If you’re like us, you’ll agree that Henry Ford’s flathead V-8 is largely responsible for launching the hot rodding movement. Introduced in 1932, the flattie put surprising levels of power and performance in the hands of the working class for lower prices than ever before. Better yet, it was easily modified for extra power, giving tinkerers—and the editors of Honk! (Car Craft’s original title)—plenty to do and write about.
But by 1953, Ford was woefully behind in the horsepower race that was sweeping Detroit. Post World War II V-8s like GM’s Olds 303 and Caddy 331 of 1949, Chrysler’s Firepower Hemi of 1951, and many others used deep-breathing overhead valve (OHV) architecture that made the flathead’s in-block port routing totally obsolete. Ford fought back with its OHV Y-block V-8 in 1954 and moved from strength to strength from there.
To most American viewpoints, the Ford flathead V-8 was produced from 1932-1953, and that was the end of it, right? Yes and no. French automaker Simca used the flathead right up through 1961 in brand-new cars, some of which were imported to the U.S. Making it crazier, at the time, Simca was owned by Chrysler, which used the tiny Simcas to fight off VW Beetles in dealerships that otherwise had nothing small until the arrival of the 1960 Valiant. Let’s explore this wild V-8powered Simca Vedette Trianon.
- The V8-60 flathead is quickly differentiated from its larger siblings via its 17 head studs. The original 221-cube flathead used 21 studs (1932-1938). In a move to improve gasket life, Ford increased the stud count to 24 on 1938-1942 221 engines and on all 1939-1953 239- and 255ci engines.
- During the first five years that Ford’s small V8-60 was available in France (1935-1940), a young Zora Arkus-Duntov (1909-1996) was living in Paris. There, as the Nazi invasion loomed, he smuggled gold bullion and coins to Belgium aboard a flathead V-8powered Ford, modified with a hollow frame tube to hide the treasure. During many late night runs, Duntov dreamed of ways to improve the Ford’s performance. The eventual result was the famous post World War II Ardun flathead Ford hemispherical conversion cylinder head kit. By the time German tanks rumbled into Paris on June 14, 1940, Duntov and his wife Elfi were preparing to emigrate to the United States. On December 4, 1940, the Duntovs arrived at New York City’s Ellis Island aboard the Spanish steamship “Nyassa.” Seven years later, in 1947, Duntov unleashed his Ardun Hemi conversion kit, which increased output from 100 to 160 hp. Unfortunately, the kit cost $500 and there were few takers. But when the 1951 Chrysler Firepower debuted in 1951, it was clear that its designers took a long look at Duntov’s creation.