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Thread: 401 Nailhead engine transplant for a 1965 Buick Special - opinions?

  1. #11
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    Dec 2010
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    Talking Talk me into a 455 swap . . . (what am I DOing!?!??)

    Hi DocModisett and Buick fans,

    Decisions . . . decisions . . . .

    Quote Originally Posted by DocModisett View Post
    . . . .
    If I were going to do all that over..... i would go for a engine combo that was exactly the factory set up for a GN.... except in a 65 body.... that will be reliable and get good mileage..... or....
    go with a 455/ th400 combo.... and keep to stock specs.... basicly a bolt in swap ..... with lots of torq......
    Rebuilding the engine that is already in there is different from engine swapping.... when you start swapping engines , you are moving into a higher level of hot rodding.....
    Well, I'm trying to dance between something of these two extremes. I grew up with the 300 cid V8. So I know this engine right down to tuning it by sound alone. If I could get even a modest performance rebuild that I really could just would be done right, I think I would feel fine with that. However, as I noted in my blog entry (, this isn't a stock Buick anymore. The car has been in the family since 1968, so we made changes along the way to cope with things like the OPEC oil embargo. So the car has already a different transmission: HydraMatic TH350.

    Reading other postings on Team Buick suggested that I consider another transmission mousetrap: the 200-4R. If I understand correctly, that can be mounted into the existing space with less modifications than TH400. Apparently, at least California Performance Transmission claims they harden the 200-4R to handle any horsepower you can practically stick in the car (opinions on this would also be appreciated.)

    Right now the car is limping along with a sick engine that isn't producing 200hp. My hope was that I could get 300 cid V8 a bit beyond it's factory rating of 250hp into somewhere between 275-300hp. I thought matched with the 200-4R would make a pleasant but still visually authentic daily driver.

    My "plan-b" was to look at the Buick 350, if I couldn't find someone who could competently rebuild the 300. The 350 is a modest horsepower bump and was built for much longer, so parts hopefully wouldn't be a problem anymore. However, it hasn't escaped my attention that I could go with a 455 instead as another esteemed member of the Buick brotherhood has done:

    So what are you'all waiting for . . . . aren't you'all going to talk me into going whole-hog and trying to stuff a 455 into my humble workhorse 65 Special Wagon . . . .

    What am I DOing!!!!

    Thanks as always for the great advice and a few smiles along the way!

    Cheers, Edouard

  2. #12
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    May 2010
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    Well, lets take a real hard look here,,,,having done the nailhead swap in the past, to me , it was a fairly easy swap , if you can gather up the correct parts.... that is the only real problem with going the nailhead route,,,,but if I were going to build a nailhead to go in there , it would be a 425.... with a switch pitch th400.... that way i would have a strong running , reliable, engine /trans combo that would stay with the best of them....and i would not have to do a bunch of expensive mods to make it live.....with the forged steel crank and forged steel rods and the good oil system and good cooling system it is very dependable.... + a switch pitch th4 will put massive amounts of power to the ground.... and with a gear ratio like 3.08 or 3.42 it will get reasonable gas personal GS is set up with a 410 block, good hot cam, and my ''Doc dual plane'' intake mod and a holley 1050 cfm three barrel carb.... port matched exhaust manifolds and 2 1/4 pipes and turbo mufflers.... and my red neck ram air , air cleaner assembly....
    You could adapt all the modern stuff to the 300 but that would be a expensive can of worms.... [ efi ] ect.....
    If you change to a nail you will have to change the motor mounts/frame pads/starter/exhaust manifolds/rear crossmember/ exhaust pipes/ air cleaner assembly..... and you will have to change those exact same things to install a 400/430/455...... but the massive amounts of torq those engines will reliably move the car....
    I consider the nailhead to be more reliable than the BBB,,,, no oil system mods need to be made, the head have 5 bolts per cyl... not 4......forged steel rods, crank ect.... nails have 2 things you have to watch for.... the harmonic balancer will very rarely crack in the keyway in the hub.... and with high mileage the factory cast pistons can fail.....they get brittle and start coming apart.... but in 50 years of messing with nailheads I can count on one hand the engines that i have found that have done those things....
    as for looks,, no engine looks as good as a nailhead dressed out....period....
    but nailhead or big block, either one , if done to stock specs will do fine in that car....

  3. #13
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    Feb 2004
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    Thumbs up

    Hello Edouard
    Here is my Wagon: 65 Special...

    I installed a 455 into it a while back. There sere some complications for my swap - plumbing for radiator, fuel, exhaust and power steering. Took me a while to get done.

    This i s my Skylark: it had a broken 300, and I had a 350 in a parts car. The instalation went way easier, as I used the 300's pulleys and alternator and ps pump - all bolted to the 350 easily. I have a TH350 transmission in it- kept the 2.78 rear end-and it is excellent. Almost better than the wagon for driving around.

    Here is my 65 Skylark Gran Sport: I had collected ALL the parts to do a swap like Doc suggested, engine mounts, manifolds, radiator, wiring harness, etc. I used most of them to get a 401 into this car. Its not done yet...

    So for ease, power increase, drivability I think of the 350.
    For lots of power, 455.
    For the coolest power, Nailhead...but that choice has $$$ and time considerations.

    There is a fellow Ohioan that has done the Nailhead swap into his 65 Special Wagon. I have not heard from him for a while!
    Ted Nagel
    (6)65 Wildcats; 65 Riviera; 65 Special Wagon; 65 GS; 65 Skylark; 67 Wildcat; 67 California GS; (2)68 GS400; 69 GS 350; 70 GS Stage 1; Wanted: time to fix 'em

  4. #14
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    Dec 2010
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    Thumbs up Wow! such useful info! Thoughts on towing?

    Hi DocModisett Ted, and Buick fans,

    Thanks DocModisett for your review and thoughts of putting in a 401 Nailhead in a 1965 Buick Special. I'm a newbie to all this, but I can already appreciate how unique and attractive the Buick Nailhead engines were. However, this looks a little too involved for what I would want to get myself into. I sure am glad other Buick gurus have done it! I greatly appreciate your work!

    Golly Ted you lay out for me all the possible options in some beautiful cars! I'm tickled pink just to see a picture of your 65 Special Wagon! My wagon has been feeling very alone - now I know she has at least 2 sisters still alive!

    The more information I collect and the feedback I'm getting from various folks, it seems to me that either getting the original 300 back or making the modest upgrade to the 350 is the best compromise for me. I'm still hoping to use the car for things like vacation trips. So inconvenient truths like gas mileage should still matter to me. I'm definitely not trying to do anything like racing.

    However, the 455 has one appeal that I cannot ignore: additional tow capacity. Is anybody using a 65 Buick for towing? (besides: Any opinions on equipping these cars for towing? I don't know if I'll ever get around to towing something heavy, but if I do, I'd better factor that into engine selection decision.

    Thanks again for all the great input!!

    Cheers, Edouard

  5. #15
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    Exclamation Towing for a 65 Buick Special - the upper limit!

    Dear Team Buick

    Cruising around the Internet, I found one example of a 1965 Buick Special Wagon being used to do some extreme towing. It is the 455 equipped wagon that in the galleries( This car has a dedicated website: It shows that the humble 65 Buick wagons can pull quite a load when given the right enhancements. However, if you visit the slide show about the trip to the GSCA Nationals, you'll see that this truly extreme towing . . . . It's a good thing that my towing aspirations are much more modest!!

    Cheers, Edouard

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