Jim Smart
April 30, 2014

Ford's venerable FE series big-block has been around since Dwight Eisenhower was president yet we just can't get enough of this tried and proven Ford big-block. The FE is the mill that won Le Mans three times beating Ferrari, so this engine is no one's kid brother. When the FE was introduced in 1958 in displacements of 332, 352, and 361ci, it wasn't considered a big-block because there were no small-block Fords in those days.

The FE had great architecture from the start with its skirted block and cylinder heads with great growth potential. And honestly, as Ford buffs, we're really not interested in the low-displacement FE engines of the “Leave It To Beaver” era, only the big gulps displacing 390, 427, and 428ci. These are the FE engines you can do a lot with given displacement and good high-flow cylinder heads. And thanks to this engine's great legacy the aftermarket has embraced it with reproduction blocks, heads, and induction when good factory and period pieces are unavailable or too expensive.

The raw physics of the FE big-block are what make it a no brainer to sort out because it offers you choice, strength, and simplicity. There are three basic bore sizes to work with from the Mustang years—4.050-inches (361, 390 and 410ci), 4.130-inches (406ci and 428ci), and 4.230-inches (427ci). The most common, of course, will be 4.050- and 4.130-inches. You can take these bores out .030, .040 and .060-inch and you can stroke them for great torque production capacity—and this is how you take the FE over the top without anyone really knowing what's inside. Because the FE in its most basic form has great bones for street and weekend strip use, it makes an excellent platform. If you're building a 390 High Performance or 428 Cobra Jet V-8, you can go so much further using your Mustang's original block coupled with additional stroke. These engines need stroke along with better heads and induction to support deep breathing. Even if you're not in a position to add stroke to your FE, you can still warm it up with better heads, induction, and a hotter cam.

Where the '67-'69 Mustang 390 Hi-Po fell short to begin with was heads, induction, and camshaft. The 428 Cobra Jet, with all its stroke and larger bore, would have been more impressive against the Camaro and Firebird with better heads, intake, and a hotter cam. We make this statement based on what the 390, 406, and 427 were in the early 1960s. The '61-'62 390/406 Tri-Power in Ford's Galaxie was what the 390 should have been for '67 with an aggressive mechanical flat tappet cam and a trio of two-throat carburetors. Instead, the Mustang got little more than the Galaxie's grocery getter 390 with so-called GT heads and a Holley 4150 carburetor. It needed more to compete successfully with the onslaught of ponycar competition that year.

Ford’s 428 Cobra Jet, though short-lived, is the most popular big-block Ford ever did because it made a lot of torque using off-the-shelf parts developed privately by the late Bob Tasca who took the idea to Henry Ford II himself. Tasca, disappointed with the Mustang’s 325-horse 390 High Performance V-8, felt the Mustang needed more power to compete successfully with its pony car rivals the Camaro, Firebird, and Barracuda.
The basic 390 FE block has good bones with its main skirts and strong main saddle support. You can infuse a lot of power from stroke into this block and wind up with a terrific 430-450ci big-block with plenty of torque. Cylinder walls should be sonic checked and the block Magnafluxed for cracks before any work is performed. Decks should be milled and the mains line bore checked and honed for solid bearing security and crankshaft support.
There are easy modifications you can make that will ensure improved bottom end security. ARP main studs offer increased main bearing cap rigidity over bolts. Studs should be screwed in but not tightened within one full turn of the bottom. Stud and nut threads should be lubricated with ARP’s thread lubricant.
This is an FE block with the full complement of oil galleries for hydraulic lifters. Solid lifter FE blocks don’t have galleries drilled at 10 and 2 o’clock as shown here. If your plan includes hydraulic lifters, this is the oil gallery configuration you want
Because we see so many FE blocks like this, with main bearing alighnment issues, it is believed it may be an oil control measure engineered into the machining process. You do have the option of chamfering the oil gallery as shown to improve volume at the bearing.

Seeking Out Correct Blocks

Original standard bore or .030-inch oversize bore FE blocks are becoming harder to find as the supply of available cores dries up. If you're seeking a matching number (date code/casting number) block the challenge becomes even greater. For those building and restoring classic big-block '67-'69 Mustangs, finding just the right FE block for your application can take time. There are more 390 blocks out there than there are 428 Cobra Jet for obvious reasons. And if you find the right 390 or 428 Cobra Jet block, chances are it has been apart with at least one overbore. Because most 390s and all 428s have thicker cylinder walls than small-blocks, they can be bored to .060-inch oversize without consequence. However, all FE's exhibit some degree of core shift, so to be safe, cylinder walls should be sonic checked before any cleanup and machine work occurs. It is suggested you have the block Magnafluxed for cracks and other casting imperfections at the same time prior to the expense of any machine work. If you find a block bored to its limits, you can have it sleeved for around $800 to $1,000 and have a good block ready for action.

For a little more than the cost of machining your FE’s crank and rods, you can order a complete Eagle stroker kit for your 390 or 428 with a cast steel crank, H-beam rods, and Mahle forged pistons. This can elevate displacement to 430-460ci depending upon bore size. And if you opt for the BBM iron or aluminum block with its larger bores, you get even more bonus displacement, from 482ci to 520-plus cubic inches. Blue Oval Performance and Survival Motorsports are two of the largest FE stroker kit suppliers. They both use Scat almost exclusively, as well as Diamond, Mahle and Probe pistons.
There are two FE connecting rod lengths—6.488-inches center to center (short) or 6.540-inches (long). The 390, 427, and 428 employ the short rod. These are typical FE connecting rods photographed by book author George Reid. From left are the C7AE-B standard FE rod, C5AE-B Le Mans rod, and the C7OE-A NASCAR rod.

Because you're probably looking for '67-'70 390 or 428 block castings, this narrows the search down considerably. The 428 and 428CJ blocks may have come with a number of different casting numbers, or even no number at all. However, 98 percent of all true 428 blocks were marked with either a large “A” or “C” hand scratched into the rear face of the block mold at the foundry. It will appear as a raised letter, and the “C” can often resemble a lazy “J”. The majority of “A” blocks were cast with the standard duty main webs, while all the “C” blocks were cast with the heavy duty reinforced main webs. The 428 blocks are cast with larger cylinder bore cores than the 390 block. Over the years, many a 390 has been bored .080-inches to the standard 4.130-inch 428 size. Most of them have run hot or cracked with hard use.