Ford Big-Blocks: The Ultimate FE Series 332-428 Engine Guide

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.

 

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The FE series engines were a tight fit in the engine compartment of Ford’s pony car, even after it received modifications in 1967 to accommodate the 390 ci. The 428-ci Cobra Jet was available with a vacuum-operated ram-air “shaker” hood, which added both horsepower and visual impact.


 

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.

 

Ford Big-Blocks: The Ultimate FE Series 332-428 Engine Guide 1

The front view of this cylinder block with its deep skirted sides leaves little doubt about it being a member of Ford’s FE (Ford-Edsel) series. FE engines were first introduced to the motoring public in 1958 and continued to power passenger cars into the early 1970s.


 
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The skirts of an FE series cylinder block extend 25⁄8 inches below the crankshaft centerline. This design makes for a very strong bottom end, and made the FE series engines favorites in many forms of racing in the 1960s.


 
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FE series cylinder blocks were cast in a number of different variations over the years, and some were devoted strictly to high-performance and racing use. The “C2AE” on this block indicates that it was cast in 1962, the “DIF” indicates Dearborn Iron Foundry, but more important than that is the “HP,” indicating that it is a dedicated highperformance part, in this case a 406. The 406-ci FE engine was produced from mid 1962 until mid 1963, when it was replaced by the bigger, stronger, more-powerful 427 ci, which is based on the same block.


 
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You can again see the “HP” casting when looking at the rear surface of the 406-ci block. Also take note that the machined “Mickey Mouse” ears on each side of the camshaft gallery are blank and not drilled. This reveals that this block, as was the case for all 406s, has no provision to feed oil to hydraulic valve lifters. The 406 Ford engine was available with high-performance, solid lifter camshafts only.


 
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A rear view of this more conventional FE series engine (in this case a 390), shows that the block has been cast and machined for hydraulic lifters. The most important thing to note in this photo, however, is the manner in which the core plug for the back of the camshaft gallery is installed. To many, installing this plug (which is designed like a freeze plug) in this fashion would seem to defy logic, but this is how it was designed to be installed. Installing it incorrectly will result in serious engine damage. Experience has taught me that this is one of the FE idiosyncrasies that makes it imperative to find a machine shop/engine builder who is familiar with the series.


 
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The ribbing cast into the side of this FE block indicates that it’s a service replacement block available through Ford’s parts network or for marine and industrial use. The ribbing is said to add strength, and as a result, the service blocks are now highly sought after.


 
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This close-up shows the strengthening ribs cast into an already strong cylinder block. The 427-ci service blocks that became available in 1968 were cast in this fashion and were also drilled for hydraulic valve lifters.


 
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This photo shows how the crankshaft sits deep within the FE block’s skirts. Upon closer examination, you’ll note the bosses in the block skirts adjacent to the number-2, -3, and -4 main bearings. This indicates that this is a 427-ci block, which uses cross bolts along with the two standard main bearing cap bolts to add rigidity for extreme performance. Some late 406-ci blocks were also crossbolted, but most that I’ve seen personally had the bosses cast in, not drilled and machined.


 
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Cross-bolts are found on each side of the number-2 main bearing cap in this 427-ci block. They extend through the block skirts and use a machined spacer to take up the space between the boss and the special main cap. It is important to note that the spacers are fitted to the block and the side of each individual cap and should not be mixed up. If you need to remove them, the spacers should be stamped with a number that corresponds with the main cap and a letter for left and right.


 
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This is the type of main caps used in late 406-ci and all 427-ci Ford engines up through 1968. Note that while the number-1 and -5 caps appear like those found in any other FE series engine, the number-2, -3, and -4 caps are crossbolted. This feature, born of race experience, gave the 427-ci its legendary strength. Note that each main cap’s spacers are pre-fit, so they should not be mixed up when the engine is disassembled. It is always a good idea to mark the spacers by their location.


 
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The main bearing caps on a non- 427-ci FE engine, such as this 390-ci, have no bosses for cross bolts. FE engines without cross-bolted main bearing caps have proved themselves to be very sturdy for all but the most severe forms of racing competition.


 
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With any rebuild, chasing all the bolt holes in the cylinder block with a tap should be one of the first orders of business before the reassembly process begins. This ensures that the threads are clean and allows you to achieve a proper torque reading.


 
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Fitting the piston rings to the cylinder bore is important for good sealing. Use a feeler gauge to check the end gap with the ring squared in the bore. With a stock rebuild, use the manufacturer’s recommendation for end gap, but if you’re using aftermarket pistons, read all instructions included with them first before gapping the rings.


 
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You can use a simple hand-cranked piston ring filer is achieve the proper end gap. This can be a somewhat tedious task since only small amounts of material should be removed in between checking the ring gap in the cylinder bore.


 
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Once the piston rings are installed with end gaps approximately 180 degrees apart, the piston and rod are ready to be installed in the block. Follow the ring manufacturer’s recommendations for positioning the rings on the piston.


 
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These red plastic protective sleeves are placed over the connecting rod bolts. They prevent any damage to the cylinder walls and crankshaft when the piston and rod assembly is installed.


 
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The connecting rod bearings should receive a liberal coating of motor oil or assembly lubricant before the piston and connecting rod assemblies are installed in their bores. The piston rings should be lubricated with motor oil.


 
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A piston ring compressor tool allows the piston and rod to be installed in the cylinder bore. I use the timehonored wooden hammer handle to push the assembly into the block.


 
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Once a piston and connecting rod are in place, the crankshaft will need to be rotated into the proper position to accommodate the next one. Take your time and check everything twice.


 
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After the connecting rods are installed and tightened to the proper torque specification, use a feeler gauge to determine if the connecting rod side clearance is within limits.


 
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One bank of this 427-ci Ford block is now fitted with custom pistons mounted on reconditioned connecting rods and awaiting the next step in assembly. The deck surface on this block has received a cleanup on a milling machine to ensure that it is flat and to prevent head gasket sealing problems. Care should be taken when “decking” any Ford cylinder block to keep it within factory recommendations.


 
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This particular 427-ci engine is being assembled using Fel-Pro Blue cylinder head gaskets, which are a modern composite and seal better than the OE steel-shim head gaskets. The Fel-Pro parts are also thicker than OE and help reduce compression slightly, allowing you to run lower-octane fuels in street-driven engines.


 
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The 427-ci engine in this photo is being assembled for allout competition in a drag car. Custom pistons have been machined for valve clearance for use with a high-lift camshaft. The rough cast-iron surface of the lifter gallery has also been painstakingly polished to aid the flow of oil back to the pan during high-RPM operation.


 
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This is a typical FE series Ford engine timing chain and gears. You can run a double roller timing chain like this for additional strength and accuracy of camshaft timing. This setup also features an indexed lower sprocket, which allows you to make cam timing changes to tweak your combination for your desired use.


 
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FE series engines use a cast aluminum timing case cover, except for engines built for marine use, which use a heavier cast iron cover. This engine is fitted with the thicker vibration damper found on high performance FE series engines (note the four circular marks on damper behind the pulley indicating where material was removed during the rotating assembly balancing process). The accessory pulley is an aftermarket part that drives the alternator at a lower speed for high-RPM use.


 

Special Tool!

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The thread-in brass plugs in the side of this FE series engine identify it as either a mid 1965 or newer 427-ci Side Oiler block or a marine 427-ci. Here I’m using a specially machined tool that fits the hex area of the plugs, allowing them to be removed and tightened properly. To my knowledge, a specific tool for this task is not commercially available and as a result, I had a machinist make this one out of necessity. Note: Anytime the threaded plugs are removed from the sides of the block, they must be coated with a Teflon sealer such as Permatex 765-1188 when reinstalled, or coolant leaks may occur.


 
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Opening and chamfering the oil passage in the cylinder block with an air or electric grinder is a fairly simple and straightforward task. This will help provide a steady flow of lubricant to the engine’s vital parts.


 

 

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Upgrading the standard oil filter adapter that bolts to the left front side of the block is another easy enhance to the FE oiling system. This adapter has larger, deeper oil passages and was used on the Ford high-performance engines. It is part number C0AZ-6881 and requires gasket number C0AZ-6A636B.


 
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The Milodon extended-sump oil pan adds three quarts to the engine’s oil capacity, while the windage tray shown here will provide an inexpensive boost in horsepower by isolating the rotating crankshaft from the oil and thus reducing powerrobbing friction.


 
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Ford fitted the FE series engines with several different crankshafts. At the top of the list would be the forged steel crankshaft found in later high-performance 427-ci engines. This particular crank shows much evidence of material being removed during balancing for smooth operation at high RPM.


 
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The early high-performance crankshafts as used in certain 390-, all 406-, and early 427-ci engines are referred to as “high-nodular” iron cranks and feature grooved bearing journals for additional lubrication.


 
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The 428-ci FE engines shared their 3.98-inch stroke with the 410-ci FE series engines used in Mercury vehicles. The “1U” stamping on this crankshaft reveals that it is a standard production 428-ci part. Crankshafts used in the 428 Super Cobra Jet are stamped “1UB” and are balanced differently due to the use of the beefier LeMans connecting rods, which use cap screws to secure the rod cap in place. Standard Cobra Jets use 13/32-inch nuts and bolts.


 
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The crankshaft sleeve, particularly the polished portion where it contacts the timing cover seal, is one area that needs careful examination during any FE rebuild. If this area is corroded,
there are repair sleeves available to save the part and prevent an oil leak from the front of the engine. Also check the keyway inside the sleeve for damage.


 
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This Competition Cams camshaft has been liberally coated with the assembly lubricant provided by the manufacturer prior to installation in the block. This prevents damage during break-in. The faces of the valve lifters have also been coated with lube as added insurance. Follow manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations carefully when installing a new cam and lifters.


 
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Early FE engines equipped with solid valve lifter camshafts used these “dumbbell” style valve lifters. Although generally strong, I have experienced breakage at the narrow portion of this style lifter under extreme high-RPM use.


 
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FE series engines utilize shaft-mounted rocker arms. The set depicted has adjusters, indicating that they are from a high-performance version of the engine series that uses solid valve lifters. The adjustable rocker arms are 1.76:1 ratio, while the non-adjustable type used on engines with hydraulic valve lifters has a lower ratio.


 
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The rocker arm assemblies on this 427-ci engine have hardened shafts and aluminum roller-tip rocker arms with locking adjusting nuts for high-performance use. The pushrods are heavy duty 3/8-inch ball-and-cup-type that resists flexing at high RPM.


 
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Oil is fed to the rocker arm assemblies on FE series engines via a passage in the cylinder head where one of the rocker arm supports bolts on. This support utilizes a bolt that is longer than the others holding the rocker arm assemblies to the cylinder head. The oil flows down the rocker arm shaft and is gravity fed to the rocker arms, which have grooves machined in them and drilled “spit holes.” When assembling FE rocker arm assemblies, it’s important that the oil feed holes are faced down toward the cylinder head or the rocker arms will not get proper lubrication.


 
Ford Big-Blocks: The Ultimate FE Series 332-428 Engine Guide 39

FE engines feature stamped steel trays bolted between the rocker arm assemblies and cylinder heads to direct excess oil back to drain holes located at each end of the cylinder heads.


 
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FE series water pumps mount to the front of the cylinder block with a simple 4-bolt flange. A bypass hose connects the pump to a nipple at the front of the intake manifold. While easily accessible on most applications, these pumps are cast iron and pretty hefty. There are two distinct styles of FE water pump and they do not interchange. The difference between the earlier and later versions of the pump is the location of mounting points for either generator or alternator brackets. This pump is for a vehicle equipped with a generator.


 
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There are performance aftermarket (in this case, Edelbrock) aluminum water pumps for FE engines. Aftermarket pumps that replace heavy cast iron water pump with lighter aluminum also feature an improved impeller for better cooling. Swapping out the OE water pump for an aluminum version takes in the neighborhood of 12 pounds off the front of the engine.


 
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A number of companies have now begun producing aluminum cylinder heads for FE series Ford engines. Besides being considerably lighter than OE heads, the aluminum castings offer valve size, valve material, and combustion chamber options not readily available with original parts, which are reaching 40 years old.


 
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By design, the intake manifolds on FE series engines are wide, while the cylinder heads are narrow, and thus the intake manifold is cast with tubes for the pushrods to pass through. Therefore, you must first remove the rocker arm assemblies and pushrods in order to remove the intake manifold from an FE engine.


 
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While most production FE intake manifolds are cast iron and weigh more than 80 pounds, Ford did cast some performance versions from aluminum, such as this 390-ci Police Interceptor intake.


 
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The famed 427-ci engine was offered with two different intake manifolds, both of which were aluminum. Twin 4-barrel intakes (shown here) and single-carburetor versions were available.


 
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Perhaps the most unique intake manifolds ever cast at Ford were those designed for the 427-ci Tunnel Port cylinder head-equipped racing engines of the late 1960s. These were also available with twin and single 4-barrel carburetors.


 
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Due to the unique design of the 427-ci Tunnel Port cylinder heads, the intake manifolds were cast with tubes that allowed the pushrods to pass through the intake ports.


 
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The 427-ci Tunnel Port cylinder heads are easily identified by their cavernous, round intake ports, which are unlike any other FE series wedgechambered head.


 
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The standard production car and most performance version FE series cylinder heads feature rectangular intake ports. Shown here is the port on a 427-ci Low Riser cylinder head.


 
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With the exception of the exotic SOHC 427-ci, FE series cylinder heads have a wedge-shaped combustion chamber that varies slightly in configuration and volume from model to model.


 
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This cylinder head is for an early 352-ci FE engine and mounts the inefficient cast-iron box-style exhaust manifold needed for engine compartment clearance in many Ford models.


 
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Here it is the king of all the FE Ford engines: the SOHC 427-ci, or “Cammer” as it is better known. The Cammer pumped out a rated 615 hp with a single 4-barrel carburetor and 657 hp with two big Holley 4-barrels. Though it was never installed in a production car, the SOHC 427-ci powered many Ford drag cars to victory between 1965 and the early 1970s.


 
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With the intake manifold and cam cover removed, you can see what puts the “SOHC” in the SOHC 427-ci—an overhead camshaft in each of the huge cylinder heads. Note the huge intake ports to feed the hemispherical combustion chambers.


 
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Take away the camshaft and rocker assemblies and the valve arrangement of a cylinder head with hemispherical combustions chambers becomes obvious. SOHC 427s used both cast-iron and aluminum cylinder heads.


 
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Six feet of timing chain, idlers, and a tensioner drive the SOHC 427’s two camshafts, while a conventional FE timing set and special stub cam power the oil pump and distributor. Contrary to popular belief, the chain drive was not a weak link in the engine.


 
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The special front cover cast for the SOHC 427-ci is pictured with the timing chain. These parts are rare and valuable today.


 
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A single 4-barrel version of the 427-ci Medium Riser graces the engine compartment of George Aberts’ 1967 Mercury Cyclone. A rare car with an even rarer engine. The single 4-barrel 427-ci was rated at 410 hp and ruled in NASCAR for many years.


 
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The 428 Cobra Jet is perhaps the best and certainly one of the most popular street performance FE engines. Introduced in 1968, the 428 Cobra Jet was a combination of off-the shelf Ford performance parts stuffed into an engine that had been powering T-Birds and station wagons since 1966. Rated at a very conservative 335 hp when fitted into a Mustang or Torino body, the Cobra Jet was the master of the stop light grand prix and king of the drag strip.


 

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

 

 

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