Class of 1965: When GM Had Eight V8 Engine Families

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
class of 1965 when gm had em eight em v8 engine families

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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2 of 88 comments
  • Nikita Nikita on Dec 19, 2010

    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.

  • Moparman426W Moparman426W on Dec 20, 2010

    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.

  • Jeff S Years ago Kentucky issued a license plate with a horse running with the words "Unbridled Spirit." The religious right objected and did not want the plate because they believed it encouraged people to go to the race track and bet on horses. Anyone who knows anything about Kentucky knows its famous for raising horses and yes there is Churchill Downs where the Kentucky Derby is run but horses in themselves are not sinful. It got so bad that the state issued a blank sticker to put over the horse and the logo. Kentucky also issued a plate for those who were offended stating "In God We Trust." The latest KY plate has no logo and nothing. I always picked the horse because I thought horses were something to be proud of and associated with Kentucky.
  • Old Scold As a Marylander, I got those plates assigned to me when I purchased my car in 2016, 4 years after the so-called anniversary. I figured they were using up NOS, and it never occurred to me to check out the URL. I still don't care. It's a stupid issue, but I have my tag number memorized should I need it.
  • Hpycamper I drive a car with automatic braking and have nothing good to say about it. It has activated going around corners on mountain roads when the hillside is close to the road, when lawn sprinklers turned on and sprayed the car, and driving past cars on the shoulder that are making right turns. Luckily these phantom brake activations have not caused a wreck. The systems are just too dumb.
  • SCE to AUX How long until that $90k yields a profit for my grandchildren?
  • Ajla I do wonder what the legacy of the Alpha Camaro will be. It was higher performing than the Zeta but lacks the pop culture imprinting of that gen or the earlier F-body. And somehow it managed to be less comfortable than the Zeta. I guess it depends if this is really the last traditional Camaro.