Automotive History: When Did Each GM Division Stop Making Their Own V8 Engines? A Brief History of V8 Engine Sharing at GM
We’ve already observed how GM was unique among the Big 3 US automakers in having bespoke V8 engines for each of its five automobile divisions. Contrast this with Ford Motor […]
We’ve already observed how GM was unique among the Big 3 US automakers in having bespoke V8 engines for each of its five automobile divisions. Contrast this with Ford Motor Company and Chrysler Corporation, both of which were sharing V8 engine architectures among their various brands since the 1950s.
Today, division-specific powertrains at GM are a distant memory, and all engines are now simply “GM” engines. So when (and how) exactly did this transformation take place? Note that I’ll be limiting my discussion to V8 engines in this post: Six and four-cylinder engines (which were shared much more freely at GM) will be the topic of a future post.
Even for a company as big as GM, it is expensive to have distinct small- and big-block V8 engine families for each division. It didn’t take the bean counters at GM long to realize that this was not a sustainable situation, especially once GM’s market share began its long slide from its peak of 50% in 1962. Cracks appeared in the facade starting in the 1960s as GM divisions began to swap V8 engines, with the practice entering public consciousness in 1977 with the breaking of the Oldsmobile-Chevrolet engine scandal.
GM learned their lesson after the 1977 scandal, and the lesson was the correct one: The issue wasn’t so much that engine swapping was bad (after all, Ford and Chrysler were already doing it). Rather, the problem was the failure to properly disclose the engine sharing and, and more broadly, the continued use of divisional specific engines and divisional engine branding. After 1977, GM engine swapping rapidly picked up speed, so it wouldn’t be long before some divisions stopped making their own V8 engines altogether and made the switch over to “corporate” powertrains.
When I first hatched the idea for this article, I was surprised to find that I couldn’t answer the question posed by the title, and I’m guessing that many of our readers can’t either. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised: GM didn’t make a lot of noise at the time about the “last Buick engine” or “last Pontiac engine,” and for a good reason: Aside from the 1977 scandal (which was largely manufactured by lawyers and amplified by the media), buyers typically didn’t care. As a result, all of GM’s division-specific V8 engines snuck out in the middle of the night with a nary whimper.
1961 Buick 215 V8