Ford’s 289 High Performance V-8 introduced in 1963 and first available as a Mustang option in 1964 is a high-revving, peppy Ford V-8 with a factory rating of 271 horsepower. What makes the Hi-Po different from your basic bread-and-butter 289-2V (200 horsepower) or 4V (210 and 225 horsepower) engine are durability items that make this high-revving engine more rugged and able to withstand high-rpm use. It is true you can take a 289 and turn it into a Hi-Po without the special heads and beefy underpinnings? What if you’d like to build the real thing using Ford parts and castings?
Last month, we visited with Scott McMullen, a known and respected Mustang historian and technician, to discuss the idiosyncrasies of 289 High Performance engines produced between 1963 and 1967. This month, we’re going to address good engine building technique you should be using when building a 289 Hi-Po small-block.
Exceptional engine building technique begins with good castings and hard parts. Castings should be cleaned and inspected before you move to machine work. They should be Magnafluxed and checked for cracks and irregularities before machine work begins. You don’t want heads or a block badly warped or cracked from overheating. No use spending valuable cash on machine work when you have castings that are not salvageable.
Once you’ve sorted out what’s usable, it’s time for machine work. Block decks and head surfaces should be checked for trueness before any machine work is performed. Surfaces should be machined at the bare minimum necessary to get them true and no more. You can always machine more off if necessary. Cylinder bores should be bored and honed to the bare minimum. If you can get away with a 0.020-inch overbore then go with it. So many of us automatically opt for a 0.030-inch overbore when we can get away with less. Cylinder bores should be honed to a consistent crosshatch pattern from top to bottom for good oil control, ring seating, and cylinder sealing.
We’ve seen engine builders push these blocks to 0.040-inch and even 0.060-inch oversize. Although you can get away with 0.040-inch oversize, 0.060-inch over is suicide with a thin-wall casting such as the 289 and never suggested. If you have an original Hi-Po block at 0.040-inch over and want to save it, you can have it sleeved for approximately $100 per cylinder or around $1,000 total.
Line bore should be checked with a dial-bore gauge and the main bearing saddles honed to a good crosshatch pattern for bearing security and crush. If you have opted for wide main bearing caps from either a Hi-Po or Mexican block to use on a standard 289 or 302 block, main bearing saddles must be bored and honed to the replacement main bearing caps for proper fitment.
Cylinder heads should receive new valve guides if you’re doing it right, along with hardened steel exhaust valve seats and stainless steel valves. Unless you are going racing, a standard three-angle valve job will work fine. Of course the broader the valve-to-seat contact the better for cooler operation. A multi-angle valve job improves airflow. Always opt for Viton valve seals, which will outlast anything in the marketplace.
While you’re working your 289 High Performance heads, opt for ARP rocker arm studs with a healthy dose of professional-grade Teflon sealer on the base threads because you’re going into a water jacket and you don’t want coolant in the oil. We suggest a set of aftermarket roller rocker arms, a stealth modification no one can see and you will have the security of knowing they are there. Always specify valvesprings with spring pressure compatible with your camshaft profile.
Ignition & Induction
If you opt for a stock Autolite dual- or single-point distributor, retrofit it with a Pertronix Ignitor I, II, or III to eliminate the frustration and inconsistency of ignition points. Have it professionally rebuilt and bushed with oil-impregnated bushings. Most Autolite and Motorcraft distributors were fitted with one bushing. Make sure your rebuilder installs a second bushing at the bottom of the distributor shaft. Use a distributor cap with brass terminals, not aluminum.
On top, any of the four-barrel iron intake manifolds will work fine fitted with the Hi-Po’s manual-choke Autolite 4100 carburetor. You may even take an automatic-choke 4100 and convert it to manual choke with a conversion kit from Mustangs Etc. If an Autolite 4100 isn’t to your liking, Holley offers a variety of 4150/4160-based four-barrel carburetors. Keep your sizing no higher than 650 cfm.
Although there have long been rumors of a 289 High Performance block this has never been true. What makes a Hi-Po block a Hi-Po block are wider main bearing caps like we see on the Ford Mexico small-blocks. In fact, you can create a Hi-Po block with the wider Mexican main caps. Otherwise, block casting numbers remain the same. This particular block belongs to Scott McMullen with a C4OE-6015-F, which is a rare 1964½ 289 Hi-Po block. More common is the C5AE-6015-E block.
Block identification comes via this casting number (black arrow) and date code (white arrow). This is a 1964 289 block with the five-bolt bellhousing bolt pattern. From mid-1964 on is the more common six-bolt bell block (not pictured). The smaller date code shown here of “4E1” is May 1, 1964, which is the actual date the block was cast. The same type of alphanumeric date code stamped in the block deck and pan rail is the date of engine assembly.
This is the wider 289 High Performance main cap with the orange paint for quick identification in the engine plant back in the day. The wider main caps are what make a 289 block a Hi-Po block. The block itself isn’t any different than a standard 289 block.
Down under, the 289 High Performance V-8 has its own identity in orange. C3AE connecting rods painted orange with 3/8-inch bolts. Crankshaft (1M with a 2.870-inch throw) counterweights painted orange with a Brinell test mark (little more than a punch mark you can barely see) for hardness. Slide-on stamped steel counterweight. And the wide harmonic dampener shown here.
A closer look at the 289 Hi-Po connecting rod fitted with new ARP bolts. When you have your rods reconditioned, have them checked for twist and distortion, and then, fitted with ARP bolts. Shot peening makes these rods even stronger.
This is a new-old-stock 289 High Performance mechanical tappet camshaft—C3OZ-6250-C—Intake lift 0.477-inch with 0.022-inch valve lash with 1.6:1 ratio rocker arms. Intake valve opens at 25 degrees BTDC and closes at 70 degrees ABDC, 275 degrees duration. Exhaust lift 0.477-inch lift with 0.022-inch valve lash also with 1.6:1 ratio rocker arms. Exhaust valve opens at 73 degrees BBDC and closes at 22 degrees ATDC, 275 degrees duration. Lobe centers are 114 degrees with this camshaft.
Two basic types of timing sprockets were employed on all small-block Fords in the 1960s. On the left is the more common timing sprocket with a cast-in spacer. To the right is the early sprocket with a separate “C” shaped spacer. Expect to see this two-piece sprocket on early 1964-1965 260 and 289 engines. Never get these sprockets mixed up.
This is the early 260/289 camshaft retainer and spacer.
Early camshaft sprocket spacer installs like this with countersunk screw holes toward the radiator.
Here are at least two examples of camshaft retainers used on the small-block Ford. We’ve seen a number of variations through the years. Early camshaft retainers don’t have the additional dog ear because a block plug was used to plug the distributor oil gallery. Later cam retainers (right) have the dog ear to cover the distributor oil gallery.
If you’re running a flat tappet camshaft follow these simple rules. Use moly lube (that black gritty stuff) on the cam lobes and slippery engine assembly lube on the journals. Do not use moly lube on the journals. When it’s time to fire the engine, use diesel-grade engine oil such as Shell Rotella or Mobil Delvac with ZDDP (zinc) in it. No exceptions. If you’re running a roller cam, use engine assembly lube on lobes and journals.
Ford used rope seals at the rear main bearing cap back in the day. Don’t forget to remove the rope retaining pin before installing the new rear main seal. If you forget to remove this pin it will distort the seal and you will have oil leaks.
Fel-Pro offers two types of rear main seals for small-block Fords—your basic black and this orange high-performance seal. Always opt for this seal for best results and use a thin film of Permatex’s The Right Stuff between the seal and main cap. Do not overdo it.
Stagger the seal ends away from the main cap parting lines. Put a small dab of The Right Stuff at each end. Seal lip must always point toward the inside of the engine block. If you get this backwards you will have oil leaks.
Always use a piston ring expander on the top two compression rings. We will get arguments on this one, but if you’re rolling rings on, you risk distortion. Ring end gaps should be positioned 90 degrees from one another.
Oil pumps should never be installed right out of the box. All must be inspected. Check rotor end clearances as shown followed by checking pressure relief valve function. The relief valve piston should move freely with healthy spring tension.
When you’ve completed oil pump inspection fill the cavity with engine assembly lube to give your 289 a good healthy shot of lubrication upon start-up. Did you remember to order a high-volume oil pump?
Take your original Ford oil pump shaft and use it for yard art. Throw it away. Go with an ARP shaft and sleep peacefully.
During short-block assembly, check all connecting rod-to-block clearances even if you’re using stock rods and crank. Make sure rod bolts clear the block at the pan rails and cylinder bottoms by at least 0.060-inch.
Here’s another location engine builders take for granted and miss. Piston to crankshaft counterweight clearances must be checked. Make sure you have at least 0.060-inch clearance between all pistons and counterweights. We have seen builds where pistons have struck a glancing blow at the counterweights resulting in severe engine damage.
If you’re running a stock timing chain, keep this oil slinger in place. However, if you’re running an aftermarket double roller chain, remove this oil slinger. It will interfere with the chain causing engine damage.
Not enough engine builders check true top dead center (TDC), but it should always be performed. Ideally, you will check true TDC on all eight cylinders and record your findings. You will find no two have the same deck clearance. True TDC determines elements like compression and head clearance. If the piston is a pinch out of the hole, proper head gasket thickness should get you to safety.
Next, degree the camshaft to ascertain true camshaft specifications. Match your findings to the manufacturer’s cam card.
Here’s one that drives us crazy. Excessive amounts of sealer. All you need is a very thin bead of sealer to fill imperfections in machined surfaces. Gaskets are there to seal. Sealer is there to fill tiny imperfections. Don’t overdo it.
Lots of engine builders use those red and white shop towels. Don’t be one of them. Use lint-free tack cloths for your final wipe-down.
Do you see the lint all over this Hi-Po chamber? This is why you use a lint-free tack cloth. Most of the time lint will not cause engine damage. However, do you want to take that chance?
Head gasket installation on a small-block Ford can be a sticky wicket because they can be installed backwards. Head gaskets should be installed where you can see the tip of the gasket as shown in front like this with cooling passages in the gasket at the rear. If you get them backwards expect overheating.
We see this time and time again, and it drives us crazy. Trim your timing cover gasket before installation. The excess shown here is designed for early small-block Fords with the oil filler in the timing cover.
Press-in and screw-in rocker arm studs go directly into cooling passages. Use commercial-grade Teflon sealer or The Right Stuff on these threads and torque them to Ford specifications. These studs will weep coolant into your oil. Make sure they don’t leak.
Your 289 High Performance build should include good aftermarket rocker arms and 0.080-inch-thick wall one-piece pushrods for durability. This is good life insurance for any engine build. The Comp Cams Pro Magnum rockers we’re using here make any 289, 302, or 351W sound like a Hi-Po because they deliver a nice chatter.
Poly locks are vital for any valvetrain because they lock in your adjustment. If you’re running a mechanical cam, follow Ford specifications for valve lash adjustment. If you’re running a hydraulic cam, make sure both valves are closed on compression stroke. Slowly run the poly lock down until you cannot turn the pushrod and give it one-half turn. Never any more than one-half turn. Once your engine has had some run time, go back and check valve adjustment again.