Buick 350 Engine Build
When I purchased my 1971 Buick GS convertible almost 16 years ago, I knew I had found my dream car. Spending the $4,000 asking price was also a big step as that was pretty much all the money I had in the world, being a broke college student. Then just a month after buying the car, while cruising to Oklahoma City, on a date with my future wife no less, the stock Buick 350 lets loose at 70 MPH. The carnage was legendary- pieces of piston skirt came to rest at the bottom of the tranny inspection cover. There were three or four 6-inch long slices in the inspection cover. The only thing saving my right foot was a bellhousing bolt that didn’t shear off when the back of the cam hit the bellhousing, busting the entire ear, and bending the bolt. I never did find the last 3 lobes of the camshaft.
Needless to say, the block was history. I was seriously concerned about my situation as this was my only car, and I was broke. As luck would have it, a good friend just happened to have a 1971 Buick 350 4-barrel that he had pulled from his Chevy truck (that is another story all together) and offered it to me for free. We spent the next weekend dropping in the motor. I had no idea of the condition of the motor, but we fired it up and it ran, it was quite strong at that. 7 years later, the motor still ran nice, but the tell-tale blue smoke on start up and acceleration was increasing. The progress of the rebuild had reached a point where it would be sitting for a while anyway, so out it came, ready for a rebuild.
For muscle cars, the rebuild process offers 2 options, go stock and keep it all original or pump up the power and add some ponies to the mix. Since this motor was non-numbers matching, and a 350 to boot, we chose the latter. Most people out there are saying “What? A high-performance Buick 350? That’s crazy” Well, in reality, the only part that is crazy is how little aftermarket support there is for these small-block powerhouses. The original design of the Buick 350 differs so much from the traditional small-block Chevy that people are afraid of it. The long-lived rumors of bad oiling systems (unfortunately true, but easily rectified) and relative scarcity (built from 1968 to 1980) is harder to find than an SBC motor, don’t let that stop you, though, as these motors have quite a bit going for them.
Back in March of 2006, we ported the heads for this motor. The head design for the Buick 350 was ahead of its time, using tall, skinny ports to generate higher port velocities while keeping the air flow up as well. This helps the Buick create low-end torque as well as excellent mid and high-rpm horsepower. Adding to this is the under-square bore\stroke (3.80” bore, 3.85” stroke) which yields incredible torque. The Buick 350 has the longest stroke of all the GM 350 engines. The little Buick also features a deep-skirted block, higher nickel content, external oil pump and is 100 pounds lighter than the small-block Chevy. All of this adds up to an extremely durable motor, which with a little tweaking, is capable of supporting 1,000 horsepower.
Our goals are not that lofty, we are looking to hit 400 hp, retain a streetable demeanor, and longevity. Every part used in the build was an off-the-shelf part, no custom made unobtainium materials here. Some parts were tweaked to get the most performance and we used some unique tricks.
We sent the block to Jim Burek at Performance Automotive Engines in El Paso, TX. Jim has been building high-performance Buicks for over 20 years and is considered by many to be one of the best. Jim had the block machined at a local shop to his specs. The Buick 350 does not require a torque plate for boring as all of the head bolts are blind, meaning they do not hit the water jackets, so the cylinder does not tweak when the head is bolted down.
The block was bored .030”, crank and rods turned .010”, and the block was decked .030”. As it turns out, the 350 could have been rebuilt without boring or turning the block as it was in really good shape, but in order to get the tight clearances for high-performance use, the machine work was performed. Using Sealed Power Hypereutectic pistons, final compression for the motor came in at 10.1:1. The internal components for the engine were sourced from Poston Buick, a Buick-only specialty shop. The camshaft used in the motor is, well, big. Not for the faint of heart, we opted for the largest cam Poston Buick makes for the 350, with over .520” lift and 302 degrees of duration, you will hear the GS coming long before you see it. In order to tone down the low RPM effects of the cam, we used a set of Rhoades lifters which feature a high-bleed off rate under 2000 RPM. This essentially creates a dual-cam effect, where at low RPM, the cam is more subdued, but once the engine hits 2000 RPM, the lifters stay pumped up, allowing the cam to do what it does. They are a little noisy, but worth it in drivability.
Using Comp Cams’ Desktop Dyno software, we spec’d out the motor using the specs from the block and components used, which included the detailed airflow for the ported heads. The computer generated a power curve with an impressive peak 408 hp at 5500 RPMs; 430 ft. lbs. of torque at 4000 RPMs. Once assembled, the actual 350 was put through its paces on the Land and Sea engine dyno, and those results came in at 396 hp at 5300 RPMs; 414 ft. lbs at 4200 RPMs. That is just a few ticks from the computer-generated peaks. The motor makes peak horsepower under 6000 RPM, which is good since Buicks don’t like to spin past 6000. Not bad for an engine that has been all but forgotten.
Performance Automotive Engines
man you got screwed on those heads. I’ve done more or less all the same stuff to my 350 and i’ve only spent about 2500 so far.
I would disagree. At the time this work was done, nobody was really working these heads. I have been working towards building the market for the small Buick for the last 13 years. Times have changed, parts get cheaper, labor goes down as guys figure out how to get the most bang for the buck in terms of efficiency.
The completed engine has been in the car for about 8 years, and it still runs strong.
still build engines would like to find out price for performance 350 heads thanks
Unfortunately, there are no performance heads for Buick 350s, you have to port them yourself. You can step up the valves, port and polish the runners, and add adjustable rockers or pushrods. Check out our story on head porting to see how we made these Buick head flow. https://streettechmag.com/2015/03/23/porting/
The Buick 350 was, of course, a development of the 300, which was itself a bored-and-stroked 215 (albeit recast in iron). There is a huge amount of support for the 215, principally because of its lengthy use by Rover, spanning a period of 38 years (1967-2005). Rover SD1 heads are an option, as are Wildcat heads. Repco-Brabham also based their F1-championship-winning V8 (SOHC per bank) on the Oldsmobile 215 turbo block, and subsequently developed it into a 5-litre quad-cam 32-valve sports car engine.
You are absolutely right, you can even get aftermarket heads for the Rover engine. Unfortunately, none of that transfers to the V8 versions. There have been promises of an aftermarket head for 20 years, but it has never been delivered.
I have had my 1972 GS 350 Convertible since 1975. In great shape. 144,000 miles. Would like to do a performance engine rebuild. Do you know of a Buick Specialist like Jim Burek at Performance Automotive Engines located anywhere in Indiana or surrounding states?
I am not aware of any, but that doesn’t mean they are not out there. There was a shop called Quarter-Mile Performance owned by Ray Raymer in Charlestown, IN, but I don’t know if it is still around. They had a pretty hot 87 Turbo T. Honestly, any one with modest engine building skills can build a proper Buick engine, they just need to be willing to build it to your specs. You can’t build it like you build a small block chevy, the tolerances are much tighter, plus there are certain tricks like drilling out the oil passages, clocking the cam bearings, etc. that must be adhered to in order to make it last. My book “How to Build Max-Performance Buick Engines” is a great place to start.
I have a 70 Buick skylark with 350 2 bbl.. engine won’t hold oil pressure anymore..so I’m getting rebuilt..$2000 to get it machined and $750 for rebuild kit. Does that sound reasonable? Just going back stock
It depends on the machine work you are having done. It is certainly reasonable on machine shop labor if you are having it bored, honed, crank and main journals turned, etc. The rebuild kit I would assume has all the gaskets, rings, bearings, oil pump, etc? that is likely a stock kit. I would absolutely look into the oiling mods we spec and either groove the block for the cam bearings of buy grooved cam bearings. That will help your Buick engine live a lot longer. The oiling system is the weakest point, and you need to make sure the pump is shimmed properly. ANother key issue is the tolerances, Buicks like tight tolerances, you can’t slap it together using SBC tolerances.
Has anyone heard of shakers in Granger Indiana?? That’s where I got my machine work done for my 350 Buick
So you recommend working the stock head on the Buick 350 with the set up you built for your self
You can do the work yourself or have a shop do the work. The basics of gasket port matching and general clean-up of the combustion chamber and ports is fairly simple work. If you want to eek out every hidden horsepower, then you probably want a little more practice and experience.
Can you please help me rebuild my Buick 350 5.7 liter v8 it’s the same exact one as seen in this and god the beauty of this rebuild is incredible