Of all the vintage engines being examined in this series, the Buick V-8s of the '50s and '60s have maintained their loyal fan base in the hot rodding world longer than many of their competitors. Almost from their introduction in 1953, the Buick overhead V-8s caught on with the coupes 'n' roadsters crowd, lakes runners, drags racers, and even builders of sports car "specials."

Today, you see Buick engines in a variety of hot rods, not just nostalgia or trad rods. And, we don't mean one or two Nailheads at an event, as might be the case with a 409 or 312 Ford, but enough to carry off their own Nailhead Corral!

Few vintage engines-other than the Flathead and Hemi, which are in a category all their own and not covered in this series-have so much specific information available. Couple that with an ever-widening choice of performance and appearance equipment, and you have a very practical engine choice that will reward a rodder with long-term reliability and serious low-end torque. A full "dresser" Nailhead will draw a crowd of other enthusiasts who are quick to begin storytelling about street and track exploits with Nailhead V-8s in days gone by.

Nailhead History
Among the first engines built by Scottish-born David Dunbar Buick was an overhead-valve one-lunger at the close of the 19th century, so the cusp of technology was associated with the Buick marque from its inception. Conceived as a higher-level car from the start, once the Buick name was established it was soon folded into General Motors by William Durant, and several times (pre-WWI) Buick was the biggest seller and the savior of GM. Little known trivia: The three shields that make up the Buick logo are actually representative of David Buick's ancestral heraldry.

Performance, dependability, and luxury were all successfully meshed in the Buick line's reputation, that first attribute forged in racing competition, including taking checkered flags at Indianapolis Motor Speedway even before the Indy 500 had been thought of. The dependability, at a time when automobiles were still thought of as an amusing fad, was demonstrated by Buicks in numerous cross-country, and cross-continent, endurance events.

As we have discussed in other engine profiles of this series, the hot inter-marque sales competition of the automakers in the '50s sparked rapid development of the engines we take for granted today. These engines may seem technologically primitive compared to our fuel-sipping, distributorless, computer-managed powerplants of today, but they laid the OHV groundwork for the modern engines we now enjoy in our daily drivers.

For decades, the Buick line had been powered by overheads almost exclusively when few other makes were so equipped. During what we affectionately call the "Flathead era," Buicks were powered by a succession of OHV straight-eight engines that were smooth and had the torque to handle heavier luxury-model cars. They were not that popular with hot rodders, but the few who bothered to take a 320-inch Buick-eight out of a wrecking yard and drop it into a roadster with a recessed firewall (as did Ak Miller) found they could prune off a hot Flathead Ford time after time without ever running hot.

In 1953, Buick introduced its first overhead-valve ("valve-in-head," as Buick would say) V-8 engine in a 322ci size, and with 236 hp, it received immediate notice, triggering a climb in Buick sales that didn't begin to dim until the later '50s. That first "Nailhead" V-8 (so named derisively in reference to the relatively small valve-head diameter in relation to the standard stem size; i.e., proportioned "like a nail") was joined by a 264-inch version in 1954 for the lesser "Special" line, and in 1957 was superseded in the higher lines with a new 364-incher in 1957.