Buick V8 For 4/30: The 430/400/455, Nailhead, And More

Our bad. On 4/25, we talked about the Oldsmobile and Cadillac 425 cubic-inch engines while neglecting the Buick 425 Nailhead. Well, Buick guys, you get the last laugh for engine month, since Buick’s 430 and, well, all of the company’s V8s get the nod on 4/30. Sure, you can talk about Ford’s MEL 430, but we already covered that, a bit, with the Edsel 410. If you want to know more about the MEL 430, check out Steve Dulcich’s Engine Masters story on it from last fall. For now, let’s talk about the Buick V8.


When Buick replaced its overhead-valve inline-eight in 1953, the Nailhead became the company’s first pushrod V8. The engine took its name from the small valve covers mounted on top of the heads. Under the valve covers, the vertically mounted valves created an almost-hemispherical combustion chamber. With a massively oversquare design (4-inch bore, 3.2-inch stroke), the Nailhead liked to rev. Combined a narrow design and good torque, early hot rodders in the 1950s found favor with the Nailhead.

The head design ultimately created exhaust-flow problems, but those first Nailhead tinkerers tried all manner of fuel-and-air delivery. From Strombergs to four-barrels to triple-twos, the Nailhead saw it all. Of all the Nailhead tuners in the world, none could be more popular than Tommy Ivo and his multiple-engine dragsters. Not content with a pair of Buick V8s in his first exhibition runner, Ivo managed to strap four Nailheads to his Showboat dragster.


After increasing displacement up to 401 and later 425 cubic inches, Buick phased out the Nailhead in 1967. That actually would have dovetailed nicely with the 4/25 post since the Nailhead’s replacements, the 400 and 430, ushered in Buick’s entry to the muscle-car era. The two “big block” Buicks carried more traditional dome-shaped heads, but the design had retained the Nailhead’s proclivity for torque.


As a muscular offering from one of General Motors mid-tier brands, Buick’s Grand Sport (GS) was something of an oddball. It certainly carried the flare of its contemporary muscle cars like the Chevelle or Charger, but it somehow lacked the outrageousness. Still, the A-Body Buick sold in appreciable numbers and you will still see them at drag strips and car shows from time to time.


In 1970, Buick replaced the 400 and 430 wholesale with a 455 cubic-inch V8 that could be optioned with more than 510 pound-feet of torque from the factory. For its time, only the Cadillac 500 was more of a torque monster. The early 1970s 455-powered Grand Sports are incredibly potent cars, capable of quarter-mile times in the 13s straight from the dealership. I’ve always found it interesting that General Motors at that time had three 455 cubic-inch V8s from Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac. Fans of each marque will argue forever about which is best, but they unfortunately all went away in the late 1970s as GM downsized their cars and engines to meet changing demands and regulations.


Read more about Buick’s V8s right here:

Car Craft’s Nailhead history
Street Rodder’s
 Nailhead history

A 1967 Buick GS400 build-up
Freiburger introduces his El Cheapo $1,000 Buick 455 rebuild
Freiburger dyno-tests bolt-on speed parts for another 455
Freiburger follows up the dyno test with new 455 heads

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