Sunday, July 15, 2007

Y-block engine hop up potential from the '60s

Popular Hot Rodding magazine in the '60s ran what I felt was one of the best articles on hopping up the Y-block engine.

Hot Rodding the 292 Engine

We started this series of articles on "shoestring" hop-up projects with the small Chevrolet V-8 engine because it is the most popular basic powerplant in the hot rod field -- for reasons of performance potential, low cost, light weight, etc. In picking a second basic engine for the budget-minded rodder we inevitably arrived at the Ford Y-block V-* of the 1954-'62 period, used mostly in 292-cubic-inch form.

Admittedly this engine lacks some of the virtues of the small Chevy. It's larger and heavier -- around 600 lbs. without flywheel and clutch -- and it doesn't have the breathing and high rev potential of the Chev. Also there is not quite such a wide variety of speed equipment available. But this engine had to be listed next in this series for one very good reason: You can probably do more hopping for less money with this engine than any other one. There are millions of these things in the junkyards at dirt cheap prices. Good ones are trading for well under $100. There's a big supply of spare parts in the junkyards, and part interchangeability between different year models is excellent. New factory parts over the counter are not rough. There's a lively market in used speed equipment. If you're hopping on a shoestring, this could be your engine.

This basic engine was introduced in 1954 at 239 cubic inches for Ford and 256 for Mercury. In 1955 the bore and stroke were increased to give displacements of 272 and 292 cubic inches for the various models. For '56 another bore and stroke increase gave 312 cubes. All three engine sizes -- 272, 292 and 312 -- were used in 1956 and '57. Then in 1958, after the AMA anti-racing resolution and condemnation of the horsepower race in Washington, Ford standardized on just the 292 block -- and carried it through 1962 (after which the new 260-289 engine took over as the standard V-8 option).

In other words there were millions more 292 engines built than any other kind. These are the ones that are by far the most plentiful in the junkyards. Of course the 312-cubic-inch blocks would be preferable; but you have to go back to '56 and '57 models to find them. Fortunately these years were right in the bloom of the horsepower race, and a lot of buyers were glad to pay the extra to get the big engine. Quite a few were produced in those years. So don't give up too easy. But also don't feel too badly if you have to settle for a 292 engine to keep within the budget. After all, the difference is only 20 cubes.

Unfortunately a 292 block cannot be readily expanded to 312 cubes using factory parts. The 312 crankshaft had 1/8-inch larger main bearings. These could be machined down; but it would be an expensive job. One good part about it, though: When Ford lengthened the stroke for the 312 engine they used shorter connecting rods, rather than compensating for the stroke increase by raising the block deck height or increasing the piston pin-to-crown height. This means that intake manifolds are interchangeable, and you can use 312 pistons in a 292 block by boring .050. (You would thus end up with 300 cubic inches). Incidentally, a 272 block can be raised to 292 by boring .125 and using 292 pistons. Also the cylinder walls are relatively thin on the 312 block, so maximum safe overbore (using specialty pistons) is about .060. The smaller blocks can be bored .125. The "crank train" parts on the Ford Y-block engine -- crankshaft, rods, pistons, bearings, etc. -- seem to be plenty beefy for moderate hopping. There are no glaring weak points. The oil pump relief valve spring can be shimmed a little to raise the oil pressure. Also it might be mentioned that Ford used copper-lead bearings on many of their engines, so it is important that you change the oil filter at regular intervals. (Copper-lead bearings are a little harder, and thus more critical on dirt in the oil).

You have an unusual situation on cylinder head valve and port sizes on this Y-block Ford engine. That is, intake valve head diameter started out at 1.65 inches in 1954 (1.51 exhausts). When they went to the 272 and 292 blocks in '55 they went up to 1.78-inch intakes. In 1957, with the emphasis on horsepower, Ford went up to 1.93-inch intakes and much larger ports for all three blocks. These heads were continued through '59. Then in 1960, with the emphasis back on fuel economy, Ford went back to the original 1.65-inch valve size and small ports for the 292 engines -- which they retained through the end of production in '62. (Also it must be remembered that Ford had their big, 352-390 engine for performance in this period).

So it's obvious that if you're after maximum performance you absolutely must have these big-valve, big-port cylinder heads used between 1957 and '59. You can identify them by numbers and letters on the castings -- the number 5752113, and generally either the letter code ECZ-E or ECZ-F. The letters identified the volume of the combustion chamber, which determines the compression ratio. The ECZ-F heads give 9.7-to-1 ratio on a 312 block; the ECZ-E heads give 8.8-to-1 on the 292 block. Or these ECZ-E heads would give 9.3-to-1 on a 312 block. All heads are interchangeable right through 1962, so there's no problem of adapting the parts you have. Just bolt them on.

You can also remember that the heads can be milled to raise compression ratio. On these Y-block Ford heads a mill cut of about .050 inch will raise compression one full ratio. In other words if, say, you found a 312 block with a cracked head, you could substitute ECZ-E heads from a 292 engine -- which would give 9.3 compression when bolted on (instead of the 9.7 of the standard ECZ-F heads). Compression could then be raised, say, 10-to-1 by milling the heads about .050. Maximum recommended mill cut is .060 or .070, as these heads didn't have much deck thickness. Also, when milling heads on any engine, be careful for interference between pistons and valves at top center. This can be a problem with late high-compression engines using high-lift cams.

And of course there's the usual head work that can improve breathing -- porting out with a high-speed grinder, opening up the port under the valve with a 70-degree reamer to narrow the valve seat, etc. In fact there is one thing you can do in this area that will help this Y-block Ford engine more than most. This engine was always noted for excessive "shrouding" of combustion chamber walls around the edges of the valves. These engines lost a lot of breathing efficiency right here. A little grinding away of the chamber walls around the valves will do wonders for you. Of course this removal of metal from the combustion chamber lowers the compression ratio; but this can be restored by milling. A mill cut of .030 or .040 will compensate for fairly deep porting in the chamber. Keep it in mind.

Since Ford didn't raise the deck height of their Y cylinder block all through these years ('54-'62), all intake manifolds for this basic engine are interchangeable. However the passage sizes of the various manifolds were increased to match the ports in the heads. Thus, of course, your '57-'59 manifolds, used with the big port No. 5752113 heads, would be the ones you would be looking for. These were available for either single 2-throat carb, single 4-barrel, or in 1957 only they offered a dual 4-barrel Thunderbird power option on the 312 block.

The latter would be very scarce in the junkyards of course. You can still buy them from Ford Parts over the counter (part No. B7A 9424-D), but the price is $92. Better haunt the used hot rod market. Incidentally, casting numbers are not available for the above manifolds -- so be sure to measure the ports carefully before buying, to see that they match up with your head ports. It would be easy to get a late model '60-'62 manifold with small ports. A '57-'59 single 4-barrel will do the job.

It might be mentioned right here that Ford offered an optional 300-hp supercharged 312 engine in 1957. It used the Paxton centrifugal blower kit with a bigger 4-barrel carb (on standard manifold with bigger throttle bores) and special heads with larger combustion chamber volume to give 8.3-to-1 compression. It was a real strong engine early in the season, and was blowing off a lot of new 283 fuel injection Chevys. But after the AMA resolution in June, 1957, Ford withdrew the car from the market. Only a few were actually built and sold. So your chances of finding one of these engines are small. (We just wanted to mention it to keep the story complete!) Of course you could always build up your own supercharged Y-block engine by using a later Paxton blower kit to bolt onto a standard engine. There are a lot of these kits on the used speed equipment market.

Ford was unique in using mechanical valve lifters for the small Y-block engine clear through the end of production in '62. This will give you a slight advantage on RPM potential, if you don't let your valve springs get too tired. You should be good for between 5000 and 5500 rpm before valve float. Most camshafts are interchangeable, except as noted here: Early 1954 blocks had 1/8 in. larger cam bearings than later blocks, so late cams can't be used in those blocks. Late '54 and '55 camshafts had a hole in the center journal to feed oil to the rocker arm shafts. In 1956 this oil was metered by a groove around the journal with a different bearing. So if you use a later cam in a '55 block you would need to use the corresponding late bearing, to prevent excessive oil flow to the rockers. Otherwise all your '56 and later cams are interchangeable.

Actually you don't have much choice in factory cams. All your '58-'62 engines used a mild 246-degree-duration cam with .350 valve lift with the early 1.43-to-1 rocker arms. In 1956 they used this cam with new 1.54 rockers to get .386 lift. Then in 1957 they used the high-lift rockers and a more radical 256-degree cam that gave .400 lift. You will naturally want to use the '57 256-degree cam with the 1.54 rockers ('56-'57). Don't settle for a late 246-degree cam, even if you have to use the low 1.43 rockers -- since a '57 cam can be bought over the counter for only $24. It's not a bad cam at all for all-around driving. Good mid-range torque with a healthy top end. Ask for part No. B7A 6250-B.

Of course there's always the possibility of a special "California" reground cam for $30 or $40. This would be a good investment. You can use your stock mechanical lifters, pushrods and springs. Your maximum rev potential still may not be much above 5000; but the hotter cam will give you a lot between 3500 and 5000 rpm. If you want to wind up tighter you'll need stiffer valve springs. These can be bought with your hot cam from the hot rod supply house. Incidentally, Ford also offered the Iskenderian E-2 cam as a factory high-performance service part in 1957 (No. B7A 6250-C). This had 290 degree duration, and was factory-installed in the '57 supercharged jobs. You might be able to locate one of these. With this E-2 cam and dual 4-barrels on the 312 Thunderbird engine, the drag strip boys used to run over 90 mph -- and 95-100 mph with the blown jobs in Super/Stock. This was in '57.

Up through 1956 Ford used a unique spark advance system that used vacuum only to operate the mechanism. This vacuum was taken off at the carb venturi, instead of under the throttle plate, so it would be more or less proportional to the amount of air flowing into the engine. The spark was retarded at low vacuum readings at low speeds, then higher vacuums would advance it. The theory looked good on paper; but it had its flaws in practice. Mostly it was a matter of lag, so when you whomped the throttle open at low speeds there was insufficient advance to make the car jump.

Needless to say, we advise the 1957 and later vacuum centrifugal distributors of a more conventional design. All of them are interchangeable. Of course there will be different spark advance curves for different engine models. But we expect you'll want to tailor your own curve by juggling advance weight springs and stops. We would suggest a total distributor advance of about 12 degrees (distributor degrees), at a distributor speed of 1000 rpm. Then set your initial spark timing at 12 or 14 degrees BTC at the crankshaft. You'll need access to a Sun machine to work this out. It's fun.

Then ignition strength can be further beefed up with a dual-breaker-plate conversion (around $6), hotter coil, and maybe solid copper plug leads. You don't really have a critical ignition problem with the Y-block Ford engine, though, since its practical rev range is well below 6000. Just get the advance curve right.

Ford designed new exhaust manifolds with larger passages to go with their new big-port 312 engines in 1957, and these manifolds were continued in production through '62. These would be your best bet for a factory exhaust system, preferably of course with dual mufflers and outlet lines. The next step would be your special fabricated headers from the hot rod shops. A number of companies make these for the small Y block Ford -- though we know of no company that has tooled up for the new split-flow drag racing type, that have twin secondary pipes on each bank. (There hasn't been enough demand from this engine to warrant tooling up). Hedman has regular streamlined headers with single outlet pipes for each bank. These are a lot better than factory cast iron manifolds, and cost around $60 a set. There's a lot you can do to help your exhaust breathing on this engine.

So these are some ideas on "shoestring-hopping" the Y-block Ford engine. It's a good basic engine, and will respond well to the tuner's touch. And the basic parts are widely available at low prices in the junkyards. This factor is almost as good as horsepower in many hop-up projects! Now of course if you want to get the maximum possible performance from all factory equipment, the combination would be the 312 block with '57-'59 big port heads, Isky E-2 cam, '57 dual quad intake manifold, late exhaust manifolds and late vacuum-centrifugal ignition. The factory actually built and sold this engine combination in a crate to qualified racing people in 1957 (though it wasn't an assembly line option at that time). They rated it 285 hp at 5200 rpm -- and NASCAR mechanics say it would come pretty close to this on the dynamometer right out of the crate! You could do a lot worse for your hot homebuilt car. And you can't beat the prices!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Kit Carlisle's "funny car" T-bucket

Kit Carlisle of San Antonio, Texas built what I believe is one of the most distinctive T-buckets ever. It was featured in Hot Rod magazine in 1965 and serves as the primary model for my build. Sure, the wheelbase is wickedly short and the rake is extreme. But who can argue with that profile!
Some T-buckets feature a shortened pickup bed (i.e., Grabowski's) and some feature a turtle deck. Still others feature just the "bucket", but they typically have a fuel tank and spring perch hanging behind the body. Kit's T-bucket seems to have been built around 1963 (at least that's the date of the license plate in HRM photos). In that regard it could be considered a "funny car" precursor, with the rear wheels moved forward under the driver's seat. And just where is the fuel tank? I love the look of this car and will emulate it (along with other nostalgically inspired design elements).
Oh, I picked up all the parts today in a packed 6x12 open U-Haul trailer.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Ted Kramer's Y-block Powered "Snoopy"

In 1965, a "Hot Rod" magazine feature appeared on Ted Kramer's Hilborn injected 312 Y-block powered '27 T B/Competition roadster, Snoopy. Although originally equipped with six deuces, the injected Y-block was turning 11 second e.t.'s, launching the front wheels on takeoff. This car really got me excited because at the time a similarly injected Y-block powered '56 Ford gasser was being successfully campaigned locally by Mize Brothers Garage of Rumsey, Kentucky. Coincidentally, the Mize gasser was named after another cartoon character, "Sluggo". But that's a story for another day.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Y-block Ford and Mercury History

Ford Motor Co. introduced the Y-block overhead valve engines in 1954 to replace what had become over the preceding 22 years the hot rod world's most popular engine: the flathead V8. The Y-block only stayed in production as a passenger car engine for a mere eight years.

Here is probably the best historical introduction to the Y-block from the February, 1954, "Hot Rod" magazine:

Young Henry's New Engines ... Ford Forsakes the Flatheads

By Don MacDonald – Detroit Editor
"EDITOR’S NOTE: The hood’s up on the 1954 Ford and Merc. It’s all new under there from oil pan to rocker covers. We think you’ll like what you see and we’ll show you a simple way to make it even better.

When Detroit designs a new engine, you can count on the first production version hiding a development potential intended to be spread out over the next ten years. The reason, of course, is to ease the pain of paying for the tooling. Ford realized that jigs and dies for the old L-head V8 were wearing thin as far back as 1947. After 640 hand-built experimental units, a quarter –million hours of dynamometer testing, and more than four million miles of road testing, they’ve come up with a whole family of new engines.

This was no small project. You’re familiar with the four basic passenger car mills, or will be after you read this. But did you know that Ford builds five different truck engines, a four-cylinder tractor unit, and a line of industrial powerplants ranging from 134 to 317 cubic inches? Again, because of economics, each of these had to be a first cousin to the other. Similarity pays off through low tooling and production costs, but complicates the designer’s problem. He can’t just specify the Lincoln engine complete for the biggest Ford truck, although he must use the same basic block for this entirely different service requirement.

In addition to versatility, the whole family had to have what engineers call a “high futurity.” In other words, these engines had to be good for ten or more years of progressive increase in output per cubic-inch displacement. Even a member of the “big three” can’t afford to change an engine design every odd year. This means that compression ratios on Henry’s new powerplants can and will be raised just as fast as refiners come up with higher octane regular (not premium) gasolines. That fact alone tells why Ford and most other manufacturers have gone to overhead valve V8’s. This design, whether hemispherical or Ricardo, affords compact combustion chambers, relatively simple manifolding, and better breathing. Detroit is after a certified 12 to 1 ten years from now.

Still following the design philosophy behind Henry’s engines, higher output means higher bearing loads. So we find that all of them, even the in-line six, are short-stroked. This is the only way to get the compact crankshaft necessary for a structure rigid enough now to withstand the bearing loads of the future. Over-square engines offer other advantages; there’s less friction and more usable power, and the large bore makes room for larger valves.
Overly simplified, these are the principles which guided Ford engineers. They know that some of us will wangle maximum output from their design less than a year after buying one. It’s tough for them to hold back and dole out improvements over a ten-year period, but it’s economical. Let’s see what we have to start with.

The new Ford V8 engine is built around a block of exceptional strength. The central section extends well below the crankshaft centerline, giving 240 degrees of support to the five main bearings. Last year’s supported three mains at the centerline. The casting is flared between the main bearing supports and the corresponding five supports for the camshaft bearings. Cylinder head bolt bosses are located only on the outside walls of the water jacket. There are no interconnecting webs to distort the bores. Rigidity is further enhanced by the widely flared attachment for the bell housing and drive train. Do you remember, on the old engine, how the flywheel extended well beyond the narrow lower block structure? The only really strong connections between block and drive components were above the flywheel. Now there are four, all outside the flywheel and two of them are three inches below its center.

The new oil pan will give you a little trouble if you try to put this engine in a pre-1954 chassis. Ford and Mercury have changed over to ball-stud front suspension, so with the old front crossmember no longer in the way, they moved the deep part of the pan forward along with the oil inlet. This change also applies to the six. But you’ll like the wide, flat mating surface of the pan and the simple one-piece gasket. Engine mounts have been changed too – for a rather startling reason. Laboratory measurements show that you’ve been driving your Ford all these years without ever knowing that the engine sagged a sixteenth of an inch between front and rear supports. So they moved the front mount close to the longitudinal center of gravity. With the wide-base bell housing attachment, the tendency to sag is now negligible.

You won’t recognize the new piston and rod except that the former is still aluminum and has steel embedded struts. Only three rings this year, all above the piston pin, and the oil control has a factory-installed expander beneath the ring. The larger bore permits adoption of separate rod bolts with Lincoln’s easy-to-work-on cam head and eccentric hole. The rod structure isn’t weakened by notching it for the commonly used T-headed bolt. Main bearings are steel-backed copper-lead – fancy words for a really thin shell. Think back to the first Ford inserts in ’36 that were .020 of an inch thick. The new ones are less than .002 of an inch. Bearings went on a diet when engineers found that fat ones were prone to fatigue failures caused by continuous deformation of the soft babbitt.

The new crankshaft is interesting, not so much because of its five mains but because it is cast rather than forged. Precision molded of alloy iron, it has eight counterweights. You have to get above 4800 rpm before running into 4th-order power-impulse harmonics, so they left off the vibration dampener. Last year’s crank was pounding away at 4500, as you may have noticed. Having driven this new engine, we can vouch that the “Ford sound” is gone. The rigid, well-balanced crank is one of the reasons.

Another innovation is the new valve train, driven by a one-inch wide timing chain. But before getting into this, we should mention that the fuel pump is operated by an eccentric on the front of the camshaft sprocket. This, believe it or not, is carefully counterweighted, so watch it when you yank the factory version and install electric pumps. You’re already out of balance! Now to the valves. This is one rig that’ll give you 5000 rpm without bounce, although you’ll have to take some weight off the 30-pound flywheel to get there. The reason is low inertia stemming from good detail design. Shot-blasted valve springs have dampening coils at their lower ends. Rocker arms are precision-molded (cast) rather than forged. Cam acceleration patterns (for all Lincoln engines) are based on the results of a special research project involving Wayne University’s mechanical differential analyzer and Ford’s analog computer. It’s beyond us how these machines work, but we do know that they solve in minutes differential equations of motion that take human mathematicians months of effort.

An unusual feature of the new engines is integral valve guides. We’ve often wondered why people bother to sink separate guides into a block or head. They wear out and are hard to replace. They complicate and, in fact, prevent adequate heat transfer. If not installed properly, they distort or extend into the manifold passages to interfere with proper breathing. The oil-retaining cast iron of a block or head is a better bearing surface for hard-steel valve stems than any thin insert. Integral guides will eventually wear, but you just ream them and buy a new set of valves with oversize stems. To further guarantee healthful valve temperatures, this time at the seats, all Ford-built engines incorporate valve rotators. These little gimmicks cause the valve to settle in a different position after each cycle. They’re still turning slightly when they seat, which keeps the mating surfaces wiped clean. Tests by valve manufacturers (Thompson, Eaton, and others) show that rotators vastly prolong intake and exhaust valve life in any engine, and incidentally, several equally good designs are now commercially available for most engines.
The cooling system features a single pump with forward-curved impeller blades which force the coolant into an equalizing chamber. From there, a balanced flow is fed to both cylinder banks. It cools the bores on its way to the back of the block, then rises and returns through the heads to the radiator. The new head castings were built to insure effective cooling around combustion chambers, valve seats, integral guides, and spark plugs.

The stock intake manifold will probably be the first item thrown out when you get your new Ford, but there’s a lot to be said for it the way it stands now. It’s about as close to being symmetrical as you can get on a V8. Equal length passages to each cylinder discourage directional favoritism for any one port. Compared to some contemporary V8’s, this manifold looks a little less like a basket of worms. Equitable distribution to all cylinders is one of the key reasons why stock (7.2 to 1 compression ratio) ’54 Fords will happily digest regular gasoline.
Another asset is combustion chamber design which follows the route pioneered by Ricardo. The kidney-shaped volume has a large “squish” area at the end farthest from the spark plug. The piston coming up on compression traps some of the mixture in this confined space and literally squirts it out into the main volume, creating the turbulence necessary for even burning. Smoothly contoured intake passages and short exhaust ports add to the already high volumetric efficiency.

The combustion chamber design gives you another dividend in smooth, knock-free performance. When the charge is fired and the flame front moves away from the plug, it compresses the gases ahead. This situation in other combustion chambers is ideal for detonation, but in Ford’s, the squish area now becomes a quench area. The unburned gases that weren’t squished out are confined and cooled by contact with the cylinder head and piston. Proponents of the hemispherical combustion chamber argue that this works too effectively; that the remaining gases aren’t burned at all. At any rate, Henry’s engineers had their choice for they’ve manufactured nearly twenty-seven thousand 525-horsepower V8 tank engines with hemispherical combustion chambers. They chose the squish type for passenger cars.
So far, all we’ve said applies equally to Ford and Mercury. The two engines are basically the same. The Merc is a bored (no pun intended) Ford block with better breathing and gas-eating equipment. Where the stock Ford mounts a two-barrel Holley carburetor practically identical to last year’s, Mercury has a radical new four-barrel carburetor which is the main reason for the 30 more horsepower. You’ve guessed what we’re getting at. There’s no reason why you can’t make a Merc out of your new Ford and then start from there. Here’s how.

The Mercury intake manifold will fit on your Ford. Some filing of the manifold or head ports may be necessary to make the Merc manifold fit and align with the ports of the Ford heads. This is because the manifolds are manufactured in two different plants. Until such time as superior speed equipment is available, this will give you the advantage of four-barrel carburetion. The new carburetor depends on air flow through the primary venturis to operate the secondary venturis, eliminating the usual mechanical linkage. In other words, whenever engine requirements exceed breathing capacity of the primary venturis, vacuum acting through a diaphragm opens the secondary throttle plates to the exact position for the right amount of additional air and fuel. They’re fully open when you hit 60 mph at full throttle. The system is entirely divorced from the accelerator linkage. The primary reason behind this development is to get a four-barrel to work with a standard shift transmission. An added bonus on all Ford carburetors is an external vent for hot starts.

Exhaust valves are the same and intakes are up to you. If you want drag potential, stick with the smaller stock Ford parts. These tend to choke down the big Merc breathing system, but will give you more low speed torque. If you’re after good times through the traps, change over to the larger Merc intakes. With these, there’s little loss in volumetric efficiency at high speeds. Installation should be comparatively simple, as seat inserts have been eliminated this year. Incidentally, that’s an indication of the unusually low head temperatures in these engines.
It’s too early to tell about cam grinds as the engines haven’t been available to many speed shops for study. Ford and Merc both use the same cams and hard tappets. All we can say is to watch your clearances if you go to one of the higher lift grinds, for they’re close. But the stock 7.2 to 1 heads can stand a lot of shaving. Mercury’s version ups compression ratio to 7.5 , and remember that these engines were designed for fuels ten years in the future. A safe rule to follow is that horsepower will increase percentage-wise in approximately the same proportion as the percentage increase in compression ration, if the calculation is based on air-cycle efficiency. Figures on this basis apply to all the new, better breathing, overhead valve V8’s and holds good for ratios between six and a little over ten to one. Using this formula on a Mercury, milling to 9 to 1 should give about 176 brake horsepower. No one is too sure (except Ford engineers and they aren’t saying) what this will do to octane requirement. Our guess is about 95 Research Numbers. This is somewhat higher than is available in present premium gasolines, but you can get away with it if you drag hard enough and often enough to keep deposits blown out of the combustion chambers.

The advantages of stroking these engines are dubious. First, any lengthening of the present 3.1-inch stroke violates the basic design concept. A short-stroke engine is a low-friction engine with resultant longer life and greater fuel economy. The new Mercury will go 29 per cent farther than the ’53 model on the same amount of piston travel assuming equivalent gearing. The second objection is that stroking for low-speed torque is a waste of effort when you have good breathing and spark advance. Sure, you could gain by stroking your L-head Ford, but that engine in stock form had asthma and the vacuum spark advance ignored the basic requirements of low-speed, full-throttle acceleration.

Boring the new engines out is another matter. We have reason to believe (based on available oversize service pistons) that the ’54 Ford block can stand another 1/8 of an inch before your run out of material or get into too much oil-control trouble. For the Merc, subtract the fact that it’s already 0.125 inch oversize. Again, there’s a simple formula to check the gain. The ratio of the two piston diameters squared is roughly equal to the ration of the stock torque and the unknown new torque. With maximum stock Ford torque at 214 pounds/feet, a one-eighth over-bore puts us up to about 223. If you use the larger Mercury intake valves, your maximum horsepower will go up in the same proportion, but only if you do.

Lastly, you can order either your Ford or Mercury equipped at the agency with dual exhausts. These do not included headers in the usual sense, but even so, they’re claimed to give a three to five per cent increase in stock horsepower. Most dual-pipe manufacturers claim about the same gain. A good set of well designed headers should add even more.

Any or all of the modifications we have discussed add up to an inexpensive and fat performance bonus, especially if you start out with the Ford. We’ve drive both of these cars in stock form (MOTOR TREND, Jan. and Feb. ’54). The new Ford V8 with a standard gearbox will do 0 to 60 in about 16 seconds. An equivalent Merc (weighing very little more) is considerably faster, taking between 14 and 15 seconds. Rough calculations show that the new Ford should do 96 mph. Mercury, unless our slide rule is wrong, will do 103 – over the century mark in stock form for the first time in its history. It shouldn’t be hard for you to improve on these figures. Good luck!"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's Excaliber/Excalibur/Outlaw

In 1959, Ed "Big Daddy" Roth unleashed on the unsuspecting hot rod world his first scratch-built fiberglass car -- "Excaliber." It was named after King Arthur's mythical sword with magical powers because it used a sword for a shifter. However, Ed initially misspelled the name: later corrected it to Excalibur and then changed it altogether to Outlaw for the sake of simplicity.

With an even more rakish look than Grabowski's T-bucket this car also sent my mind reeling with ideas and inspiration.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Ford Success Stories: Karol Miller ... Bonneville Legend

While the Chevy small block has dominated hot rod history, it might be said the Ford Y-block was the Rodney Dangerfield of hot rod engines. However, the fact that Y-blocks didn't get much respect was not because they didn't perform. Texan Karol Miller is a case in point and the extraordinary performance he achieved with his 1956 Ford Fairlane that he drove to the Utah salt flats made me realize the Ford Y-block had plenty of potential. Ray Brock captured Karol's innovative feats in this story from the 1962 "Ford Performance Handbook":

"Our first meeting with Karol Miller took place in the middle of the hot, blinding expanse of the Bonneville salt flats in August of 1956. None of the old time hot rodders who had been participating yearly at the annual SCTA (Southern California Timing Association) National Speed Trials knew anything about this soft-spoken Texan -- he just drove in one day near the start of the week-long meet and asked for an entry blank.

Unlike most of the other Bonneville entrants, Karol wasn't towing the car he intended to race, he was driving it. He and a friend had decided to see what the famous salt flats looked like so they threw a couple of sleeping bags in Karol's 1956 Ford Victoria and left Houston for the 2000-mile drive to western Utah. Karol was used to long drives though for his full-time job was operating oil exploration teams for his father's Houston-based drilling company and the test locations might be all over the country, from Louisiana to North Dakota. When the two Texans and the Ford arrived on the salt, there was already more than 25,000 miles logged on the odometer. A 3.23 rear axle ratio was fitted to the car and an overdrive transmission was used. The O-D was strictly for highway cruising, giving a 2.26 final ratio.

As Karol explained later, the 25,000 miles on the engine didn't hurt his chances at all; they made the engine nice and loose. During the few months prior to Bonneville, Karol had performed quite a few experiments with the car and knew that it was running good. The pan had never been off the engine but a fresh valve job had been given the cylinder heads. Ports and valve sizes remained stock. An Iskenderian E-2 camshaft and spring kit were installed and an Edelbrock dual-quad intake manifold was fitted with a pair of Holley carburetors. A Mallory ignition with centrifugal advance weights was used in place of the stock distributor which used only vacuum advance. Total spark advance was about 38ยบ.

Karol used Ford cab-over truck carburetor bonnets on each of the four-barrels with flexible ducting to the fresh air vents which passed beneath the inner fender panels on their way to the passenger compartment. These ducts provided cool air directly to the carburetors for maximum induction efficiency. As the car speed increased, so did the air pressure through the ducts so jetting was complicated somewhat by the slight pressurization of the carburetors at high speed. Karol experimented with jetting quite a while before he found the right combination.

Stock '56 312 exhaust manifolds were used on the engine with a pair of cutout plugs fitted so the mufflers could be bypassed by uncapping the head pipes 24 inches downstream from the manifolds. The Ford chassis was stock except for a set of heavy-duty Monroe shock absorbers. The rear spring shackles were reversed from their normal tension position to a compression position, giving the rear of the car a noticeable forward rake. Stock street tires with most of the heavy tread rubber buffed off by a retreading shop were pumped up to 60 pounds at the front, 50 pounds at the rear.

Since Karol Miller was an "unknown" to the predominantly West Coast entrants at Bonneville, no particular attention was paid to the orange and white hardtop coupe as it pulled away from the starting line on its first run. Some minutes later when the speed of almost 140 miles per hour was flashed back from the finish line 2 1/4 miles away, many thought that perhaps a timing mistake had been made. The speed was unheard of for a Ford sedan.

Hot rodders hadn't thought anybody would have much success using the Y-block Ford engine with the odd intake port arrangement but, all of a sudden, here was a Ford with 312 cubic inches running in a popular sedan class that permitted from 305 to 488 cubic inches and it was beating almost everybody. The only car that could hold its own was a '56 Chrysler 300 with a 400-inch stroker engine. These two cars battled for the whole week before the Chrysler emerged the winner at 141 mph with Miller's Ford runner-up at 139-plus. By the end of the week, everyone knew who Karol Miller was and they were also starting to revise their thinking about Ford's Y-V8 engine.

Although Karol Miller had been unknown to the regulars at Bonneville in 1956, he had already earned a reputation as a sharp tuner of Fords on his own home grounds around Houston. His first Ford was s 1949 coupe which he bought new and, in his own words, "just played around with it a little to see if I could make it run better." Among the changes made were the installation of Merc crankshaft and pistons to enlarge the displacement to 255 cubic inches. Carburetion, ignition and other changes made Miller's '49 the scourge of the area and all those who had tried unsuccessfully to take his measure on some of the long straight Texas roads were mighty happy to see him join the Army early in 1950.

After Army duty, Karol bought a 1953 Ford with the then new overhead valve six. A short time later Karol was back in the thick of things after he'd milled the head to up the compression, installed dual carburetion, opened up the exhaust and a few other little Miller touches to aid performance. It didn't take the boys in the Houston area long to learn that Karol was back in circulation because the I-block six proceeded to show its taillights to all the hot flatheads in town.

The next Ford was a 1955 model with the 292-inch engine. Karol installed T-bird heads which had been milled and ended up with a compression ratio of about 9.5:1. A four-barrel carburetor was also used. A few more Miller improvements and the '55 Ford attained its proper spot as top dog in the neighborhood. After the '55 came the '56 Vicky and that's where we came in.

After shaking up contestants and spectators at Bonneville, Karol went home, made a few minor changes to the engine and decided to take in the 1957 NASCAR Speedweeks event at Daytona Beach, Florida, where speed trials were held on the hard packed sand each February. Since the car was not of current model year and not strictly stock, it was required to run in the Experimental class. Rough beach conditions held up the meet for several days before Karol got a chance to run but when the time finally arrived, the Vicky set sail for a two-way average of 140.070 mph over the measured mile. This speed placed Miller well up in the class standings ahead of many high powered entries from factory-sponsored race teams.

During the waiting period from Daytona to the 1957 Bonneville Nationals in August, Karol made a number of changes beneath the hood of his '56. First of all, he decided to play it smart and quit trying to compete against as much as 488 cubic inches in D class with his 312 and drop back to C class for gas coupes and sedans. The class limit was 305 cubic inches for C class. Karol took a 292-inch block and crank, bored .060-inch oversize and came up with 302 inches. 1957 cylinder heads gave the larger intake valves needed and Karol also fitted 1/8-inch larger than stock exhaust valves to the heads.

With larger exhaust valves, the combustion chambers in the head crowded the valve closely and would obviously cause restriction to gas flow. Karol opened the chambers out generously around both intake and exhaust valves to improve flow and the lengthened chambers were then wider than the cylinder opening. Carefully, the top of each cylinder bore was chamfered from the chamber outline to a point just above the top of ring travel. This eliminated the ledge at the top of the bore which extended into the enlarged chamber. All of the grinding to the cylinder head and block gave an extremely large volume in the combustion chamber. To get the needed high compression for maximum performance, Karol used Jahns deflector head pistons and then milled the heads .100-inch to reach the desired ratio of 11:1.

Karol then selected an Isky cam for the engine but this time it was a "smoothie" grind with high rpm potential and less torque than the E-2. Karol devised his own stroboscopic test stand to check valve action at various engine speeds. In the single stall garage behind the family home, Karol mounted a Y-V8 block on an old kitchen table, installed a cam, tightened down an old cylinder head with single intake and exhaust valve in one chamber, used a pair of lifters and pushrods to drive rocker arms actuating these valves, dropped a distributor in place and then drove the setup by a small 3 hp four-cycle utility engine.

A battery supplied primary voltage to the distributor which operated in the conventional manner but with only one secondary lead which was connected to a timing light. A V-belt from the small engine turned the cam fitted with two sprockets to give a wider surface for the belt to ride on.

With this setup, Karol checked out dozens of combinations in cams, springs, valve weights, rocker ratios, etc. Advancing or retarding the distributor gave stroboscopic viewing through the timing light. By the time late summer rolled around and Karol was ready for Bonneville, he had come up with a perfect combination. Both intake and exhaust valves were lightened the limit; an Isky Ford inner spring and Isky Chevy outer, plus an Isky Chevy retainer and .060-inch shims under the outer springs made the valve gear stable in excess of 7200 rpm.

The Edelbrock dual intake manifold was retained with four-barrel Holleys, but had been carefully matched to enlarged ports. Fresh air to the carburetors was doubled in volume with two large flexible hoses to each carburetor bonnet from openings behind the grille. The exhaust system also came in for its share of attention as Karol attempted to "tune" for maximum power at about 6000 rpm. Individual 1 1/2-inch pipes 32 inches long from each port extended almost straight out, through a long narrow opening in each front fender. A little rough on appearance but darned helpful for performance.

Since Karol still didn't have the finances needed for a second car to tow or trailer the Vicky, he again drove it to Bonneville for the '57 meet. Since the outer valve springs were almost coil bound with the high rpm setup, horseshoe shaped shims .060 thick which had been fitted under the outer springs were removed to lessen possible cam wear on the 2000-mile jaunt. Stock exhaust manifolds were also fitted for the trip.

When Karol arrived at the salt, the first day was spent installing the spring shims, headers, carburetor air ducting and setting the chassis up for minimum rolling resistance. Engine oil was used in the transmission, overdrive and front wheel bearings. Wynn oil was used to thin out the rear end lubricant. Rear shackles were reversed to raise the rear of the car for improved air flow beneath the car. Trimmed down tires with little tread rubber were used with high inflation pressures.

When everything was set to go, Karol drove the car up to the starting line and took off on his first run. This time, spectators and contestants knew who he was and all activity stopped while they watched. Through low and second gears, Karol twisted the engine up to a spine-tingling 7200 rpm and then shifted into high gear. 2 1/4 miles away at the finish line, the impressive sounding Ford approached rapidly and then roared through the timing traps at a speed of 149-plus mph. With the 3.23 gearing, engine rpm was about 6100.

The reason for the high rpm through the gears was to keep engine speed up within the best power range after shifting. If shifted at less than 7000 rpm from second to high, rpm would fall below 5000 rpm and the engine would not pick up speed.

Throughout the week of the '57 meet, the Ford ran consistently near the 150 mph mark. The only trouble encountered was a blown head gasket and once it was replaced, speed went right back to its normal. By the end of the week, Karol Miller had set a new C Gas Coupe/Sedan record two-way average of 150.097 mph for the flying mile. The speed was almost 13 miles per hour faster than the previous record held by a Chevy. The 302-inch Ford with the impressive 7000-plus exhaust tone was one of the sensations of the '57 Bonneville meet. (NOTE: To put this accomplishment into proper perspective, at Bonneville nine years later, a Hemi-powered1966 Plymouth Belvedere set a Class B, American closed cars record of 156.35 mph -- this with 124 cubic inches more than Karol's diminutive 302; with the vaunted Chrysler Hemi engine compared to the Y-block's supposedly weak "stacked" input ports; and with a decade's improvement in tires and technology! Oh, it was also a Chrysler factory-backed effort, compared to Karol's work on it in the backyard and drive it to the 'flats ethic.)

Again the following February, Karol took in the Daytona Beach Trials but this time he went to an even smaller engine displacement and then topped it off with a Latham axial-flow supercharger. The engine was a 272 fitted with Karol's special valve gear, reworked heads, an Isky blower cam, the tuned headers, Mallory ignition and the Latham competition blower with four side-draft Zenith carburetors. Running ten pounds boost, Karol shocked other contestants in the Experimental class by averaging 153 mph over a rough beach and walked away with the class win. The '56 Victoria was the fastest car on the beach in 1958. After the success shown with the blower, it was only natural for Karol to retain the combination for the '58 Bonneville Nationals. Since the use of a blower automatically jumps cars one class under SCTA rules, the engine size was cut back even further so that it would fall under the B class maximum of 259 cubic inches. Then, the addition of the Latham blower would again raise the car into C class.

To drop the engine displacement to 259 inches, Karol used a '54 Merc crank with 3.100-inch stroke and then bored the block .010-inch over standard '54 Merc bore (3.625) to achieve the proper size. Again the engine was topped by the head, valve and cam setup worked out by Karol on the table in his garage. Compression was held to 8.5:1 for use with the blower. With a smaller engine displacement than he'd run at Daytona, Karol contacted Norm Latham for blower information and switched to a unit that had fewer vanes at a slighter pitch for use at Bonneville. When Karol rolled onto the salt for the '58 meet, driving the car from Texas as always, the Ford was again the center of attention. After a day of engine and chassis setup, Karol proved that he still had the magic touch as the little 259 inch Y-V8 plus blower exceeded the 150 mph mark on the first run. By the end of the week, Karol had raised his C class record slightly to 151.997 mph and had a one-way qualification speed of 153.32 mph. At the 4300 foot elevation of Bonneville, the lower boost Latham did not put out the pressure Karol had hoped for so he actually went home unsatisfied although everybody else thought he'd done great.

The '56 Victoria was retired from competition after the '58 Bonneville meet and returned to strictly highway use with a 312-inch engine until late 1959 when with 120,000 miles on the odometer, it was sold to make way for a new 1960 Ford Starliner coupe. Karol really intended to quit racing when he bought the '60 Ford and it had the standard 352-inch engine with hydraulic lifters, power steering and even air conditioning. By the time summer rolled around though, Karol got the urge again and, in a matter of two weeks, put together an engine for another fling at the salt flats.

The 352 engine was bored .090-inch over to take stock Edsel replacement pistons. Edsels used a .050 larger standard bore for 361 inches and with .040-inch oversize, a total of 368 cubic inches was realized, placing the Ford in a newly established BX Gas Coupe/Sedan class with a displacement limit of 370 cubic inches. Karol then borrowed a few engine pieces from a friend who had purchased one of Ford's 360 hp high performance 1960 cars. The 360 hp heads were milled .030-inch to give a compression ratio of 11:1 and otherwise left stock. The four-barrel aluminum intake manifold was used and equipped with a '59 Lincoln four-barrel carburetor which had larger capacity than the standard Holley. An Isky RR8000 cam and spring kit was installed and these pieces were the only non-Ford parts used. Exhaust headers were the factory cast iron items; distributor and wiring were 360 Ford.

As always, the car was driven to Bonneville, this time with the added luxury of power steering and air conditioning. After arriving at the salt and passing through the inspection line, Karol drove it to the pit area, changed tires, removed the power steering and air conditioning belts and made a warm-up run. The car left the starting line with just a slight whisper from the stock dual exhaust system and a few minutes later word flashed back from the finish line that the Ford had registered a cool 150 mph -- with mufflers.

After bypassing the exhaust system and performing a little tune-up, Karol qualified for a record run at 158.17 mph and then set a new record average of 157.902 mph. When the meet was over, Karol slipped the belts back on for power steering and air conditioning and headed back to Texas. Early in 1962, Karol sold the '60 Starliner with 95,000 miles on the odometer and it was still going strong.

We talked to Karol in May of 1962 and he was driving a Fairlane 500 with the 260-inch V8. He hadn't made up his mind just what he was going to do for the '62 Bonneville meet, if anything, but he did confess that he had looked the Fairlane engine over pretty good.

If Karol does show up at Bonneville this summer, you can bet that he'll be driving a Ford product of one type or another and you can also bet that whatever class he chooses to enter will have a new record hung up before the week is over. With his slow, Texas drawl, Karol doesn't make much noise -- he lets his Fords speak for him and their voices are loud."

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Norm Grabowski and the Kookie Kar

My grandparents subscribed to Life Magazine and I would look through each new weekly issue when I visited them. In the Spring of 1957, my 8 year old eyes were transfixed on a full page photo of Southern California rod builder Norm Grabowski chowing down on a car hop-delivered cheeseburger while seated with a buddy in the coolest car I had ever seen! The flames were awesome and the Cadillac engine hanging out there for all to see was mind-boggling.

Contrary to popular misconception, the photo of Norm in what would shortly become known as the "Kookie Kar" was not on the cover. Rather, it was part of a Photographic Essay titled, "The drag racing rage: hot rodders grow in numbers but the road to respectability is a rough one." Wow! A radically cool looking car that's also part of an outlaw movement -- I was hooked.

About a year later, I was able to feed my appetite for more of this fascinating rod that started what would later become known as the T-bucket movement. Warner Brothers introduced the detective TV drama, 77 Sunset Strip, which ran for six seasons and featured car valet Edd "Kookie" Byrnes whose personal car in the show was Norm's hot rod that had been rented out to the producers for $50 per day. Unfortunately, it wasn't in every episode, but I became an avid fan always hoping to catch a glimpse.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Tom Blackford's Y-block Fords

In the 50's and 60's Tom Blackford was a young auto parts salesman at Kelley Auto Supply in Owensboro, KY who raced his Y-block powered Fords at the Owensboro Drag Strip on Saturday nights. Around 1959, Tom had this great looking pair of '56 Fords. I never saw his C/Gas car run, but his Y-block powered BB/Altered (shown above) truly inspired me. With it's 312 cubic inch Y-block and dual quads under pressure from a McCulloch supercharger not only was it fast, but the unique supercharged Y-block sound that came from those short zoomie headers is something nobody could forget!
Tom went on to open his own parts store, Blackford's Automotive, and is still a hot rodder as an active member of the Sunset Cruisers car club in Owensboro