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This car and engine grew out of the early '60's gas crunch. Up until this time, the American car market had consisted of big cars with big motors that used lots of gas.
In 1961, Olds (and Buick and Pontiac, referred to collectively as "The BOP Cars") came out with their new small cars (Olds F-85, Pontiac Tempest, Buick Special). Back in GM's experimental phase (prior to the invention of product liability lawyers), a single body shell was used to spin off three very different platforms. The basic body is is unibody construction. Available was a new, all aluminum V-8, displacing 215 cubic inches. This engine was standard in the Buick and Olds, optional in the Pontiac.
Olds and Buick used it to build the conventional front engine/rear drive Cutlass (Jetfire) and Skylark models. Chevy used this same shell to create the Corvair, with rear engine, transaxle, and air cooling. Pontiac took the middle ground with the Tempest, mounting the engine in the front but using the Corvair transaxle to build a precursor to the Porsche 928 and the C5 Corvette. With the exception of the 'Vair, the cars were available with the Pontiac slant 4 (195 cubic inches out of a four cylinder! Literally a 389 Poncho cut in half!), the Buick V6, or the aforementioned aluminum V8. Only Olds had the turbo (Jetfire) available.
The original motor was aluminum from Buick, it used cast iron sleeves. The Olds versions got their compression ratio from the heads, and Buick's from the pistons. Buick Special, Skylark, Olds Jetfire, F-85, and the '61, '62 Tempest used a version of the motor with one extra head bolt. It will still bolt to a later Rover block, but with one extra hole. They're rare though. Intakes are believed to interchange, though.
The 215 V8 doesn't share the BOP transmission bell housing pattern, but some strange, unique pattern. The starter bolts to the engine horizontally. Meaning the bolts thread horizontallty like on a Chrysler. Not Vertically like on an Olds. Also, there are no provisions for an adapter like a small block Chevy in a bus, with a large flywheel, and a horizontal starter pattern.
The 215 was powerful despite its small displacement. The strong motor in such a light body with independent suspension all around made the Special and F-85 one of the best cars in the early 1960's. The biggest barrier has been the brakes which were inadequate at the time, and are even more so today.
Examples had 3-speeds, 4-speeds (Borg-Warner I believe), a type of Powerglide that went into the Buick and Pontiac, and the Slim Jim Jetaway type in the '62 Jetfire. They also had 2-barrel and 4-barrel carbs (Rochester) for them as well as the huge 1-barrel side-draft on the turbo Olds version.
Factory rating for the turbo motor was 215 hp out of 215 cu in. The engine uses a unique bellhousing bolt pattern, so adapters are required to install something newer (available from D&D). The ordinary Buick's and F85's got a two speed powerglide unit.
A four speed was also available. My automatic is a 3 speed one. I believe that only the '63's actually had the 4-speeds although I've met someone who says he has a 4-speed '62. The 4-speeds were of the Corvette Borg Warner T-10's. The production of the '62's began in the middle of April & so that string was begun & stopped for the '63's very quickly.
In 1961, the F-85 had a 155 HP version of the 215 ci. engine, and the Cutlass had a 185 HP version. The 1961 versions of the motor were rated at 155 hp, but later years saw increases - up to 200 hp normally aspirated for the Buick version and 215 hp in turbocharged form from Olds (the 62-63 Jetfire).
In 1962, Olds, along with AiResearch, introduced a 'turbocharged' (called Fluid Injection) version of this engine, which put "Turbo Rocket Fluid" (½ distilled water, ½ methyl alcohol) into the carb. Along with a 10.25:1 compression ratio, yielded 0-60 in 8.5 seconds (with the manual tranny). The turbo was a Garrett TO-3 with an integral wastegate, the first. Unfortunately, due to the 10:1 compression ratio, boost was limited to only 5 psi, not the best use of a turbo.
The induction setup itself is fairly sophisticated (especially for 1962), with something like 54 separate connections to the intake system. The turbo has an integral wastegate, being the first mass production turbo application to use a wastegate. The turbo has a large oil line running directly from the oil pump to keep oil present to the bearings. If they get hot (running hard) they must not be shut down without a cool down period. This was arguably the most complex induction system build to that time, with something like 50 different hose connections in the intake system (pressure sensors, wastegate, fluid injection, fuel, etc).
Olds attempted to get around the boost lag problem by using a high compression ratio (10:1!), which limited boost to only 5 psi. Fluid injection (Turbo Rocket Fluid) was used (a water/alcohol mix) to suppress detonation. Properly running cars will not go into boost if the "Turbo Rocket Fluid" resevoire is empty. There is an automatic shutoff for this. Parts for this injection system are even harder to get than the turbo parts.
The carb is a rare single barrel Rochester side-draft unit, whose only other application was on the Corvair Turbo. While they resemble the Corvair carb, they are much larger. They share some parts with an ordinary 2-barrel V-8 Rochester such as floats, needles & seats, etc.
The Olds' turbocharged Jetfire was supposedly quicker than the 4V version, but it had maintenance problems due to its complex mechanics for that era. It attained the magic goal of 1 HP per CID. A power boost on the order of 40% was claimed. The automatic Cutlass with 10.75:1 compression gave 195 HP @ 4800 and 235 lb/ft @ 3200. The Jetfire's 10.25:1 compression gave 215 HP @ 4800 and 300 lb/ft @ 3200.
Top speed for a 4V was just over 100 mph, but 0-60 took almost 11 seconds with automatic, although the stick did better. The biggest problem with the Special/F-85 was the 3-speed "slushbox" transmission. Which, according to a Motor Trend road test, "seemed to take forever for the Hydra-Matic to get a good, firm lockup into the next gear, and the engine lost 2,000 rpm on each shift."
Oldsmobile scrapped this system in 1964 due to reliability problems. The 'performance Olds' then became the 442 in '64.
Rover, Buick 300, 3.8, etc
Not long after the motor was put into production, gas became plentiful again. You all remember the late '60's, early '70's, "Why build a 215 when you can build a 455?" It was the dawning of the age of muscle cars.
At this same time, across the pond, the British were just beginning to turn away from the famous 4 cylinders. They were selling off their designs and tooling, left and right, to the Japanese. The only new motors that British car companies seemed to have produced, though, were those HEAVY I-6 motors. They attempted a V-8 with the Triumph Stag, but due to poor design, the motor was plagued by mechanical failure (a Triumph having mechanical trouble, never!)
GM, still having fun with the 330, 425, 455, etc. decided that it had no use for the 215 design, and therefore, sold the design, tooling and manufacturing rights for the motor to the very willing British Leyland company (Rover/Jaguar/Triumph). It has evolved into the 3.5, 3.9, and 4.2 liter engines in various British cars (Land Rover, Rover 3500, TVR, TR8, +8, etc.) The engine is a direct fit in the MG, as it was offered in the early 1970s, as the MGC (ie, next after the MGB). The full-up engine (carb-to-oil pan) weighs about 305 lbs.
The 215 was redesigned from an investment casting to a sand cast aluminum block making it slightly heavier, but it is said to be less prone to cracking, and better at vibration dampening. Basic dimensions remained the same: bore, stroke, bearing sizes, distance between bores, etc. 215 manifolds still fit the 3.5l blocks as do all of the original 215 aftermarket upgrades.
Buick, having had given up the 215, recast the block as a cast iron version: the Buick 300. Slightly taller and larger bore, but the same bore to bore and bearing placement. This engine was equipped with a 3.4" stroke crank that had larger bearings and a different rear seal assembly. This makes the crank a ½ inch or inch longer out the back side and the flywheel bolt pattern different.
About this time, Buick, wanting smaller and more fuel efficient cars, decided that they needed a new powerplant. They wanted something light, so they went back to those same 215 bore dimensions. They made it a V-6 in 198 cu in form. This original V-6 was optional in the Jetfire. Later, from this original V-6, Buick 232 was born. The front covers of these motors will still mate up with the old 215's and the Rover blocks.
The Buick 3.8L V-6 is a variant and can supply bell housings, water pumps, and various other common block parts for the 215. There are some small differences between the Buick 215 and the Rover 3.5l in many aspects of the design.
Front Cover/Oil Pump: Don't know as much about the 215's front cover, but I've had plenty of experience with the V-6's. The way Buick made these front covers/oil pumps does make it easy to increase the volume and/or pressure of the oil pump. The one detractor in this case, however, is that it is aluminum and aluminum gouges fairly easily. One often-bought service part is a "wear plate" to make up for the grooving the steel gears will do to the aluminum lower oil pump cover. Another is a high-volume kit that gives you longer gears and a spacer plate to make up the difference. Also packaged with the kit is a selection of pressure relief springs to tailor the pressure of the pump; however, this engine still has scary oil pressure, but I drive it daily and it runs just fine.
Another thing you can salvage-yard find are all sorts of oil filter mounts (it's the same piece as the lower oil pump cover) to either change the type of filter you use (I moved up from the 2-ounce capacity Starfire filter to one for a Buick wagon) or even the angle the filter mounts on the engine, in case you have clearance problems.
Another nice part is the Edelbrock intake manifold, they list it as a Rover part, I believe.
[ Thanks to Ken Snyder, others for this information. ]
Normally aspirated versions of the motor are still somewhat available, and there are a couple of shops which specialize in the motors (D&D in Michigan is the one that advertises in Hemmings every month). Parts are available to bump displacement out from the original 3.5 liters to 5.0.
The hot setup to use in this case is to swap the heads for those on a 1964 Buick 300, which is the same basic engine with a cast iron block and a displacement bump. The 300 heads are still aluminum, however, and will bolt to the 215 block. It is possible to drop the crank and heads from the 300 onto a 215 short block and get a 5.0 liter all aluminum V-8 that weighs about 310 lbs fully dressed.
The basic block was fitted with DOHC 4-valve heads and turned into an F1 racing engine by Repco of Australia in the early 60s. Mickey Thompson also ran one at Indy in the early 60s. Mickey Thompson used the 215 block along with his own forged crank and aluminum pistons to make an off road race engine. The crank was 3.5" stroke, quite a bit larger than the 2.8" stock one still used to power the Rover 215. This brought the CID up to 250 and it had a higher lift, higher rev cam, as well as Mallory Dual point ignition.
Another interesting bit of trivia is that the 1964 Buick 300 is actually a cast iron version of this motor with aluminum heads - in fact these 1964 heads have larger ports and valves and will bolt to a 215.
Many articles have been written on installing this crank into the 215 case to get the 215's light package with the increased stroke and displacement of the 300's crank. It does, however, require engine rear seal machining, crank grinding, and some funny business to get a manual tranny to bolt up.
They can be bored as high as 60 thousandths without going through the steel cylinder liners. Piston's and rings were available a while ago. Alan Friedrich
Just when you thought that nothing else could be done to this poor block, Volvo (yes family sedan/wagon people) valves, it was discovered, would fit into the 310 aluminum heads to increase flow. Also, Chevy Carrera rods (300, 310, 340) were quite a bit stronger than any of the others. Stronger than even M. Thompson's box welded rods.
A side note, The 310 is also sometimes referred to as the 340. Back then, Buick often put the largest number from among CID, torque or horsepower on the air cleaner. The 310 engine generated 340 pounds/foot of torque. That's how you end up with people referring to the 401 nailhead as a 445, or the 425ci as the 465, since those were the numbers on the original air cleaners. Just something to know when looking for compatible parts.
In Britian, some 215s have been bored and stroked to an amazing 4.5 to 5.0 liters through the use of the factory crank from a diesel Rover (known as the Tundra something or other). Now then, does this not sound fun to you, an Olds F-85, with the aluminum Rover 3.5 liter block, bored to 3.8 liters, stroked from 2.8" to 3.5" using a Mickey Thompson crank, Big aluminum head via Buick 300 etc. Volvo oversize valves, a 3.8 liter front case w/HEI ignition and still able to hang a serpentine belt with all accessories on it, and bolted up to a Borg/Warner 5 speed tranny?
1962: 3,765 1963: 5,842
They are very nice cars but are traditional sloppy handlers of the early sixties with so-so brakes. The body size and proportions is much like the early Mustang with better room inside.
All Jetfires included standard Cutlass equipment (bucket seats, console, deluxe appointments in trim) and is a unique hardtop made from a convertible. All other 2 dr F85's were coupes in '62 and probably all of '63. Buick went to a hardtop for the late '62 Skylark and continued into '63. Pontiac never had a hardtop those 2 years and neither did Corvair.
The 215 CID is alive and well with its own support structure. D&D Performance in Romulus, MI sells kits and engine parts. Anybody who is interested in 215's should contact Dan LaGrou for parts. D&D sells adapters to mate later Hydramatic transmisions to the 215, if you rework the floor to make room for the larger cases.
Almont, MI 48003
There's also a guy in Utah who sells kits to swap the motor into early RX-7s. There is a lot of early 60s parts for these motors out at the swap meets, like Weber manifolds, valve covers, etc.
There are 2 books available on the Rover (and therefore the Buick and Oldsmobile 215 V-8's), The Rover V-8 Engine and Tuning Rover V-8 Engines (tuning is the British word for buildup). Both are available from:
Haynes Publications Inc.
861 Lawrence Drive
Newbury Park, CA 91320
The 215 weighs only 20 lbs more than the Vega 4 cylinder, so the car still goes around corners (try that with your small block Chevy). The 215 is an awsome engine for its size and weight. A full-up 4bbl version weighs only 305 lbs wet. Parts are available, as described above, to bore and stroke it to 5.0 liters!
The main problem is that the 215 uses a unique transmission bolt pattern, which is unlike than on any other GM engine. Assuming that your car has an automatic, any engine swap will require a matching transmission as well. This is not the case with the 4-spd, where you will only require the correct bellhousing.
[ Thanks to Jeff Hunter, Dan Gulino, Joe Padavano, Bill Culp, Bob Barry, Clayton Pierce, Kurt Horton, Richard Biebrich for this information ]
I was just reading an article about the 215 V-8 and it said that aluminum from the block and heads would eventually make it's way into the coolant and experience an electrolytic reaction with the copper in the rad, causing the rad to clog and leading to overheating. How's your rad look?
[ Thanks to Greg Beaulieu for this information ]
Turbo-Rocket Fluid Tank
There's a tech tip about it in this month's JWO. Apparently the Turbo-Rocket Fluid tank in Jetfires was under pressure when the motor what shut off and Fluid would seep through the metering valves overnight and enter the combustion chambers. This "could cause a hydrostatic lock to occur which could bend a connecting rod" but still allow the motor to start. Speeds in excess of 45 would cause the bent rod to break and distroy the engine. Olds offered an external de-pressure valve modification kit to fix the problem, but according to a Service Guild article from late '64, some of these de-pressure valves were defective.
A simpler solution was to crack the cap on the tank after turning off the motor.
[ Thanks to Paul Hartlieb for this information ]
Table of Contents Index Acknowledgements
History Engines Blocks Heads Cranks Intakes Exhaust Pistons
Transmissions Diffs Brakes Suspension Steering Cams Carbs Interchange
Best BB Best SB 260 303 307 324 330 350 371 394 400 403 425 455 Diesel
Rebuilding Buildup Swap Restore Option Codes Wheels Ignition Comp Ratio
The W's The H/O's The 442's Toronado 88 / 98 / Starfire Cutlass Jetfire Wagons
Basic Tech How To Miscell All Vehicles Additional Information
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