In the world of chemistry, FE is the atomic symbol for iron, a basic building block in the construction of our universe. FE is also a symbol of early-1960s Ford horsepower, a building block in the universe of hot rodding. As the universe in space expanded and became more complex, the usefulness of our friend iron, FE, did not diminish. And as the universe of engine building expands and becomes more complex, the venerable Ford FE engine continues to prove its usefulness. In fact, the elegant simplicity of its design has been mimicked time and again as an unconscious tribute to those engineers at FOMOCO who, so long ago, set out to build a machine that would convert gasoline into horsepower.
Every car, every engine, has its group of devoted fans and experts. If you were building a big-block Mopar, you'd probably call Ron at Indy Cylinder Heads. Slapping together a big-inch mountain motor? Jon Kaase has a fairly good grasp of the concept. Building an FE engine? Barry Robotnick and his crew at Survival Motorsports are hard to beat. Barry is one of those "long-term, overnight success" stories that we hear about. His business has been quietly building engines, specifically FE Ford engines, for a number of years, and he's carved out his place in that niche market. In the last three years as a competitor in the Jegs Engine Masters Challenge, his horsepower-producing skills have ramped up quickly, and he's steadily gaining notoriety outside the nice little world of big-block Fords.
Keeping with the retro theme,...
Keeping with the retro theme, Robotnick modified this period-correct factory distributor to utilize late-model Ford Duraspark guts. What looks like a single thin wire actually contains the shielded dual wires necessary to trigger the MSD ignition box.
Barry was selected again as a competitor for the 2007 Engine Masters Challenge, and as in years past, he chose to build his favorite-an FE. Specifically, a 427 side oiler. Like any engine build, when approaching the Engine Masters Challenge, Barry took a good look at the application and the constraints of the build. In this case, the application would be a dyno challenge pitting some of the best engine builders in the country against each other using stock-configuration engines in an rpm range comparable to what most street cars and hot rods see. The constraints, well, there were many, but the basic gist was that the engine had to be 10.5 compression or less, run a flat-tappet cam, and drink 91-octane pump gas. How hard could it be?
A quick glance at the last several years of Challenges reveals a steady increase in the levels of torque and horsepower produced at these events. A winning combination-even with unlimited compression and a solid-roller cam-from just a few years ago might not make it into the Top 3 in 2007. Have the engines gotten more high tech? No. In fact, a concerted effort has been made to reduce the amount of big-dollar modifications and ultra-inaccessible parts in order to bring out the best in common-sense approaches to engine building. In other words, getting back to the basics like good heads, the right cam, and attention to detail. The things that Barry specializes in.
When constructing this engine in his head, Barry decided he wanted a theme to go along with it. His goal was to make it look like it just came out of an old hot rod. "Cosmetically, we made that engine look as much as we could like an original '64 Ford 427 motor that would have been in somebody's Galaxie back in the day," Barry says.
Indeed, at first glance it looks like a bone-stock, yet clean and pristine example of a survivor. It's when you look beyond the spit-shine and pop off the valve covers that you start to understand that this is not the same engine that came out of grandpa's cruiser. As hard as it is to believe by looking at it, about the only "factory" Ford items used are the distributor housing, timing cover, and crankshaft! Aftermarket support for the FE engines has slowly grown through the years with companies like DOVE, Blue Thunder, and Genesis Performance Castings providing a substantial inventory of new and replacement parts.
Barry is thankful for the...
Barry is thankful for the quality of the aftermarket support for FE engines. These stunning valve covers with the Thunderbird decal are perfect repros and not just cheap junk. Survival Motorsports offers them for $269.50 per set.
The foundation of Barry's engine began with a Genesis 427 block. There have been a number of different OEM versions of the FE block available throughout the years with minor variations in bore size, oiling system, and main-cap designs. Genesis took the best of the factory designs and improved on them. The most important feature that they replicated was the oiling system of the famed 427 side oiler. Although it is a staple in hot rod nomenclature like "Hemi" or "ZL1," not many outside the big-block Ford world know the intricacies that make up the 427 side oiler's namesake. The most obvious feature is an oil galley that runs along the driver side of the block with passages supplying oil directly to the main bearings prior to the cam and heads. The more common FE variants like the 360/390/428 versions run oil to the cam first, then down to the mains, significantly reducing the oil available at this key area. The '61-63 high-performance 390, and the often-forgotten 406 and the 427 were all designed specifically for solid flat-tappet cams, and as such, had no provisions to run oil to hydraulic lifters should one want to swap cams. The Genesis block allows this provision, as many street-driven car owners now prefer the low maintenance of a hydraulic cam. Another feature of the original side oiler that is replicated is the pressure relief valve at the rear end of the main oil galley, allowing the engine builder to alter oil pressure with different springs or shims. Something to keep in mind if you find yourself building a combination like Barry's is that the side oiler blocks use a different set of cam bearings, as oil travels to the top end through grooves in the second and fourth cam journals, then up through passages in the block and heads before ending up at the rocker shafts.
The FE block is a "Y-block" design similar to big-block Mopars. Where the standard Mopar blocks had two-bolt mains, the race-inspired Hemis had cross-bolted four-bolt mains. The FE engines followed suit with the "normal" blocks having two-bolt mains, but the side oilers (and now Genesis blocks) came standard with cross-bolted mains. Additionally, the Genesis block has the benefit of allowing up to a 4.440-inch bore size. Couple that with a possible 4.375-inch stroke crank, and the thought of a 532ci monster looks tempting.
Barry's crankshaft was decidedly more old school than the brand-new block. "The crankshaft was a 391 truck crank, originally out of a garbage truck or a dump truck," Barry reveals. Most FE engines came with cast-iron cranks, and save for the '65-67 427 engine with the "LeMans" steel cranks, the easiest way to get a forged steel crank is to pluck one from one of the heavy-duty truck versions of the engine family. Officially known as FT engines (Ford/Truck) instead of FE engines (Ford/Edsel), the 361/391 engines all used steel cranks, and all shared the same journal and stroke dimensions as their passenger-car brothers. The only modification necessary to use the truck crank is to turn down the snout of the crank, as the passenger cars and light-duty pickup trucks used a smaller inside diameter on the harmonic dampers. A trip to the machine shop quickly fixes that issue. Barry's choice when it came to modifying his crank was to send it off to fellow Engine Masters Challenge competitor and crankshaft guru Adney Brown of Performance Crankshaft for some serious updating. He did the usual stuff, grinding and indexing the crank to the factory 3.780-inch stroke, but after lightening, bull-nosing the leading edges, and knifing the trailing edges of the throws, the crank looked and performed as good as any NASCAR piece. Barry praised Adney openly: "What he did to that crankshaft was nothing short of stunning."