Jim Smart
March 1, 2004

If you've been a Ford enthusiast familiar with Southern California's San Fernando Valley for any time at all, you're also familiar with Arnold Marks of Mustangs Etc. in Van Nuys, which is right in the heart of the valley. Arnold founded Mustangs Etc. nearly 30 years ago. He has a huge inventory of new and used Mustang parts, and has been doing it longer than almost anyone we know.

Arnold's son, Garrett, is not only into Mustangs, he is into all kinds of Fords-old and new. He has a '69 Mustang SportsRoof with a 390, which is decidedly unusual because Ford didn't build many of them. Stored in the corner of his father's shop is a '59 Edsel station wagon that 24-year-old Garrett has been massaging for years. Not many Edsel wagons survive today because they just weren't all that collectable to begin with. Thousands of them went to the crusher in the '70s when fuel prices doubled. Even without the Arab oil embargo, most of them would have expired anyway.

Garrett's message to society is clear. He marches to the refined beat of a different drummer via the Edsel and apologizes to no one for it. He keeps an important segment of automotive history alive, thank goodness. About two years ago, Garrett decided to replace the worn-out 352ci FE big-block in his wagon. He found a '67 four-door Thunderbird sporting 428ci FE big-block power, coupled to a C6 Cruise-O-Matic transmission.

The 428 FE/C6 combo is perfect for a wagon. For one thing, Garrett isn't going drag racing or road racing with his wagon. He's going cruising. He wants something fiercely reliable that will give him lots of low-end torque and hold a steady 2,800 rpm for hours on end. What does it take to build an FE big-block for dependable operation? Let's take a look.

Building Reliable Big-Block Power
To build a healthy FE big-block, we need to know what's out there for Ford's biggest Y-block. It is important to remember how many different ways Ford offered the FE series big-block. Four strokes were available from 1958-76; 3.30-, 3.50-, 3.78-, and 3.98-inches. The shorter 3.30- and 3.50-inch strokes were common with the 332, 352, and 360ci FE engines. The 3.78-inch stroke was for the 390, 406, and 427. The longest 3.98-inch stroke, nearly four-inches, made the FE a twisting powerhouse at 410 and 428 ci. The 410 was a Mercury-only displacement, which took the 390's 4.05-inch standard bore and stroked it to 410 ci. The 428 has a 4.13-inch bore, coupled with the 3.98-inch stroke.

What makes the 428 different from the 390 is torque at lower rpm ranges. The 390 and 427, with a 3.78-inch stroke, are screamers, with peak torque coming in around 6,000 rpm with high-performance versions. The 410 and 428 are lower-revving torque powerhouses, where peak torque comes in around 4,500 rpm. They don't need to rev high to get you there quickly. You can move the earth with a 428.

We first want to improve the 428's oiling system by improving oil flow from the pump to the main bearings. We do this by opening up the oil galley between the pump and the main bearings. This improves oil volume, not necessarily pressure. We step up the volume with a high-volume oil pump, and a pan that will keep oil around the pick-up at all times. It is also good to improve return flow from the heads and camshaft to the pan by cleaning up rough iron surfaces with grinding or a paint composition. We need excellent coolant flow between the radiator, block, and heads. Coolant passages need to be free of rust and other contaminates. Radiator tubes need to be plentiful. We need a high-flow water pump and a good thermostatic clutch fan in front. We also need a fan shroud to ensure air velocity through the radiator. Because FE big-blocks are hard workers, we need hardened exhaust valve seats and 16 new valves to ensure healthy compression and reliable performance.

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