Regardless if you look at this sport as a business or hobby, there are two distinct mindsets. There is the easy horsepower crew, which usually translates into a big cubic-inch crate motor from GM, Ford or mother Mopar. The other side of the isle is populated with the proverbial "engine guys," much in the mold of 48-year-old Barry Rabotnick. Taking hot rodding back to its roots, these individuals look to make horsepower the old-fashioned way--by themselves. They do not buy it out of a mail-order catalog. To this school of thought, many engines come to mind such as the Pontiac, early Chrysler big-blocks (pre-B and RB versions), Oldsmobile, Cadillac and AMC. Ford big-blocks certainly have the ability to belt out the power when a modified 385 Series is bolted to the dyno pump. Good cylinder heads are offered for this design and go a long way in affirming an IC engine is nothing but an air pump. Hypothetically, if someone wanted to produce 1.49 hp/cubic inch on 91 octane pump gas with an 11.8:1 compression ratio and their engine choice was an old dump truck-inspired FE, you would have to say they were either nuts or a Blue Oval Einstein. Well, at the 2005 Jeg's Engine Masters Challenge, West Bloomfield, Mich.-based Rabotnick did just that. He coaxed 752 horsepower from a 505 cubic-inch Genesis Manufacturing Inc. iron block FE. What makes this especially impressive is he did it on a workingman's budget with no real trick parts.
Growing up one mile from the famed street racing Mecca of Woodward Avenue, Barry's first running car was a 1968 Ford Torino with a 390 and a four-speed. Over the years, he has owned and raced about 55 different cars. Barry told PHR: "For no particular reason did I have FE-powered cars. It simply was always more a matter of racing and building what I happen to own and could afford at the time." Securing a degree in accounting, Rabotnick's love for internal combustion drove him into a career in the automotive aftermarket. After a combination of 20 years at Holley and the Speed-Pro division of Federal Mogul, just as he committed to build an FE for the Engine Masters Challenge, the demons of corporate downsizing delivered a pink slip to his desk. With a cooperative wife and the promise of starting Survival Motorsports, the project engine moved forward, albeit on an even tighter budget.
"Back when I was somebody in the industry and cost was not as much of a concern, everyone would tell me to move up to a 385 Series Ford. But what was I going to do with all of the FE parts I had accumulated over nearly 30 years?" Becoming intimate with the peculiarities of the FE, Barry came to realize that he had started to go just as fast as and even beat the Chevy guys.
Our feature engine, in true backyard hot rodding form, is a combination of parts that are old and new, and even some that are not supposed to work as well as they are at this power level. Many of the bolt-on items, such as the water pump and ignition, were borrowed for the challenge from Barry's '69 Torino racecar. "The crankshaft and connecting rods are straight out of the box from SCAT," Rabotnick stated. "The shaft is SCAT's inexpensive Chinese import that features 2.750-inch main bearing journals and big-block Chevy 2.200-inch rod journals." It is hard to believe, but the crankshaft is not even forged. It is cast in construction. The connecting rods are forged H-beam-style, made to BBC dimensions, and are 6.700 inches center-to-center. Bob Fall of Fall Automotive Machine in Toledo, Ohio, set up the balance so a stock-weight flexplate and ATI balancer could be used. The rotating assembly did require the installation of some mallory to quell any harmonics.
"If there is any story here," Rabotnick said, "it is in the cylinder heads and engine block. I am sorry to disappoint you, but when you scratch through the surface, my FE is nothing but an engine that was built in my garage at home." With the popularity of this Ford engine driven by the Cobra kit car rage, and six-figure musclecar restorations, Genesis Manufacturing in Indianapolis decided to make an aftermarket FE block. Basically a beefed-up version of the old Ford FE/FT (which stood for Ford Engine/Ford Truck), it tips the scales at slightly more than 30 pounds heavier than the original. Able to accept a bore of up to 4.400 inches and a stroke of 4.375 inches, Rabotnick played it safe and only went for a bore of 4.350 inches. "This way if I hurt it, readily available BBC Chevy ring sizes could be used."
Being employed at Speed-Pro when this project began, the company made three sets of custom pistons for Barry. Again, BBC lineage came into play and the off-the-shelf pieces were machined for FE valve pockets and 1/16-inch first and second compression rings. The oil control ring is unique in being a 4mm dimension from a 460 Ford truck application. The compression height of the piston is 1.340 inches and the skirts feature the factory Speed-Pro dry film lubricant coating.
Through his years in the business, Barry made many friends who helped with his project. Tim Meara of Sunnen Corporation, the engine machine tool manufacturer, told Barry that if he would drive all night to St. Louis, he personally would machine the new FE block at Sunnen's research lab. Other than the best in machine procedures, the only modification to the out-of-the-crate block is restricted oil flow to the valve lifters and cylinder heads. No trick coatings or stress relief were employed anywhere in the engine.
The SCAT rotating assembly...
The SCAT rotating assembly can be clearly seen in the Genesis Manufacturing FE block. As Barry told us, there is nothing trick down there.
The good burn characteristics...
The good burn characteristics of the Blue Thunder FE cylinder head are visible by the flame path over the piston crown. Note how the flame does not enter the quench region on the far end of the crown. Many racers do not use piston color tracking as the important tool it is to see flame travel.
The cam lifts the valves to...
The cam lifts the valves to 0.747 inches on both sides. COMP Cams PN 26099 springs with 700 psi/280 psi (open and closed, respectively) were designed for an oval-track application. Barry says they last forever in a drag motor.
The Ford truck metric oil...
The Ford truck metric oil ring was used because it reduced the radial wall thickness, allowing good oil control and low tension. A standard floating pin and lock hold the Speed-Pro piston to the connecting rod.