December 8, 2011

Fitting In With The Crowd

So you've figured out what type of car you have, what it weighs, and what engine combination would give you the optimum performance given your application. The next thing to consider is whether or not this combination is a direct replacement or bolt-on proposition, or if it requires further modifications to employ it. Stroking your present block, or one of similar dimensions, offers the least amount of drama from an installation standpoint, however, the increased cubic displacement will no doubt require a larger exhaust system (or at the vey least, headers), a higher-flowing intake manifold, cylinder heads, carburetor or EFI components.

Things get really complicated when you decide to change engine families altogether, as you now have to factor in accessory drive systems, hood and fender clearance, and weight balance to name a few things. Improved power output can also require a heavier-duty clutch or automatic transmission, a higher stall-speed torque converter, and even suspension changes including components and settings. This is where research on your behalf will pay off. Your engine builder probably has some experience with various combinations, and may be able to offer you some fitment advice, but you'll want to seek out others who have made similar modifications, and question them regarding many of the considerations that we've mentioned here.

Engine Options

Ford Windsor Small-Block

The Ford small-block has been a staple of Blue Oval hot-rodders for years. Starting with the 221ci V-8 in 1962-1963, things soon blossomed for the small-block, with the bore and stroke increasing to provide displacements of 260, 289, 302, and 351 ci (with the larger 351W block). Various versions of these engines found themselves in a huge amount of Ford/Lincoln/Mercury vehicles, and the 302 helped keep Ford running in the '80s and '90s with the 5.0L in the Fox-body Mustangs.

The Ford small-block has been a staple of Blue The 302 and 351 are the most common blocks used for performance applications, with the 302 giving rise to 331- and 347ci stroker kits. Stroker kits for the 351W block can produce cubic inches in the 430-plus range. Adding to that is a plethora of aftermarket parts including cylinder heads, camshafts, rotating assemblies, and a vast selection of accessories. Although no longer available in factory vehicles, various manufacturers such as Dart, World, Ford Racing, and more, are producing aftermarket 302/351 blocks capable of supporting more than 1,000 horsepower.

Ford Cleveland Small-Block

Manufactured from 1970-1974, the 351C was available in several different vehicles, including the Ford Mustang and Torino, Mercury Montego, and Mercury Cougar. With the cylinder heads being offered in several different flavors, engines were offered to produce lower-end performance and screaming high-end performance as well. The 9.200-inch deck height block combined with the 4V canted heads soon found its way into stock car racing, and became the basis for lots of engine and cylinder head designs from then on out. The aftermarket is also kind to the Cleveland family, with many companies producing aluminum cylinder heads (Edelbrock, Trick Flow, CHI, AFD, and more), long stroke rotating assemblies, and the usual selection of camshafts, intakes, and other parts available to other Ford engine families.

Ford FE

You can't have a sentence with both "Ford" and "performance" in it without the FE engine coming to mind. The FE engine is the epitome of older big-block muscle car powerplants. What Ford fan hasn't heard of the 427 "side oiler" or the 428 "Cobra Jet"? The Shelby Cobra and Ford Mustang crowds pushed these engines into infamy, not to mention the Ford Thunderbolts, Galaxies, and Fairlanes that proved their performance at the local dragstrips. Let's not leave out the Mercury guys with the big-block Cyclones and Cougars.

The performance market boomed for the FE in the '60s/'70s and starting with a 352 or 390 block, you could easily bolt on some parts and have a barnstormer of a powerplant. Even with factory pieces, displacements of 454 cubic inches were possible by combining the large bore of the 427 block with the long stroke of the 428 crankshaft. Low riser, medium riser, high riser, tunnel port, and even overhead camshaft (SOHC, aka "Cammer") heads were options.

So what's the easiest way of snagging an FE today? Check the junkyard and salvage yards for blocks from pickup trucks and passenger cars. They're still out there in fairly large quantities. Combining a 390 block with a Scat 4.250-inch-stroke crankshaft can net you 445 cubes and there are even longer stroke crankshafts available. Companies like Shelby, Genesis, and Robert Pond are offering brand-new FE blocks in your choice of cast-iron and aluminum--prices are at the higher end, compared to other Ford powerplants. Displacements of 527-and-up are possible. Want a 700hp FE for your Cobra replica? Not a problem. Several cylinder head and intake manufacturers have stepped up to the plate to provide superior induction. FEs have made a comeback and they're just getting started.

Ford 385 Series (BBF)

The other big-block Ford is the 385 series, or what we commonly see manifested as the 429 and 460 engines. The 385 series was the successor to the Ford FE big-block. Remember the Boss 429? Yep, that's a 385 series engine. Ford really outdid itself when it introduced this engine family. Offered with a 4.360-inch bore and either a 3.590-inch (429) or a 3.850-inch (460) stroke, these engines were just itching to make some horsepower. Unfortunately, the 460 days came right before and during the '70s gas crunches, when economy was king. Low compression ratios and severely retarded cam timing made these engines dogs in the vehicles they were placed in (Galaxie 500s, Lincolns, Thunderbirds, and more).

The gas crunch slowly went away, and many new performance parts started worming their way into the aftermarket. Crate engines, stroker kits, cylinder heads, camshafts, and more all became commonplace. Want a 604ci BBF? Not a problem. Aftermarket blocks are out there with 4.600-inch bores and stroker crankshafts are floating around everywhere. Even the Boss 9 has made its comeback with the availability of Jon Kaase's "new" Boss 9 cylinder heads.

When it comes to horsepower, the sky's the limit with the 429/460-based engines. Factory blocks will handle huge amounts of power and new blocks from Ford Racing (and others) will allow power numbers up into the "thousands."

Modular Engines

While we could easily include the turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinders, inline sixes, and V-6 engines in this story, they just don't seem to be very popular when there are so many good V-8 candidates. What has become popular are the Ford modular engines from the '96-and-newer Mustangs. This includes the Two-Valve and Four-Valve 4.6L and 5.4L engines, as well as the new-for-2011 5.0L Coyote engine.

In naturally-aspirated form, the only decent performance modulars are the DOHC 4.6L and 5.0L engines, offering 305 hp and 412 hp respectively. The supercharged 5.4L from the GT500 is also a hot commodity making more than 500 hp. All modular engines benefit from a rich aftermarket thanks to the late-model Mustangs, and offer just about unlimited engine power with great driveability.

While the Two- and Four-Valve 4.6L engines can be had used and quite inexpensively, we'd put our money on the new 5.0L Ti-VCT DOHC crate engine from Ford Racing Performance Parts. It's the same engine that powers '11-and-newer Mustangs, and offers 412hp and 390 lb-ft of torque. Parts are continually coming out for this engine, and a well-tuned version with bolt-on performance parts can easily exceed 400 rwhp, with super- or turbo-charged versions making well over 500 rwhp--and the engine can handle it with ease. We expect to see the new 5.0L crate engine from Ford Racing Performance Parts become vastly more popular than the current modular crop of engines.

While the Two- and Four-Valve 4.6L engines can be had used and quite inexpensively, we'd put our money on the new 5.0L TI-VCT DOHC crate engine from Ford Racing Performance Parts


There are so many different variables to take into consideration when planning out an engine build, and it's almost impossible to address every single one. We haven't even covered your budget in all of this, which oftentimes is either the first question to answer or the last. Building an engine can be a daunting task, but if you think your way through it, you can have a complete combination that will make you happy when cruising, and will make you grin when you mash the gas.

Now it's time to be honest, think about what your goals are, and do a little research on the pros/cons of your engine plan. Check back next month, as we hop along to the next step, which is exploring the foundation of the engine: the block. We will explore the different options that Ford enthusiasts have, and even cover some different machining techniques and engine building practices. Following that article, we'll cover how to properly choose the correct cylinder heads, cam, and intake for your combination in the third installment of our "Power Principles" series.

Brent Lykins is the owner/operator of B2 Motorsports. (

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