By on October 15, 2012

TTAC Commentator Morea writes:

Sajeev, hope it’s not too dumb, but it really is a question I have! I wish to someday own a car with a straight eight engine.

Nothing fancy, just something to use as a weekend toy, perhaps to do some work on myself. Nothing too expensive or concours quality either. Just a car to get the feeling of running a straight eight through its rev range. It seems an American car of the early 1950s would be the best bet, but which make and model? Oldsmobile, Buick, Pontiac, Hudson, another? Which straight eight was best? Which model is easiest to own? Can the Best and Brightest advise me on how to get into a straight eight that won’t break the bank?

Sajeev answers:

What a fantastic question!  This is what I live for, which is a bit sad.


Even worse, the only straight-eight I want is Ford’s T-Drive concept, since it combines my love of Fox bodies and the current Piston Slap topic.  Maybe I should write about finding one of these tucked away somewhere in Dearborn, parking my ’88 Cougar next to it and they magically open a Foxy ThunderCat portal to another dimension…no Stephen King’s lawyers, don’t sue me!  

My ideal I-8 for you is the Buick “Fireball” 8. I always admired the vehicles around this mill, and it was OHV instead of the flathead designs of other manufacturers.  The Buick Eight has unquestionable curb appeal, especially for anyone who remembers the movie “Rain Man.”And that marginally depressing Steven King book. It’s not that other straight eights are bad vehicles, the Buick is just the ideal one for the average collector car buyer that isn’t infatuated with ’69 Camaros or vintage Porkers.

I think you can find a decent driver for anywhere from $5000-15,000, depending on your luck and what’s on the market. More perfect examples are more like $25,000 and beyond.   That’s not too bad, especially if you buy it below market value in a down economy.  You could easily get a cheap Buick Eight and sell it for thousands more when the economy picks up.

Now, about breaking the bank: all antique vehicles need a ton of work to keep running.  Anything that moves or has rubber can and will go bad.  Luckily there is a fair amount of restoration parts for Buicks, just not as much as Tri-Five Chevys.  Thanks to eBay, Buick parts restorers and even places like Steele Rubber Products can hook you up.

I’d rustle up about twelve grand in cash and start searching. Best of luck to you!

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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30 Comments on “Piston Slap: Twisted Talk on Straight Eights...”

  • avatar

    That was definitely one of King’s better novels in recent years. Would’ve made a great movie if done right.

    • 0 avatar

      I need to see the movie, but the book was a letdown for me. Then again, its the only recent SK novel I’ve read.

      • 0 avatar

        Not to hijack, but you’re not missing anything. King hasn’t written anything worthwhile for a long, long time.

        Straight 8’s have fascinated me for awhile, particularly the Pontiac and Buick. Saw a Pontiac engine on the local classifieds, and was sorely tempted. Just didn’t have an idea what to do with it. . .

    • 0 avatar

      The From a Buick 8 book was pretty bad , but Stephen King has written some good stuff since then . Not crap like Cell , Lisey’s Story , or Under the Dome , but Duma Key was very good and 11/22/63 was his best book in years – that one is going to be made into a movie. Also the kindle only novella UR was good , but his recent kindle offering Mile 81 isn’t since it’s remarkably like From a Buick 8 . Not everything he writes is gold these days , but he still turns out a good one every now and then .

      • 0 avatar

        Agree on the Buick 8 being horrifyingly boring. I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, not caring how or even why it would end. I liked Under The Dome, thought it rather more like his early writings with that little bit of special weirdness added to seeming normality. Can’t wait to give 11/22/63 a GO now.

      • 0 avatar

        The short story “N” in “Just After Sunset” is one of the best things he has written in a long time. It’s not high art, but thoroughly enjoyable.

    • 0 avatar

      From a Buick 6 is a great song on an all time great album.

  • avatar


    I really do feel like we’re kindred spirits. You’re the first person that I can ever recall mentioning the T-drive…let along remembering it! I recall seeing it in Autoweek back in the day. I seem to recall that they dropped that T-drive into a Tempo, T-bird and maybe a Taurus? I thought it was a fascinating idea, even if I wasn’t an tech/engineering geek.

    Incidentally, I was really pleased to see the Mehta brothers in Hemmings, I felt like I was seeing an old friend in print! Please keep up the good work in holding the vigil for all things ’80’s Ford. Maybe you’ll recall the White Lightening SVT Bronco concept that I can’t find any information on at all!?

    • 0 avatar

      Had to google T-drive, and glad I did. That Tempo is just plain wicked. Even without horsepower/torque numbers, it must’ve been a beast. Wonder if there’s any video out there, I’d love to hear the sound of that thing.

      Thanks Sajeev, for making an otherwise dull day most interesting!

    • 0 avatar

      Gotta love the sheer audacity of the T-drive. A transverse-mounted straight 8. Wow.

      I wonder how the t-drive concept might translate to either a six or four-cylinder application…

      T-drive would be utterly perfect for a large van.

      • 0 avatar

        Sajeev, the Jalopnik website states the following of the T-Drive: “…the theory behind Ford’s “T-Drive” setup of the early 1990s: you put the engine on top of the transmission, which enables you to mount inline-six or even inline-eight engines transversely in a relatively narrow engine compartment.”

        Wasn’t this the theory behind the recent and now defunct Daewoo Magnus/Suzuki Verona, having an Daewoo-developed XK6 inline-6 engine layihng atop the tranny? Albeit it was front wheel drive.

    • 0 avatar

      W: thanks for your kind words…actually I don’t remember the SVT Bronco!

      • 0 avatar

        I remember a one-page article in C&D about it…it was white, and they described it as a real bucking Bronco, having the SVT power train in an even shorter wheelbase than the short-cab/bed F-150. Other than that, I’ve never seen another references to it! I’ve even checked the C&D archives and can’t find the article…

        This is the closest I’ve come:$t2ec16zhjgwe9n)yuze1bp+4uemn3~~60_12.jpg

  • avatar

    yeah straight eights… dont understand it

    i seem to think of sidevalve duesenbergs or something

    i’d be more interested in owning or at least, driving a V12 of some sort

    now apart from exotics your only choice would be the old BMW 750i, Mercedes S or CL type or the Toyota Century limos

  • avatar

    97X…BAAAAM…The future of rock and roll. I’m a very good driver.

  • avatar
    B Buckner

    My family owned a ’53 Packard with a straight 8 when I was a kid. My father, a mechanic, always said the straight 8 was better dynamically balanced than a V-8s. He claimed you could stand a quarter on its edge on top of a running straight 8.

    • 0 avatar

      Packard straight 8 had 9 main bearings- crankshaft weighed approx. 200 lbs. Packard used a straight 8 until 1955- Packard sedans are relatively inexpensive and parts are available. Go for it.

  • avatar

    My dad bought a new black ’53 Buick Special coupe two years before I came along. It had the straight-8, a red interior, the huge chrome bumper and monster whitewalls. I remember crying the day my dad sold it in ’63. That was his last Buick.

    The technical issue with straight-8 engines has always been crankshaft length. Shorter cranks are stiffer and require fewer main bearings.

  • avatar

    The Buick 8 was indeed a good engine, but prepare for the slushy Dynaflow transmission that was nothing but a torque converter.

    The Packard 8 was also extremely good, one of the lower level cars up through 1954 would probably not break the bank either. These came with 3 speeds, or the Ultramatic transmission, which was a torque converter that went into lockup mode for second gear.

    My vote would be the Chrysler 8. These are hard to find, as they were only in New Yorkers, up through 1950. Here you got Fluid Drive, an genuine 2 speed (or 4 speed, if you wanted to do a lot of shifting) semi-automatic.

    Pontiac also had a straight 8 through 54, with the GM HydraMatic 4 speed auto. This one would probably be the most modern-style driving car of the bunch. Hudson may not be a bad bet, as these are not as popular (or as fast) as the 6 cylinder Hornets.

    My hat is off to you, sir, for nurturing the desire to partake of such an old fashioned driving experience. It may ruin you forever, as you may find out why none of your grandparents had any desire to drive a 4 cylinder anything, particularly one of the peaky ones.

  • avatar

    My friend in high school had a big old Buick straight 8 in metalflake green that car was the smoothest I’ve ever driven and it was just a $100 car then. Would make a great cruiser and I love those early 1950s GM bodies.

  • avatar

    I recommend getting some kind of straight 8, whatever the other commenters agree is best, and putting it in a Se7en replica. Have something that is all motor.

    BTW – The link to a perfect example of a Buick I8 has a car with a Buick V8.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Too bad that the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe is a one off found only in the MB museum in Stuttgart.

  • avatar

    A whole book could be written about owning a classic car, and many have. It really boils down to whether you have the time/skills/knowledge to work on the vehicle yourself or the money to pay the right guy to do it. Old cars can be very reliable, but your dealing with a vehicle that was made 60 years ago and has been owned by an unknown numbers of idiots before you. And you don’t know how badly they have messed it up. While old cars can be very simple to work on, rust/seized bolts/broken bolts/lack of parts/parts failing can leave you frustrated and broke. My suggestion is to join some forums and do alot of reading about the type of car you want to buy and old cars in general. My personal favorite is a Hot Rod/Custom one called the H.A.M.B, alot of of very knowledgeable people out there you just have to find them.

  • avatar

    I too often lust after a Buick I8. Seems so stately of an engine to have.

  • avatar

    Go for a Buick. The ’53 Special was the last straight eight, and smaller than the others. It also had the updated Dynaflow, so was not as bad a slug as the earlier ones. For earlier versions, get a stick shift. Packard straight eights were smooth and powerful; others such as Pontiac less so.

  • avatar

    Go bigger. Bolt two I-6’s together for a straight 12.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Yah, when I was in junior high, I had a 53 Packard to drive around on the trails. Big car, prehistoric flathead 327CI, Carter 4 barrel My buddy Jeffrey drove a ’53 Special from Oregon for my wedding. in ’73

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