Greg Zyla: The tri-powers and six packs

Greg Zyla, GHNS

Q: Greg, which American car manufacturer was the first to use a three two-barrel carb setup either as an option or standard equipment on its cars? There have been so many since the 1960s, but I don’t remember which one was first. Matt H., email from Illinois.

A: Matt, Pontiac is the “godfather” of the “tri-power” setup and the very first car that I can recall utilizing a three two-barrel carb setup. And, it was way back in 1957 that Pontiac introduced the engine on a 347 cubic inch V-8. This Rochester tri-power replaced a two four-barrel setup that appeared as an option in 1956 on a 316 cubic inch V-8. Over the years, I remember with clarity all those beautiful bubble top 1960-61 Catalinas with the eight-spoke wheels running around town, complete with a 389 cubic inch V-8, 343 horses and “three-twos.” They were fast and very beautiful cars.

Ford, too, stands for some honor here as it adopted a three-two Holley setup early on in 1961 on larger models with the 390 engine (which grew to 406 and then 427). Of note in 1961 was how Ford dealt with the performance option, as the factory shipped the 3x2 intake manifold and three Holley carbs in the trunk, allowing a dealer install and pushing horsepower to 401.

Another famous three-two setup is the “six pack” from Dodge Super Bee and Plymouth Roadrunner. Coded an “A12” option, it appeared in mid-1969 on the 440 V-8 with 390 horses and was originally called a “six barrel.” The words “six pack” replaced the name “six barrel” in 1970 and 1971. More famous MOPAR six packs were the Challenger T/A and Cuda AAR models, both featuring 340 six pack V-8s in 1970 and built for Trans Am competition.

Chevrolet successfully ushered in the carb arrangement on its Corvette, where in 1967 you could buy a 400 or 435 horsepower 427 with three-twos. It’s been a popular car since day one, and today garners top dollar at auctions. The last 427 big block Corvette Holley Tri Power was available in 1969.

At this point, I’m sure some of my older readers are wondering when Oldsmobile will receive a mention, as the Olds Rocket in mid-1957 came with what they called the J-2 Golden Rocket option. The J-2 featured 371 cubic inches and a Rochester three two-barrel carburetor setup. The result was 312 horses and Oldsmobile only charged $83 for the J-2 option with a three-speed manual in the 88 line. It was discontinued in 1958, however, as it was not a progressive linkage setup and owners had some problems.

When all the cards are on the table, however, I’ll still give the 1964 Pontiac GTO with the 389 tri power the cream of the crop award when it comes to legend and popularity, followed by the MOPAR 440 V-8 six packs.

Thanks for your letter.

Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse New Service and welcomes reader questions at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840 or at