Ford introduced the FE (Ford- Edsel) engine series, which had been developed in the mid 1950s, in 1958. While the new engine differed greatly from its predecessor, the 239- to 312-ci Y-Block, the FE featured a similar style deep-skirted cylinder block. In fact, the FE block extends 25⁄8-inches below the crankshaft centerline. This added rigidity and helped establish a reputation for strength and durability in later highperformance versions.
The FE made its 1958 debut at 332 ci, with a 352-ci version following later in the model year. Both engines had a 4.00-inch bore; the 332 ci had a 3.30-inch stroke, while the 352-ci stroke was 3.50 inches. The two virtually identical engines were available options in Ford passenger cars until 1959.
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The 332-ci and 352-ci marked the beginning of a long line of engines that can easily baffle the uninitiated due to a confusing array of displacements and intake manifold/ cylinder-head configurations. Not including the truck engines, the FE was available in: 332, 352, 361 (available in 1958 to 1959 Edsel only), 390, 406, 410, 427, and 428-ci displacements. There was even a raceonly version of the 427 ci, whose cylinder heads were fitted withhemispherical combustion chambers and single overhead cams. FE series engines provided power for passenger cars from 1958 to 1971, in light trucks from 1965 to 1976, and medium- and heavy-duty trucks from 1964 to 1978.
In 1960, after almost three years of voluntary compliance with the Automobile Manufacturers Association ban on factory participation in auto racing, it was the FE series engine that carried the company banner back to the speedway. Dearborn developed its first dedicated high performance version of the FE based on the 352. The new engine featured a specially cast cylinder block, higher compression due to improved cylinder heads, a solid-lifter camshaft, full centrifugal advance distributor, free-flowing castiron exhaust manifolds, and a Holley 4-barrel carburetor mounted atop an aluminum intake manifold. Rated at 360 hp, the new engine more than held its own against the top engines offered in GM and Chrysler products, which in most cases boasted more cubic inches and multiple carburetion. Ford called upon the FE engine to carry its flag into battle for the next nine years in what would develop into an all out horsepower war.
Things escalated quickly from that point, with Ford enlarging the FE to 390 ci in 1961 and fielding two high-performance versions, rated at 375 hp with a single 4-barrel carb and a whopping 401 hp with three Holley 2-barrels on top. The 401-hp version of the 390-ci has the distinction of being the first Ford engine to feature multiple carburetion since 1957, (although Mercury did offer multiple carburetion as a dealerinstalled option in 1958).
In 1962, Ford was forced to play up against the other members of the big three. Dearborn started the year with the 401-hp 390-ci as its top offering, while GM and Chrysler increased the displacement and horsepower ratings of their high-performance engines.Chrysler upped the ante with 413 ci and 415 hp, Chevrolet introduced the 409-hp version of its 409-ci engine, and Pontiac stepped up the power of its 421-ci to 405 hp. Ford fired back with the mid-year introduction of a 406-ci FE (again a dedicated performance cylinder block), which delivered 385 hp in 4-barrel form and 405 ci with three Holley 2-barrels, which were slightly larger than those offered on the 401-hp 390-ci engine.
With three solid years of competition on circle tracks or drag strips under their belts, the engineers at Ford came out swinging in 1963. Lessons learned with the 406-ci in NASCAR led to the development of a brand-new high-performance FE block that not only boasted more displacement, with 427 ci, it also gained strength with three cross-bolting main bearing caps. The 427-ci delivered 410 hp with a 4-barrel carburetor and for the first time since 1957, one could buy a Ford straight off the showroom floor equipped with a two 4-barrel induction system. In this configuration, the 427-ci produced 425 hp and probably did more to make the Ford name synonymous with race winning performance than any other engine to come out of Dearborn since the flathead V-8.
And talk about versatility, the 427-ci powered Ford vehicles to victory in every imaginable racing venue, from the stoplights and drag strips of America to the famed international race at LeMans France. On the high-banked tracks of NASCAR, the incredible strength of the 427-ci Ford engine, coupled with an obviously underrated horsepower number, allowed Ford to dominate the series for the first time in years.
Ford’s slogan for 1964 was “Total Performance,” and again the FE engine led the charge. Along with the 410- and 425-hp 427-ci engines, which were a regular production option, came an even more radical version known as the High Riser. The High Riser, which powered factory built racing vehicles, benefited from redesigned cylinder heads and an intake manifold that required a scooped hood for clearance. Having caught on to the game the other manufacturers were playing with their advertised horsepower figures, Ford rated the High Riser’s output the same as the standard production 427 ci. This allowed racers to reap the rewards on drag strips across the land, as the factory-backed Ford and Mercury teams ran roughshod over the competition.
While the Fords did well in the NASCAR stock car series, Chrysler delivered a serious blow by convincing the sanctioning body to legalize its 426-ci Hemi engine for competition. Hemi-powered cars served notice that they were in the game to win at the opening NASCAR race of the year, the Daytona 500.
The resurgence of Plymouth and Dodge prompted the engineers at Ford to respond with an engine that could match or exceed the highly vaunted 426-ci Hemi. The tried and proven 427-ci FE block was fitted with a completely redesigned set of cylinder heads that took advantage of the performance gains of hemispherical combustion chambers. The new heads also housed a camshaft on each bank, which led the new engine to be called the “SOHC 427” (single overhead cam 427). Capable of pumping out an honest 615 hp with a single 4-barrel carburetor and 657 hp with two 4-barrel induction, the SOHC was unparalleled at the time. After much urging from Chrysler, NASCAR banned the new engine from competition quicker than Ford could gear up to build the required 500 cars.
Undaunted after the rebuff from NASCAR, Ford made the engine available to drag racers, where the SOHC 427-ci met and defeated the 426-ci Hemi in both naturally aspirated and supercharged form with great regularity. After scoring its last major drag racing title in 1971 (“Dyno Don” Nicholson took home the Pro-Stock crown at the NHRA Summer Nationals with his SOHC 427-ci powered Maverick), the “Cammer” faded from active competition as Ford once again withdrew factory support for racing, and the number of available spare parts dried up. The SOHC 427-ci remains the most exotic FE series engine ever produced and is highly sought after by collectors to this day.
While the SOHC 427-ci was surely the most unique FE engine, a somewhat mundane version of the FE series emerged as perhaps the best street performance engine and the last high-performance FE produced. Initially introduced in 1966 to provide smooth power for Thunderbirds and full-size Galaxie models, the 428-ci version of the FE engine had lived in the shadow of the legendary 427-ci for most of its life. That was, until 1968, when Rhode Island Ford dealer Robert F. Tasca, Sr., proved to Ford management that, when combined with a simple combination of off-theshelf Ford performance parts and stuffed into a Mustang, the 428-ci would be a world beater. Thus, the 428 Cobra Jet was born. During its short lifespan (1968–1970) this engine became synonymous with Ford performance. Mustangs equipped with the 428-ci Cobra Jet continue to win in drag racing 41 years after they were first introduced.
Whether the job called for hauling power in a truck, hauling the kids to school in the family station wagon, or winning racing championships, the FE series engine was more than up to the task. It will go down in history as one of Ford’s most versatile powerplants.
Written by Charles R. Morris and Republished with Permission of CarTech Inc