2023 marks 120 years since Ford Motor Company was founded—on June 16, for you history buffs—and 20 years since Ford built its 100,000,000th V-8 engine. Since then, the company has made an increasing commitment to smaller, forced-induction engines. However, it certainly hasn’t given up on the V-8: The Blue Oval produced some of its best in the last 10 years.
Ford Motor Company’s 120th is a great time to look back at the company’s long history of building powerful V-8s, engines that won races, won customers, and even won wars.
Here are our favorite Ford engine families, with some standout models worth celebrating.
1932–53 and beyond
This is where it all started. The Flathead wasn’t the world’s first V-8, and, with just 65 horsepower, it wasn’t the most powerful engine on the market in 1932, either. However, when the beautiful lines of the Ford Model B were met with the power of the compact Flathead V-8, the automotive world reached a milestone.
It’s hard to understate the importance of the Flathead: In its wake, a whole industry of hot rod parts sprang up to feed racers’ need for speed. Even though the engine was phased out in the United States in 1954 in favor of the Y-block, the Flathead lived on elsewhere, notably in France and Brazil, where it was manufactured under license for passenger-car use into the ’60s. Even today, vintage hot-rod enthusiasts use the engine to power land-speed cars in classes that use the vintage castings—modern overseas castings aren’t allowed by the Southern California Timing Association.
Before the U.S. entered WWII, Ford began developing its own spin on Packard’s version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12. The powerful Packard Merlin V-12s, supercharged for aircraft use, would be used in some of the most successful fighters of WWII, including the Supermarine Spitfire and North American P-51 Mustang. Unlike Rolls or Packard, Ford never built a V-12 for aircraft; it engineered the powerplant for tanks.
Ford developed a V-8 using the architecture of the Packard V-12 and the same 5.4-inch bore and 6-inch stroke. The result was a 1000-cubic-inch monster that served in a number of tanks and tanks destroyers such as the M4A3 Shermand and M10. Ford’s 500-hp V-8 was compatible with the same vehicles that used a pair of GM diesel engines. Ford did build full, V-12 versions of the engines for large tank prototypes toward the end of the war, but those twelve-cylinders never reached production.
By the way, these mid-century, DOHC engines use flat-plane crankshafts, so don’t let anyone tell you that the screaming 5.2-liter Voodoo was a first for Ford.
Was there a better way to christen Ford’s newly minted Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln (MEL) division than with its own V-8 engine? Much like GM’s Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, and Pontiac divisions, Ford decided MEL could have an engine significantly different than the FE (Ford-Edsel) engine introduced at the same time. While the MEL V-8 shared some internals (like oiling components) with the FE, the MEL was a shockingly unique design with “flat heads” that differ from those of the original Ford V-8.
Like its contemporaries, the MEL was an overhead valve design. However, while most engines of the era had cylinder heads with a combustion chamber machined into them, the MEL sported a space between the piston and the top of the cylinder’s bore, like Chevrolet’s W-series big-blocks did. From some angles that combustion chamber looks like a triangular wedge, not unlike the grille of the star-crossed Edsels that represent the “E” in MEL. Which clearly foretold a short and sad future for this engine.
For one shining moment, the MEL was the head of its class. The Super Marauder engine for 1958 sported three carburetors, an aluminum air cleaner, 430 cubic inches of displacement, and a shocking output of 400 horsepower. This was the first production engine to reach the magic horsepower number of 400, but Ford detuned it in 1959 and subsequently gave up the throne to other manufacturers. While Ford wised up and consolidated both its engine and vehicle-brand lineups, the loss of the MEL could only be eased by future big-block Ford V-8s.
Though Ford’s FE engine was built to power mid-size cars and light trucks, it evolved into several vastly different race-winning combinations. Initially launched as a 300-hp, 361-cubic-inch Edsel powerplant (FE stands for Ford-Edsel), the FE soon spread to Ford models in 332- and 352-cubic-inch displacements. However, you’re probably familiar with some of the larger displacements.
Ford’s 1-2-3 finish at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans came from three 427 FE–powered GT40s. The 390 that powered Lieutenant Frank Bullitt’s 1968 Mustang fastback was an FE. Shelby’s legendary 427 Cobra used an FE. Not bad bona fides for a performance V-8.
Already doing well in ’60s NASCAR competition against Chrysler’s 427 Hemi, with its wedge cylinder heads, Ford decided to get into the hemi game. It developed a single-overhead-cam version of the 427. The 427 SOHC was unfortunately banned from NASCAR competition but the few that were built saw use at the dragstrip.
From NASCAR superspeedways and NHRA drag strips to the Mulsanne Straight, the FE found success and brought home championships. It still has a niche aftermarket following and can be built into a formidable street or race engine.
Ford’s compact OHV V-8 of the ’60s lived long enough to survive the malaise era and, as EFI took over for carburetors, the engine breathed life into a resurging performance market. We can’t pick one favorite from this fruitful family, which earned its nickname from its Canadian city of origin. K-Code 289s made a potent, high-winding package for early Mustang and Shelby GT350 road racers, and the early ’90s fuel-injected 5.0 kicked off a performance industry of its own—who doesn’t love that fantastic, long-runer intake? In between those bookends is the yeoman 351, which served well in cars and trucks for decades.
Windsor V-8s were produced into the 21st century and used in Ford trucks. The Explorer was one of the last to use the engine, getting one of the best factory versions of the 302 using a potent set of heads that are prized by junkyard scroungers.
335 Series, aka Cleveland
If you thought we forgot about the Boss 302, don’t worry. Known to enthusiasts as the “Clevor,” the famed Mustang Boss 302 engine was a melding of Windsor (bottom end) and Cleveland (top end). The two mills have the same bore spacing, so swapping on the big-valve Cleveland heads wasn’t a major undertaking. It was those free-breathing heads that made the engine special, so we’re including it here.
Although short-lived, the Cleveland engine family has a devoted aftermarket. The 351 and 400 engines in particular have great performance potential. The 10.297-inch deck height of the 351M and 400 Cleveland blocks makes it possible to drop in crankshafts with longer strokes, making either of these Clevelands a better candidate for a high-displacement small-block build than a 289 or 302 Windsor, each of which has a standard deck height of 9.2-inches, or even the 351 Windsor, whose deck height ranges from 9.48 to 9.503 inches (it grew taller in 1971). Ford fans in Australia love the Cleveland engine and some of the best aftermarket parts for these engines come from down under.
Lotus cars powered by Ford V-8s were some of the best-looking Indy cars of the 1960s. Displacing 256 cubic inches, the DOHC 90-degree V-8 was built to rev, and it sounded amazing. Its hot-V layout placed the intake runner between the camshafts and the exhaust ports in the valley between the heads, making for a beautiful exhaust system that was only practical in a mid-rear-engine design. In 1965, Jim Clark’s Ford-powered Lotus became the first mid-rear-engine car to win the Indianapolis 500, ending Offenhauser’s 18-year win streak.
Like the large-displacement big-blocks of Ford’s competitors, most of the 385 Series V-8s found their way into heavy passenger cars or 3/4- and 1-ton pickups, a workhorse role they filled into the 1990s, when the 460 V-8 was installed into scores of Super Duty trucks. However, the 385 Series—so named because of the 460 V-8’s 3.85-inch stroke—also gave birth to the 429 V-8, which used the same big, 4.36-inch bore but paired it with a 3.59-inch stroke.
The Boss 429 used the same bore and stroke combination but added monster heads with huge valves. Rather than placing all of the valves in a line, which is typically the case in wedge-shaped combustion chamber heads—shown below, on the left—the Boss 429 used hemispherical combustion chambers with valves canted away from each other. These rare V-8s are valuable collector’s pieces today, but aftermarket heads are now available to get the look and performance using a standard 385 Series bottom end.
How to spot a Ford pushrod V-8, from flathead to 460
Let’s say it’s your lucky day, and you’ve found an engine laying around in the back of a garage with an unknown history. Or maybe you’re trying to discern which engine was swapped into a car, and all of the aftermarket parts between the fenders are muddying the waters. In any case, the first step is always to identify the engine
Determining precisely which engine you’re looking at under the hood can be difficult. Heck, sometimes a brand produced more engine families in the same decade than you can count on both hands. If you’re pretty sure you’re looking at a Ford V-8, the following guide will help you make the proper ID of your engine so that you can dive deeper into the ID.
This article, focusing on Ford passenger car V-8s, isn’t a full history on engine tech or applications. It’s intended as a primer to help you narrow things down and, in turn, enrich your gearhead knowledge. We’ll focus on the biggest visual keys to look for when you come face-to-valve-cover with eight cylinders of Detroit metal.
Retaining the vintage vibe on a hot rod you really want to pile the miles on can lead to compromises. Old engines and speed parts that have the look you want may not perform the way you expect during a 400-mile journey, and, in many cases, you may just have to settle.
Many find they have to swap original fans for electric ones for efficiency, for example, hide a stealthy fuel-injection system, or even use an alternator in place of a generator. Since it’s mounted right out front on most engines, a generator certainly carries the traditional vibe, but it falls far short of current output compared to an alternator.
We don’t know where’s the beef, but here’s the car
Pick of the Day was special ordered by Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas
You don’t have to be the owner of a Wendy’s restaurant franchise to want to buy the Pick of the Day, but it might help. The car is a 1978 Glassic roadster done in the style of a 1929 Ford Model A and was specially ordered by Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas, according to the Volo, Illinois, dealer advertising the car on ClassicCars.com.
“Dave custom ordered this factory-built 1978 Glassic roadster to suit his specific needs, which was an eye-catching paint scheme using the colors from the Wendy’s logos,” the dealer says.
“Most of the Glassics were equipped with a 4 cyl and no options, Dave ordered this one with a 302, power steering, brakes and an automatic transmission.
Flathead Myths courtesy of Tony Baron
Flathead History Lesson courtesy of Charlie Clark
It’s been over 50 years since the last Ford flathead V-8 was commercially produced in the U.S. It was not your Dad’s engine-it was your grandfather’s. Simple by today’s high-tech standards, during its performance reign from the late ’30s through the mid ’50s, the flathead was unsurpassed for building go-fast power on the cheap. It spawned the modern aftermarket speed-equipment industry and became a favorite of bootleggers, dry-lakes racers, dirt trackers, street racers, and a whole generation that just wanted a fast car. And in a sense, the flathead also begot HOT ROD Magazine, for this publication probably wouldn’t exist if not for the flathead speed industry and the advertising dollars it spawned.
Although a great leap forward when it was originally introduced in 1932, by the ’50s the aging motor could not stand up to the new generation of overhead-valve powerplants like the small-block Chevy. At around the same time, old-time hot rods gave way to modern musclecars and street machines. Then, about 20 years ago, traditional street rods suddenly became cool again. At first everyone was dumping modern engines into old metal, but eventually the supply of stock bodies dried up and reproduction glass bodies took over. The new engines overpowered the old chassis, so modern suspensions and disc-brake swaps were added to the mix. Eventually you could build a whole street rod out of aftermarket commodity parts. The downside was, as Flathead Engineering’s Charlie Clark puts it, street rods “began to look about as exciting as a belly-button-everyone had one.”
Among this herd of sheep, a few original hot rods were brought out of retirement, complete with gennie flatheads as the powerplant. Dressed with up to four carbs and that unique flathead sound accentuated by glasspacks, the old codgers were suddenly the rage again. It was a statement, in effect saying, “I am not a cookie-cutter rod.”
The new old cars got a lot of attention. Guys who once dreamed of owning a flattie back in the ’50s but who had neither the time nor the money were now in their 50s, with lots of disposable income. Younger guys yearned for a simpler, back to basics approach. Flatheads began to come back, and prices of swap-meet stuff skyrocketed. This encouraged the old-time flathead parts guys (or their sons) to start repopping the old parts. Like all fads, once started, the process fed itself.
Now it’s 2005, and the flathead’s resurgence shows no sign of diminishing. In fact, the growing flathead movement has basically sorted itself out into three distinct groups. At one end there are restorers who insist on putting everything back to exact original condition. Most in this group will accept a modified flathead as long as it is period-correct, with no obvious modern technology visible. At the other extreme are dry-lakes, Bonneville, and nostalgia drag racers who have applied modern technology to the point where in some instances it is questionable whether the engine still remains a true flathead: Once-85hp engines now produce over 400 hp on gas and have exceeded 700 hp on fuel-all this on an engine with only three main bearings.
The pinnacle of flathead tech, this Dick Landy-built 700-plus-horsepower motor powered Ron
Somewhere in the middle is the largest group: Potential street rodders who just want reasonably fast hot rods without having a cookie-cutter, 1-800-car. For this group-whether building a rat rod, yanking a Chevy that just doesn’t look right in that old Deuce, or building a brand-new car-the outlook couldn’t be rosier, even better than the flathead’s heyday … so long as the bucks hold out. You can now build a brand-new flathead. There are builders on the left and right coasts and all points in-between who assemble reliable, powerful, 150-200hp engines, or you can buy new parts and build one yourself. A good supply of new French (really) blocks exist and outfits like Scat make new H-beam rods and sell cranks with up to a 4.5-inch stroke. Ross, Wiseco, Egge, Arias, and others make pistons in any configuration you desire. The old cam grinders-including Isky, Schneider, Elgin, and others-have both old and new cam grinds. New stainless valves are available from several sources. Baron, Edelbrock, Sharp (Wilcap), Navarro, and Offenhauser make both old-style heads as well as improved new configurations.
Still not enough? There are kits to install Weiand and Magnuson superchargers, or even one or two GMC 71-series blowers. Fabled Stromberg 97 carbs are back, but you can also upgrade to modern Holley four-barrels or even electronic-fuel-injection systems. Finally, there are brand-new aluminum blocks and Ardun OHV conversion heads and valvetrains. On the following pages, we’ll take a look at some of the stuff available for the flathead and also cover the lineage, interchangeability, and secrets of this proud forebear of modern hot rodding.
FLATHEAD MYTH #1
All flatheads overheat, then the blocks crack.
Solve cooling problems by using a modern water pump available through Speedway Motors and other sources. For even more protection, install a crossflow radiator and increase coolant system pressure to 17-21 pounds.
The ’38-’48 59A block (right) has an integral cast-in bellhousing. The ’49-’53 8BA block (
From its debut in 1932 to the end of its U.S. production life in 1953, the flathead Ford underwent three major evolutionary changes. The first-design ’32 through early ’38 engines had only 21 cylinder-head studs and until mid 1936 even used poured babbit main bearings. Reserve these early blocks for collector cars due to their inferior head-retention and bearing design; speed equipment availability for them is also severely limited.
Starting in July 1938, the blocks went to 24 head-retention studs. These second-design ’38 1/2-’48 blocks (often referred to as “59A” castings) retained an integral cast-in bellhousing, used a distributor that mounts flush to the front cover with a horizontal shaft on the front of the engine and had insert-style main bearings but still used full-floating rod bearings (one bearing shell for each rod pair).
The third-design “8BA” ’49-’53 engines have a bolt-on bellhousing, the distributor was moved to the top-right of the engine, and modern insert-style bearings are used on both the mains and rods. After 1953, flathead production continued in other countries, most notably in Europe, where the engine continued to be used in French military vehicles through the ’90s. French blocks have some unique features and are covered separately.
As we go to press, word is just in that Mark Kirby at Motor City Flathead has joined forces with Shadow Rods to develop an all-new, improved ’49-’53-style aftermarket cast-iron flathead block. This block is completely beefed up, with four-bolt caps, reinforced bottom-end and webbing, furnace-brazed sleeves (max bore is 3.5 inches), and new-design head studs that tie into the bottom of the block. It will use a new oil pan and special bolt-on universal bellhousing that accepts most modern transmissions. Stay tuned for further updates on this project.
FLATHEAD MYTH #2
Flatheads are old, ancient, obsolete technology.
Mostly true, but the French military used flatheads as late as the early ’90s and “ancient” flathead technology has evolved to run over 300 mph at Bonneville. On the street, flatheads are happy on today’s crappy gas, because that’s the only kind of gas there was back in the ’30s.
The flathead blocks to get are those with a 3 3/16-inch bore. These include the ’39-’53 Mercury and ’46-’53 Ford castings. Although it sounds weird in this modern age of thin-wall castings, the 3 3/16-inch-bore, U.S.-built flatties can be bored 0.125-inch (1/8-inch-over). In fact, unless you have a badly core-shifted block, most of them can accept a whopping 0.1875-inch overbore (3/16-inch over standard). Earlier 3 1/16-inch-bore blocks will only go 0.090-over.
In the old days the hot ticket was dropping a ’49-’53 Mercury 4-inch-stroke crank in place of the Ford 3.75-inch-stroke unit. Speed-O-Motive still advertises Merc crank cores if you want to go this route, but it’s no longer necessary, what with all the aftermarket alternatives available. Scat offers affordable cast Pro Stock cranks through 4.375-inch stroke, with either 2.00- or 2.138-inch rod journals. Custom billets stretch all the way to 4.5-inch stroke. The 2-inch rod journals are very popular because their diameter and width permits the use of readily available 215-inch-style Buick/Olds/Rover V-8 bearings.
Stock ’32-’42 Ford
Stock ’39-’48 Merc
Stock ’46-’53 Ford
Stock ’49-’53 Merc
1/8 Merc stroker
1/8 over, 1/8 stroker
3/16 over, 1/8 stroker
1/4 stroker (custom)
1/8 over, 1/4 stoker
3/16 over, 1/4 stroker
3/8 stroker (custom)
1/8 over, 3/8 stroker
3/16 over, 3/8 stroker
1/2 stroker (custom)
1/8 over, 1/2 stroker
3/16 over, 1/2 stroker
1/4 over, 1/2 stroker*
*French block only
About the longest arm you can throw in a flathead, this Scat custom vacuum-melt 4340-steel
A stock flathead rod (rear) is forged from steel that will bend instead of break outright.
With just three mains (modern V-8s have five), a flattie’s bottom-end is marginal for high
Most stock flatheads never came with an effective harmonic damper. But with modern solid cams and big stroker cranks, overall engine rpm and piston speed is considerably higher than the old stockers. Flathead gurus like Don Ferguson and Tony Baron strongly urge that hot rod engines run a harmonic damper. One solution is adopting a small-block Chevy damper. The Chevy’s crank diameter is only 0.060-inch smaller than the flathead’s. With such a small difference; it’s relatively easy to take a little off the Ford snout then slightly hone the inside of a Chevy balancer so it slips over the Ford crank.
Tom Roberts uses a 6-inch-od early 327 Chevy small-journal damper, honed and rebroached wi
Don’t want to do any machining? Baron Racing offers this hub that adapts the 6 1/4-inch-od
Don’t want to do any machining and need to retain the stock pulleys and beltdrives? This S
Original 50-plus-year-old blocks without cracks are getting scarce. Although new aftermarket iron blocks are reputedly under development, right now a real-world solution to finding a good core for your flathead is to start with a brand-new French block. For reasons known only to the crazy French, flatheads were used in French Army trucks through the early ’90s. Mullins, a leading purveyor of surplus Jeep and other vintage military parts in Texas, accidentally discovered a warehouse full of brand-new French blocks about to be junked during a European trip searching for Jeep stuff. He bought the entire French stock, and at last count still has at least 500 blocks, 120 complete engines, and over 2,000 rods.
French blocks are about 30 pounds heavier than a standard flathead, which is a good indication of better metal and thicker walls. Reputedly, they are cast with 10 percent higher nickel content, and the quality of the modern castings is a lot smoother with much less core shift. Tony Baron says French blocks can be bored 0.250-over (1/4 inch). With a 4.5-inch-stroke aftermarket crank, that yields 334 cubic inches.
However, there are some significant differences in French blocks compared to the originals. French blocks are hybrids, essentially a ’49-’53 8BA in terms of deck height and front-end, but with the integral cast bellhousing and corresponding oil pan as found on the ’38 1/2-’48 59A. Two things to watch out for are an extra water hole in the block and the lack of a breather standpipe in the block. There is also an ugly governor mounting boss on the left-rear of the block that many rodders prefer to machine off.
Because the French version was used in trucks, the intake- and exhaust-port throats are choked down under the valve pockets, so extensive port-work is required for racing. However, the main caps are beefier than traditional stock flatheads. Unfortunately, old-school resistance to this “new and improved” part is so extensive that the SCTA has banned the blocks from competing in classic land speed racing classes. Apparently, the old boys’ network doesn’t want any youngbloods crashing their exclusive country club. But that just leaves these pristine virgin blocks for us normal street guys.
New French blocks are pickled in cosmoline, sealed in plastic bags, and packed in wooden c
This French block was machined and heavily ported by Baron Racing. French blocks already h
Before the SCTA banned French blocks, Ron Main was treating this one to his valve-reversal
FLATHEAD MYTH #3
Popup pistons don’t work in a flathead.
The fastest guys both naturally aspirated and blown run high-dome pistons.
FLATHEAD MYTH #4
All high-rise manifolds are the same.
There are over 50 different flathead intake manifolds, but they aren’t all created equal. You need the right amount of plenum volume and runner length to complement the engine size, camshaft, cylinder-head flow, and operating range. What’s right for your engine differs per application.
Normally we’d title this section “Cylinder Heads,” but on a flathead, the heads-having neither ports nor valves-only form the combustion-chamber roof. The mixture must follow a tortuous U-turn path out the block-mounted intake valve, over to the main part of the chamber above the piston, and then back out the exhaust valve. This lateral flow severely restricts flathead breathing capability, although it does promote what today’s high-tech engineers term swirl and tumble, which enhances fuel mixing and combustion.
Making power with a flathead is a fine balancing act, juggling the higher thermodynamic potential of raising compression against improving airflow through the combustion chamber. Traditional flathead airflow management practices call for relieving the block-removing metal between the valve-seat sides closest to the cylinder bore. This improves airflow, but the resultant effective combustion-chamber-volume increase lowers the compression ratio, in turn decreasing horsepower and fuel economy. Trying to gain back compression ratio by using popup pistons may improve airflow provided proper attention is paid to the transfer area and overall piston-to-combustion chamber interface. The best balance has been the subject of debate for over 60 years.
Currently the most popular approach is running a big popup piston, but with a scallop on the side adjacent to the valves to keep the transfer area clear between the valves and the cylinder bore. Recommended bottom-line street-gas-friendly compression ratios are between 7.5-8:1 on naturally aspirated engines and 6.5-7.0:1 with a blower. As for cylinder heads, Baron, Edelbrock, Navarro, Offenhauser, and Sharp (now sold by Wilcap) all have their adherents.
Reliefs between the valves and bores are much less pronounced than the old days, only about 0.080-inch deep instead of the old-school 31/416 inch. Research has shown there’s relatively little air movement over the base of the block. Instead, air wants to go over the front of the valve and hit the chamber roof. Most hot rod engines use oversize valves. Small-block Chevy valves remain popular, but with reduced-base-circle cams they may be too short to permit proper lash adjustment. Correct-length flathead 1.800 intake/1.600 exhaust valves are available from flathead specialists like Baron Racing.
Seal the heads to the block using slick new graphite-impregnated head gaskets available from Best Gasket, Red’s Headers, and Tatom. Copper head gaskets are sold by SCE. Fel-Pro and Victor continue to make head gaskets too.
Piston evolution, from left: Not a cartoon caricature, the modern ’50s-cast Hi-duty Ford O
Chamber evolution, from left: The early ’32-’36-style chamber worked with flat-top pistons
The 7/16 popup piston is at 23 degrees BTDC, the point where its 60-degree chamfer starts
Compared to the original Ardun (bottom), the new kit (top) includes stronger rocker stands
In 1947, long before Zora Arkus-Duntov became famous for his work developing the Corvette and performance Chevrolet parts, he and his brother Yura designed what has been considered the ultimate flathead performance mod-turning the engine into an overhead-valve hemi. The company they formed to produce these heads was named “Ardun,” an acronym derived from their last name. Only 200 original sets are known to exist, but fortunately, Ardun heads and associated conversion parts are back, reproduced in improved form by Don Ferguson of Ardun Enterprises. The present-day Arduns are CNC-machined using high-grade 356-T6 aluminum, have refined combustion chambers, and improved oiling and valvetrain components. They fit original ’39-’53 blocks, French blocks, and (perhaps the ultimate evolution) Ferguson’s new aluminum block. Relieved blocks must have the reliefs filled to use Ardun heads.
The new Arduns have lighter 11/32-inch-stem stainless steel valves and accept modern 12mm,
Save another 70 pounds with Ardun’s new aluminum block. The bottom end is beefed with soli
A potential new kid on the block: Uncommon Engineering’s working on a SOHC three-valve “F”
CAM AND VALVETRAIN
With no rocker arms, a flathead’s total lift must be generated entirely by the cam lobe. According to Baron Racing, the limiting factor is not piston-to-head interference, nor even valvespring coil-bind-it is running out of cam bearing clearance for the lobes. Short of machining the block oversize for custom roller-cam bearings, even with a reduced base circle this limits max cam lift to about 0.460 inch. Tony Baron says that a good-running flathead should have no less than 0.400 lift and about 250 degrees duration at 0.050-inch tappet lift. Schneider’s 278F solid (0.420 lift, 250 degrees at 0.050 duration, 110-degree lobe separation angle) is one grind that falls within these specs. Many hard-core guys still swear by Isky’s 400-JR solid (0.400 lift, 244-degrees at 0.050, 111-degree LSA).
One flathead builder, Dave Tatom, offers a unique line of custom grinds with wide 114-degree LSA for naturally aspirated engines, and 116-118 LSAs for blown motors. Tatom believes spreading the centers helps combat overlap-induced reversion with the flathead’s siamesed center exhaust ports. The 270-F, Tatom’s best all-around cam, is said to work well on normally aspirated or blown, stick, or automatic cars, with good idle quality and 18-19 inches of vacuum. Ground with a 114-degree LSA and 112-degree intake centerline, it has 0.395-inch lift and 234 degrees duration at 0.050. Cams like this with good aftermarket heads are capable of producing 200 hp and 240 lb-ft naturally aspirated, and over 300 hp and 350 lb-ft with a blower.
Mechanical solid and roller cams are available for both early and late blocks. Adjustable
Change a front-mount distributor cam to vertical drive with this Baron adapter. It has a f
Block mods for adjustable lifters: With the windowed solid flat-tappet lifter, drill a sma
FLATHEAD MYTH #5
Four carbs don’t work on the street.
Four carbs on a properly designed intake manifold offer the best distribution short of today’s dry EFI systems. Back in the day, four-barrel carbs had barely been invented. The old-timers took what they had and made it work. Besides, multicarb setups look cool.
FLATHEAD MYTH #6
Large valves don’t work on the street.
Large-diameter, unshrouded valves combined with a proper combustion chamber configuration and piston design are needed to promote the proper transfer area from the flathead’s valves to the far end of the chamber over the piston tops.
The stock flathead oiling system is marginal for performance use. Most builders convert the stock oil system to a full-flow design with a modern, remote-mounted oil filter. There are several techniques; the accompanying photos show the method preferred by Baron Racing. At present, the only aftermarket custom oil pan available is from Ardun Engineering. Most flattie builders modify factory pans. Melling still makes a high-volume oil pump (PN M-15). A truck oil pickup tube assembly (PN 8RT-6615) is required to use the M-15 as well as the standard volume Melling M-19 in ’48-and-earlier engines; ’49-and-up engines can use the stock pickup.
Built to Baron’s specs, this 12-quart pan with integral windage tray fits 59A and French i
Baron Racing’s full-flow oil system: Plug the existing main-feed lower lateral port at the
Drill a 3/8-inch hole from the bottom of the cam bore to the rear main journal (photo 2, E
It was only at the very end of the flathead’s reign that the first small four-barrel carbs appeared; back then everyone used multiple-carb setups. Strombergs were the favorites, but Chandler-Grove/Holley, Zenith, and Rochester two-barrels were also in use. Stromberg in England is producing new Strombergs again. Improved internal components and casting technology make them more reliable and leak-free.
The Thickstun two-carb high-rise intake (today marketed by Baron) is an excellent street setup and it even provides clearance for the stock generator. Baron also offers a modern version of the famous Tattersfield/Baron four-carb race intake in more civilized street form. The current incarnation is 3 inches taller than the originals and has smaller 1 1/2-inch ports (vintage versions had 1 3/4 ports, but the new casting is thick enough to hog ’em out). Tom Roberts’ new two-piece crossflow utilizes the latest in airflow technology. Different top-halves are available for mounting a variety of induction setups. Edelbrock, Wilcap (Sharp), and Offenhauser continue to market a wide variety of intakes.
Baron Racing intakes include the Thickstun two-carb high-rise (left), shown here with Chan
The original Edelbrock four-barrel carb intakes were designed for small, now-obsolete, Car
Wilcap is reproducing Sharp intake manifolds. They are available in both two- and three-ca
Yes, you can have a classic flathead with modern fuel injection. Hilborn and Ardun Enterprises offer EFI conversions that look like old-time stacks but with EFI nozzles. TBI injection through billet Stromberg 97 carb-like throttle-bodies is available from Flathead Engineering. Mooneyes also offers throttle-bodies that resemble Strombergs. A new player is Gemini Electronic Fuel Injection, a complete bolt-on flathead conversion kit based on the self-programming Prodigious fuel injection system. There is also an Australian outfit, Flatattack Engineering, offering plenum-style, TPI-like systems controlled by either GM Delco or MoTeC computers.
Ardun Enterprises’ overhead-valve hemi heads are shown with old-school mechanical stacked
Flathead Engineering offers single, twin, and quadruple TBI systems. The single and twin u
Gemini Electronic Fuel Injection looks like traditional mechanical fuel injection but is a
Tom Roberts makes this trick two-piece intake. The high-tech engineered design has a runne
A unique feature of Magnuson’s Eaton blower is the bypass valve (arrow) that opens under c
Flatheads may not have the cubes or brute airflow potential of many of today’s modern mills, but there is a solution: Bolt on a supercharger. The flathead’s compression ratio is well suited to supercharging, and besides, what could be more hot rod than a blower poking through the hood? Magnuson offers an Eaton blower kit, while Joe Abbin of Roadrunner Engineering has Weiand 142 and 174 supercharger setups.
FLATHEAD MYTH #7
You need lots of timing to make a flathead run.
Tony Baron runs 10 degrees of base timing and 23 degrees max at full advance. The engine may “feel better” with 27-30 degrees total timing (as read on the crank), but Baron says “it slows up the flame travel. You may lose as much as 30 hp above 4,500 rpm.”
Roadrunner Engineering offers complete kits including beltdrives for the Weiand 142 and 17
Uncommon Engineering specializes in, well, uncommon setups-modern renditions of the most f
Don’t want a front-mount? How ’bout Uncommon’s twin 4-71 top-mount system, shown here in m
FLATHEAD MYTH #8
Flatheads don’t like to rev.
With modern aftermarket cranks and rods using modern insert bearings, 5,500 rpm normally aspirated is not a problem, even with only three main bearings. And there are always billet caps and girdles available.
The improved ’49-’53 pump (left) can be used in place of the early pump (right) by pluggin
Typical water pumps, from left: a ’38-’48 passenger-car pump modified for a bolt-on pulley
Coolant needs to remain in liquid form when it circulates through the motor. Back in the old days, all cars used low-pressure cooling systems, so coolant often boiled. If it boils, steam pockets form, and when you have steam, you’ll get cracks. The solution is to raise the boiling point by upping coolant-system pressure to 17-21 pounds, using a modern crossflow radiator and higher-pressure cap. A high-pressure system will run fine with no boiling, even at 190-210-degree gauge temps.
Not all flathead water pumps are created equal, though. For improved cooling efficiency, original ’49-’53 pumps have more impeller vanes than earlier models. Speedway Motors offers pumps with sealed bearings that do an even better job in both early and late configurations. Tom Roberts starts with the Speedway pump, modifies it for even more flow, and also redoes the snout to accept modern, bolt-on, serpentine-belt pulleys. Ultimately, you can move up to one of Cornhusker Engineering’s custom front cover and late-model water-pump setups.
This is MSD’s 8BA billet flathead distributor (PN 8574) that works with all the trick MSD
The ’39-’48 flatheads used a direct camshaft-driven front-mount distributor; ’49-’53 engines use a gear-driven, vertical-mount distributor on the right-front of the engine. Early and late distributor styles can be interchanged by using the corresponding front engine covers and cam drive. While exact ignition timing will vary per combination, in general flatheads running gasoline like about 23 degrees total advance normally aspirated and just 19 degrees with a blower. No one runs the old weak stock ignitions anymore. Traditionalists can go with Vertex or Mallory mags, while modern guys may want to move up to MSD or Mallory electronic distributors. Some fuel-injection setups even run distributorless coil-ignition setups. Of course, this modern stuff requires a 12-volt electrical system. An alternative are Pertronix conversion kits that fit inside the original distributor; they retain the classic look, and versions are even offered that function on 6-volt power.
FLATHEAD MYTH #9
High-compression is the way to go. Flatheads need high compression because they don’t breathe.
There’s a fine juggling act between compression and promoting proper transfer from the offset valves across the piston top. Too high a compression ratio and the engine peaks early due to restricted top-end breathing. Keep it under 8.0:1.
A wide variety of headers are available for flathead engines, which certainly should not retain the restrictive stock exhaust manifolds. As its name implies, Red’s Headers is the place to go for the widest selection of street-style headers. Also check out Speedway Engineering’s offerings. Ultimately, there are equal-length race headers available from Tatom Custom Engines. Some builders also recommend installing exhaust-port dividers to split the siamesed center exhaust ports.
Red’s Headers offers more than 60 different flathead header sets including this stream-lin
Tatom offers equal-length headers for all fat fenders and roadsters. It also sells gear-re
This all-Wilcap engine sports Wilcap’s Sharp heads and intake, a gear-reduction starter, a
With modern flatheads routinely putting out 250-300 lb-ft of torque, the original trannies obviously aren’t up to the job. Fortunately, a wide variety of adapters are available to mate the venerable motor to today’s automatic and manual transmissions. The king of adapters is undoubtedly Wilcap. It offers adapter kits to mate GM automatic transmissions and Ford C4 automatics to ’49-’53 8BA blocks, as well as a variety of adapters to mate both early and late flatheads to most GM and Ford manual transmissions. Wilcap also sells ’32-’48 Ford mechanical-clutch hardware.
Flat-O Products sells well-designed, complete kits to install the Ford C4 automatic and T5 manual behind either 8BA or 59A engines. Provided you have an original bellhousing, you can use available Trans-Dapt adapters to install Ford passenger-car transmissions from the mid ’60s to the late ’70s behind the ’49-’53 flatties. Centerforce offers clutches and flywheels.
FLATHEAD MYTH #10
Blown flatheads always blow up.
If the combination is properly tailored to the blower application, you should have no real problem. Even stock flatheads can run 6-7 psi boost with no problem.
Alan Schurman Iron Ranch
Flathead engine builder and parts source
Aluminum cylinder heads, single- and dual-carb intakes, generator brackets
Kanter Auto Products
Stock replacement parts including complete rebuild kits
Roy Nacewicz Ent.
Allen Park, MI
Reproduction early Ford fasteners
Allied Motors Inc.
St. Charles, MO
Flathead Ford stroker kits, block machining
Egge Machine Co.
Santa Fe Springs, CA
Comprehensive parts including cast pistons and rings, complete rebuild kits
Ardun intake manifolds
Flatattack Racing Products
0011 61 8 8362 1255 http://www.flatattackracing.com (in the USA, contact Red’s Headers below)
Plenum-style MoTeC and Delco-based EFI systems; aluminum cylinder heads; valve tools; remote oil filter; headers, steel bearing caps and main bearing supports; port dividers; adjustable lifters; Toyota four-speed auto and five-speed manual, Ford C4, and Powerglide trans adapters; aluminum water pumps
SHADOW RODS & Motor City Flathead
Saginaw City, MI http://www.shadowrods.com
New, improved cast-iron block, oil pans, bellhousings, and aluminum cylinder heads under development; full-flow oil filter kits; comprehensive flathead parts
Automotion Rochester Carburetor Service (L.L Fulton Inc.)
Great Falls, MT
Rochester 2-bbl. 2×2 and 3×2 fuel systems
EFI and TBI systems based on billet throttle-bodies that resemble Stromberg 97 carbs or Weber carbs, French blocks
Walnut Creek, CA
925/932-2233 (tech) http://www.flatheadjack.com
Comprehensive custom and performance parts including Potvin cams, aluminum and iron blocks under development
SO-CAL SPEED SHOP AZ (VINTAGE FORD & CHEVROLET PARTS OF ARIZONA)
Hot rod parts, headers
Baron Racing Equipment
Woodland Hills, CA
Flathead engine builder, Baron heads, intake manifolds, main-bearing caps and supports, EFI intake manifolds, fuel-filter distribution blocks, air cleaner, Thickstun and Tattersfield speed equipment, comprehensive parts
Flathead stroker kits, rebuild kits, cams, bearings, pistons, rods, comprehensive engine parts
Flathead engine builder and installer
Mike’s Sidevalve Supply
St. Peters, Adelaide, Australia
fax 61 8 8362 1515
Tatom Custom Engines
Mt. Vernon, WA
Engine builder, custom cams; French blocks, four-bolt main center caps, Best Gasket distributor, comprehensive parts; equal-length headers
GEMINI EFI-Motorsports Marketing -PRODIGIOUS PERFORMANCE PRODUCTS
Prodigious EFI integrated into complete flathead turnkey system that looks like an old-school Hilborn setup
H&H Antique Ford Engine Rebuilding (Max Herman)
La Crescenta, CA
Flathead engine specialist and builder, performance and reproduction parts
Santa Fe Springs, CA http://www.mooneyeusa.com
Moonjection-EFI systems with throttle-bodies that look like Stromberg carbs
Tom Roberts Designs
Modern box-style two-piece intake manifolds with a variety of tops to accommodate Eaton or 4-71 blowers, a liquid intercooler, single or multi carbs, or EFI; aluminum front covers; serpentine-belt supercharger drive systems, billet pulleys, crank hub adapter for TCI Chevy SFI damper
Flathead speed equipment, engine parts, headers
Cornhusker Rod & Custom Inc.
T5 trans conversions, Chevy 409 water-pump conversions, urethane and rubber engine mounts, aluminum timing covers; custom brackets and drives
Hot Rod and Custom Supply
Comprehensive custom and performance flathead parts, custom brackets and front-drives, A/C mounts
Patrick’s Antique Cars and Trucks
Casa Grande, AZ
Flathead parts, speed equipment, Mallory dual-point and electronic distributors
Vertex Magnetos (Taylor Cable Products Inc.)
800/821-3600 (nearest dealer) http://www.taylorvertex.com
“Real” magnetos as well as electronic distributors concealed within a magneto-like outer housing
Pertronix Performance Products
San Dimas, CA
Kits to convert old points distributors to electronic ignition
Vintage Carburetion North Inc.
Custom multicarb systems, high-performance ignitions, supercharger setups, Holley and Stromberg carbs and parts
Dennis Carpenter Reproductions
800/476-9653 (orders) http://www.dennis-carpenter.com
Comprehensive parts, new and rebuilt engines
Jahn’s Pistons (RTR Industries LLC)
Racing and replacement pistons
Racecars in Retrospect Inc.
Rebuilt Stromberg and Chandler-Grove carbs, bolt-on carb setups with linkage, stainless fuel line assemblies, old carb parts
Vintage Ford Parts
Red’s Headers and Early Speed Equipment
31-410 Reserve Drive #4
Thousand Palms, CA 92260
Headers for all ’32-’53 Ford cars and trucks, French blocks, full-circle front seals, valve guides, Johnson adjustable lifters, comprehensive engine hop-up and rebuilder parts, Lincoln Zephyr springs, valvetrain tools, Best Gaskets dealer