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Ford Flathead Engines: How to Rebuild & Modify

Ford Flathead Engines: How to Rebuild & Modify

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Ford Flathead Engines: How to Rebuild & Modify

5/5 (5 valutazioni)
570 pagine
2 ore
Jul 13, 2016


Authors Thacker and Herman take you through the entire process of a Ford flathead rebuild, including teardown, parts inspection, machine shop processes, replacement part selection, re-assembly, start up, and break-in. It all adds up to more than 500 color photos and insider tips on building what could be called the most iconic engine ever built, the Ford flathead V-8.
Jul 13, 2016

Informazioni sull'autore

After stints with the legendary So-Cal Speed Shop, the NHRA museum, and setting speed records on the salt flats, Tony wrapped up his professional career by opening an education museum in the Portland area called The World of Speed. However, he is far from being retired and is as busy as ever consulting for a number of clients and works in front of a computer on his first love: some book projects.

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Anteprima del libro

Ford Flathead Engines - Tony Thacker



I’m not sure when Mike Herman and I became acquainted, but it seems as if it was in the early 2000s, when I was marketing director at SO-CAL Speed Shop and he was just starting out at H&H Flatheads.

We had intended to collaborate on this book some years ago, but circumstances dictated otherwise. However, the planet gears recently aligned, and we were able to work together to make it happen. It wasn’t easy.

Although I had written books about the 1932 Ford, originally in 1982 and then a revised edition to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Deuce in 2007, they were primarily a historical reflection and to some extent a socioeconomic history of the 1932 V-8 and its impact on society. I didn’t get too much into bearing sizes.

Flathead Ford V-8 rebuilding: piece of cake, I thought. However, I quickly realized that while the flathead is a simple enough engine, its idiosyncrasies, changes, and development are in fact quite complicated.

Henry Ford’s stubbornness resulted in the first V-8 being less than its potential. The water pumps literally sucked. The engine overheated and used oil, but nevertheless it had potential. Over the ensuing years, Ford engineers, with and without Henry’s permission, tweaked the eight until it was great and in so doing gave the enthusiast the world’s first affordable performance V-8, much as Ford’s Model T had given the farmer the means of liberating himself from the land.

Over the years, numerous books have addressed the flathead, its restoration, tuning, and even supercharging, but none has covered it all; the subject is just too big. Likewise, we had to compromise and concentrate on the most popular engine: the 1949–1953 8BA.

Why the 8BA? Well, it was the culmination of the flathead’s development. Ford had done as much as it could to refine the concept, but the overheads were coming as technology moved on. Only overseas did development continue. Consequently, the 8BA is as good as a flathead gets. Plenty of these are available, as are parts and speed equipment. It’s a great hot rod engine.



Many people mistakenly believe that the Ford flathead V-8 was the first V-8 engine. It proved to be extremely popular until the overhead valve engines arrived and was the first V-8 readily available to the masses, but it was not the first. Léon Levavasseur took out the first patent for a V-8 gasoline engine in 1902. Although not a production engine, it was utilized in several aircraft and competition speedboats of the day. Meanwhile, American motorcycle builder and aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss installed one of his 269-ci aircraft V-8s in a motorcycle and set an unofficial land speed record of 136.36 mph in 1906.

Britain’s Rolls-Royce created the first automotive V-8, but only three were produced, in 1905 and 1906, before Rolls-Royce reverted to its trusted straight-6. In 1910 French automobile and railcar manufacturer De Dion-Bouton unveiled a 474-ci automotive V-8, which it displayed in New York in 1912. Although few were actually produced, they served as inspiration for several U.S. manufacturers.

Cadillac, for example, sold 13,000 flathead V-8 vehicles in 1914. The Cadillac was a sophisticated unit with cast-iron, paired, closed-head cylinders bolted to an aluminum crankcase, and it used a flat-plane crankshaft. Many historians consider this to be the first true production V-8 automotive engine.

General Motors was quick to follow Cadillac’s success with a flathead V-8 for Oldsmobile in 1916. The next year saw Chevrolet follow suit with a 288-ci engine for its Series D autos. When Chevrolet became part of General Motors in 1918, however, its V-8 was discontinued in favor of more economical engines.

W. R. Campbell, president of Ford Motor Company Canada, stamps the first V-8 produced in Windsor, Ontario. Note the early long-neck water pumps. Canadian blocks were produced until 1954, as were Australian blocks. (Photo Courtesy

Across town at Highland Park, Henry Ford had been experimenting with V-8 engines as early as 1922 (he didn’t like to follow the competition), but by 1928 he had decided, to go from a four to an eight, because Chevrolet is going to a six.

Ford engineers gathered up the competitors’ V-8s, including one of their own Lincolns (Lincoln had introduced a V-8 in 1921, the year before Henry Ford purchased the company), but they were complicated assemblies with separate cast barrels bolted to a crankcase. Ford wanted something much simpler for the new car he was developing to replace the Model A. Ford had been able to cast the Model T cylinders and crankcase en bloc (that is, in one piece), and he wanted the same mono construction for his V-8.

To begin, Ford engineers came up with two designs, one of 299 ci and another of 232 ci designated Model 24, which Henry eventually chose. The first engine ran at the beginning of 1931, and soon more were assembled and installed into Model As for testing.

Eventually known as the Model 18 (1 for first and 8 for, well, eight cylinders), the new Ford V-8 was unique. In addition to the revolutionary, one-piece casting, Ford wanted the exhaust passage running through the block for quick warm-ups because it gets cold in Detroit. A quick warm-up notwithstanding, Ford demanded that his engineers use existing Model A water pumps to save development and tooling costs. He wanted a thermosyphon system, whereby the pumps acted only to accelerate the flow of water.

A thermosyphon system acts on the principle that hot water seeks a higher level than cold water. Consequently, when the water reaches approximately 180 degrees F, circulation commences. The water flows from the lower radiator outlet pipe, up through the water jackets, into the upper radiator water tank, and down through the tubes to the lower tank to repeat the process.

Unfortunately, because of Ford’s demands, the V-8 suffered overheating problems until the 1937 redesign. Ford also wanted to eliminate the gears used to drive the distributor. Rather, he wanted the distributor bolted to the front of the block and driven directly by the camshaft, which itself was gear-driven and located above the crank. Ford did not want to give up the Model A’s gravity-fed fuel system. However, he had to relent and have a fuel pump that would suck fuel from a rear-mounted tank.

Growing Pains

Although the Ford flathead V-8 was produced virtually unchanged in concept from 1932 to 1953, it wasn’t an instant success. It was put into production perhaps too quickly, and there were numerous problems. Nearly all of the first 2,000 engines needed their cams, valves, valveguides, and front covers changed. The next 2,000 also needed repair, and most of the first 4,250 cars assembled were used as demonstrators and not sold to the public. Many cars were fitted with the more reliable 4-cylinder engine. Teething troubles aside, Ford produced 212,238 V-8s between production start-up in March 1932 and December 1932.

The first mass-produced monobloc V-8, with a cam-driven distributor and integral coil, went into production on March 9, 1932. (Photo Courtesy

This cutaway engine was photographed on May 12, 1932, for display in France. Thank goodness for the French and their long association with the flathead. (Photo Courtesy

Oh for a day in the engine testing room in 1934 when this photograph was taken. Most of the engines have aluminum heads, but a few iron-head versions are down the middle. (Photo Courtesy

Although not immediately adopted by racers, a few flathead Ford V-8s appeared at Indianapolis. Chet Miller drove this nice roadster, entered in the 1934 race by the Bohn Aluminum & Brass Company. It had what was undoubtedly the first flathead V-8 speed equipment: Bonalite aluminum heads and a brace of Stromberg 97s sideways atop a Don Sullivan intake. Apparently it produced 140 hp and achieved 109.252 mph, but it sailed over the wall on the 11th lap. (Photo Courtesy IMS Photo)

All domestic V-8 engines were produced at Ford’s River Rouge Plant, southeast of Detroit, and shipped to other assembly plants. Eventually, engines were built in other countries, including Canada and Great Britain. Until 1941, all Rouge-produced V-8s were painted Ford engine green before machining. Stamped parts were painted black, and cast-aluminum parts were unpainted. Colors changed over the years, so do not use engine color as a guide to the date of manufacture.

There were problems with the fully floating main bearings and lubrication system, and throughout 1932 a flow of factory service letters detailed fixes. (Fully floating means that not only did the rods rotate on the bearing, but the bearings also rotated on the crank; consequently, all three components were freely, or fully, floating.) Excessive oil consumption was a problem. Some cars used a quart of oil every 50 miles. The dipstick was made 1 inch short to prevent the public from operating cars with insufficient oil. In fact, between 1932 and 1935, five different oil indicators were used with various pan designs.

Piston wear was another issue. Early pistons, from 1932 to 1935, were aluminum alloy, but in 1935 steel dome pistons were put in limited use. They were standard on all engines from April 1936 until 1938.

Because the water pumps were located in the cylinder heads, they supposedly pulled heated water from the block (but were really sucking hot air). Because there were no thermostats, the engine overheated. Consequently, a new four-blade fan, larger pulley, and larger radiators were introduced, and more louvers were punched in the hood, increasing the number from 20 to 25 (the last louver was closed off). However, Henry Ford ignored the real reason for overheating: the water pump’s location.

Despite its 65-hp rating, the 221-ci V-8 was not initially popular with the racing fraternity, which preferred the tried-and-tested T and A 4-bangers. Meanwhile, Ford continued refinement: New for the 1933 Model 40 were lightweight aluminum heads that allowed for an increase in compression ratio from 5.5 to 6.3:1. In addition, a limited production of engines included Holley carbs.

By 1934 most of the teething problems had been remedied, and a good V-8 could produce 90 hp, return about 20 mpg, and hit 90 mph. In the hands of speed merchants, it could go much faster. By the end of 1934, Ford had produced 1,352,202 V-8 engines.

In 1935 the V-8 block was significantly changed to accommodate flow-through, or positive crankcase ventilation. The new block was given the prefix 48 for its part number. Domed pistons were installed, and new casting technology allowed for a cast-alloy steel crank to replace the earlier forged cranks. The year 1935 was also significant because the 2 millionth V-8 car rolled off the production lines. The following year, the 3 millionth was produced. Also new for 1936 were shell-type main bearings, replacing the previous poured white-metal Babbitt bearings. A more economical dual-throat Stromberg 97 carb replaced the Detroit Lubricator, and a new fuel pump was introduced. That same year, Ford applied for a license to build a two-seater light airplane powered by an aluminum V-8; 10 of these were reportedly built.

Surviving the Great Depression

The big change came in 1937, when the water pumps were finally moved to the upper front of the block (the inlet side of the system), thus drawing cool water from the radiator rather than trying to suck hot water out of the block. The water outlets were also moved rearward, to the center of the head. Some early versions had blanking plates on the block. The engine, which now produced 85 hp, was designated V-8-85. Some later catalogs, however, erroneously listed it as producing 90 hp.

Vic Edelbrock was one of the first to see the potential of the speed equipment business. He experimented with his own parts even before World War II. Here’s a Bay Area hot rodder with Edelbrock heads and intake with three deuces. (Photo Courtesy

Also new in 1937 was the compact version of the V-8, the V-8-60. Known as the thrifty sixty, this 60-hp V-8 was a mini version of the V-8-85 and returned 25 mpg; it was Henry’s answer to requests for a six. It caught on with midget racers and in some overseas markets, such as France and Great Britain, where there was a horsepower tax. However, it never really found favor in the United States, where it was underpowered for the weight and size of the average car. It was discontinued in the United States in 1940.

As the world struggled out of the Great Depression the initial problems with the V-8 were gradually eliminated. Ford was able to increase production as he had with the Model T and, to a lesser extent, the Model A. He unwittingly gave auto racers access to a cheap, high-performance engine that at last was attracting the attention of the speed merchants.

One of the first to see the potential was Vic Edelbrock, who purchased a V-8 Deuce Roadster in 1938. It became his daily driver, his test bed, and his lakes racer. Fitted with 21-stud cast-iron Arco milled and filled Denver heads, it sported a Winfield cam, a Thickstun manifold, Sandy’s headers, and dual ignition. It was the portent of a burgeoning post–World War II industry. By the end of 1937, Ford had produced 4,438,368 V-8 engines.

Ford announced another block modification for 1938. This was, of course, big news. It changed from 21- to 24-stud cylinder heads with 14-mm spark plugs. The main bearing sizes were also increased. Due to the slow introduction of the 24-stud block, the 1937 block assembly was continued until June 1938. (Until the introduction of the 24-stud block, heads had been interchangeable left to right, right to left. With the 24-stud pattern, heads were no longer interchangeable.)

In 1939, the Mercury brand was introduced to fit between the low-priced Ford and the high-end Lincoln. Although Ford stayed with the 3.0625-inch bore, the Mercs had a 3.1875-inch bore for 239 ci. The Merc version of the flathead also had larger-diameter crank bearings, heavier rods and crank, and other strengthened components.

Interestingly, De Luxe Ford models saw the fan relocated from the front of the generator to the end of the crankshaft; standard models retained the fan on the generator. This modification was, in part, due to lowering hood

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  • (5/5)
    The book, Ford Flathead Engines by Tony Thacker and Mike Herman is an all you need on step by step rebuilding and changing up the Ford engine. It's nicely illustrated with the steps you'd follow to change or work on the engine. It begins with history about Henry Ford and the V-8 engines he experimented in during 1922. It explains the different types and how it changed over the years. Next, it moves to the information you will want to know about the engine, different items and names for certain parts that may interest the one who is into rebuilding and working on Ford engines.It's just like a guide, step by step directions and tips with tools to help you design and learn more about the engine. I found it quite different than what I normally read, but it's interesting because I always wondered about the engine and what each part is called or does. However, even if it's only for Ford cars, it still is very interesting and maybe one day I'll be asked a question that refers to the engine and now I'll know what to say and even understand some words used when talking about the engine!
  • (5/5)
    Another winner by Car Tech. Step by step guide on rebuilding and modifying Ford flat heads. One of the best step by step guides I've seen yet, and as usual, chock full of Car Tech's incredible photos.
  • (5/5)
    Ford Flathead Engines: How to Rebuild & Modify is a great book that will teach you step by step how to better understand Ford engines. This book gives you an introduction to Ford's history followed by instructions on how to identify an engine that will fit your needs. Once you have decided which engine you will be working on you can expect great pictures and instructions to get familiar with parts and their functions. This book is a nice tool to anyone who wants to increase or simply acquire V8 flathead engine knowledge.
  • (5/5)
    Always been interested in how the flathead design works, this book went a long way to explain this. In explaining the rebuild process a lot of details became very clear. I would love get my hands on one of these engines. The performance modifications included in the last part of the book was frosting on the cake and added to my enthusiasm for this icon of automotive history.
  • (5/5)
    Very informative, descriptive book. My husband was ecstatic when he got his hands on it because he is the car guy and I assist. Love the step by step instructions, explanations of tools necessary to complete a project. Thank you, Car Tech every book I got from you proven to be an excellent guide and resource for my car guy, actually made my job easier just saying. Winner of a free book through Librarything, thank you, Darlene Cruz.
  • (5/5)
    Ford Flathead Engines: How to Rebuild & Modify is an amazing book. It gives you an introduction to Ford's history followed by instructions on how to identify different engines. Once you have decided which engine you will be working on you can expect great pictures and instructions to get familiar with parts and their functions. I know nothing about engines but my father restores them and was very grateful for this book as a gift and said it has come in handy more than once. So it's a great buy for anyone who rebuilds or would like to rebuild or modify Ford Flathead engines or if anyone in your life enjoys doing that this book makes a great gift!
  • (5/5)
    If you think Flathead Ford V-8s are all the same, you're wrong. Car Tech comes through again with this informative how to manual, beginning with just how they are different, helping you to avoid costly mistakes. The pictures are a huge help as well as the easy to understand wording. A great book to use to rebuild and modify your engine or to just add to your collection.
  • (4/5)
    Great job, the step by step guide with clear pictures and even more precise written instruction make this a great place to start for someone wanting to rebuild a Flathead Engine. It is not a beginners project, mechanic experience is required. This guide will keep the experienced mechanic on task for this aggressive project. Although I do not have such a project on my agenda I did thoroughly enjoy reading and following the steps of what it would take.
  • (5/5)
    This is the perfect introduction to Ford’s great old V-8.. It is a complete history of flathead development and use. The illustrations are excellent. Besides step-by-step rebuild procedures, there is a photo section to aid in identifying blocks. There are also torque sequence charts. There’s a chapter on performance modifications, if you’re interested in more than restoration. Rebuilding one of these engines isn’t a beginner’s project, but if you know what you’re doing, this book will help you avoid any pitfalls.