Alien Autopsy: AMC Aluminum Engines You’ve Likely Never Heard Of

Last month we took a look at several factory prototype Chrysler Slant Six engine goodies that make an interesting point: for every item that reaches the show room floor, several alternate versions were likely created that did not. These dead-end components are fascinating in their own right. Let’s explore some wild aluminum engine programs from our one-time corporate cousin, American Motors.

The aluminum V8 came to our attention back in 2006 at an AMC show where we struck up a conversation with Larry Daum of Pahrump, Nevada. Larry, a lifelong AMC enthusiast and published historian, told us he had the major components for an all-aluminum AMC engine based on the first-generation 250, 287, 327 AMC V8 – predecessor to the better known second generation AMC V8 family of 1966-up which spawned the 290, 343, 360, 390, 401 V8 engines.

Research indicates Larry’s aluminum oddity resulted from a collaboration between AMC and Alcoa (The Aluminum Company of America) – with most of the heavy lifting done by Alcoa. Larry tells us he heard that Alcoa also courted business from Studebaker, Packard and perhaps Ford and GM by creating similar aluminum versions of their regular cast iron engines. It seems Alcoa was hoping to showcase the virtues of low mass aluminum engines since, as America’s largest manufacturer of aluminum products, it would stimulate plenty of future business.

But Alcoa wasn’t alone. Throughout the fifties, virtually all of Detroit was conducting in-house explorations into the utility of aluminum engines – separate from Alcoa’s efforts. The real world fruits of these labors can be seen in the 1960 Corvair flat-six, 1961 Buick-Olds 215 V8, 1962 Chrysler aluminum block Slant Six and yes, AMC’s own aluminum block 195.6 inline six of 1961 – none of which were produced by Alcoa.

And don’t shed a tear for Alcoa, it successfully won numerous contracts to supply all of Detroit with aluminum stampings, extrusions and castings used all over the body and interior of millions upon millions of domestic cars.

Getting back to the AMC aluminum six, it’s second in our overview and is based on a die-cast aluminum block that was manufactured for AMC by the Doehler-Jarvis division of National Lead Company, not Alcoa. Unlike the what-if alloy V8, AMC actually offered the aluminum block six as an option from 1961 through 1964. Okay, let’s dig in and learn more about these amazing aluminum engines from our one-time corporate cousin, AMC.