Want to build a Gasser Nailhead, some questions

Discussion in ''Da Nailhead' started by 2TONSTAGE1, Feb 24, 2007.


    2TONSTAGE1 Well-Known Member

    Hey guys. Were doing Grease for our school play this year, and the car we got was dead and us in auto had to make it run. I was the ONLY one who worked on the car, save for people to help me with a couple of extra hands to hold things in place and such. When we got it, you turned the key and got absolutely nothing, even with the new battery. I fired her up for the first time thursday and again yesterday and she sounds sweet. Its a '54 Ford Cutomline, 239 V8.

    But anyway, working on this car has given me the Gasser fever bug, and I want to build a gasser. I was looking at quitea few cars from the 50s. I dont like how short the rear ends of the Fords are, I want something thats going to look sweet with a nice rake, and while I havent ruled those out yet, the Ford Y blocks are also small and I want to keep period correct, although I have learned alot about Y blocks and have to say, the MUCH more popular small block Chevy aint got nothing on those suckers using stock parts. Anyway, the Tri-Fives are expensive, I dont like the way the Mopars look much, and Ive kinda narrowed it down to an Olds, Buick, or Poncho. I think a 425 Nailhead would make a really sweet engine in an early to mid 50s Buick, backed by a unobtainableium four speed lol, and a posi rear end, maybe 3.90s or so. I have some Nailhead questions though.

    Does anyone make forged pistons or good aftermarket rods? How many part interchange with the 400 and 455? If I have to do custom pistons and a BBC rod, how much do you think I can offset ground the crank to make it worth my while? I want to turn a good 6000 rpms or so (lol), maybe 6500 if the heads can support it. Are all of the Nailhead cranks forged? How big can I go with the valves and which type can I use? Like I said, if I can have the heads ported enough to let it, its going to be wound out pretty good. What are some drawbacks of them? Do you think I can get one to crack 12s in something like a '55 Special? I think a Buick, Olds, or Pontiac gasser would be great though. You hardly ever see the cars to begin with, let alone done in a Gasser fashion. Not to mention all of the old hot rod parts like multi-carb setups and finned valve covers there are for them. Oh yeah, and I would run one of the setups where you can switch from straigt pipes out the side to a regular exhaust, and im guessing a Nailhead through dumps right after the headers sounds pretty darn sick.
  2. techinspector1

    techinspector1 New Member

    i think the motor I would start with is the largest of the nailheads, the 425 cubic inch model from a '66.

    Here is some interesting info:
    Buick nailhead engines were built from 1953 to 1966. They have a distributor in the rear, a starter on the left, and the valve covers face straight up. Displacements changed from year to year, and are as follows: 264, 322, 364, 401, and 425 ci.

    Interchangeable Parts From Other Engines

    V-6 Buick neoprene rear seals

    400-455 Buick front seals

    V-6 cam bumper (threaded type)

    350 Buick main stud kits

    400-455 Buick rod bolts and nuts

    400-455 Buick rod bearings

    400-455 Buick valve locks

    400-455 Buick ring gear ('57-'66 only)

    Engines from 1953 should be avoided--they have no harmonic balancers, bad combustion chambers, and heavy pistons.

    Top Nine Assembly Mistakes

    1. The flywheel is on wrong. It will fit six ways, and you must line up the guide hole.

    2. The front cam bearing is not installed properly.

    3. The balancer bolt is not tight enough. This allows the balancer to move on the crank, which will ruin the crank and break the balancer.

    4. Improperly ported heads stick to the bowl work only.

    5. Ruining heads while installing valve seats--it's easy to hit the water jackets on many heads.

    6. The oil pump shaft binds. Install the distributor first, then file out holes in the pump body until it fits.

    7. Mixing pushrods with 5/16- and 3/8-inch tips. Aftermarket lifters and pushrods sometimes have 5/16-inch tips.

    8. Spinning the water pump too fast. Cars with A/C are overdriven 1.4, cars without are underdriven 0.9. Around 1.0, freeway temperatures drop 10 to 20 degrees at 65 mph. Also, airless water pumps have three impellers, while A/C pumps have five. Three seem to work better most of the time.

    9. Oversize valvespring pockets--this puts the spring in the pushrod hole and quickly chews up the pushrod.


    The '53-'56 camshafts are interchangeable. They are steel and have smaller bearing journals, while '57-'66 camshafts are cast-iron with large journals. These can be ground down to fit the early engines.

    The stock cam is a 270 grind and will rev to 5,500 rpm. Don't waste money on mild-horsepower cams--they ought to be 214 degrees at 0.050 minimum. The 401 had a 114-degree centerline, and the 425 had a 109 centerline. Use 114 for big cams and 109 for tamer ones. Stock Buick billets can be ground down to 7/8 inch if necessary.


    Stock back-cut valves are fine, but it's best to install 1.94-inch intakes. Tests have shown no increase in horsepower with larger exhaust valves. Chevy 1.5 and 1.94 valves, springs, and retainers can be used, but aren't easy to install.

    Oil Pump

    Most of the time, 40-45 pounds of oil pressure is plenty. If you are going to turn high rpms (in road racing for instance), find a '61 pump--it's the best for late engines.

    Oil Pans

    Rear sump pans from '57-'66 and '65-'66 GS Skylarks fit all '57-'66 engines. The '53-'56 engines all had rear sumps, but will not interchange with later nailheads.


    Top performance seems to come from factory cast-iron single and dual-quad intake manifolds. Aftermarket aluminum dual-quads, like Offenhauser or Edelbrock intakes, also work and weigh less.


    Carter and Edelbrock AFBs work well on Buicks. The 500-cfm is best for 322ci engines, the 600-cfm for 364ci, and the 750-cfm for 401-425ci engines. The dual-quad intakes can use 600- or 750-cfm carbs for 401-425s. Nailhead engines like big carbs, unlike most other engines. A big-cam 425 will run great with two 750-cfm carbs on a dual-quad intake.


    Stock distributors are hard to beat. The '53-'63 models are the best in stock condition--the advance curve is fine, the same as '64-'66 dual-quad engines. Stock cam engines should have about 12 degrees initial, 30 degrees total at 2,000 rpm. Performance cams should have 12-15 degrees initial, 32-35 degrees total. These specifications don't include vacuum advance, but most stock vacuum advances work fine. All distributor parts from a Chevy are the same. Shim the distributor shaft if it's worn.

    Connecting Rods

    All nailhead rods are forged and very strong. There are three different lengths depending on cubic inches. Pontiac rods can be used. They are longer and make more power, but they require machining and custom pistons to make them fit in the engine.

    Rocker Arms

    All nailhead rockers are interchangeable. The '53-'58s are iron 1.5:1 ratio, the '59s are 1.6:1 ratio, and the '60-'66s are aluminum 1.6:1 ratio. The later-model ones are the best for stock and mild engines. The iron is stronger and can be used when necessary. All the rockers are very short and should put a lot of back-and-forth pressure on valves and guides. High-lift cams need bronze guides installed. The best stock guides to use are '66s, which are cut for P.C. seals.


    Heads from 1953 to 1956 have round exhaust ports and smaller valves than '57-and-ups, and these shouldn't be interchanged. The factory made experimental aluminum heads with stock ports, and in 1962 cast "D" port heads which had 1/2-inch taller exhaust ports. These were good for 15 hp with cast-iron manifolds.


    All Buick cranks are forged. Cranks are as follows: '54-'56 are the same; '57-'61 are the same and yield 364 ci; '59-'63 are the same and yield 401-425 ci; '64-'66 are the same and yield 401-425 ci, but the back of the crank is different, so it can be used with a Turbo 400 transmission.


    The Dynaflow was used behind all '53-'63 cars with different types depending on the year of the car. The Turbo 400 can be used with any '64-'66 engine, but stay away from the '64. The '65 and '66 Skylark GS used a two-speed 300 transmission. Manual transmissions were also available and work fine, but '57-'66 engines can be mated with the '65-'66 Turbo 400, and it makes an unbeatable combo--especially with the 300 converter switch-pitch setup.

    Exhaust Manifolds

    The '53-'56 manifolds have round ports, and the '57-'66 manifolds have rectangular ports. Manifolds should not be swapped. The '61 manifold is a good choice for later-model engines if headers are not used.

    Miscellaneous Buick Information

    A spin-on oil filter housing from a '59-'60 engine will bolt on a '57-'58 engine.

    Hard seats aren't mandatory because the valvetrain is lightweight, and the valves are small and don't need stiff valvesprings (260 open pressure maximum).

    How to identify a nailhead at a glance (check ID number for exact year): 264-322ci--The '54-'56 has a bigger bellhousing, three-bolt engine mounts, round exhaust ports, and measures 81/4 inches across the intake manifold bolts. 364ci--The '57-'61 measures 83/4 inches across the intake manifold bolts and has four-bolt engine mounts and rectangular exhaust ports. 401-425ci--The '59-'66 measures 9 inches across the intake manifold bolts and has four-bolt engine mounts.

    The only parts that interchange from the first nailhead to the last are: distributors, rockers and shafts, valve covers, aftermarket valley covers, rod bearings, rod bolts and nuts, valvesprings, locks, retainers, and guides.
  3. flynbuick

    flynbuick Super Moderator Staff Member

    The 400, 430 and 455 is a different family of Buick engines compared to the nailheads. Nailheads are 264, 322, 364, 401 and 425s. Some things do interchange within the same engine families.

    The limiting factor is head flow.

    Since the nailhead by design is a narrow V8 I suggest you consider an Anglia as the body.

    2TONSTAGE1 Well-Known Member

    JEEZ, you should write a book! Thanks for all of the info, you saved me alot of asking down the road lol. What kind of flow can you get from the heads with oversized valves and a good port job from a reputable shop?
  5. flynbuick

    flynbuick Super Moderator Staff Member

    The guy that runs the fastest times in the country with a naihead GS is on this Board. Maybe he will chime in for that info.

    2TONSTAGE1 Well-Known Member

    Oh ok, sweet. Does he come on often?
  7. DaWildcat

    DaWildcat Platinum Level Contributor

    Might be worth speaking with Greg Gessler about cylinder head work.

  8. bob k. mando

    bob k. mando Well-Known Member

    posts an encyclopedia :Comp:

    holy crap! you are down on the Nailheads. :beer

    any chance you'd know the factory deck heights for the 364, 322 and 264?
  9. donut364

    donut364 donut364

    If your going to build a gasser you need a 425 with hilborn FI on allky wheelwell headers stright axle 12 spoke mags up front halibrand rear wheels push bar on back bumper and a tilt front end ho and some crazy metal flake paint red plexi windows nose sky high ready to rock and roll and if that get old trow some nitro in the mix gasser kick ass
  10. 2TONSTAGE1

    2TONSTAGE1 Well-Known Member

    LOL I dont want a real gasser set p for the strip, I guess what I want is a semi-gasser
  11. donut364

    donut364 donut364

    I have most of those parts to do a 60s gasser just need a body of some sort I'm in the same boat that you are I want to build a bad ass gasser but I would want to drive it on the streets I myself will drive anything so thats why I want to put a blowen 425 in a 55 buick chop the top put air ride on it so the rockers are on the dirt I likem low and fast thats just me
  12. Buick Power

    Buick Power Well-Known Member

    If you are staying with a stock stroke the stock rods with ARP bolts will be fine. If you want more stroke, TA offers a stroker combination that gives 464 cid. Figure more on a power band that is limited to 5500 and a little less if you go the stroker route. Lack of cylinder head air flow is the killer on these engines. Do as much porting on them as possible.
  13. DualQuad55

    DualQuad55 Well-Known Member

    I would start with a 401 as they are easier to get and less likely that the cyl walls will be too thin for an overbore during rebuild. The extra 24 cubes don't add up to much power on these motors. A stroker with an offset ground crank and CHevy rods will give you better power gains than the bigger bore will.
    SPend the time/money on the heads, a cam which is designed for your apllication and maybe some roller rockers. FOrged pistons are available again I think Ross is making them, I am sure TA can get them for you. A modified factory four barrel will get you running and give decent performance, the Edelbrock 2X4 (B262) is about the best for normal aspiration.
    If you use a mid 50s Buick you will need to deal with the torque tube driveshaft set up. It is best to swap to an open driveline and it is necessary if you want to run a th/sp400 or 4spd manual trans.
    Getting a 55 Special into the 12s is not easy, I am still working on it myself. It is much harder when you are trying to build a 'period' style car that can be street driven on a regular basis. Remember the original 'gassers' were street legal/driven cars running on pump gas with all the necessary equipment for street use. Alky, spindle mount 12 spokes etc... was used on the altered class cars in the late 50-mid 60s.
    Do a search of performace modifications on this forum, there have been many threads about it in the past and I am sure you wil find much useful info.
    Remember, if you want to go really fast, start with a light car and build the suspension to accomodate the HP.
  14. flynbuick

    flynbuick Super Moderator Staff Member

  15. Steven74

    Steven74 Well-Known Member

    Check out the rodand custom magazine website for some info on nailheads. They have done some nice projects as well. Search under nailheads on the site. You can also find where techinspector got his info from there too.:laugh:
  16. 2TONSTAGE1

    2TONSTAGE1 Well-Known Member

    Im with you Donut. To me, a streetable car is something that will move on the street and be able to get registered. I dont care how rough it runs at idle. How much does a '55 Special weigh? Whats the lightest mid 50s Buick?
  17. nailheadina67

    nailheadina67 Official Nailheader

    Dang, that guy really knows his Nailheads! :Brow:
  18. ozzytom

    ozzytom Active Member

    Hi guys....
    I don't know much about nailheads at all.
    Don't see too many in Australia.

    I'm looking at a 57 Buick Special with the 364 ci nailhead rated at 250hp.
    I've noticed that the 57 Century, Super and Roadmaster have the same capacity motor, but are rated at 300 hp.
    What were the differences between the motors? - 250hp vs 300 hp.

    Also, is the 425 nailhead the same block as used in the 57 364ci motor?
    Is it possible to stroke / bore the 364 to a larger capacity? and if so, are cranks available? What combinations have proved viable.

    thanks in advance
  19. 19Skylark68 455

    19Skylark68 455 Neighborhood Nuisance

    Step 1: Get yourself a copy of the movie Two Lane Blacktop.
  20. bhclark

    bhclark Well-Known Member

    a 364 with a 2bbl carb is 250hp
    a 364 with a 4bbl carb is 300hp (power pack setup)
    a 401 with a 4bbl carb is 325hp

    One of the performance guys will have to chime in with the hp ratings for the 425 engines and the dual quads...

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