The Often Over Looked 455 Buick


The Grumpy Grease Monkey mechanical engineer.
Staff member
back in the 1970s it was a seldom known, or expressed , secret that the buick 455 with minor mods such as adding headers and a low restriction exhaust would allow the 455 buick powered cars to produce rather surprising power, in fact they would regularly produce significantly more off idle torque that the revered chrysler hemi did at the time.
a couple of the guys I went to college with were caddy and Buick fans and both the 472-500 caddy and the 455 buick engines would rather regularly make the 396-454 chevy powered cars look rather pathetic if the guy running the non-chevy cars knew how to tune his car

Building A 721HP Buick Engine – Dream Up!
Written by Johnny Hunkins on July 1, 2009
Daryl White - writer;

Automotive Machine Proves That Buicks Can Go Very Fast With Class--With A Pump-Gas Friendly 721 Hp From 464 Ci.

The history of Buick is filled with dreams, inspirations, and innovations. David Dunbar Buick built the first Buick automobile in 1901, and the next year created the first overhead valve engine for use in an automobile. Though David would leave his namesake company by 1906, the Buick Motor Company would live on to become the founding cornerstone of the General Motors empire. An impressive list of names worked for Buick at one time or another. Chief investor William Durant, Louis Chevrolet, Charles Nash, and Walter P. Chrysler were all key players for Buick. With forward thinking, the Buick brand often found itself on the cutting edge of technology. How was it, then, that the engines powering these cars were relegated to playing second fiddle in the muscle car world? That may be a question for the marketing historians. One thing is for sure though, engine builders like Mike Phillips of Automotive Machine and Performance are doing their best to ensure that the Buick powerplants don’t play second fiddle to anyone.

Since opening his shop 22 years ago, Mike has always focused on performing quality machine work and pushing the horsepower envelope. About 12 years ago, he started to refine his focus, centering on the under served world of Buick high-performance engines. Several customers brought him engines with ideas that the Buicks had to be built a certain way, but Mike treated them like any other engine; finding inherent flaws and fixing them, maximizing the architecture of the design, and using his solid machining background to build reliable power. This formula helped him build one of the highest horsepower engines in the ’08 Popular Hot Rodding Engine Masters Challenge.

To create his 464ci monster, Mike started with a factory 455 block and gave it the full Automotive Machine treatment. Buick V-8 blocks have always used a lightweight design, and though that makes for less expensive manufacturing, it does leave a little strength on the table. To beef it up, Mike used a main girdle from TA Performance. The girdle is a stout cast-iron piece that ties all of the main caps together, also attaching them to the oil pan bolt holes. When making north of 600 lb-ft of torque, this is a necessary step to ensure the life of the main bearings. Another piece to strengthen the block was a lifter-bore girdle. Similar to Pontiac and Olds engines, the lifter bores in a Buick V-8 just hang out in space, unsupported in the lifter valley. If a solid roller cam is used, the increased spring pressure and loading from the roller cam can break off the lifter bores from the block. The lifter bore girdle ties the bores together and prevents failures like that from ruining the day.

The oiling system is an area that Mike spent a good deal of time modifying. To begin with, he used an external -16 oil line from the pan to feed the pump. He explained that this alone solved a good portion of the oil flow problems. “There’s a lot of harsh 90-degree turns in the block. There’s four before you get to the gears, and there’s three once it leaves the gears. And just like a fuel system on a car, you wouldn’t dare put a 90-degree fitting on a fuel system. That’s basically how the block is designed.” He used a pump called a “scavenger” that bolts in place of the factory block-mounted pump, but really works as an external pump with external feed and pressure lines. “Everything up through our street stuff that we do, we don’t put this scavenger on, but we radius all those 90-degree turns in the block.” Often, the oil holes in the main bearings don’t line up with the holes in the block, so some minor grinding on the block and opening up of the holes in the bearings is the solution. These modifications allow the Royal Purple synthetic to maintain 55 psi of hot oil pressure with just a standard volume oil pump. Mike says: “that’s the life of the whole motor–just working on the oil system.” Since the factory oiling system feeds the lifters first and then the mains, all of these modifications ironically presented the problem of having too much oil fed to the top end. Mike has tried a few different approaches to restrict the oil to the top end, including small orifice lifters and custom pushrods with a restricted orifice. Ever the thinking man, he found that he was able to modify stock-type pushrods with some silver solder and a small drill bit to get the restriction he wanted. With that bit of technology under his belt, he was able to use standard Comp Cams lifters and save the expense of custom lifters or pushrods.

When it came time to pick a camshaft, Mike admits the Buick has a weak spot they have to work around. “The cam journal size restricts you to what you can do on everything. You can’t put much of a lift on the camshaft.” He entrusted the gurus at Comp Cams to grind the stick with as aggressive a lobe as possible. Trying to get even more lift to make the heads work their best, he used high-ratio rocker arms to make up the difference. “We have probably the only set of 1.75 rockers in existence for a 455 Buick, and T&D made those especially for me. They even took out the 7/16-inch adjusters and put in 5/16-inch adjusters to get the adjuster close enough to the shaft. Then we had to go in there and mill the heads out toward the shaft, where the pushrod hole is, to get clearance. Even with that, 0.650 is really pushing it on lift on these things.” As for spring pressure, they had it cranked up pretty good at 180 pounds on the seat, and 400 open. He says they could have even stood a little more, as he heard a little valve float just as the engine was cresting 6,500 rpm on the dyno.

Above the deck, Mike needed a cylinder head that would fulfill the high torque needs of the engine, and still flow enough air to make big horsepower. Coincidentally, the early Nailhead Buicks with their small valves and tall runners provided lots of velocity in the ports that when combined with their long duration camshafts, made the original “torque” engine. Later designs evolved into large-port, large-valve heads as used on the legendary Stage 1 GS and their big brothers, the Stage 2 heads–perfect for making lots of horses in big-inch engines like Phillips’ bad boy. Unfortunately, the supply of good Stage 2 heads for maximum effort engines is about dried up, so he would have to go a different route. Mike Tomaszewski, founder of TA Performance, saw this need for a replacement casting that would meet or exceed the performance of the quickly disappearing Stage 2 heads, and began casting his own several years ago. The raised-runner TA heads now offer the peak of performance in the Buick world. By raising the intake runner 0.400 inch, Mike Phillips claims the flow numbers aren’t that much greater, but it gives the fuel a straighter shot at feeding the chamber. This raised design posed a small problem, as the EMC rules dictated the use of a standard-type intake manifold that wouldn’t normally fit the heads. Using his gray matter, Mike saw the solution. He milled the block 0.130 inch, milled the heads 0.040 inch, used a thin Felpro head gasket, and with a little bit of slotting on the bolt holes, was able to use the TA Performance standard port intake. From there, he was able to calculate the piston dish volume they needed to meet a pump-gas-friendly 10.5:1 compression ratio. He said: “Now we have what I consider the best intake on the best heads.”

They had tried installing a small “turtle” in the intake to remove some of the plenum volume, but in testing, it didn’t seem to pick up any power, so they took it out to get the volume back. Stacked on top of the intake was a Jomar 1-inch dual-taper spacer that Mike fell in love with. “I’ve tested a lot of that stuff. For a Dominator, I’ve probably got six or seven different spacers to test with, and that dual-taper spacer from Jomar in a 1-inch configuration is the best thing we’ve ever tried.”

For the carb, a Barry Grant King Demon with the 995-cfm sleeves was used. “I’ve got one carburetor that I’ve used since 2003 in the contests, and I’ve got sleeves everywhere from 995 to 1150. I started with the 1050 sleeves on this 464, and I actually made more power with the 995 stuff.” The Demon carb managed to meter out the Shell V-Power 91-octane pump gas evenly, and responded well to changes on the dyno. The Automotive Machine Buick used an MSD Pro Billet distributor hooked to a 7AL2 box firing the Champion plugs. The 7AL2 provides more than enough juice to power the engine, and is commonly found on 1,000-plus horsepower dragsters, so there were no issues with misfiring. The final pieces were a set of 1 7/8 chassis headers to push the exhaust through the Borla mufflers.

Once Mike had the engine hooked up to the pump, he fired it up and the crowd of EMC competitors knew they were in for something good. I was fortunate enough to be right there when that 640-plus foot pounds shook the building as it bent the dyno needle. Hopefully, David Dunbar Buick felt the heavens shake just a little when Mike Phillips’ engine roared. It is a tragedy that poor old Dave never was able to enjoy the successes of the company he gave his name and heart to, but his dreams and spirit of innovation were alive and well when Mike’s Buick took its place as one of the most power-pump-gas engines in the country.

Bore: 4.350-inch
Stroke: 3.900-inch
Displacement: 464 ci
Compression ratio: 10.49:1
Camshaft: Comp solid flat tappet
Cam duration: 261/267 degrees at 0.050-inch tappet rise
Valve lift: 0.656-/0.646-inch
Rocker ratio: T&D 1.75
Lobe separation: 106 degrees
Top ring: 1/16-inch SpeedPro
Second ring: 1/16-inch SpeedPro
Oil ring: 3/16-inch SpeedPro
Piston: JE dished top
Block: OEM
Crankshaft: OEM
Rods: Eagle 6.800-inch H-beam
Main bearing clearance: 0.003-inch
Rod bearing clearance: 0.0025-inch
Cylinder head: TA Performance Stage 4
Intake valve diameter: 2.260-inch
Exhaust valve diameter: 1.760-inch
Intake manifold: TA Performance SPX
Carburetor: Demon 995
Header: 1 7/8 inch
Ignition: MSD 7AL2
Water pump: Meziere
2,500 471 224
2,600 480 238
2,700 495 254
2,800 510 272
2,900 523 289
3,000 532 304
3,100 539 318
3,200 538 328
3,300 532 334
3,400 525 340
3,500 518 345
3,600 511 350
3,700 504 355
3,800 498 360
3,900 497 369
4,000 508 387
4,100 531 415
4,200 559 447
4,300 580 475
4,400 597 500
4,500 611 523
4,600 620 543
4,700 626 560
4,800 630 576
4,900 636 593
5,000 637 606
5,100 638 619
5,200 640 633
5,300 641 647
5,400 642 660
5,500 632 662
5,600 624 665
5,700 618 671
5,800 615 679
5,900 610 686
6,000 607 694
6,100 605 703
6,200 605 714
6,300 601 721
6,400 589 718
6,500 577 714
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Back in the mid-70s, horsepower was a dirty word in the halls of Washington, DC and the Motor City. With ever-tightening emissions regulations, the introduction of unleaded fuels, and manufacturers that hadn’t figured out the finer points of making power while remaining environmentally-friendly, the powerplants that made it into the cars of the era were so severely hamstrung in terms of performance there are many enthusiasts who wish the bad memories of the decade would just slip away into the ether.

Langston Majette’s completed big-block Buick longblock.

Langston Majette is not one of those folks; he’s put together a sweet 455 big-block Buick engine to power a lifetime obsession of owning a 1976 Buick Electra 225 – the last of the “Big Buicks”, and a car that Majette remembers fondly from his childhood.

Now, we know what you’re thinking–a Buick Electra? Those land yachts barely made enough power to get up a hill at two-plus tons–why would an enthusiast want one?

As always, there’s more to the story.

“When I was young, my grandfather owned one of the biggest cars Buick ever made; the ’76 Electra. My parents tell me that I would see him riding around the block in the car and literally fall down on the ground crying so I could go for a ride in the car. Once I did, I’d be good for the rest of the day,” he explains.

This beast Electra 225 is almost one-and-a-half Prius’ (or is it Priuses?!) long, and nearly two-and-a-half tons heavy.

As Majette’s grandfather aged, he lost the ability to drive, and the car just sat out front, quietly rusting away. Langston started college in 1998, and by his sophomore year, Grandpa Majette relinquished the title; the long-loved Electra became his very first car.

“I was young and naive at the time; I had grand plans of restoring it. I sanded the rust out, did the whole Bondo thing, and my plan was that when I graduated college and had some disposable income, I’d try my best to restore the car,” he says.

Unfortunately, a spun rod bearing a short time later ended the car’s life prematurely. It sat in Mom and Dad’s yard for a while until they got tired of looking at it, and off to the scrapyard it went.

Langston never forgot the car, though, and always had it in the back of his mind that he’d someday own another one in tribute to Grandpa Majette and their shared love for the big-body Buick.

Fast-forward to today, where the aforementioned Electra from Boston enters the picture. Majette came across the car after an internet search, flew to Massachusetts, drove the car and bought it on the spot, then had it shipped back home to Maryland.

The engine block, cylinder heads, reconditioned connecting rods, and crankshaft. All stock, with the exception of ARP bolts in the rods. Scored for a relative song-and-dance through judicious shopping.

The engine in this beast was rated at 205 horsepower and 345 pound-feet of torque from the factory–the lowest-rated 455 produced over the years–but Majette knew right off the bat that he’d be putting a new engine together for the car.

A look at the underside of the block. Previous to purchase, the cylinders had been punched out to .030-inch oversize, saving one step in the process.

“As soon as I got the car, I started collecting parts, doing my research, and planning my build. I had to decide whether I was going to use cast pistons or forged pistons, that sort of thing. I found parts for sale from a message-board friend on Long Island; a 1972 block that had already been bored .030-inch over, connecting rods that had been reconditioned and fitted with ARP bolts, and a crankshaft cost me $500,” Majette says.

The ’72-vintage iron cylinder heads were located in Arizona and had been previously ported and had larger valves installed; those hit Langston’s pocketbook for $890.00.

As the Buick platform is no longer made, Majette turned to TA Performance for a large number of parts. The 10:1 pistons, performance camshaft, timing cover, oil pump, thermostat housing, freeze plugs, front and rear seals, timing set, and shorty headers all came from the company. The tried-and-true Edelbrock B-4B intake manifold sits on top.

Fel-Pro gaskets seal up the engine, while a standard-replacement water and fuel pump were sourced from Advance Auto. Rocker arms were sourced from Autozone, and ARP main and head bolts were used.

Since the end goal was to build an engine that would perform very respectably, but not use any sort of power-adder, the stock-replacement parts were deemed good enough for this application, as they would not be stressed anywhere near their breaking point, and would help keep costs down during the build. Majette enlisted the help of a local machine shop to finish the machining processes and assemble the engine.

So what’s the verdict? The engine pumps out a whopping 417 horsepower and 510 lb.-ft of torque–more than double the horsepower of the original unit, with 165 more pound-feet of torque to boot.

One of the performance parts chosen for this build was Edelbrock’s B-4B intake manifold.

Owing to the big-block Buick’s nature as a low-rpm stump-pulling torque monster, the dyno pulls were made between 3,000-5,000 rpm, and the results are impressive for such a budget-based build. Over 500 pound-feet are available from 3,000-4,100 rpm, with 400 horsepower showing up on the dyno sheet from 4,300-5,000 rpm.

At 233.3 inches long (nearly 19 and a half feet!) and an advertised curb weight of 4,784 pounds, this Electra 225 needs all the help it can get in the horsepower department.

One thing is for certain–Majette’s Electra won’t know what happened the first time he drops the hammer. As he lives in a condo and doesn’t have anywhere to work on the car, he’s enlisted a local shop to install the engine.

“I talked with the guys installing the engine and told them how it did on the dyno. They asked me what I was going to do with all that power, and I said ‘Bring it right back to you after the summer for a new transmission’,” he laughs.

The engine was the first part of the equation, and Majette plans to continue this project moving forward. Thanks for sharing it with us!

btw theres a huge difference in the potential power different cylinder head designs that will bolt to a 455 buick block,
the stock block and heads are noted as being rather restrictive,
compared to the aftermarket aluminum versions,
but even the better buick heads can,t come close to the,
ford 460,chevy bbc and chrysler hemi heads in potential flow numbers
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Okay, I have a 1970-1971 1231738 casting block currently at .038” over, and a set of 1973 heads. Shop says it needs to go a bit more than .040 to get the bores trued. I can get the .050” pistons from TA and I have the TA 1633 rods already. Here’s the question: after looking at Team Buick’s site. Can my 1973 heads go on the earlier block if I tap and plug the core hole in the head that is left exposed throw a gasket on on go? Would really like to stick with the heads I have for this daily driver Riviera.
When I spoke with them it sounded like the 73 heads would not work, but am seeing through research today that the uncovered hole(s) can be plugged without consequence. Good idea on the book, thanks again.
Great video, thank you. Engine shop finally dusted off my 455 and found my rods were for floating, not pressed, which I needed, so, another chat with “TA Tim”, and voila, new set of rods today. Hopefully we can get it to a point where the rotating assembly is bolted in soon.
So I have a friend that buys a lot of classic cars. Like 30+ in his stable right now. He got one "running" that had a tick he heard. I went out there yesterday and spent most of the day with him. It was a Buick Elantra 1970 455.4.
Took the left valve cover off and found one of the rockers had come off because the little plastic retainer had broken. The rest on the "shaft" were fine but that rocker was just laying in the head/under the valve cover. I also pulled the rods and two won't come out, they are bent badly. So I'm going to get the heads off next weekend, look at the pistons, and then do valve lapping and valve seat cleaning (watched a video, both are easy and hard to screw up if done with the wooden dowel lapping tool). Couldn't get some of the bolts out of the head so having to come back with a thermal induction tool to heat the bolts so my impact will take them out.

My question:
On the rocker arm shaft for the rockers, should there be a little side by side play? I know there shouldn't be a ton, but I cleaned up the rail and the rail only varies from by .02 across the whole rail.
I'm trying to see if I can just buy a few rockers, the rods, and just reuse the rail. That'd put this at like 100 bucks.
Instead of having to buy this kit and all the rods, would would put him at like 260 bucks. I can't find factory specs for the measurement of that rail (what the circumference should be). I do know rockers can wear those rails down over time but I don't see any indication of that on these rails; I think some of the rockers have just been wallered out over time.



you two have options , in my opinion, you can visit several salvage yards and look for a doner car with the parts you need, or If I had the problem, Id figure the engines at least 50 years old and ID buy and install the rocker rail and rocker kit simply because if one rocker failed you really don't know the true condition of the other parts.... STRESS IS CUMULATIVE,and I would not buy any parts until I pulled the heads to verify the potential for wear on the crank assembly and internal block or heads or piston damage
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Does it look like there is any oil getting to the rockers?
Any fresh oil laying in the low spots?
generally a really good idea RICK, but if the cars been sitting for several years it might be hard to see oil left in the upper heads

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Does it look like there is any oil getting to the rockers?
Any fresh oil laying in the low spots?
Yeah it's got oil going through the rods. It was running and driving, which is hilarious. It has at least three bent rods and one lifter not working and it still started right up and ran fairly well. All cylinders were getting spark.
I agree with Grumpy that I need to get those heads off because I need to see what other parts are needed. I really wish I could find the OEM shaft specs so I could know if the measurements i'm taking are in tolerance. I'm not having him replace things (like buying that whole kit for 160 instead of spending 50 on the rockers he needs) if they are in good shape, this thing is just driven by my older friend around town. He doesn't put his foot in it and he drives all his 30+ vehicles in rotation.

Found the specs!
Rocker Arm Clearance on Shaft
Shaft Diameter.812
over all length18.010