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 can be clearly seen in the Genesis Manufacturing FE block. As B
The good burn characteristics of the Blue Thunder FE cylinder head are visible by the flam
The cam lifts the valves to 0.747 inches on both sides. COMP Cams PN 26099 springs with 70
The Ford truck metric oil ring was used because it reduced the radial wall thickness, allo
"The real weak link in the FE has always been the cylinder head design along with the combustion chamber," Barry is quick to state. To further complicate matters, Rabotnick told us, "Ford offered three different versions of the basic casting with low, medium and high-riser applications. To a guy used to a Chevy, the engine was just too confusing to make any sense." Since horsepower is cylinder pressure and heat, an engine's propensity to detonate is increased with the specific output. Since our feature engine was based on the one Barry had in his Torino race car with the old Ford-style heads, the 11.8:1 compression ratio was chosen due to parts availability. Coincidentally, A. T. Francais of Blue Thunder Cylinder Heads, working in conjunction with John Marcella at ET Performance (of Walled Lake, Mich.) for CNC programming, was about to introduce a cylinder head that as Barry says, "took the FE into the 21st century." With a modern quick-burn Yates-style combustion chamber that is the mainstay of Pro 5.0 racers, the FE would now be fuel-friendly. In addition, the spark plug was moved to the proper location, closer to the center of the bore. This allows for less detonation and a cylinder pressure peak sooner in the crankshaft's arc of rotation past TDC. The medium-rise runner allowed 360 cfm of airflow at 28 inches of water. The exhaust port, though slightly shy of the commonly desired 80 percent of the intake flow, blows the spent gasses out at a rate of 240 cfm at the same depression. This value was obtained without an exhaust extension. With the proper six-inch pipe attached, the exhaust flow would pick up due to the elimination of sheer.
The deck on the Blue Thunder cylinder head is very thick and 0.102 inches needed to be milled off to achieve a combustion chamber volume of 72cc.
The intake manifold and carburetor are nothing too exotic, and feature an Edelbrock Victor FE that had a good deal of welding and reconturing done by ET Performance. This was required not only for good volumetric efficiency, but to match up and work with the CNC-ported medium-rise cylinder heads. The fuel mixing duties were handled by a Holley 1050 Dominator modified by Quick Fuel Technology with the company's float bowls and billet metering blocks, among other tricks. As Barry says, "The carb is so beautiful it could be a piece of art."
The one and only test session the FE underwent before heading east was done at Wheel-to-Wheel in Madison Heights, Mich. There, the Rabotnick crew ran into some disappointing results. "We struggled to make 600 horsepower, which was about 100 less than it did with the old Ford-style heads. This baffled everyone since the engine did nothing wrong other than being a pig." After much trial and error, it was discovered that the used ignition coil that Barry took from the Torino, due to budget constraints, had seen better days. Poor saturation was the culprit. With a new MSD coil bolted on, the engine produced 712 hp with a mixture of 12.5:1. This was after about two hours of undoing everything that, as Barry said, "got screwed up during diagnosing the low-power problem." On the Michigan dyno, the headers needed to be turned upside-down for cart clearance, and from previous testing, Rabotnick knew this was costing him about 12 ponies. So he calculated around 725 horsepower at the Engine Masters Challenge.
With a very conservative 27 degrees of total timing and a rich mixture, the engine was sent off to Long Island for the Jeg's Engine Masters Challenge. Barry knew that he was not going to win, but needed to play it safe to keep the motor together and keep him out of divorce court. With only a switch to 5W-20 Royal Purple synthetic oil from mineral-based lubricant, and the lower 91-octane spec gasoline, the time of reckoning was near. At Bill Mitchell's shop, the FE was out-gunned on paper by a host of other competitors. There, the mighty yet written-off Ford made history with 1.49 hp/cubic inch, or 752 hp. The engine picked up 40 horsepower with the spec fuel leaning out the air/fuel ratio to 13.5:1. Remarkably, Rabotnick made no tuning changes at all, not even an air bleed. No signs of detonation were present and nothing broke. That's always important for a working man. The power was good enough for ninth place overall. Not bad for a CPA turned engine builder.
PHR could not help but ask Rabotnick if he would've done anything different given the opportunity. His response was without hesitation: "This FE is a 752-horsepower engine that has many 450-horsepower parts inside. I will be back. This was only a shakedown run. I know where to find a lot more power." With a work ethic like that, PHR is sure Survival Motorsports and Barry Rabotnick will be a huge success. He just might bring Ford FE power back to the front burner. Sounds like the good ol' days all over again.
The oiling system consists of a Rabotnick-blueprinted Melling pump, Canton windage tray, a
The Edelbrock Victor FE manifold attaches to the Quick Fuel Technology Holley carburetor w
John Marcella of ET Performance worked with Blue Thunder to develop a CNC program to maxim
The Blue Thunder aluminum FE cylinder head incorporates a modern heart-style combustion ch
The rocker arms and shaft are from Dove and feature roller tips and the factory 1.76:1 rat
The solid roller lifters and camshaft were made by COMP. The bumpstick was ground for a to
The headers were off-the-shelf Hookers from Rabotnick's Torino. They feature 2-inch primar
The Blue Thunder competition-style cast aluminum valve covers look trick and do the job al
The obligatory K&N air filter made sure the FE would only ingest clean air.
The Quick Fuel Technology carburetor uses No. 88 jets and annular-style boosters.
John Marcella did a beautiful job of welding and reforming the intake manifold plenum and
The attention to detail can be seen in the perfect shape of the intake manifold runner. Br
The Meziere electric water pump is 3 years old and was borrowed from Barry's Torino.
For the Engine Master's Challenge, a powerful MSD-7AL2 ignition system was employed.
|Engine Specifications |
|Bore||4.350 inches |
|Stroke||4.250 inches |
|Displacement||505 cubic inches |
|Compression ratio||11.8:1 |
|Camshaft||COMP, solid roller |
|Cam duration||257/265 degrees at 0.050-inch tappet lift |
|Valve lift||0.747-inch |
|Rocker ratio||1.76:1 |
|Lobe seperation||108-degrees |
|Installed centerline||109-degrees |
|Top ring||Speed-Pro, 0.017 gap |
|Second ring||Speed-Pro, 0.024 gap |
|Oil ring||4mm Ford 460 truck |
|Piston||Speed-Pro, 1.340 inches compression height |
|Quench clearance||0.037-inch |
|Block||Genesis Manufacturing cast-iron FE |
|Crankshaft||SCAT, cast iron |
|Rods||SCAT, H-beam 6.700 inches |
|Main journal||2.750 inches |
|Rod journal||2.200 inches |
|Cylinder head||Blue Thunder Ford FE aluminum |
|Intake valve dia.||2.200 inches |
|Exhaust valve dia.||1.650 inches |
|Intake manifold||Edelbrock Victor FE |
|Carburetor||Quick Fuel Technology/Holley 1050 Dominator |
|Peak horsepower||752 @ 6,300 rpm |
|Peak torque||672 @ 5,300 rpm |