The Buick Ilmor Indy V8 that never was

This intriguing what-if item comes to us from our ace contributor, artist and UK correspondent Tony Matthews: Look, a pencil drawing he was commissioned to do for a proposed Buick-branded, Ilmor-built V8 for Indy car racing. Obviously, it never came to be. 


In the summer of 1991, Ilmor co-founder Paul Morgan asked Tony to produce the artwork, which also included a full-color painting to pitch to the Buick people in Detroit. Unfortunately, that piece is now lost in the mists of time, apparently. However, the pencil drawing asks enough questions on its own.

Buick’s involvment in Indy car racing is well known. Through the ’80s and ’90s, turbocharged Buick V6 engines ran at the Speedway with varying levels of factory backing. While the program was successful in building awareness for Buick’s turbocharged passenger cars—which was the point of the exercise, after all—the production-based V6 was never truly competitive against purpose-built racing engines.

With two valves per cylinder and six cylinders, vs. four valves and eight cylinders, the Buick had roughly 31 square inches of valve area, compared to 40 or more for the Cosworth and Ilmor V8s. Even with a considerable displacement and boost advantage built into the rules for stock-block engines, the Buick was doomed. It was more of a marketing stunt than a real racing mission.

This proposed engine would have changed Buick’s game altogether. An extension of the wildly successful Ilmor Chevy V8 package, perhaps even a simple rebranding, the Buick Ilmor V8 would have put GM’s Buick division on an entirely different footing at the Speedway. But obviously, the program never got the green light, for reasons we can only guess at—though we can think of plenty. What we are left with is one very interesting drawing.

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4 thoughts on “The Buick Ilmor Indy V8 that never was

  1. More beautiful work from Tony. I think the pencil drawing is every bit as interesting as the finished illustration – I like how the layers tell the story of the drawings development. And there’s something in there that CAD will never be able to reproduce.

    • I love the pencil drawings as well. They’re Leonardo-like. Stay tuned for an all-pencil edition of the Ilmor Chevy 265B in the next week or two.

  2. Back around 1990, I came up with a rotary valve design for race engines. At the time the CART & USAC rules would have allowed it. I pitched the idea to Vince Granatelli, who at the time was running Buick pushrod V6 engines. He said it seemed like a great idea, but he had reservations about using it because he felt that it would be rejected by the USAC scrutineers.

  3. What is intriguing about it? You take a race engine built by a small company Ilmor, then slap a Buick name on the valve cover. You could put the name Chevrolet or Mercedes on it also. Oh sorry, they did.

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