Max developed friendships with a number of celebrity clients, including one we all know and love, "TV" Tommy Ivo. Tom had a brand-new Century in 1955 and loved it, but he didn't know much about engines at first, until Max taught him how to tune and rebuild Nailheads. When Tom was inspired by fellow actor Norm Grabowski's seminal T to build his own bucket, Max said it should have a Nailhead. While Norm's car was showy and radical looking, Tom built a very clean street rod with the emphasis on performance, as attested to by its nearly unbeaten status on the streets of the San Fernando Valley and the dragstrips of the L.A. area. From that success, Tom developed an interest in a pure race car, and wound up trying his injected Nailhead out in a friend's dragster chassis.
With the go-fast disease progressing nicely in his system, Tom then had Kent Fuller build a new chassis and campaigned this with an injected Nailhead (Top Gas) in 1958, followed later by a twin-engined Nailhead gas dragster (he sold the single-engine Nailhead car to buddy Don Prudhomme). He began his professional touring-pro career with the twin-engined car, then built the famous four-engined, four-wheel-drive Showboat dragster in 1961. Tom remained a pro racer for many years after in Top Fuel and Funny Cars.
Famed upholsterer Tony Nancy had also built Buicks when he stopped using Flatheads in his 22jr roadsters. They were as fast as they were detailed, like all of his dragsters to follow. However, there were lots of other street rods and competition cars powered by Nailhead Buick V-8s. Northern California's Nailhead guru Russ Martin has a display case in his shop that features vintage car magazines. Although the collection is restricted only to magazines that exhibit a Nailhead on the cover, there are some 56 at last count.
Back in my homeland of Massachusetts, we had a local guy named Whitey Gould who did for the East Coast what Ivo had accomplished in L.A., building a very clean T-bucket with a Nailhead sporting six Stromberg deuces on top. Whitey's creds were gained on the streets and at New England dragstrips, as well, leaving a lasting respect for the Nailheads among my crowd of impressionable teenagers. Forty-five years later, my current ride is a '40 pickup with a 401.
Nailhead Power Today
From the mid-'50s to the late '60s, hopped-up Buick powerplants filled the engine compartments of dragsters, roadsters, lakes cars, show cars, and fat-Ford hot rods across the nation, then they seemed to fade out of favor as factory hot rods and high-output big-block engines, the cream of the musclecar era, became available to any rodder with a steady job and a cosigner.
Nailheads are having their renaissance today, though, as a newer crop of rodders discovers the trifecta appeal of their low-end torque, their narrower width (for a big-block engine), and their classic looks. Hard to believe, but it was 11 years ago that Doc Frohmader did an outstanding year-long series of Nailhead buildup articles in this publication, when the Nailhead revival was starting, and the engines and articles are just as relevant and popular today.
The upright valves and their inboard location were part of the factory design to make the engine narrower, which is good for street rod applications; however, the Nailheads do have some added length, with a long timing cover at the front and a rear-mount distributor that angles backward a little, instead of being vertical. You'll need room for the distributor in flat-firewall cars, and a considerable recess for a Model A or '33-40 Fords with "projecting" firewalls. A complete 425 Buick weighs 620-640 pounds, which isn't bad for that much displacement, and can easily be svelted-down another 50 pounds or so with tubing headers and a typical aluminum aftermarket intake manifold.
The 264 and 322 engines had tin spark plug wire covers (center), but the aftermarket caugh
Only the '53-56 264-322 heads had a tapped provision for mounting plug wire covers, but no
Many '50s V-8s had a flat valley cover that rodders usually replaced with finned aluminum
Sometimes, an engine is so cool-looking, you don't want to distract from the picture with
Don't overlook "vintage" wrecking yards that may be near you. Ask old-timers where they us