Jeff Ford
August 1, 2000
Contributers: Jeff Ford

Step By Step

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John Douglas and Bob Myhrer gaze at the air temp meter in order to ascertain what the engine might do. It did well.
Everything you will need to install a roller cam in your Cleveland is available from Competition Cams.
Although Competition has a full line of standard roller grinds for the Cleveland, we called and set up this grind for those who want to build exactly what we have (see Cleveland Rocks sidebar).
In order to correctly install the cam, we suggest you remove the engine from the engine bay. The intake, heads, oil pan, water pump, fuel pump, and balancer will have to be removed in order to facilitate the install.
When you disassemble the engine, make sure you lay out the components that you are removing in the order in which they are in the engine. Do this with your old cam and lifters as well. Though they may not be the latest, you might be able to sell them to a fellow Cleveland owner.
Be sure to read, follow, and understand all the safety instructions. Wait, that’s Norm Abrams’ line! Make sure you read the cam card and the instruction sheet for your cam.
Allan West at Regional Performance Machine recommends washing the parts with carb/choke cleaner to remove the Cosmoline. This parts washer is a clean box and never sees anything but clean parts that need to be washed down. Details such as this make a shop such as Regional a comfortable place that provides excellent work.
The cam is lubed and set into the block. West rotates the cam in the bearings to make sure there is no binding or problems.
Next, West checks each lifter for correct operation and sets two in the No. 1 lifter bores. The multi-index timing chain is installed and a degree wheel is used to make sure the cam is correctly degreed in. This step is outlined in the instructions and is essential. It could make the difference between your Cleveland being a stallion or a mule.
Powerhouse Products offers a cam degree kit (PN POW101580), which includes everything you’ll need to degree your cam right down to a fixture such as this that allows you to stop the piston in the hole wherever you want.
The cylinder heads are disassembled and the valves are laid out in order. The single valvespring will be discarded in favor of the dual valvesprings provided by Competition Cams.
West checks all the valves for their installed height. The height can vary on different valves and should be checked with a digital or dial micrometer. For instance, a valve may sit deeper in a seat and cause the spring pressure to be different.
Since the springs should be at the same installed height across the board, shims must be used on some valves.
Not set up for PC seals? This tool—available from Competition Cams—makes short work of the guide.
West uses oil on the stem to install the valves. Though he uses a super-slippery product, standard 40-weight motor oil will suffice.
West uses these sleeves when installing the PC oil seals. They insure against gouging the seal and creating an oil-consumption problem.
The covers are used to keep the valve from damaging the seals. These caps are available from Competition Cams. West uses a socket to tap the seal into place.
The valvesprings are placed in the head at this point. West uses a really trick air-operated spring compressor for the task. You can rent a standard one from the local parts store.
West uses a vacuum pump to check for leaks in the system. All the valves held vacuum, assuring us that the heads will seal and make good power.
Those Xs behind the lifters in the corners of the valley are a problem with installing the roller cam conversion in the Cleveland. They interfere with the clean operation of the spider. On our engine, three out of four of these had to be ground down to make sure we had smooth function.
Obviously, the one thing you don’t want are metal shavings in the lifter valley. Clean out the valley with a shop towel soaked in carb/choke cleaner. Then cover every orifice on the block with duct tape. You’ll need a “nurse” using a shop vac to remove the shavings as you grind away the Xs that interfere.
Use some Play-Doh in the valve reliefs to make sure the valves don’t kiss the piston at the top of the cam’s travel. Even with a 600-plus lift cam, we have no problems.
When doing this, don’t install the gasket. If the valve does not strike without a gasket, then it won’t with one. At this point, we installed our ROL head gaskets.
We like the ROL gaskets for good sealing and hard use. Make sure the gaskets that say “front” are facing in that direction.
Next, you need to make sure the plunger is not at the limit of its travel when at rest. There should be plenty of room for the lifter to pump up, but the rocker should be tight to the pushrod. In short, there should be room for motion but not free-play in the pushrod. If that’s the case, then you’re OK on your pushrods. If there is free-play, then you will need to contact Competition Cams for longer pushrods.

The Cleveland was Ford’s best midsized performance engine for many years. Until the advent of aftermarket heads for the Windsor, if you wanted to go fast in a Ford with a 351-displacement engine, the Cleveland was the only game in town. Derivatives of the mighty 351 4V have been seen at tracks across the nation and indeed the world. The Yates engines that power the Ford NASCAR efforts today are derived from this stout design. In fact, Australia used the Cleveland engine in its production cycle into the early ’80s.

Of course, as with any race-bred animal or cast-iron wonder, the Cleveland does have some quirks. The valvetrain arrangement is one of these oddities. Though the canted valves make for better port placement and larger valves, they create a strain on cam lobes. Of all the Ford small-blocks, you’re more likely to flatten a Cleveland cam due to the extreme valve geometry. Enter the roller cam. The roller cam can give the Cleveland more powerful breathing and less dramatic friction that comes about with a flat-tappet cam due to the odd valve angles.

Competition Cams has an excellent custom roller grind that we used on our Lazarus Project Mach 1’s 351 Cleveland 4V. This grind has good vacuum, excellent power, and the cool operation of roller lifters. Overall, the cam is a most powerful grind from 2,800 to 5,000 rpm and will surprise you when you read the dyno numbers. We tapped Bob Little and Allan West at Regional Performance Machine in Haines City, Florida, for our cam install. Our dyno work and some additional headwork was performed by Gil Alfaro and John Douglas at A&S machine in Riverview, Florida.