The story of how the Buick aluminium 215 engine became the Rover V8 is often-enough told so I will use this little posting mostly as a short guide to some of the most entertaining versions.
Sold to Rover, the engine powered Range Rovers, Rovers, MGs and TVRs along with Morgan. Jalopnik has a good short version of the story here In a nutshell, Buick wanted a lightweight, small capacity V8. They decided to use aluminium which led to a chain of problems that were still being dealt with 40 years later. Among those problems are slipping liners and porosity. If you scroll down the comments at the Jalopnik article you’ll find a neat list of V8 engines used by GM in the late 60s.
The Jalopnik article links to this which is an Autocar piece from the mid-70s, itself also reprinted in the British V8 newsletter in December 2007. You can see this article is itself an exercise in second-hand. The bit I note is that the article quotes a technical review from 1960: “We will wager that the most widely copied engine of the next 10 years will be the superb new aluminium V8 by Buick.” To understand the complexity of the engine design here is a generous extract of the 1976 Autocar article.
This is a rather lucid account which I think is an object lesson in writing about engineering: “Buick managed to design an aluminium alloy with a high silicon content that gave wear characteristics on the engine test bed which were generally superior to cast iron, confounding the critics who said that they could not have an aluminium cylinder wall with an aluminium piston running in it in a mass production engine.
However, one problem they simply could not overcome was the scuffing of the bores by the piston rings in a cold start. It was mainly for this reason that Buick elected to go for iron cylinder liners cast in place in a block with a more modest silicon content in the aluminium alloy. Buick had ruled out any idea of using wet liners because the American engineering techniques do not allow for the handwork precision of wet liners in European designs, and they were most concerned about the problems of water leakage from a poorly sealed liner.
In fact, the feeling against wet liners was so strong that Buick later admitted they would rather of abandoned the aluminium alloy concept altogether then to go to wet liners. The liners in production were pre-heated to prevent chilling in the mould and held in place by mandrels as the block was cast. Buick used gravity casting in metal dies with sand cores for the water jackets. The problems of varying expansion rates in the metal between block, head, and rockers were solved by using hydraulic lifters, already common practice in American engineering. The heads of the Buick unit were also cast in dies with intricate sand cores.”
The Rover 75 V8 was the not last application of the car in a Rover product. That car used a Ford V8, which seems rather sacrilegious to me. The Land Rover Discovery was fitted with this engine until 2004, which is where the story ends as far as mass production is concerned.
Looking at the later developments of the engine from 3.5 to 5.0 litres, one realises the attraction of the engine despite its foibles. I also note that there are a variety of companies servicing the engine’s users in the form of new blocks, maintenance and spares.
In some way the Buick 215 has become a kind of vernacular or folk engine or what some might call an “open source” design. It’s not moored to any copyright as far as I can tell which means that anyone with the interest to do so can rework the engine to their own requirements. So, is the Buick-Rover unit an engine or is it a system of engines?