-powered machinery, the going rate on a junkyard supercharger is well below a C-note.

I spotted this blown Park Avenue at a Denver self-service yard last week. The price? 75 bucks. Too bad the engines in my current stable-o-vehicles displace 1.5 and 5.2 liters, respectively, and are thus unsuitable for this unit (though perhaps two of these on a Chrysler 318 might be just the ticket).

And that’s not your only low-buck blower option these days, thanks to Toyota’s decision to add a supercharger to Previa minivans starting in the mid-1990s. The Previa unit has an electrically-operated clutch, which means you can turn it on and off like Mad Max in his Falcon XB. Works great in a 320i!

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43 Comments on “We Live In the Golden Age of Cheap Superchargers...”


  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    3800′s RULE!

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    One of my father’s faves, Park Ave Ultra.  (Sadly he’s only driven ones on various occasions, never owned.)  The supercharged 3800 gave him enough power to pretend it was the early 70s again and he had gotten his hands on a well tuned GM small block to cruise around in.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    I wonder why this is here? It doesn’t look to be in all that bad a shape. Does anyone know the specs of the blown 3800 as it was used here? I never knew they put them in the B bodies.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Actually that’s a C or H platform (I find conflicting specs for that when I look it up) like the Pontiac Bonneville of those years.  The specs of the 3800 supercharged?  Here’s the best I could find.  http://www.gmforum.com/showthread.php?t=228005  If you look at the HP and torque specs they’re very much in line with what you’d get out of a small block in a family car a few decades before which is why many people loved them so much.

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      This Park Avenue is a C. The FWD C-body was used for the luxury cars (Buick Electra/Park Avenue, Olds 98, FWD big Cadillacs), while the H-body was used for the lower-line cars (Buick LeSabre, Olds 88, Pontiac Bonneville). While the C and H were structurally similar and shared the same wheelbase (110.8 in), the C’s had extended front and rear ends as well as different rooflines.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      What was the difference in rear seat legroom?  (Just had to ask, I love old luxury cars.)

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      There was only about a half-inch difference in rear legroom between the LeSabre and Park Avenue, according to the 1992 Buick brochure. Both cars shared the same basic passenger compartment and all measurements were pretty much the same. The Park Avenue was about five inches longer overall, but the extra length was in the trunk behind the rear wheels.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Not sure if you allready know this, but ford also put superchargers on a whole bunch of their 3.8 liter v6′s too :) Ebay is full of them.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      The only car that Ford offered with a supercharged 3.8 v-6 was the 89-95 T-Bird Supercoupe and 89-91 Mercury Cougar XR-7. Power of a small block, economy of a V-6. Reliability was not very good head gaskets etc. I would have wanted one but my 95 4.6 V-8 is quite fine.

      Many e-bay buyers put these on Mustang and T-Bird 3.8′s   

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    That hurts to see. The Park Ave Ultra is one of my all time favorite cars from the 1990′s.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    In order to use a supercharger off a Previa, you would have to find one that had actually died.  Good luck with that.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Or one that was actually bought.  Previa sales were a footnote in minivan numbers.  Probably because of the price or maybe that pregnant looking dash design…

    • 0 avatar

      Last year I was in Eugene, OR on a business trip. I took a cab to the bar, and it was a Previa with 780,000 miles on it. Turns out my driver owned the cab company, which was a rotating fleet of about 10 Previas. He would buy them used with around 200k on them for $2500 and he said all 10 had over 500k miles on them. Apparently they really can’t be killed.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @golden: Your comment is correct. I was hawking Toyotas (and others) back in the day, a Previa S/C was close to $32K in 1991 dollars. Not many went flying off of our lots. I haven’t seen a Previa in years, I don’t remember the last time I saw a supercharged one, they’re that rare…

  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    Here is the Earth-shattering inside story on GM’s decision to use superchargers: GM Marketing wanted them. Just like the 15 cupholders of the day.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    My father had a blown 3800 in his Park Ave Ultra.  Fast as stink off the line, but it did run out of breath in the upper rev ranges.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    This is also the age of “cheap” turbochargers.
     
    IIRC the Eaton unit on the 3800 had a feature that prevented boost at low charge conditions to help fuel economy. I think it was vacuum operated.
     
    It would be nice to put one of those in a W-body Impala. Yes I know the SS had them stock
     
     

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Around 2000, I was visiting family in Florida.  My cousin’s at-the-time boyfriend had one of these supercharged Buicks.  Long story short, my cousin’s boyfriend got high so I took the keys for the drive home.  Being used to driving a first generation Impreza, I recall the power being impressive but everything else being terrible.  Sloppy, sloppy car.

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    There’s another similarity between those blown 3800s and today. The L67/L32 is capable of a lot more horsepower/torque than it was factory tuned for, but you’d blow up the transaxle. Same thing today with the Ecoboost 3.5 at Ford. It can put out 420 lb. ft. in a truck, but you’d be shooting parts with that in a Taurus.
     
    The guy across the street has one in a ~2000 Grand Prix GTP, he’s never had any problems since new. They even sound good with the right exhaust choice (JMHO, Buick 3.8s and Chevy 4.3s can actually be made to sound good, traditional 60º V6s have never sounded good to me).

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    Wonder if there is some way to use one on a Corvair.  Back in the day, Judson sold supercharger kits for Corvairs of which a few working examples survive.  Some folks say it works a lot better than the factory Spyder/Corsa turbo setup which requires a whole lot of revs to produce any useful boost and is regulated by back pressure rather than a proper wastegate.

    • 0 avatar
      findude

      I spent many happy hours at the wheel of a 1963 Corvair Spyder with the factory turbocharger. The downside was roughly 1.5-2 seconds of turbo lag, but when it kicked in it was like getting rear-ended. Throw a couple 50-pound bags of cement in the trunk to keep the front end down at speed and it was a pretty fun car for a teenager.

  • avatar
    rentonben

    Pull a supercharged 3800 and a bunch of Checy S10 parts and make the poor mans Super 7:
    http://www.bruntonauto.com/thekit/thekit.htm
    Sadly, it looks like the recent 3800s need a bunch of electronics for it to work outside their original homes.
     

  • avatar
    HoldenSSVSE

    Now if someone can figure out how to install two L67 Eaton superchargers onto a L76 6.0 V8 and not have it completely ghetto in a G8 GT, you just became my best friend.

  • avatar
    ixim

    Don’t forget the mid-1997 to 2004 Buick Regal LS. You got the smaller Century body with the Park’s powertrain. About 3,300 lbs total weight. I had an ’02 Abboud; it was fast, solid, full of goodies and 30mpg highway into the bargain.

  • avatar
    stroker49

    Turbos are better than superchargers, higher efficiency, less parasitic loss etc. But it seems America has never understood this after Olds’ experiment in the sixties. My STS has a 3,6l V6 but SAAB is using basically the same engine but 2,8l with a blower. More torque and more HP, more MPG. Anyway, enignes without any type of charger sucks!

    • 0 avatar
      KGrGunMan

      “enignes without any type of charger sucks!”

      i don’t know about that; there are some nice advantages to all, na, s/c or t/c. i have a 2.0ltr turbo and a 1.6ltr na in basicly the same cars. sure the turbo is much faster but it’s almost too fast for the street (255 WHP 2200lbs) my 1.6ltr na is more fun to drive, revving the nuts off a high reving under powered engine can be more of a thrill; i can come out of a corner and floor the na and keep it floored giving it all it has but if i do that with the turbo for more then a short burst it’s just too fast.

      the turbo is faster on the track every time but the slower na hits a sweat spot that boost just can’t toutch.

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      Superchargers are able to provide useful boost at low rpms without lag. Also, any parasitic losses are compensated by the lack of back pressure. Thermal stress on superchargers is also far less than turbos too.

      America has never understood turbocharging? Read a little auto history sometimes – turbo four and six engines were very common among the Big Three in the 1980s and 1990s, and there were even some turbo V8s.
       
      Boosted engines are not always better than unboosted engines. MPG on a blown engine can be awful if you’re on boost a lot. A good naturally-aspirated engine has a sweetness and sound that can be ruined by boosting. Why do you think Honda avoided factory boosting for so many years?

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      America has never understood this after Olds’ experiment in the sixties.

       
      Ya man, that 1987 Buick GNX was a complete piece of shit.  The numbers that car put down in fuel economy, horsepower, performance, 0 to 60, 1/4 mile, and braking would all be respectable in a modern sedan; only the handling lagged – but we’re not talking about suspensions, we’re talking about turbos.
       
      GMC Cyclone?
      GMC Typhoon?
      Dodge Omni GLH?
      Buick Grand National?
      Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe?
      1979 SVO Ford Mustang?
       
      Never ceases to amaze me the bias to Detroit iron and statements such as the above are thrown out there.
       
      I don’t know too many people that would turn there nose up to a GM ECOTEC 2.0 DI turbo-four dealer tweaked to 300 HP and 340 pound feet of torque, and still gives you 30 MPG on the highway.  Ya, Detroit sure doesn’t know one damn thing about turbos.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      Cadillac used the 2.8 liter turbo V6 in the SRX for a time as well. They’d blow up if owners filled them with regular instead of premium fuel (pre-recall)
       
      http://gmauthority.com/blog/2010/06/general-motors-recalls-2010-cadillac-srx-2-8l-turbo/

    • 0 avatar
      lzaffuto

      @HoldenSSVSE
      To be fair to the original poster, I don’t think he was talking about American manufacturers but rather that the American *public* has never understood turbochargers… they have never been a popular selling point the US market and you just reinforced that point. All those cars you listed might have been the best damn performance cars of the time… but they were all niche vehicles that were absolute commercial flops and piss poor sellers. Try asking your average person on the street about one of those and see the deer in headlight look on their face. In other parts of the world turbocharged cars aren’t exotic or niche like they are in our market… your average mass selling family sedan and econobox are often blown.

      Of course, one of the main reasons for this is that a lot of foreign countries tax engine displacement above a certain amount (usually 1.8 or 2.0 liters), forcing manufacturers to supercharge or turbocharge their cars to equal the power and performance of a larger engine (I4=V6, V6=V8, etc). Here you only have a gas guzzler tax, you can still have a 6.2 liter V8 tax free as long as you meet the fuel economy requirements.

  • avatar
    PunisherBass

    This brings a smile to my face. I and my family have a long history with the 3800 going back to the 80′s. My daily driver is a 98 Park Avenue Ultra with the supercharged Series II under the hood, and I can tell you these engines make good power and will literally run forever. My 24 Hours Of LeMons team also has a histroy with the 3.8, we currently race a 97 Pontiac GTP with the same SC 3.8 as my Buick and before that we had a 99 LeSabre with the NA 3.8 and before that there was a 92 Regal with the Series I.

  • avatar
    stroker49

    KGrGunMan: 255 WHP is too much, too nervous for a 2,0. A low pressure turbo that gives only some more HP but torque all the way is the way to go. Try for example the old SAAB 9-5 with the smallest weakest eninge. 2,0 l only 150hp same max. torque as a na 2,0 but all the way from under 2000 rpm. Sweet engine with great MPG. Or VWs old 1,8 l t/c or their newer 2,0 t/c.
    There IS a substitute for CI, charging! But in most countries except North America, Brazil and Japan diesel rules and all of them of course turbocharged.

  • avatar
    Morea

    It doesn’t appear to have an intercooler.  This must mean that it has some pretty serious spark retardation to prevent detonation.  (Assuming it doesn’t have water injection, which is likely if they didn’t bother with an intercooler.)

    • 0 avatar
      EyeMWing

      My LeMons team is centered around a Grand Prix with the Series II version of this motor – spark is indeed retarded versus the NA version of the motor. I’ve never met an 80′s or 90′s era OE-forced-induction vehicle with an intercooler.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Volvo turbos were intercooled from 1984, Saab Turbos from 1986.

      Modern technology has all but eliminated any issues with turbo lag. A turbocharged small engine like the Saab 2.0T in the 9-3 is the closest thing in Autodom to a free lunch. Superb performance, drivability, and economy.

    • 0 avatar
      EyeMWing

      Huh. I guess I need to poke around the Swedish section at the junkyard more often.

    • 0 avatar
      Zykotec

      The Thunderbirds and Xr-7′s were also intercooled, not all the years though.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @EyeMWing: Quite a few of the higher performance turbo cars from the ’80s & ’90′s were intercooled. Off the top of my head:
      Shelby Dodges (Lancer, GLHS, Charger w/175 HP motor, Shadow), 1990+ Spirit Turbo, Daytona (various models, esp IROC)
      SVO Mustangs (1984-1986), 1988-90 V6 Thunderbirds and Cougars
      Various SAABs and Volvos
      1987+ Chevy Sprint, Buick GNX.
      One of the Toyota MR2′s (I can’t recall right now), Mazda RX-7′s, Nissan 300 ZX (I think)
      Most of the less expensive turbo cars of the era were not intercooled. By the mid ’80s I think the anti knock sensors and computers were sufficient evolved at that point to stave off any real damage, unlike the carbureted turbo cars of the late ’70s and early ’80s.
       
      I know, I owned a 1981 Mercury Capri RS Turbo – carbs, early engine management systems and turbos (let’s not forget the beancounted el-cheapo head gaskets) did not mix. However, my 1987 Dodge Lancer Turbo was port fuel injected with a better computer system and ran like a beast for 11 years. I barely got three out of the Mercury.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Many things about and reasons to recommend a Toyota Previa van if one in decent or better condition comes your way.
    If the “price is right” is up to the buyer.
     
    One of the few “weak points” is the SADS… the shaft runing from the engine to the components mounted in front of the engine that are normally attached directly to the engine with “normal” vehicles.
    When needing repair or replacement a mechanically handy/adept person can do it and save bucks. Repair vice replacement route available.
    An incredibly handy Yahoo “group” exists with ample tips, advice, suggestions, links, etc.
    For your reading pleasure you can follow the link below to a blurb on eBay that “66 out of 69 people found this guide helpful.”
    http://reviews.ebay.com/Toyota-Previa-SADS-shaft-caution-when-buying-van_W0QQugidZ10000000001452344

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    If only there was some company that sold a manifold for mounting a 3800 Eaton supercharger to a 60V6. Would make my just over 2900 pound Buick Skylark coupe a real treat to drive if I could get 250+ lb ft of torque…

    The car already has enough torque and gearing to cruise at 80 with the engine at 1500 rpm, with more torque I could coast pretty much anywhere with decently flat roads.


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