Richard Holdener
April 18, 2011

One of the most effective means of improving horsepower is to increase displacement, and one only need look at the current popularity of 5.0L and 5.8L Windsor strokers to illustrate the performance world’s affection with being large and in charge. We know the Windsor strokers are plenty powerful, but we know too that they aren’t the only motivational game in town. In fact, there are likely less expensive alternatives when looking for a replacement with displacement.

Best of all, these cost-effective replacements come from what must be considered humble origins. Take a stroll through the Ford/Lincoln section of your local wrecking yard and, likelier than not, you’ll find a dozen or so big-block Fords just begging for a new home. For now, we’ll dismiss the early 390-428 FE motors and concentrate on the big-boy 460s. Offered also in a slightly smaller 370- and 429ci displacement, the 385-series engines are simultaneously plentiful, powerful, and (best of all) dirt cheap.

From an enthusiast’s standpoint, the great thing about the 385-series engines is that in addition to the many Ford and Lincoln fullsize vehicles, they also found homes in marine, motor home, and industrial applications. The little-known 370 was used primarily in medium-duty truck applications, but the 429s and later 460s eventually became Ford’s bread and butter big-blocks. Rated at 370 hp in 1970 (375 hp for the Super Cobra Jet), the 429 Cobra Jet and SCJ were the weapons of choice for dragstrips and NASCAR alike. Underrated by Ford, these Cobra Jet motors likely put out more than 400 hp thanks to wilder cam timing, a static compression ratio that exceeded 11.0:1, and a sizable Holley carburetor.

Now that we have whet your appetite, forget everything you’ve read about the 429 Cobra Jet and Super Cobra Jet engines, as the supply of those ultra-rare engines has long since dried up. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t build something even more powerful, and selecting the larger 460 is a significant step up the proverbial performance ladder.

Since the 429 was offered for only a few years, Ford eventually relied on the 460 all through the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s to do the heavy lifting. Though never offered in Cobra Jet or Super Cobra Jet guise, the abundance of 460s makes them dirt cheap and easy to come by. Available in wrecking yards, we found a complete engine (including accessories and everything under the air cleaner) available at a local Pick-a-Part for the paltry sum of $265, plus core. For the serious penny pincher, our Pick-a-Part had sale weekends where everything was 50-percent off, meaning a complete running engine was available for as little as $130, plus a core charge of $65. How can you go wrong with a complete running engine that costs less than $200?

When you go looking for an engine, especially if you plan on running it as is, make sure to do your homework and thoroughly check out each potentially viable candidate. Since the oil will likely be drained, don’t hesitate to pull a valve cover to check for telltale signs of abuse or neglect. Is there oil sludge present or does the head look clean? Does it look like it might have been rebuilt recently (like ours), or does it look like it spent every inch of those 200,000 miles lugging ore deep in some coal mile?

Pull the plugs, check for coolant leaks (stains) and generally give it a thorough inspection (including spinning it over) before making your decision to pull and purchase. We even dropped the oil pan for a quick look. That’s what sealed the deal on our engine, as the 460 obviously had recent work done. Before pulling the engine, we even filled it with oil and fired it up briefly using a battery we brought for just such a purpose.

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