Ford’s famed flathead V-8 was revolutionary when the automaker put the engine into production in 1932. It brought the V-8 to the mass market and ready power to hot rodders for decades to come. But its design would eventually make it outdated. After more than two decades of service, the flathead V-8 was finally laid to rest in 1954 in favor of an overhead-valve design.
Why did Ford kill the innovative V-8 engine? That’s a job for Jason Fenske of Engineering Explained to expound upon. Using a 3D-printed model for a visual aid, Jason takes the time to walk us through why the engine was so advanced, but also the downfalls that led to its death.
Ford’s design was incredibly simple, which made the engine cost-effective to produce. Its simplicity and affordability also meant an everyday person could purchase a V-8-powered car. The first flathead V-8 displaced 3.6 liters and boasted a compression ratio of just 5.5:1. It put out 65 horsepower in the 1932 Ford Model 18, a major selling point at the time.
As you can see from Jason’s model, the flathead engine design features rather flat heads, which is how the mill earned its nickname. Each head is a single piece of metal that helped keep costs much lower. A single camshaft sits in the center of the block’s V, and the exhaust and intake valves are situated above each piston.
So, why did the revolutionary V-8 die off? Advances in technology is the overarching answer, but it came down to the flathead V-8’s major airflow problems and low compression ratios.
As you can see in the video, the airflow path for the engine is hardly ideal. As the air feeds its way through the engine, it has to turn 90 degrees, then turn another 90 degrees to head into the cylinder. A modern engine’s valves help route air toward the piston, around it, and then down into the cylinder.
When air comes back up from the cylinder, it has to perform the same 90-degree turns, now in the opposite direction. Add in the fact that the intake and exhaust flow sit in opposite directions, and it’s easy to see why the flathead V-8 wasn’t an efficient engine.
Engineers couldn’t simply open the intake and exhaust valves open more, either. That would have meant digging out more area in the cylinder head, which would have lowered the already low compression ratios further.
In 1953, Ford made the final flathead V-8. It displaced 3.9 liters and made 110 hp. As engineers sought more power, Ford scrapped the design in favor of an overhead-valve engine. Thus the flathead V-8’s tenure came to end.
Click on the video above for more details from Jason on how the flathead V-8 works and its issues with airflow and compression
H&H Flatheads is known for being “your one stop shop for all your vintage motor needs”. We offer a variety of Ford Flathead V-8 and Lincoln V-12 speed equipment from various manufactures. We also own vintage speed brands, Austin Speed Equipment, Dixon, Navarro Racing Equipment, Sharp Speed & Power Equipment, and Wilson & Woods, all of which are casted, and machined in the USA.
If you’re looking for a complete turn-key engine, we have you covered too. Our knowledge of Ford Flatheads goes back three generations that started with Max Herman Sr. and son Max Herman Jr. We have also had the privilege of working and learning from some of industries pioneers. Our turn-key engines have a reputation that speak for themselves. If you’ve ever flipped through the pages of a hot rod magazine, chances are you’ll see one of our engines tucked under the hoods of featured vehicles. We build complete, turn-key engines for some of the industries top builders and for the DIY guys building hot rods out of their garages.
Excellent content from the guys at Strong’s Garage as always
Spring has Sprung in Sunny Alberta so we go for a spin in the Beautiful 1932 Ford Roadster that we just finished at the shop! Come along for a walk around tour of the car and then a Driving Tour of Elk Island National Park.
Having exhausted the alphabet for their different models, and after flirting with model numbers for a few years, Ford in the USA began referring to their cars simply by the model year of the initial design, starting with the 1937 Ford.
They produced the car in a range of different body styles; sedan, coupe, convertible, station wagon, pick-up and so on and also in two different trim levels; Standard and DeLuxe. Although each year it had a styling refresh and a few tweaks to keep things new, the ‘37 stayed in production through to 1940 after which, you guessed it, came the 1941 Ford.
Power came from a choice of an entry level 136 cu.in (2.23-litre) flathead V8, which generated 60 hp – or a 221 cu.in (3.62-litre) flathead V8 delivering 85 hp.
By 1940, the coupe had gained sealed-beam headlamps fitted further outboard and given bigger bezels. The bonnet was given a high, flat top and in DeLuxe spec the front grille was widened out with additional louvres to reach the fenders.
The combination of the legendary 221 cu.in flathead V8 engine and a fabulous body shape has made Ford Coupes of the ‘37-’40 era the go-to base metal for automotive alchemists looking to fettle, tweak and hammer their way to the ultimate custom car or hot-rod.
The example we have with us today was painstakingly built to be competitive in vintage and classic endurance rallies such as the legendry Peking to Paris event but largely due to Covid never taking part. As such it represents the opportunity to acquire an “out of the box” endurance rally car ready to compete in the post Covid 2023 vintage and classic rally calendar.
Built for the 1940 model year, this left-hand-drive Ford Coupe DeLuxe was imported to the UK and registered with the DVLA in December 2014.
Handed over to Royal Kustoms of Poole in Dorset, at a cost of over £100,000, the Coupe was eventually rebuilt, with a 296 cu.in (4.8-litre) flathead V8 and prepared for endurance rallying organised by ERA and HERO (https://www.endurorally.com/) in time for the 2020 season. Sadly, we all know what happened in 2020. Although the car has undergone shake-down runs totalling less than 3,000 miles, it has yet to turn a wheel in competition.
With plans changing, the owner decided to sell the car and returned it to Royal Kustoms in September for a full service and check over.
Royal Kustoms estimate that the build today, excluding base car purchase, would exceed £200,000.
Royal Kustoms are highly regarded for the quality and ingenuity of their race and rally preparation. This car has been obsessively over-engineered – outside, inside and underneath – to the most exacting standards of build quality and craftsmanship.
Should they wish to do so – the new owners will just need some paperwork for the car, then they’ll be all set to compete in the pre-war class for notable endurance rallies like the Alaska to Mexico Marathon at the end of September this year.
Fully fettled and ready to go, the car starts, goes and stops as you would hope. The handling and balance are impressive, as is the power on tap from the stroked and bored, 4.8-litre ‘Flathead’ V8 offering around 170 bhp and excellent amounts of torque.
And it goes about its business to a barking, thunderous, roaring soundtrack of Wagnerian proportions that will have people diving for cover at 200 yards.
No expense has been spared, no corners cut, no compromises tolerated.
Every structural, mechanical, electrical or cosmetic component is the best that it could be.
The car has spent most of its life in the dry Southern States of America was sourced in New Mexico and brought to the UK in 2014.
The body, panels and wings are original as is most of the chrome work. That’s where it started now brace yourself.
Here’s the spec sheet…..
Original 1940 Ford Chassis converted with a custom centre section to accommodate 5-speed gearbox.
Fully step boxed the entire length of the chassis rails with added strength gussets.
Rear chassis crossmember converted to take 1939 pickup Parallel leaf-spring kit with custom rear crossmember.
Hydraulic bump stop brackets fitted onto chassis.
All chassis areas with either roll cage or suspension hoops fitted have crush tubes fitted into the chassis.
Front and rear tow hitches installed.
Suspension and Steering
Front: Original style transverse spring front suspension with custom-made front spring with new spring shackles fitted with poly bushes.
Royal Kustoms designed and made front shock hoops with removable strut brace.
Fox front shocks custom made and setup for exact weight of car. Fox adjustable hydraulic bump stops.
Front suspension wishbone has additional reinforcement.
Front anti-roll fitted.
Rear: 1939 Parallel leaf-spring kit fitted.
Fox rear shocks custom-made and setup for exact weight of car, fully adjustable for height.
Fox fully adjustable hydraulic bump stops.
Royal Kustoms top A-arm made with hi-acute off-road Land Rover centre ball joint.
Steering: Fully adjustable electric power steering unit connect to a GM525 heavy duty quick steering manual steering box via Borguson steering U/Js with added tilt adjustment.
Fully refurbished spindles with new kingpins fitted.
Ford Tremec T5Z Motorsport 5-speed transmission.
MDL dual-friction clutch disc and diaphragm clutch plate.
Wilwood external hydraulic clutch slave cylinder.
Mustang racing mechanical clutch release bearing.
Custom-made propshaft fully balanced with heavy duty U/Js fitted.
Ford heavy duty 9” rear axle assembly with Strange heavy duty half-shafts and 3.55 crown and pinion. Custom-made by Hauser racing.
Lincoln Bendix 12” Front drum brakes with re-lined road/race shoes and added air scoops on backing.
Ford 11” Bendix self-adjusting rear drum brakes with road/race linings.
Wilwood adjustable pedal box running Wilwood front and rear master cylinders.
Remote brake servo installed onto front brakes only, running a vacuum hold tank.
Brake proportioning valve and residual valves fitted. Braided flexy lines installed, front and rear.
Hard brake lines are Kniefer with a stainless outer spiral sleeving fitted through out.
296 cubic inch Ford ‘Flathead’ V8.
Ex-military block. Fully ported and polished. Heavy duty main caps. Engine block converted for oil filter system.
New Scat 4 ¼ inch stroke forged crank shaft.
Scat H-beam rods with 2.0 inch bearing size for modern rod bearings.
Ross Racing 3 5/16” forged pistons with Molly rings.
Custom Cam shaft with adjustable lifters, Isky racing springs correctly weighted, 1.6 Manley stainless intake and exhaust valves, 1 piece valve guides.
Mellings oil pump with baffled oil pan.
Edelbrock 75cc finned ally heads. Cosmetic head gaskets installed. ARP head bolts and complete stainless bolt set.
Twin Facet Red Top electric fuel pumps. Twin Malpassi Competition fuel filter/regulators.
Sytec large metal pre-filter element fuel filter. Sytec anti drain back valves.
Cohline 2240 100% ethanol fuel lines fitted.
Complete new custom-made wiring loom fitted with reset trip-able fuses and heavy-duty relays converted to 12 volts.
120 amp alternator. Varley Red Top Racing gel pack battery. 12-volt power sockets installed under hood, inside car and also fitted in boot. Master cut-off key connected onto neg side of battery.
16” high CFM electric fan running with twin auto fan controllers set at different operating temps, also with a fan override switch and a river crossing switch.
New Classic instruments – fully electric gauge cluster.
O2 Lambda sensor and gauge fitted for AFR ratios. On-the-fly switchable fuel and ignition systems.
New electric wiper motor fitted with wash wipes.
Nav systems (GPS and wheel speed sensors) doubled up.
Ignition coils doubled up.
Body and Roll-Cage
Full restoration of body shell.
Original front sheet metal work. Custom-made hood with louvres and side panels. Custom-made floor with drop down boot area and removable trans cover panels enabling transmission removal from the inside if required.
Custom-made seat framework with lockable under-seat drawers.
Custom-made fuel tank framework with removable ally bulk heads and panel work.
Front and rear fenders reworked for higher tyre clearance and to place tyres in the centre of the fender openings.
If the matte black Cadillac hearse hadn’t been parked outside the row of beige concrete and brick buildings, it would have been easy to miss Brothers Custom Automotive, a mecca of hot rods, customs, and Ford flathead V-8s in an industrial park in suburban Detroit.
Rosie the shop cat, who presides over the front office, demanded belly rubs from us before we continued into the 8000-square-foot shop. A sweeping glance took in a shark-mouthed land speed racer, a slammed two-tone Lincoln Premiere, modified Fords from the ’20s through the ’50s in various states of repair, a royal blue Mercedes 190SL, a flared Alfa Romeo GTV, and a primer-coated 1965 Bentley S3.
The cars and parts were interspersed with machining equipment, some as old as the cars being serviced, like a Bridgeport mill and a Sun engine tester straight out of the Truman era. The shop’s playlist was as eclectic as the cars, ranging from Sinatra’s “My Way” to the Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.”
Over by the trio of two-post lifts, owner Bill Jagenow was under the dashboard of a cream-colored 1952 Ford Vicky sedan, attempting to diagnose faulty turn-signal wiring using an original factory service manual. Middle-aged, with short, blond hair styled somewhere between rockabilly and military, he was wearing a button-up shirt emblazoned with the Brothers logo. Eventually, he found the electrical short in the Ford, and the Vicky was back to blinking.
Across the garage, Autumn Riggle, Jagenow’s partner and the shop’s manager, meticulously wet-sanded Alfa body panels fresh from the paint booth. Her jet-black Bettie Page bangs complemented her Dickies work shirt. Two other full-timers were hard at work, one welding up a set of seat rails for the Alfa and the other adjusting the carburetors on a ’35 Ford.
Riggle met Jagenow in Detroit through the local car and music scene. She was working in the fashion industry, but as their relationship progressed, she became more involved in the shop’s operation. “I went from selling shoes and coats at Gucci to ordering spare parts on my lunch break,” she recalled. She eventually joined full time to run the business side of the operation
Jagenow and Riggle are fixtures on the Detroit car scene, from concours to cars and coffee. Due to its community presence and reputation for winning shows, Brothers doesn’t have to advertise for business. Patrons include C-suite execs from the Detroit automakers, professional sports figures, celebrities like Eminem, and average Joes. The reach of Jagenow’s reputation is not limited to Motown, though. At one point during our visit, he had to excuse himself to take a call from a German collector regarding a potential job.
Jagenow had a circuitous journey from being a kid on the east side of Detroit to his current role as an automotive magician for the Motor City elite. He discovered his natural mechanical skills while keeping his first car, a 1972 Cadillac, running in high school. Then he joined the Navy and was stationed in San Diego, where he got caught up in the hot-rod scene. “I was drawn to the way the people in Southern California changed how the car sits,” Jagenow said.
He made friends with hot-rod legend Gene Winfield and other devotees to the discipline. After the Navy and a stint at the California outpost of Mercedes tuner Brabus, he drove his 1949 Ford back to Detroit to work for an automotive supplier.
The Ford Flathead V-8 engine powered Ford and Mercury vehicles from 1932 to 1954. The Ford Flathead is a valve-in-block engine and the valves open adjacent to the combustion chamber, rather than from the top, as in later engines. The four different V-8 flathead displacement sizes between 1932 and 1953 are 136, 221, 239 and 337 cubic inches.
STEP 1 – THE OBVIOUS THINGS TO LOOK FOR
One of the easiest ways to start ID’ing your flathead is to look at the heads. Ignore the castings numbers. Focus on the type of head itself. Flathead heads have 3 main shapes. Your going to mainly focus on the Water outlets. Also, Don’t assume you know what your flathead is internally because of the casting on the heads. That’s because Flathead heads where commonly replaced. If the motor was not commonly serviced at a Ford dealer, the heads you got where the ones sitting on the shelf. This is why it is almost never accurate to use the Heads casting marks to ID your flathead.
If your heads look like this, you’re rocking a 1932-1936 Ford Flathead. First gen flatty’s are more rare and how the whole things started. Congratulations. This was a great little power hose. The engine is harder to build than others years as the parts can be harder to find and more expensive. But we here in the Flat-Spot can help you find almost anything you need.
If your outlets look like this you have a 1937-1948 range flathead. These where a more common flathead and they are honestly the most eclectically desirable. There are two version of this head early heads had 21 studs where the later engines had 24. So that might also help you when it comes to narrowing your year down.
If you have very small Heads that look like these and your Flathead seems really small. Notice how they don’t have water outlets near the top neck. These heads are off a V860. The mini v8 form 1937-1941 which ford put out to try and capitalize on his company’s popularity for the cheap and economical V8. It was fords original goal to not offer an inline 6. But rather produce a Mini V8 to take on the larger sizes that pushed the inline 4 out of favor. This engine was not ideal for the larger Ford cars, but found a second life in small engine racing. The V860 was very popular with Midget race cars, speed boats, and some industrial applications like welders, compressors and water pumps due to their small size.
If your heads have the outlet in the front then lucky you. You have a 8BA flathead which ran from 1948-1953… 1954 if your Canadian. These engines where the last series in the continental US to be made and have some of the best Flathead’s had to offer when it comes to stock performance and engineering. As many of the issues had been resolved.
COUNTING YOUR STUDS
Take a Look at the Head Studs. Count the number of studs on the cylinder heads. According to Van Pelt Sales’ Ford Flathead Specifications web page, the count is as follows: all 136-cubic-inch engines have 17 studs, all 337-cubic-inch have 24 studs, 1932 to 1937 221-cubic-inch engines have 21 studs, 1938 to 1948 221- and 239-cubic-inch engines have 24 studs. The 1949 to 1953 239- and 255-cubic-inch engines have 24 bolts rather than 24 studs with nuts.
STEP 3 – SPARK CAN TELL YOU A LOT
This is the first gen Helmet style distributor. These are commonly also referred to as the Foot Ball Distributor. They ran from 1932-1941. This style came in with a 2 bolt and 3 bolt coil. I am told that the 2 bolt is the older version
This is the second gen 2 bolt distributor. These ran from 1941-1945 and are commonly called the Crab Style Distributor.
This distributor was common from 1946-1948. Because of war surplus the crab style cap is more commonly seen on the later engines. Due to popularity that style commonly replaced this version. The caps are interchangeable.
If your distributor is upright like a modern ignition system then your engine is a 8ba. This was the first year of adjustable timing, that could be done on the car while it was operating. Before they could only be adjusted on a bench with a specific tool.
Despite not being a fancy, state-of-the-art set up, Mike and his team at H&H have a great thing going. The equipment does exactly what it needs to, his team is experienced and the shop has built thousands of vintage engines for customers everywhere!
It’s not every day that a photoshoot for Rod & Custom is what pushes you over the edge into engine building, but that’s exactly what got Mike Herman to begin his journey building V8s. Of course, this photoshoot wasn’t Mike’s first time being around engines, but before that moment, he hadn’t taken time to learn and understand the work.
Mike’s father, Max Sr., started an engine shop back in 1972 doing Model A work. As Mike tells the story, he was just out of college and decided to join his dad at a car show in Scottsdale, AZ where Jim Rizzo of Rod & Custom came through the booth.
“He asked if we wanted to do a Flathead article,” Herman recalls. “My dad said, ‘Sure, we’ll do it.’ He stuffed me in all the pictures. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t even know how to work a boring bar or anything. The issue took like nine months to come out, and it was like 10 pages in one issue, and then nine pages the next. The phone never stopped ringing, and I just had to learn on the fly. I shadowed my dad to learn all the tech and read whatever I could. I learned how to break everything and fix everything.”
That push into engine building was exactly what Mike needed, who said he might be working a desk job otherwise. Herman soon took what he learned from his dad and started his own shop, H&H Flatheads in La Crescenta, CA in 2003 – March 2023 will be the shop’s 20th anniversary.
At just 44 years old today, Herman has successfully built a name for himself and his shop in the vintage V8 world, focusing on Ford Flatheads, Lincoln Flathead V8s and V12s, Y blocks, Hemis, early Cadillacs, Nailheads, and others.
“I was fortunate enough to enter the industry at the right time, because within two years, I bought Navarro Racing Equipment from Barney Navarro,” Herman says. “That was perfect timing because I was up and coming and he was retiring. Since then, I’ve acquired seven other companies. I have eight vintage speed equipment companies under my H&H Flatheads brand.”
Now, Herman gets to add one more accolade to his shop’s name – Engine Builder’s and Autolite’s 2022 America’s Best Vintage Engine Shop award. H&H Flatheads is a modest shop on the surface – around 3,000 sq.-ft. of space, Kwik-Way boring bars, Sunnen hones, a Hines digital balancer, a Storm Vulcan surfacer, some hot tanks, and tons and tons of old and new engine parts.
Engineered by Troy Trepanier to set land speed records on the Bonneville Salt Flats, this flathead-powered 1932 Ford roadster had SEMA attendees going nuts.
The roadster body is a steel 1932 Ford reproduction from Brookville. The chassis features suspension parts familiar to anybody into traditional hot rods, including a 3-inch dropped tubular front axle, 1940 Ford spindles, and classic wishbone-style radius rods, along with a Winters quick-change rearend. A Liberty air-actuated five-speed transmission backs up the flathead.
The XF/GR record of just over 161 mph was set in 2012. Jewell was determined to beat it but was having no success, and turned to Troy Trepanier at Rad Rides by Troy for help. “He was hitting a wall,” said Rad Rides fabricator Adam Banks. “Part of it was aerodynamics and part of it was the horsepower he was getting out of his engines.”
At Rad Rides by Troy, the engine was filled with Devcon epoxy and machined. “There were a lot of trials and changes,” Adam said. “We flow-tested different blocks to find out what the best cfm was and kept changing the combustion chambers. We ended up increasing the cfm almost 150 percent without losing a lot of compression. Switching the intake and exhaust ports—which is why the exhaust comes out through the top of the engine—helped with the flow. “
The billet aluminum cylinder heads that got so much attention at SEMA were custom machined at Rad Rides. Cooling runs through the heads; an oil-squirter system cools the pistons and cylinders walls from underneath.
A Short History and Evolution of the Flathead V8, and Making It Modern
Back in 1932, Henry Ford introduced the 221 cubic inch Flathead engine producing 65 HP. And by 1935 HP was increased to 85 HP. Those engines were produced from 1932 to 1938 and were commonly known as “21 stud engines”, due to the head design using 21 head studs
In 1937 Ford introduced a 136 cubic inch variant, producing 45hp. This engine was only in production from 1937 through 1938. Although the engine was efficient, it was not very popular with the American public, who were now used to the 85 HP engine. The 136 cubic inch engine was discontinued at the end of 1938 when the new Inline 6-cylinder Flathead was introduced.
1938 saw the first major redesign of the 221 cubic inch Flathead engine, with the addition of more head studs, now totaling 24 studs. In 1939 the cubic inches were increased to 239 cubic inches and produced 95hp. These engines remained in production until 1948. During World War II, 1943-1946, no engines were manufactured for the public due to the war effort (or at least, that I am aware of at the time of this writing).
In 1948-1953 8BA/RT blocks no longer had the cast ½ ring. Ford now used a single stamped metal bell ring for cars or a cast metal bell ring for trucks.
The intermediate ring with 3” depth, was used over the flywheel and clutch and used to attach transmission to the engine. In 1948 to 1951, Ford produced the 337 cubic inch engine used in Lincoln cars and the F7 and F8 trucks. Known as the 8EL in the Lincoln cars and 8EQ in heavy-duty trucks, these engines produced more horsepower and torque and weighed over 850 lbs. These engines are physically larger and used 27 head studs and used a 12” clutch. Although this is a V8 flathead, very few parts from the 59A or 8BA engines are interchangeable.