Jim Smart
June 27, 2017

Ford’s legendary FE series big-block, the brute American iron V-8 that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans against the likes of Ferrari, not once but four times, has great potential for real street power without spending a bunch of money. We’ve proven to our readers you can get 400 to 500 hp and comparable torque from the 390 without selling off the farm and with stock castings.

If you dial a budget cast-steel stroker crank, heavy-duty I-beam rods, and Mahle forged pistons from Eagle Specialties to achieve 431ci, you can make 450 to 500 hp with factory cylinder head castings. Do some port work, dial in the right Crane hydraulic roller cam, and you can make brute street torque all day long.

We’re at PHD Speedcenter in Bakersfield, California, working with Gregg Jacobson on a classic 390 FE big-block. Cool thing about this 390 is that it has Edelbrock Performer 390 heads and induction from a previous build. Gregg is a seasoned cylinder head porter and engine builder who understands how to get power from even the most challenging of cylinder heads. When this Edelbrock Performer 390 FE came into his shop, Gregg sprung to action with what he knew best. He contacted Eagle Specialties for a set of H-beam rods, Speed Pro for forged and coated pistons, Edelbrock for fresh valvetrain components, and Crane for a hot roller hydraulic cam, roller rockers, and valve springs.

Gregg tells us the key to power is compression, airflow, and a commonsense cam profile chosen for good street and strip manners with a civilized idle. And that’s exactly what we intend to get with this reborn 390. We had the best intentions of sticking this 390 on the dyno to see exactly what kind of power it makes, but simply ran out of time for numerous reasons. However, Gregg told us that it’s 99 percent identical to a similar engine he built that made it onto the pump, and with the 850-cfm Quick Fuel carburetor, it made 430hp and 450lb-ft of torque (500/500 with an Inglese 8-stack EFI setup).

1 We begin a 390 FE build with good bones—a solid, mainstream, vintage 390 FE block with 4.050-inch bores enlarged to 4.080 inches with coated Speed Pro forged pistons and Eagle H-beam connecting rods on the 390’s 3.780-inch stroke. This is a blueprint for roughly 500 streetable hp. This block has been professionally prepped with a .030-inch overbore, line honing, block decking, and lifter bore honing. That’s GE Glyptal coating the valley for improved oil drain back and block sealing.

2 You can push the stock 390 rods to 400-plus hp with shot peening and ARP rod bolts, but why take chances if you have a pinch more budget to play with? Eagle H-beam 4340 rods can live with upwards of 1,000hp.

3 Gregg has opted for an aggressive Crane street hydraulic roller cam with excellent road manners and a civilized idle at the traffic light. This is an off-the-shelf piece that will deliver a broad torque curve right off idle and will rev to 6,000rpm without breaking a sweat. Gregg coats the journals and lobes with engine assembly lube.

4 The oil hole to main journal alignment with FE engines has always been an area of concern for engine builders. However, Jay Brown of FE Power tells us this was intentional as a means to oil control to get the main bearing journals aligned with cam journals.

5 Rear main seal installation is something we see botched up time and time again with FE builds. The seal lip—be it a late-model one-piece (never used on the FE) or this two-piece seal—is always pointed toward the inside of the block. If you install the rear main seal with the lip pointed out, you will have oil all over your driveway. The ends of the FE rear main seals between the main cap and block should get Permatex’s The Right Stuff from Summit Racing Equipment.

6 Gregg torques the main caps, per Ford specifications, beginning with the #3 main cap, then #1 and #5, then #2 and #4 in one-third torque values. Lubricate the bolt threads with SAE-30-weight engine oil for accurate torque readings. Never torque fasteners dry. It is suggested you step up to ARP main studs, instead of bolts, for added security. ARP main studs are an affordable investment because they firm up main caps and make the bottom end stable.

7 Gregg stresses proper ring gap in any engine build, even when you’re installing pre-gapped rings. Ring gaps need to be more generous when you’re running higher compression and going racing. According to Gregg, he sets his secondary ring gaps a pinch wider than the top rings to help contain working pressure while bleeding excessive pressure off. Gaps are located in 45-degree intervals.

8 PHD Speedcenter is running conventional Speed Pro .010-inch oversize main and rod bearings with the stock FE crank at .010/.010 inch.

9 Gregg confirms true top dead center on all eight bores, then goes through a very detailed cam degreeing process, leaving no stone unturned. Valve timing is retarded for better high-rpm performance or advanced for improved low-end torque.

10 Lifter bores have been honed for improved oil control and stability.

11 We’re doing two things with this 390 FE down under: a Moroso street pan with windage baffling and a Speed Pro high-volume oil pump.

12 When you’re building a high-performance 390, it’s best to go with a reputable aftermarket harmonic dampener like this one from Summit Racing Equipment (left). It greatly improves crank dampening and edges out destructive vibrations.

13 A cool thing about this 390 FE is its Edelbrock Performer RPM status. We’re using Performer RPM 390 FE heads and induction. The heads need reconditioning with fresh valves, guides, and a seat rework. Gregg is going to perform some port and valve work and clean these guys up.

14 Check out PHD Speedcenter’s port and bowl work, which has improved flow and reduced turbulence. After such work, you can improve already terrific cylinder heads. The Edelbrock Performer RPM 390 FE head is a great power-adder for hp and torque.

15 Valve seats are being cleaned up with a nice multi-angle valve job, along with new valves from Edelbrock. Check out Gregg’s handiwork in the chamber.

16 Sixteen new Edelbrock valves and Crane springs are ready for action. We’re going with an aggressive Crane street hydraulic roller cam that delivers great low- to mid-range torque, and somewhere on the order of 500hp at wide-open throttle.

17 Crane’s shaft-mounted roller rocker package weaves integrity into your FE’s valvetrain. It takes considerable time to set up the Crane system, but it’s well worth the outcome when it’s time to fire. The rockers are easy to adjust and give you a lot of latitude. It is suggested you use a pushrod checker to ascertain geometry before ordering pushrods. Order one-piece .080-inch-wall thickness Crane pushrods.

18 Gregg ordered a complete Fel-Pro gasket set from Summit Racing Equipment, which contains all of the gaskets and seals needed to build an FE. He is installing freshened up Edelbrock Performer RPM 390 FE heads using ARP bolts properly torqued to Ford specifications in order from the center out. Torque the head bolts in one-third values for best results, then check the torque again. Although not required, it is suggested you re-torque heads after approximately 1,000 miles of use.

19 Go with what works best. The owner of this 390 FE has been running Edelbrock heads and induction for many years. PHD Speedcenter has reconditioned the heads and intake with nice port work to get everything lined up. We’ve added an Edelbrock high-flow water pump for good measure.

20 This is a Quick Fuel Technologies Q-Series 950-cfm carburetor. The Q-Series carburetors are equipped with notched floats and secondary jet extensions to handle just about anything. The high-flow aluminum main body isn't just lightweight, but it also features recessed air-bleed cavities for improved airflow. Die-cast venturis are machined to exacting tolerances to get outstanding throttle response. Billet metering blocks ensure a uniform fuel curve. The Q-Series is QFT’s most comprehensive line of carburetors with options available for use with gasoline, methanol, and E85 fuels, forced induction, drag race, and circle track. It also comes in vacuum and mechanical secondary models.

21 To be permanently installed on this 390 is this 8V Inglese EFI system from Fuel Air Spark Technology (FAST), which packs plenty of visual impact and corresponding performance. The Inglese system adds plenty of eye candy to an FE engine compartment.

22 There’s a reason we always come back to MSD for our ignition systems. It delivers consistent reliability and performance for years to come. We have the MSD billet distributor set to be void of vacuum advance. This engine will be more focused on high-rpm operation than grocery getting. The 6AL box gives us precision spark timing and potency.