Attached to the crankshaft is a set of Scat 6.490-inch H-beam connecting rods. Though they sound like really long rods, they are the factory length. Barry points out: "It's one of the weak points on the FE for parts, because in aftermarket support, although they're getting much better, there are no long rods for an FE on the market. The only rod choice is the 6.490-inch factory-dimension rod." That is not to say that it's a short rod when compared to the stroke, it's just that when compared to the deck height of the block, it forces the engine builder to use a tall, heavy piston. Always one to find the good elements in what he is forced to deal with, Barry points out that the tall pistons actually do a very good job of stabilizing the lightweight Speed-Pro rings and keeping the piston from rocking back and forth.

The pistons Barry chose for this combination are made by Diamond, and use a spherical dish to achieve the final 10.5:1 compression ratio. "It's a full round dish, where the center is deeper, like if you took a baseball and pushed it into the top of the piston." When choosing his pistons, his thought process brought him to consider that when the combustion process occurred, he wanted to center the pressure over the middle of the wristpin instead of wasting energy rocking the piston over as he envisioned with a traditional D-shaped inverted-dome design. "It seems to work pretty good. The motors don't need a lot of timing, the mixture seems to work out real well, and they make good power that way. I think it works well in concert with the location of the cylinder head on the block." The final portion of Barry's comments refers to the massive relocation of the cylinder head in relation to the bores. The dowel pins on the block remained the same, but the dowel locating holes in the heads were welded up and moved to shift the head closer to the lifter valley. He moved the head so much that a portion of the locating dowel is visible beyond the edge of the head. The combination of the dish design and efficiency of the relocated combustion chamber allowed him to make best overall power with a mere 32 degrees of total timing.

Barry points out that the move to a spherical dish is not a total stab in the dark. "This is out of the LS1 world as much as anything else." Referring to the Ford Modular motors and new 5.7 Hemi engines, Barry says: "Those all have spherical-dish pistons in them from the factory. None of them have a D-shaped cup or anything like that in them anymore. We're mirroring factory stuff there. We're not leading-edge, we're just applying leading-edge stuff to an old motor." He adds, laughing: "They worked really hard developing that, we might as well steal it."

The oiling system was not as high-tech as the pistons, but as it has been refined for a number of years, it did not need to be high-tech. "We blend from the oil pump into the block, we match where the oil enters the main bearings and blend those passages a little bit, and we restrict the oil to the cylinder heads." Barry used a Melling oil pump, and found this setup to be totally reliable. He admits to having the same problems as the Chrysler guys when it comes to windage, though. "The Hemi guys, to get the benefits of the kick-out-style pan on their motors, they mill windows on the sides of the block. I think that is the same issue I have. The Y-block minimizes the benefits of a good pan." He ended up using an out-of-the-box Milodon pan, surprised at its performance. "I've run really cool, swoopy pans on these things in the past, and that Milodon one actually made more horsepower, by about 3, compared to a billet-aluminum, swinging-trapdoor wild pan. I'm sure the cool pan was better in the car at controlling oil, and the way oil behaves, but because of the nature of the FE, it didn't have any advantage on the dyno, which was totally surprising and disappointing."

As for the ever-popular windage trays, he claims that he's tried with and without trays of different styles, and hasn't seen any real benefit or loss. "I normally end up running a tray on it just because I'd feel guilty not doing it, but I can't attribute it to a single bit of horsepower."

With the foundation prepared, Barry worked on the top end of the engine: the side where the real power is made. In years past, there were not a great number of choices when it came to cylinder heads for the FE. Medium-riser heads were plentiful and made good power. High-riser heads made better power, but with their height forcing the carb to sit a solid 2-3 inches higher than any other design, they were impractical without a hoodscoop. Tunnel-port heads, with their massive runners designed with pushrod tubes going straight through them, made incredible power, but were hard to come by, even in years past. Today they are almost extinct. Enter the Blue Thunder FE head. Similar in design to a medium-riser head, Barry acquired a pair of these jewels in bare form and had his friends at E/T Performance do their computer-enhanced magic on them. For those unfamiliar with the name, E/T Performance is most commonly known throughout the LSX world as a leader in CNC head-porting technology. Looking closely at the ports and chambers, they don't look anything like the early Ford designs. In fact, they look just like an LS1. "They tried to put an LS head into an FE head," said Barry.

As Barry was not overly concerned with high-mileage durability, they installed 5/16-inch-stem lightweight valves and performed a 50-degree competition valve job to work with some serious porting. In comparison to a traditional 45-degree valve job, the 50-degree valve job tends to kill a small amount of low-lift airflow. When using a cam with a good amount of overlap and lots of lift and duration, that can actually be beneficial, as it allows the intake valve to pop open a little bit without contaminating the intake charge with exhaust gasses. The downside of using 50- or 55-degree valve jobs is that it beats in the valve seats and valves much sooner than the 45-degree seats.

"Within the legal boundaries of the rules, we angle-milled the heads 1 degree. There's nothing in the rules talking about the location of the head on the block, so yeah, we moved the head around the block a little bit and that seemed to help. It's hard to say how much each of the individual changes helped because we never checked it out that way; we just keep on moving in directions where the package gets better. I know it's not the scientific method, but I don't have the budget to employ the scientific method all the time."

Operating the valves was the job of the T&D shaft rocker system. Barry is totally sold on the design. The key benefit he points out is that the burden of supporting the rocker arms was moved from a single long shaft with several individual support stands to a single long steel support structure with four paired rocker shafts. That change eliminates the fairly common failure of rocker stands and shafts breaking. And with an aggressive solid flat-tappet cam like the one from COMP Cams he's got thumping in this engine, he needs all the stability he can get.

Barry's first choice of intakes was to use his tried-and-true Edelbrock Victor that he had from the previous year's Challenge. As a comparison, he decided he'd give a second intake a shot. "Early on, Martin, from Blue Thunder, wanted me to try his dual-plane." At first, the fully tricked-out Edelbrock beat it handily, but he thought he'd let his pals from E/T take a shot at the more street-oriented dual-plane intake. John and the guys at E/T were leery about the Blue Thunder intake performing at the same level as the Victor, but they took it in like a puppy out of the rain, and fed it plenty of carbide and cartridge rolls. Barry recalled his reaction when he got the intake back. "He brought me back an intake a few weeks later that when you took the carburetor off and looked down it, it was like something out of the Twilight Zone." Barry asked John whether he thought the intake would perform, and his response was: "It's either going to work good, or it'll be a turd." Barry says: "If you look at the dual-plane, the plenum shape in there and the interior layout is unlike any dual-plane intake I've ever seen. He's onto something. I don't know if it's truly revolutionary, but it's certainly different." Normally, the plenum divider would run front to back in a straight line, and sometimes there would be a notch milled into it to increase the plenum area. In this case, they shaped the plenum divider into an inverted rainbow shape and continued the runners, allowing their lengths to be closer to the same, and also creating a larger plenum from which to breathe.

They ended up installing the heavily modified Blue Thunder intake on the engine for final testing not long before it was to be shipped. They got their ignition, cam, and carb dialed in, assuming that afterward, they would just swap out to the "good" single-plane intake and make even more power. In back-to-back testing, it turned out the dual-plane-the "street" intake-beat the single-plane across the board. Barry was amazed. Time didn't allow individual exhaust probe testing to check fuel distribution, but based on the overall fuel curve and the amount of fuel needed to make the power, he felt it was definitely a great working design.

As a test to see how close he could get the engine to perform in real-world conditions, he ran his testing sessions with an electric water pump and a set of Hooker headers against the same engine with a belt-driven water pump and a rare set of cast-iron headers from a '63 Galaxie. As you'd expect, the tubular headers and electric water pump helped the engine make a good deal of grunt, to the tune of 659 hp. What you might not expect is that with the beltdriven water pump and cast-iron exhaust, the engine still made an amazing 606 horses! Imagine, this flat-tappet-cammed, pump-gas engine could be dropped straight into an early Ford luxo-barge and eat late-model Camaros alive!

When that first FE engine exploded on the scene a good 50 years ago, its designers might not have realized at the time how its fallout would affect the rest of the engine building world, or how long its half-life would be. The universe of hot rodding has evolved into an array of overhead-cammed, fuel-injected, and computer-driven technologies. Nonetheless, Barry Robotnick and his thriving business, Survival Motorsports, have proven that the FE engines can still inflict some serious damage in the battle for torque and horsepower.