The History of the Chevy 3.8L V6

by Rob Wagner

Chevrolet had two types of 3.8-liter V-6 engines: the 3.8-liter Buick V-6 and the short-lived Chevrolet 3.8-liter version. The venerable and immensely popular Buick V-6 survives today as the GM 3800 and serves as the base engine for many Chevy cars. It can trace its origins to the 198-cubic-inch V-6 that powered the 1962 and later Buick Specials. The Chevrolet version was unrelated to the Buick engine.


Dubbed the "Fireball," the 198 V-6 began as the base engine for the Buick Special. The V-6 derived from the small-block 215 V-8. The V-6 was almost identical to the V-8 except it had two fewer cylinders. The engine featured an odd-fire design in which the firing impulses of the powerplant were unevenly spaced. This gave the engine its trademark low-rumble, or as its detractors complained, a rough idle. Buick management didn't care much for this unique engine because of its potential to turn off car buyers. The 198 featured a 3.6-inch bore and 3.1-inch stroke. By 1964, Buick enlarged the bore to 3.75 inches and the stroke to 3.4 inches for a 225-cubic-inch displacement.

AMC Years

The 225 V-6 developed about 155 horsepower, but Buick sold the rights to the engine in 1966 to the American Motors Corporation to power its Jeeps CJ series. Jeep's straight-six would not fit in the 1955-to-1971 CJ models, and the compact V-6, which AMC renamed the Dauntless 225, was a perfect fit. In 1972, AMC dropped the Dauntless 225 after it redesigned the CJ series to accommodate the larger 258 in-line six-cylinder and a 307 V-8.


Stricter emissions control standards, higher insurance premiums, and safety concerns prompted General Motors to downsize all of its engines beginning in 1971 and 1972. The 1973 fuel shortage increased the need for smaller engines. GM approached AMC and asked the automaker to resume production of the Dauntless 225 to power the 1974 GM cars. AMC declined because of the expense to retool its factories, but agreed to sell the 225 V-6's rights back to GM. In 1975, GM enlarged the bore by .050 inches to increase the displacement to 231 cubic inches, or 3.8 liters. In 1977, GM switched to a smoother even-fire system. This early 3.8-liter powered Buicks, Chevys, Oldsmobile and Pontiacs.

Later Years

The GM 3800, 3.8-liter V-6 came in the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Malibu, El Camino, Impala, Monza, Caprice, Camaro and Lumina. Chevrolet replaced the Buick version with another 3.8-liter V-6 version, based on the Chevrolet 305 V-8, from 1980 to 1985. But the Buick V-6 returned to power post-1985 Chevys as the GM 3800. The GM 3800 is a common "crate" -- or replacement -- engine for Chevrolets. General Motors used the 3.8-liter V-6 for rear-wheel-drive cars, but it developed a variant of the 3.8 for 1984-to-1988 front wheel-drive cars. Throttle-body fuel injection arrived in 1984 and a multiport fuel injection system became available in 1986.

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