Along with Packard, Buick was one of the two leading proponents of the straight-eight engine in America.
Introduced in 1931, Buick’s straight eight engine replaced the automaker’s trusty inline six and then took its place as an essential part of the Buick brand identity for more than 20 years. Buick chief engineer F.A. “Dutch” Bower and crew were responsible for the design, which that first year was produced in three sizes: 220.7, 272.6, and 344.8 cubic inches, for the four Buick car lines. With eight firing impulses per cycle—twice as many as a four, and 50 percent more than a six—the engines quickly asserted themselves as smooth, silent, and powerful, elevating Buick’s reputation as a maker of high-quality automobiles.
Arguably, Buick’s eight was even more advanced than its General Motors stablemate, the Cadillac V8, boasting overhead valves and compact combustion chambers rather than the Cadillac’s traditional L-head layout. Buick advertising campaigns sang the praises of the straight eight’s high-turbulence “Fireball” combustion chamber design: “Every spark sets off a cyclone!” Marketing labels for the inline eight over the years included Silent Oil Cushioned, Valve-in-Head, Fireball, and Dynaflash.
While the Buick eight was continually developed and produced in a number of displacements over the years, its basic layout remained fairly constant, with the intake and exhaust systems on the left (driver) side and the distributor, camshaft, and fuel pump on the opposite side of the block. For the first few years, an updraft Marvel twin-venturi carburetor was employed along with an elaborate, driver-adjustable manifold-heating system (above).
In 1934 a modern downdraft carburetor was adopted, and in 1941-42 the senior models were equipped with Compound Carburetion using a pair of two-barrel carbs and progressive linkage (lead photo at top of page). In 1952, as the inline eight neared the end of its production life, a four-barrel was added, which Buick marketed as the Airpower carburetor. With 320.2 cubic inches, this big eight was rated at 170 horsepower.
In 1948 the straight eight was coupled to Buick’s new Dynaflow automatic transmission, which was specifically engineered to capitalize on the engine’s muscular torque curve and utter smoothness. (See our feature on Dynaflow here.) Along with Packard, Buick was one of the two great proponents of the straight eight engine in America. But nothing is forever, and in 1953 the Buick division joined the growing crowd and adopted an up-to-date high-compression V8. For its final year in 1953, the straight eight was offered only in the Series 40 Special, the junior model in the Buick line.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage