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Road & Track, Jan. 2002, Peter Egan Editorial


Centurion

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It has been mentioned previously on this forum that Peter Egan, Editor-at-Large for Road & Track magazine, owns a 1988 Buick Park Avenue for his winter car.<P>In the January, 2002 issue, Egan writes again about the Buick, and his focus this time is the car's fuel economy. I scanned the column only briefly while at the eye doctor yesterday, but here's the gist: Egan had evidently noted in a previous column that the Buick averages about 24-mpg in the city and 28-mpg on the highway. His statements about that had drawn angry responses from some R&T readers, who insisted that Egan was a bald-faced liar. (Hearing this was no surprise to me; the cynicism about American autos and the view that only the Japanese and German can build impressive cars runs deep.) Egan took up the challenge, and used special R&T test equipment to document the Buick's mileage. In fact, the Buick averaged 28.5-mpg on the highway and better than 29-mpg on a long trip to Atlanta at 74-miles per hour.<P>These figures seemed so impressive for a large, spacious car like the Buick Park Avenue, that Egan turned to a former R&T staffer and consultant to the auto industry for answers. Egan learned that the GM 3800 engine is one of the most efficient automobile engines ever designed. The Buick's automatic transmission shift points, of course, are also set to help maximize fuel econcomy.<P>Egan had some conversations with his wife about an eventual replacement for the Buick. Egan likes the Volkswagen Golf, but, when he checked the mileage ratings for the car, found that they were only about 3-mpg better than the Buick. As Egan's wife pointed out, the Buick's mileage is nearly as good and it will remain far less expensive to continue driving the Buick. Egan figured that he would have to drive the Golf for something like 150 years in order to offset its purchase price with the slightly improved fuel economy. He did admit, however, that "the Buick won't run forever." (He may well be quite surprised at how long the Buick will run!)<P>I think that Egan's comments confirm what many of us already know who are driving Buicks (and other GM brands) with the 3800 engine. (My daily driver is a very economical '89 LeSabre Limited Coupe with 3800.) The tragedy in all of this is that GM has never really managed to get the word out about this engine. Buick relies on the 3800 engine to a greater extent than the other divisions, and I suspect that is why Buick consistently ranks higher than any other GM brand (and virtually all U.S. brands)in the long-term reliability surveys. Still, the man on the street doen't get the picture, nor do the vast majority of automotive enthusiasts. There is the assumption that the only good engines are multi-valve, overhead camshaft designs. What is ignored is that the dear old 3800 gets the job done as well or better than many of the sophisticated new designs.<p>[ 12-22-2001: Message edited by: Centurion ]

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When GM standardized the powertrain in the LeSabre/Park Avenue cars (and their related H/C platform cars), that's when great things started happening in that area. They did widely publicize how well they did in that area back then. Remember the "Sweating The Details" advertising?<P>It's a "no brainer" to walk the lots of new car dealers and see EPA highway ratings of 29+ on the pushrod Buick 3800 (non-supercharged) and Chevy 3.1/3.4 engines--regardless of which car they are installed in. Then, in the same size vehicle built by an import brand, do the same and it's very clear that GM's pushrod engines are pretty dang good as they are. Then check out what Ford has . . .<P>One reason the supercharged 3800 has lower highway EPA ratings is probably due to the more performance oriented axle ratio it has.<P>In my somewhat numerous rent car experiences, the current Chrysler 3.5L is also very good on real world fuel economy and performance. Typically returning 30-31mpg on the instant fuel economy readout on a flat road with no winds and the cruise control set at 60mph, then dropping to 28mpg at 85mph.<P>One graphic example of real world fuel economy being affected by the vehicle aerodynamics is the Chrysler LH cars. With the first generation 3.5L V-6, the best I could get from an LHS was 26mpg on trips, but a similar Concorde would do 27.5mpg due to its slicker aerodynamics. Add the 10% improvement from the new/current 3.5L and it results in the figures I've observed in those cars.<P>I have noticed that the Intrigue 3.5L V-6 has had steadily improving EPA highway mileage. Intially at something like 26mpg and now at 30mpg. Refinement or initial hedging--not sure. I read that that engine was supposed to be in the next gen midsize cars, even supercharged, but was cut. When checking further, at least in the Goodwrench engine pricing at the dealership level, that basic engine costs something like $700.00 more than a similar Buick 3800. No wonder it was killed and the Buick will live.<P>One other indicator of how efficient the Buick 3800 is came about with the Camaros several years ago. The Chevy V-6 would not pass California emissions but the Buick 3800 did, plus offering a nice performance boost too.<P>I've read Mr. Egan's previous comments about his Buick. I highly suspect they are typical as it appears he takes no unusually special care of it (other than regular maintenance). No doubt, his somewhat aloof import enthusiasts will question his commentaries on the Buick with it's "aged" motor design.<P>Back when everyone was jumping on the multi-valve/ohc band wagon, Buick resisted. One magazine article questioned that stance. The reply was that for Buick owners, acceleration stopped after they got across the intersection.<P>Looking at that, it sounds like there is no orientation toward 6000rpm power as the ohc designs offer. BUT, such lower speed acceleration needs great low rpm torque response to make that inital, possibly tire squalling, jump. These same people also fail to understand that this same lower rpm range is where highway cruise rpm takes place too.<P>Granted, there are some great ohc multi-valve engines on the market today. This is considered to be "high tech" or "current tech" with anything older being out dated and such.<P>Recently, in the Detroit News Auto Insider website, or a link from it, there was an interview with the GMPowertrain guy. He mentioned the new family of V-6 motors they are now working on. One engine family to support "high value" (i.e., pushrod) plus the "sexy" ohc/multi-valve variations needed for certain market segments.<P>Letting the "word of mouth" advertising speak for the attributes of the Buick 3800 V-6 instead of doing some active advertising in that area probably could relate to its eventual replacement in the future. You don't go out and make people want something that they can't buy or is considered outmoded, typically.<P>If you go into the GMPowered website, which replaced the GMPowertrain website (accessed from <A HREF="http://www.gm.com" TARGET=_blank>www.gm.com</A> and an upper pull down menu), they ballyhoo engines which are "current" on the front page--the EcoTec, the Vortec, NorthStar, and such. If you click on "Other" you will find the Buick 3800 and the Chevy 3.1/3.4 motors. Kind of like they don't want to admit to the engines they inherited in the earlier days?? Naturally, the Quad OHC version of the previous Olds Quad4 is not called an Oldsmobile engine either.<P>Those of us that appreciate the Buick engines for what they are have probably been a little to quiet about these things. Maybe we need to get the Grand Prix people (where all of the performance parts for the fwd 3800s typically exist) need to help in this venture also?<P>I suspect that it's totally incomprehensible for the current generations to understand that the current 3800 Buick V-6 has its roots in a design fathered in the later 1950s! Refined and enhanced over the years, first as a bottom line economy motor and now as an efficient performance motor in modern times. Plus that the current version has efficiently powered (saving a whole bunch of fuel in the process) so many day-to-day vehicles that the numbers would fall off the end of their calculators.<P>Enjoy!<BR>NTX5467

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When we were at the last BCA National Meet in Flint, Holden had just "approved" the use of the balance shaft 3.8L Buick V-6 (i.e., "3800") engine for use in its vehicles at that time. The people at BOC Powertrain gleefully announced that on the tour of the facility we took (as part of the BCA meet activitive). They talked about that like it was a really big deal as Holden (which I suspect was something of a renegade GM division down there at that time) was using Nissan 6 cylinder engines prior to that. A GM engine replacing a Japanese origin engine was considered to be a really big deal for BOC Powertrain, especially in the late '80s.<P>What initiated that activity might be open to debate. Whether it was cost issues could be an issue too. Holden uses the "EcoTec" nomenclature on the 3800 but GMPowered only uses that on the new 2.2L 4 cyl motor.<P>With regard to further "trashing" if existing GM vehicles and engines, check out the CAR AND DRIVER article on "family cars". It's obvious to me that they tend to look at the world through "Honda colored" glasses.<P>While the Regal LS came in way under their budget limit, they failed to include the suspension upgrade or the Monsoon radio in the mix. They trashed the 2.7L Intrepid for low power yet had no problem dealing with the 240 horse Nissan. Kind of looked to me like the deck was initially stacked toward the import brands. As much time was spent praising the import brands as was spent trashing the Americans for lower power, less handling, etc. <P>Bottom line is that any of those cars will make a great family car. More car for less price has always been one of my orientations, plus the easy powertrain reliability, maintenance, and economy of operation of the GM cars -- after the fact -- did not figure into their orientation of "newer is best".<P>Would it be possible that someone closer to the 3800 development could elaborate on the Holden situation? That might even make a great article for "The Bugle"!<P>Enjoy!<BR>NTX5467

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I worked in the Buick experimental lab from well before the first odd fire v6 until 1989 when I retired.I think Buick did more good engine development work in that period than anyone else.We had 27 engine rooms for development work.I dont recall help from Holden or anyone else.I still see Cliff Studaker,Denny Manner,Nelson Kunz and other top GM engineers,all retired now.The 401,350,400,425,430 & 455 engines they built are still used today.The first v6 thru the latest v6 + the alum v8 are still among the top engines in the world.By the way my 99 park ave gets 34 mpg on a constant speed highway trip.

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My '89 LeSabre with 156,000 miles averages 27 mpg on a trip.<P>My wife's '95 Bonneville on a trip to WV averaged 32 mpg with the cruise set at 70. <P>Absolutely awesome fuel mileage for full size cars. (Both 3800's in case you haven't guessed; a Series I and a Series II)

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Among potential street rod projects, this one sounds fantastic to me. The 3800 may be considered a GM engine, but, to me, it will always be first and foremost a Buick engine. What better modern powerplant to create a Buick streetrod? If you ever take such a project on, please keep us posted.

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I find your post very interesting, but not surprising. My daily driver is a '92 Pontiac Bonneville SE (LeSabre w/ Pontiac skin) that I bought new. It currently has 140,000 miles and gets low 20's in mixed driving and an easy 28 or 29 on the road. It even has broken 30 mpg a few times! The all-around performance/driveability/economy of this drivetrain (3800 w/ 4T60E) is outstanding. Incidently, I religiously change the oil every 3,000 miles, and I have never - not once - had to add oil between changes. Furthermore, both the engine and trans have never been apart, although I did do a water pump, various sensors, and four alternators.<P>A question for the group: someone told me that during the timeframe in which the 3800 became computer-controlled and fuel-injected (roughly the mid-'80's) Holden, not domestic GM, was mostly responsible for the modernizations and therefore the fantastic engine we now enjoy. Could this be true? It doesn't seem right to me, since this is historically a product with a completely Buick pedigree. Opinions??

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Guest sintid58

The problem with all this hype about the v/6 is that if you read this discussion forum very much there are a lot of people here who think if its not a rear wheel drive 455 v/8 its not a Buick. Does any one of those people remember that Buick developed that first V/6 and has been using it for years. I wouldn't drive a rear wheel drive car for my daily driver for any reason today. I live in South Dakota and as I look out the window at the snow blowing across the ground I know exactly why I say that. But I do love my old cars for their character and style. As far as handling, if you are really pushing a car through curves yes maybe a rear wheel drive handles better but I doubt very much if any of you that [censored] about front wheel drive cars today pushes their cars to anywhere near that limit. In all reality for fuel mileage and drivability the days of the 455 and rear wheel drive are gone forever.

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All: <P>Media bias towards foreign cars? YES<BR>Consumer Reports bias toward foreign cars? YES<BR>Typical buyer disbelief in the Buick MPG? YES<BR>Detroit and Tokyo running toward exotic engines and transmissions? YES<BR>Is exotic better? NO<P>If you want a perfect example of technology driving the train, look no further than the Ford Taurus SHO with its dual overhead cam, exotic everything Yamaha (yes, Yamaha) built exotic V6. Anyone want to own one more than five years old with 80,000 or more miles and have to get it worked on? BRING YOUR WALLET!! <P>While we will be getting near 30 or in some cases over 30 MPG as we're riding in style and comfort, with the added plus of a much greater chance of surviving a major accident, the automotive press and the buying public will be driving around in their 22-26 MPG standard transmission, 4-cylinder Hondas. And, as their cars wear out at 100-120K because the engine is revved to death unless they receive meticulous maintenance, our old-fashioned low-tech engines will last to 200-250K. <P>The ironic thing is that while the 3800 is considered low tech, it is the same basic pushrod valve design that makes the Corvette the best sports car bang-for-the-buck in the world. Has anyone heard the auto press call a Corvette engine low-tech lately? Didn't think so.....<P>Joe

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One more testimonial for the 3.8L. I have a 99 Park Avenue which routinely gets an average of 27MPG under a combination of hwy and city driving in the mountains of East TN. It is a co. car and the gas is free so I don't really try to conserve and tend to drive fairly hard. The large car is comfortable and powerfull. It is also one of the best looking late model cars. I also own a 72 Buick Electra with a 455 and the Park avenue is as comfortable and rides just as well. I love them both but I spend a lot more time and money at the gas pump with the Electra.

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I am so glad to see this post. Some really educated writing there guys. I'm so stewed about that flash of the 3800 on the new Impala comercials make me absolutely crazy. I know its GM powertrain now but that even fire Buick heritage engine is 25 - 26 years old. <P>I read implied comments where GNX guys seem to feel the turbo V6 was killed because it kicked so much Chevy, Pontiac butt those divisions were crying. I dont know if this is true but I can only imagine.<P>Now as far as the use of that FWD platform of the Buick origin 90 degree V6 ; it has been used in so many cars since 85, thats 17 model years. Has anyone tried to imagine the accumulative miles of this drivetrain? Did this drivetrain buy Daewoo or whatever it is? Did it help support the Saturn project?I think so.This drivetrain is everwhere. Maybe it can be accumulatively out miled buy the VW Rabbit engine,maybe the Toyota 22R, Maybe the Mitsubishi OHC 3.0 V6,I'm just guessing here but the thing is none of these other engines have had the lifespan that the Buick origin 90 degree V6 has had or have they been used in so many models.<P>As far as the cars this engine has been put in. The ones I have crawled all over : 86 LeSabre Limited Coupe, 86 Riviera , 87 Delta 88 a wreck I striped a lot of good parts off. These have all been well built light weight cars that actually have a back seat worth taking notice of. This is what is so great about the gas mileage these vehicles offer. Does anyone else notice the teenagers packed in the back seats of the Hondas,Toyotas,Nissans. Did anyone other than myself have a friend with a Camero where fights almost ensued over who was going to ride in the back on the way to the concert? This is what I think of when I see those kids packed into the Imports. I'll always love Cameros but, back seat? why bother?<P>All the cars these engines were put in from the first Park Avenues and 98's of 1985 to the FWD Regals and Cutlass's ,LeSabres,Bonevilles , to the last of the 88', & 98's to the cars its still in today. All these cars deserve credit for being great cars. GM has bittin the hands that feed it to go off on tangents.<P>I would still like to see a SOHC version of this engine made, I'm sure GM has wasted better money on more foolish ideas. It doesnt mean they have to get rid of the OHV version.<P>I agree on the idea that FWD is the best over all drivetrain. I seriously doubt the old RWD's with the long lower front arms and the short uppers can corner anywhere with the FWD's. The two just feel different through the wheel thats all. As far as power goes our FWD's are just as fast as our Oldsmobile 350s with the same basic polution stuff only the V6's run cleaner and more economically. So it does get tiring to keep hearing those say the problem is no RWD and 455. Thereby making everything else no good.That makes about as much since as if the owners of these newer FWD Buicks were to act like Buick never did anything note worthy before 1985-86 The Buick 90 degree V6 is Buicks greatest overall contribution to the automotive industry and it has been a great one,period!<P>Merry Christmas

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86 2dr.ltd<P>I have to disagree with you on one point. FWD is far from the best drivetrain layout. Their is a reason why all sports cars and race cars have RWD. First of all RWD cars have better weight balance. Second they have the "ability" to handle better. A rwd car can corner flatter and quicker by applying the throttle in the turn. The torque of the engine travelling through the car plants the wheels to the ground harder. Of course this is very difficult to do, to much throttle and the car will fishtail. <P>Most people would say that fwd cars handle better because they are usually lighter cars with 4 wheel independent suspensions. But if you took a Reatta and a Corvette to a slolomn you would find that an experienced driver would do better in the Corvette. Just like manual transmissions have the ability to go faster in the 1/4 mile, rwd cars have the ability to go faster through corners.<P>fwd was introduced to get flatter floors, better economy, and better traction in snow and ice. Its funny that modern fwd cars have a big center consoles right in the way. I think it is more for fuel economy and predictable handling nowadays.<P>A RWD car with four wheel independent suspension and traction control would be the ultimate driving machine. I would buy a BMW if they didn't have such a snobby image. But I'll never give up my classic Buick.<P>Merry Christmas to you too!

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Guest sintid58

I have a 1990 Mercury Cougar that is my oldest daughters. This car is rear wheel drive with 4 wheel independent suspension. When we bought it we lived in Missouri near the Mississipi river. That car corners and I would often stay on the twisty narrow back roads just to throw it around on the curves. Yes it handled better on the curves that any car I have ever owned. I also drive truck for a living and often follow or pass people driving their cars through corners that slow to almost a crawl going around corners. Beleive me it I can take a corner at 60 MPH in my 80,000 truck there is not a car in the world that can't corner faster than that. Most people just don't push their cars to those kind of limits that require big motors and rear wheel drive. In South Dakota where i live now I cant even find a road to push the Cougar to the limit so what is the point of wanting it just so you can say I have rear wheel drive and get 10 MPG. I love my GSX and have owned it for 23 years but would never consider a car like it for daily transportation again it is not comfortable to ride in, does not rider very well and is not inexpensive to drive at all.

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Hi Tomsriv, yes your absolutely right. You missed the "over all" in the sentence. This includes winter driving. We had slight wet snow two weeks ago. I could hardly get my 76 Delta 88 moving yet the 86 Riv took right off. Both have excellent summer tires on. I wait to put snows on untill that first snowfall.I was out moving cars around to do just that. <P>I believe the main attraction of FWD for the manufacturers is the simplicity and compactness of the whole powertrain.The cars still have a small tunnel to accommodate the neatly tucked stainless exhaust.<P>As far as the handling goes I dont feel our 76 Delta 88 handles any better than the 86 LeSabre. Both have the soft ride luxury suspension. I would have to put my money on the 86 LeSabre. I personally prefer the feel of RWD in hard cornering, but I'm not about to compare our Buicks to a Ferrari. I would not put our LeSabre up against my old Sunbeam Alpine. I am sure a cornering competition between our 86 LeSabre and any stock 60's-70's LeSabre would end in a thumbs up for four wheel independent suspensions. This is the comparison I was making in the first statement.<P>I do believe a RWD model should be available from Buick.I am sorry we'll never find out how that behind the front axel engine in the Bengal would perform. I've been thinking about that idea since I got our LeSabre in 95.<P>One last confession on the FWD - RWD handling issue. When I was young I was a serious back roader, just the kind of guy that annoys me today on my winding back country road that my house sits way too close to.<P><BR>At any rate a friend had also just finished his Saab Sonnett when I got done with my Alpine. My Alpine was extremely worked from suspension - tires - full race engine out of a champion ice racer.These came with a 3.89 rear ratio so they were pretty scrapy but you were red lined at 105 or so.<P>Just one time we got into it this Sonnett and Alpine for a brief 3 mile stretch of back road. I did not "smoke" him. I was impressed.<P>Sintid how did your 87 Riviera T-type handle?Our plain 86 is flat and sure footed.

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Guest sintid58

My Riviera handles quite well but I do beleive the RWD Cougar could outrun it in the twisties. I didn't own in when I was in Missouri so never had the chance to really toss it around. The Riv has got 4 wheel independent suspension and 4 wheel disc brakes with 60 series tires.

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RE: FWD vs. RWD. The time has come for RWD at Buick.<P>In addition to superior handling from a RWD car, RWD also gives benefits in simplicity of repair & maintenance plus added durability.<P>Furthermore, with today's engineering, the problems of RWD in snow can be greatly diminished by the use of ABS/traction control/ESP systems like found on every current Mercedes passenger car. It can be done through superior mechanical and electronic engineering. <P>Note that both the newest cars from Cadillac and Lincoln (CTS & LS) are front engine six cylinder, 5 speed manual transmission RWD sedans (with V-8/auto optional in the Lincoln). Daimler-Chrysler is going to RWD for the replacement for the current Intrepid/Concorde series cars. Mercedes and BMW, companies very well respected for engine/chassis/suspension engineering, never sold FWD cars. <P>While the FWD cars did have their utility when there was greater concern for fuel mileage and weight reduction, it may be time for Buick and the rest of GM to get with the RWD program.

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We had one room in the exp lab devoted to fuel injection in the mid 50;s Buick did not feel confortable that it was ready yet for them.Chevy had it as an option in 57 and shortly after that I installed a chev unit on a Buick 215 eng,but not in a car.It ran ok but never went any further.We also had a turbocharger on a 425 that pulled well over 700 ft lbs torque.Buick did a lot of development work for the twin turbo v6 Indy pace car which some people have followed up on the last two yrs.in the GS club.Many other ideas have been developed at Buick engineering, some of which have led to other things.Many have been forgotten.

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Norb,<P>Interesting to read that you worked for Buick and have firsthand knowledge of their engine research and development. I think the 3800 is the best engine they ever developed (which is not to say others are not fine engines as well). I am curious however, did you ever see much testing of things that would crop up from time to time in Popular Mechanics, et al? For instance I remember reading about some testing Smokey Yunick did with heated fuels = greater horsepower and increased mileage due to superior atomization. Prediction was that we would see soon on showroom cars. (Did not happen and if memory serves me correctly it was before widespread use of fuel injection which has pretty well accomplished the same things.) And in more recent times (perhaps you are still in touch with people working there?) something like the head and induction/exhaust system that Coates Engineering (http://www.coatesengine.com/)has developed that eliminates the camshaft, poppet valves, etc. and permits much higher compression ratios, power output and power band spread out over a much larger range? Would be interesting if you could share a bit about what you have heard and seen.<P>Mileage on a 100,000 mile 88 LeSabre with the cruise control set at 75 for most of the trip (three people with luggage) from Los Angeles to Colorado Springs (meaning mostly uphill overall) - 32.5 mpg. Better than the same trip in my 86 Mazda 626 with just myself (and luggage) done a year earlier (30 mpg even). Even more noticeable was that the torque in the Buick permitted me leaving the cruise control to take care of the gas all the way while the Mazda would crap out on the steeper climbs making it an "on and off" proposition. Hands down the Buick was a much better ride!<P>Gene

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