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SOHC 427 - The Mightiest of the Mighty
A brief history of the Cammer
Writing for Hot Rod magazine in 1965, Eric Dahlquist dubbed it "Ford's 90-day wonder," with the accompanying claim, "From drawing board to dyno in just three months with the magic of space-age computers." The wonder that Mr. Dahlquist wrote of was perhaps the most legendary Ford racing engine of all time, the SOHC 427, affectionately known as The Cammer.
While the three months from drawing board to dyno claim would be a bit of a stretch even with today's technology, the SOHC 427 was not an entirely new engine design to start with. Rather, it was a conversion of the already successful 427ci FE series. First introduced in 1958, the FE series engines had grown from 332 to 427 cubic inches by 1963, with dedicated high-performance versions of the series having carried over since 1960. In 1963, Ford engineers, taking from hard-earned lessons on America's circle tracks and dragstrips, developed the now legendary 427, which delivered Ford dominance in the NASCAR stock car racing series.
After pretty much having their own way for an entire year, the folks at Ford received a nasty surprise at the NASCAR series-opening race for 1964, the Daytona 500. It seems that Detroit rival Chrysler Corporation had somehow convinced NASCAR that it had every intention to make available to the average man on the street its midsize Plymouth Belvedere and Dodge Polara vehicles stuffed full of the new 426ci race Hemi engine. The results at Daytona were predictable, as the Hemi-powered cars routed the Ford entries. The folks at Ford needed to respond to this threat, and fast. Even those in management at FoMoCo who didn't support the racing program had come to recognize by 1964 that racetrack victories resulted in showroom sales of their products.
Taking a page from its recent foray into Indy car racing--a small-block V-8 engine sporting specially cast cylinder heads with four camshafts (DOHC) and 32 valves that screamed like a Banshee while making tons of horsepower--Ford engineers set out to modify the 427 along the same lines. From the drawing board came a newly cast 427 block with modifications to it's oiling system that included a gallery cast and machined into the lower left side to feed the engine's main bearings directly instead of via the camshaft journals. This configuration was to become known as the 427 Side Oiler.
The increase in horsepower needed to put the Ford's back out in front came in the form of newly designed cylinder heads, which featured not only hemispherical combustion chambers and improved port design, but it also converted the conventional single-camshaft FE engine into a single overhead camshaft monster by mounting a camshaft in each cylinder head. This, in turn, eliminated the need for the standard friction-creating, horsepower-robbing, pushrod-operated valvetrain. Further modifications to accommodate the new design consisted of two bosses cast and machined into the deck surface at the back of the block to facilitate oil draining back from the cylinder heads.
And since the camshafts would now be located on top of the cylinder heads, the oil passages feeding the back three camshaft journals were plugged. Since the engine's oil pump and distributor ran off a gear at the front end of the conventional camshaft, a stub cam, utilizing the standard timing chain and gears, was designed to fulfill this function. The cylinder-head-mounted camshafts would be actuated by 6 feet of double roller chain running off the crankshaft with an idler and tension arm mounted to the front of the heads, all of which was encased behind a one-of-a-kind cast-aluminum cover. Along with the new cylinder heads came the need for new intake manifolds and two cast-aluminum versions, mounting either one or a pair of Holley four-barrel carburetors. A redesigned water pump was also fitted to the new engine.
Weighing in at a hefty 680 pounds, the new engine served notice that the competition had something to fear when dynamometer numbers revealed that the single four-barrel version produced 616 hp at 7,000 rpm and 515 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 rpm. And as if it couldn't get any better, the addition of the dual four-barrel carburetors stepped the horsepower up to 657 at 7,500, and torque numbers jumped to a stump-pulling 575 lb-ft at 4,200 rpm. All that was left was to homologate this beast with NASCAR and unleash it upon the unsuspecting Hemi Chrysler drivers. But the politics of the sanctioning body (yes, it even happened back in the '60s) became involved and for the first time in history, NASCAR banned an engine from competition. The circle track boys' loss turned into a windfall for drag racers as the company made the new powerplant available for quarter-mile competition in 1965 and it quickly took Ford products to the top in that arena. Don't feel too bad for the Ford NASCAR teams, however, as they ended the 1964 season with 30 wins (not counting those by Mercury teams) to 14 by Dodge and 12 for Plymouth.
Even with a very limited number of the new engines available early in 1965, Ford's factory drag racing teams started rolling up the victories and for the first time in years, Ford-powered Top Fuel Dragsters found their way back into the winner's circle with Connie Kalitta's SOHC 427 Bounty Hunter. For the remainder of the decade, SOHC 427-powered vehicles, from dragsters to funny cars and later Pro/Stock, continued to set records and win races on dragstrips from coast to coast, even after factory support of racing was discontinued. The final major NHRA National Event win for an SOHC 427-powered Ford product came with Don Nicholson's win in the Pro/Stock class at the 1971 Summer Nationals.
Fast forwarding to 2011, the mighty SOHC 427 is more than four decades old, yet it remains as popular as ever with Ford fans. And the recent resurgence in interest in this impressive engine, as power for everything from kit Cobra's to street rods, has led to a select group of individuals becoming involved in manufacturing new pieces for the old engine. Riding the crest of this wave of Cammer popularity is Randy Ritchey, son of legendary Ford factory drag team member Les Ritchey. Randy has continued the business founded by his late father in 1958, known as Performance Associates, in San Dimas, California. Here in his state-of-the-art facility, Ritchey has embarked on a program to develop a series of entirely new and improved SOHC 427 engines. This will give new life to the legendary powerplant in various configurations that will provide massive amounts of horsepower and modern day reliability for the discerning customer's needs.
Was the SOHC 427 ever made available in a production car?
The immediate answer to this question would be no. However, it's well documented that at least a few Ford Galaxies stuffed with Cammers were observed in and around the Detroit area during 1964 and 1965. These were most likely manufacturers' test vehicles and should not be counted as actually being available to the public. That doesn't account for the fact that Ford shop manuals for 1965 and 1966 listed an engine code designation for the SOHC 427 apart from the standard 427 Wedge. This could also be discounted as Ford's attempt to create the illusion that the Cammer was a production engine for the purpose of homologation.
That brings us to a photo and accompanying article that appeared in a 1966 issue of the racing publication, Drag News. The photo depicts astronaut Gordon Cooper with Ford Special Vehicles manager Jacque Passino examining an SOHC 427 engine under the hood of a '66 Galaxie with the explanation that Cooper was "The first person to purchase one of the new SOHC 427 engines that Ford is now offering as an option in it's Galaxie line." The Drag News text that follows contains a quote from the Ford Vice President indicating that the engine option was being made available to the general public in order to qualify it for competition on the stock car circuits. So, until other proofs are forthcoming, it appears that the answer to the question will have to remain no.