(first posted 7/3/2014) As the 1950s unfolded, it quickly became apparent that “longer, lower, and wider” was the prevailing design methodology. To power the automobiles that were steadily becoming heavier due to this philosophy, larger displacement engines generating ever more power become crucial to stay competitive. With the displacement of their original overhead valve V8’s becoming limited, Ford introduced the FE series in 1958.
The FE series of engine, so named as a contraction of “Ford – Edsel”, had automotive displacements ranging from 332 cubic inches to 428 cubic inches with power output from 220 horsepower to 425 horsepower. Used in Ford, Mercury, and Edsel automobiles, this engine was the bread-and-butter Ford V8 for many years and would last in automotive applications until 1971. The FE was used extensively in Ford’s light-duty trucks, like its popular F-Series pickups. These will be covered here too, but for medium-heavy duty truck applications, the FE engine was called the FT, and its specific details and many variants are not within the scope of this article.)
Ford’s original overhead valve V8 engines, introduced in 1954 and known more commonly as the Y-block due to its deep-skirted block, started life at 239 cubic inches (3.9 l) and maxed out at 312 (5.1 L). While the last version of the Y-block, the 292 V8, hung around until the end of 1962, it was well past its sell-by date. The differences between it and the FE series were many; most notably the FE had hydraulic valve lifters in contrast to the Y-block having mechanical lifters, and the FE’s cylinder head was much more conducive to better breathing than the Y-blocks poor porting design. The FE did maintain a deep-skirted block like the Y-block, though.
The FE engine had a wider bore-spacing (separation between bore centers) that the Y-block, with 4.63″ instead of 4.38″. In essence, the FE engine is neither a small block nor a large block engine, but a medium block. Ford’s M-E-L and “385” engines, with their 4.90″ bore spacing, were the true big blocks.
The FE, whose introduction coincided with that of the ill-fated Edsel, was a more modern and lower maintenance engine; one that would be able to generate the kind of power needed during the horsepower race of the times.
In its early years, the displacement of the highest output FE series engine changed annually – if not more frequently. So in an effort to best harness all there is to know about this family of very dynamic engines, let’s look at them in order of increasing displacement. Even more interesting, let’s see in what automobiles these engines sometimes found a home.
Please note the various sources used in the article were focused on the United States market. The known variations have been covered below, however it is possible that others may exist.
332 (5.4 liter) Bore: 4.00″ Stroke: 3.30″
Available only in 1958 and 1959 as a $59 option, this is one of the easier members of the family to overlook. As with the introduction of any new product, there was a lot of ballyhoo associated with the new FE series of engines, with the advertising touting their “Precision Fuel Induction”. For 1958 only, the FE engines were advertised as being an “Interceptor V8”.
The 332 cubic inch V8 had a 4″ bore and a 3.3″ stroke and was available with both a two and four-barrel carburetor in 240 horsepower and 265 horsepower versions, respectively.
Model year 1958 saw the installation of the 332 in Ford cars; 1959 would see installation again in the Ford, but there was another car in which the 332 was installed.
In 1959, the Edsel engine line was actually expanded from two V8’s to three V8’s and one six cylinder. The 361 (see below) was retained, and the 332 was now made available in the infamous Edsel for one year only.
Maintenance note: Are you doing work on the heads of your 1958 model 332, 352, or 361? Beware; the early versions of these engines had a dampener spring inside the valve spring. The dampener spring was eliminated later in the model year; both types of spring can be intermixed.
352 (5.8 liter) Bore: 4.002″ Stroke: 3.500″
Introduced along with the 332 in 1958, the 352 is generally remembered as being a two-barrel workhouse powering countless full-sized Fords. While this is likely the most common application of the 352, this engine also was available in a broader range of power outputs throughout its life than any other FE engine used in automotive applications.
The 352 shared the 4″ bore of the 332, but had a stroke increased by 0.2″ to 3.5″. From 1958 to 1960, the 352 was the top retail engine option.
The year 1960 would see the wildest 352 ever built by Ford. For a mere $150 over the standard $177.40 cost of entry for the top-dog 352, one could purchase a 360 horsepower version of the 352, an engine Ford touted as being their first true high performance engine.
Utilizing a regular 352 block, modifications for this very special 352 were an aluminum intake manifold, 10.6:1 compression, cast iron headers, and heavier valve springs incorporating pushrods from a Falcon. Motor Trend magazine described the engine as possessing a “subdued, guttural growl”; they were able to hurl a 4.86:1 geared Galaxie so equipped to 60 mph in 7 seconds flat. Motor Life, using another high performance 352 powered car with an identical 3 speed with overdrive and 4.11 gears, shot through the quarter-mile in 14.81 seconds at 94.71 mph.
Dave Evans of Ford Motor Company stated the 360 horsepower Galaxie “will deliver an honest 150 mph”. Ultimately, this would depend a lot upon gearing and other equipment.
A high performance 352 powered Galaxie had a five lap average of 145.4 mph at the Daytona Speedway. A week later at the Ford test track in Romeo, Michigan, the same car reached 152.2 mph. Another test at Daytona had a two-way flying mile of 142.5 mph. As a point of reference, a Chrysler 300F performed the same feat at 144.9 mph.
Sadly, a goof by someone at Ford severely handicapped the ultimate ability of the 360 horsepower 352 on the racing circuit. Due to a failure to list 15″ wheels and 3.22 gears as being available, this combination was banned by the AMA; a Galaxie with the potent 352 at the Daytona 500 had a fastest lap time of only 130 mph.
Production of these engines was quite low, with only 24 having been produced by January 15, 1960. Several complaints about lack of power and valve float above 6,000 rpm resulted in Ford upgrading the distributor and improving the valve springs and retainers on subsequently manufactured engines.
By 1961, the 352 had been beaten back down to a rather pedestrian 2-barrel engine having 220 advertised horsepower. An industrious person could remedy this; Ford touted in their high performance parts catalog that many of the parts one could buy for their 406 or 427 engines would bolt right up to the lesser 332, 352, and 390 engines.
1964 saw Ford reintroducing a four-barrel carburetor on the 352, with an output of 250 horsepower. The 352 continued mainly unchanged until its cancellation in 1967.
Despite production of the 1960 Edsel occurring entirely in calendar year 1959, Ford did make more revisions for this greatly abbreviated model year. One of them was the availability of the 300 horsepower 352 as the top engine for the Edsel.
In addition to the Edsel, the 352 made a two year appearance in the full-sized Mercury during 1961 and 1962. The entry level V8 for these two years was the Y-block 292.
On a side note, 1961 and 1962 were the only two years in the history of Mercury in which one could obtain a six-cylinder engine in the full-sized series of cars.
In all the appearances made by the 352, in only the 1958 to 1960 Thunderbird was it the standard engine. In every other appearance, the 352 was an optional engine upgrade.
Beginning in 1965, the 352 was also available in Ford pickups (F-Series), replacing the 292 Y-block, tuned for an improved torque curve and rated at 208 hp.
Maintenance note: Does your 332 or 352 engine have “B9AE-6090″ stamped on either side of the cylinder head? Take note; these were early production engines and they have had the valves machined an additional 0.015″ further into the heads. Consequently, the valve stems were shortened 0.032”. Be aware of this if performing work on the heads.
360 (5.9 L) Bore: 4.052″ Stroke: 3.500″
The 360 cubic inch FE was only used in pickups and other light-duty trucks. There was also an FT version for medium-heavy duty use. It was built from 1968 through 1976, making it and the 390 also used in pickups the very last FE engine built. These were extremely common in F-100 and F-250 pickups; who knows how many million FE engines found their way under the hoods of Ford pickups; quite possibly more than passenger cars. In the 1968-1972 trucks, it was rated at 215 (gross) hp. From 1973-1976, it was rated at 143 net hp.
361 (5.9 liter) Bore: 4.047″ Stroke: 3.500″
The 361 had a short life, but what a life it led! As the standard engine for the 1958 Edsel Ranger and Pacer, the 361 was simply a 352 with its bore increased by 0.05″.
If you ever stumble upon a 1958 Edsel, the 361 engines had a red marking of “E-400” on the valve covers. The “E” is for Edsel with the “400” denoting the peak torque, not horsepower, output of this engine.
While the 361 may seem synonymous with being an Edsel engine, it was not always planted in an Edsel. As Ford did not use the 352 in Canada until 1960, the 361 was the optional upgrade from the 332 in all Canada market cars.
It could be also be said the 361 dabbled in another career path…
It was an option for Ford’s police package cars. This availability is intriguing; the 352 was also available in the 1958 Ford police cars, and it was advertised as being an “Interceptor V8”. The 361 gave an additional 3 horsepower and 5 ft-lbs of torque over the 352. It was offered in Ford police cars for 1958 only.
390 (6.4 liter) 4.052″ Stroke: 3.784″
It’s a shame production numbers of these FE engines have been so elusive; it seems as if the 390 was likely the most produced engine of this series. It certainly powered a broader variety of cars over a longer time period than any other FE, as in addition to the full-size Ford and Mercury it was found in Thunderbirds, Mustangs, Cougars, Cyclones, and Fairlanes.
Introduced for the 1961 model year, the 390 had a 4.05″ bore and a 3.78″ stroke. The standard four-barrel version was rated at 300 horsepower while the simultaneously introduced police version had 330 horsepower.
Also available upon introduction was a 375 horsepower version that replaced the 360 horsepower 352 cubic inch V8 used in 1960. This new 375 horsepower engine had a block with a slightly different casting pattern that provided stronger and thicker bulkheads than found in the standard engine. This engine also had an aluminum intake, improved oil passages, and grooved main bearing journals to aid in lubrication. The blocks were dye tested to find any weak areas and the pistons were X-rayed to ensure they were up to the rigors they would likely face.
The 1961 Pike’s Peak climb was won by a Chevrolet with a time of 15 minutes, 6 seconds. However, the new 375 horsepower Ford was only 2.4 seconds behind.
Various sources testing this hot, new 390 realized 105 mph trap speeds in the quarter-mile. At their proving grounds in Romeo, Michigan, Ford testers nudged a new Galaxie to 158.8 mph.
This 375 horsepower engine did not make it through an entire model year before it was replaced with a 390 having three, two-barrel carburetors and generating 401 horsepower. As the highest performance engine, the tenure of the 401 horsepower engine was also short lived, replaced in the performance hierarchy by the 406.
As the 1960’s progressed, the 390 could be found throughout the Ford and Mercury line-up. It was the standard engine on full-sized Mercury’s from 1963 to 1970, being found in a variety of outputs depending upon year, model, transmission, and carburetor.
The 390 was the base engine in the Thunderbird from 1961 to 1968 and was available in the Mustang from 1967 to 1969. Beginning in 1966, it was an option on the Ford Fairlane and Mercury Cyclone. On the Cougar, it was an available option upon its introduction.
The 390 continued in full-sized automobiles until part-way through the 1971 model year.
Maintenance note Number 1: Do you have a 390 equipped ’64 Thunderbird equipped with air conditioning? Does it have a tapping or buzzing sound? If so, it is caused by the crankshaft hitting the dipstick. If you bend the dipstick toward the block about 1/4″ inch, the noise should disappear.
Maintenance note Number 2: Was your 390 produced for the 1963 model year? If so, take note as Ford made a running change in the compression ratio of this engine in 1963, raising it from 10.5:1 to 10.8:1.
In 1967, the 390 also became optional on that year’s new F-Series pickups and light trucks. With a four-barrel carburetor, it a was rated at 255 (gross) hp. Starting in 1973, the rating was 164 net hp.
There was also an FT version of the 390 made for heavy-duty truck use, with the same bore and stroke, but referred to as a “391”.
406 (6.7 liter) Bore: 4.130″ Stroke: 3.784″
On November 17, 1961, Ford went back to Daytona International Speedway to replicate the testing of the 352 for the new 406. It was a 600 mile test at full throttle speeds.
Introduced shortly after January 1, 1962, the 406 had a 4.13″ bore and a 3.78″ stroke. Coming in either four-barrel or triple two-barrel form, it punched out 385 and 405 horsepower, respectively. Such power allowed the engine to propel the very non-aerodynamic 1962 Ford Galaxie to speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour, which was claimed to be faster than the average speed at the 1961 Indianapolis 500 race.
Yet endurance tests don’t always mimic real-world performance.
image source: www.stockcar.racersreunion.com
While a 406 powered Ford won the July 1962 running of the Pikes Peak hill climb, the Chevrolet 409 spanked the Ford 406 in drag racing. On the NASCAR circuit, a 406 powered Ford was the winner in only 6 of 53 races.
With such a lackluster track record, Ford eliminated the 406 shortly after the beginning of the 1963 model year.
The 406 was a $379.70 option on the full-sized 1962 Ford. Using a different casting that provided thicker cylinder walls than the other FE engines, the 406 also had stronger pistons and connecting rods, dual valve springs, and an oil relief valve set at 60 psi instead of 45. A 406 was also the 30 millionth V8 produced by Ford.
Maintenance Note: There was a running change in the manufacture of cylinder heads on the 406, which resulted in the internal valve spring pilot being machined off. So if you are replacing heads, make sure you have sourced identical type heads, as they do not intermix.
410 (6.7 liter) Bore: 4.054 Stroke: 3.980″
Does this sound strange? Introduced in 1966, the 410 only stuck around for two model years.
Standard issue for the Mercury Park Lane, this engine was rated at 330 horsepower . It was optional on all other full-sized Mercury’s. Having the same 4.05″ bore as the 361 and 390, it had a 3.98″ stroke that would later be used in the 428.
Specifics about the need for creation of this engine are quite scarce, so your author needs to exercise some deduction. For 1966, the 265 and 275 horsepower 390 in the Mercury (the lower output engine was mated to the three-speed manual transmission) both possessed a two-barrel carburetor. The 410 had a four-barrel and also produced up to 45 lb-ft more torque than the standard 390. This, combined with a displacement that provided a degree of exclusivity for your Park Lane, was likely the rationale for this engine.
Maintenance note: Does your 1966 model 390 or 410 have a vibration between 800 and 1,800 rpm? It is likely caused by the use of an incorrect flywheel. The flywheel on a 390 should not have a balance weight or part number on the transmission side whereas a 410 should have the balance weight and part number.
427 (7.0 liter) Bore: 4.232″ Stroke: 3.784″ (Actually 425 CID)
When Tom McCahill from Popular Mechanix first drove a 427 powered ’63 Mercury, he wrote the car had “more hair on its chest than a middle aged yak” and is “as gentle as a barracuda in a fish bowl”.
When Cars magazine recorded a 0-60 mph time for a ’63 Mercury Marauder of 7.3 seconds (using only first gear), they were quite enthused, saying “could it go for a 4,200 pound car!” This was from a car they stated idled quietly and smoothly at 800 rpm with a normal operating temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
The 427, introduced early in the 1963 model year, was more than a 406 that had been bored out to 4.23″ with the same 3.78″ stroke; it had cross bolted main bearing caps, aluminum pistons, and stouter connecting rods. In short, this was a race engine that was able to be street driven. However, as McCahill also noted, “one wrong twitch and you may plow up to eight cars in front of you.”
Ford had derived the 427 from a 483 cubic inch (7.9 liter) experimental engine that broke 46 various records in 1962 and recorded an official fastest speed of 176.98 mph. What they learned from this engine materialized in the 427, an engine that was just right for the various 7.0 liter requirements found in racing.
While this 427 was heavily praised for being a vast improvement over the 406, Ford was now committed to what they were touting as “Total Performance” and they were not satisfied with the initial performance of the 427. Prior to the end of the 1963 racing season, a “Mark II” version of the 427 bowed, having new cylinder heads with larger ports and valves, stronger connecting rods, and a ten quart oil pan. Strangely, advertised horsepower was unchanged with the four-barrel version having 410 horsepower and the dual four-barrel having 425 advertised horsepower.
The stumbles with the 406 powered racers was eradicated with the 427. Starting the 1963 racing season with a win at the Daytona 500, Ford would ultimately capture victories in 23 NASCAR races to Chevrolet’s eight. The 1964 season was even better with Ford winning 30 NASCAR races. The 427 had proven its mettle on the speedway and was doing so on the quarter-mile circuit.
Talk about the Ford 427 is full of different descriptors, such as “top oiler”, “side oiler”, and “cammer”. So what is each?
image source: www.wikipedia.org
The top oiler is the original version of the engine as introduced in 1963. In short, oil was routed to the valve train first followed by the crankshaft. The side oiler was introduced in 1965 and it reversed the order in which oil was sent through the engine.
image source: www.wikipedia.org
There is also the single overhead camshaft version of the 427 that appeared in 1964. It was strictly a racing engine and was never installed in regular production cars. This engine was created in response to the Chrysler 426 hemi; the single overhead cam 427 has the distinction of being the only engine ever banned by NASCAR at the time.
Available in full-size Ford’s and Mercury’s beginning in 1963, mid-sizers beginning in 1966 , and the Cougar in 1968, the 427 was the top dog Ford performance engine until 1968.
Maintenance Note: Ford does not recommend reboring the engine blocks of 406 and 427 engines.
428 (7.0 liter) Bore: 4.132 Stroke: 3.980″
Introduced for 1966, the Ford 428 was a different creature than its one cubic inch smaller sister, the 427. Whereas the 427 had a 4.23″ bore, prompting Ford to recommend against boring the block, the 428 had a 4.13″ bore combined with the 3.98″ stroke used in the Mercury 410. Given the smaller bore sizes, this engine was much less expensive to manufacture than the 427 while still being able to deliver a copious amount of horsepower and torque.
The 428 should not be confused with the Ford 429. The 429 was based upon the Ford 385-series family; the only other car engine springing from the 385-series is the 460 cubic inch (7.5 liter) V8.
Initially available throughout the 1966 full-size Ford and Mercury line, the 428 was the standard engine for the Ford LTD 7-Litre and the Mercury S-55. Initially available in 345 horsepower retail form, it was an engine to help motivate Ford’s increasingly heavier cars in the same manner to which people had been accustomed – if not a little better.
Ad copy for the 1966 Ford police car line certainly best insinuates performance, touting the police spec 428 was “a real scorcher that turns out 360 horsepower with top speeds well in excess of 100 mph”. How far in excess is a question many are curious about, although the answer may be lost to the ravages of time.
In April 1968, Ford introduced the 428 Cobra Jet. Based upon the regular 428, the Cobra Jet had larger valves and intake ports, beefed up connecting rods, and heads from a 427; getting Ram-Air on a Cobra Jet was optional. Like the 427, these additions oddly made no change whatsoever to advertised horsepower, due to exorbitant insurance premiums on high-hp engines. There is also the 428 Super Cobra Jet, an engine that had a different crankshaft and an external oil cooler. While also referred to as the “Drag Pack”, the Super Cobra Jet was intended for racing applications with the internal changes to facilitate added reliability and durability.
The 428 Cobra Jet was a $357 option in the 1969 Mustang Mach I; it was $421 in other Mustang’s. In a Mustang so equipped, the sprint to 60 miles per hour could happen in 5.5 seconds. It is estimated that around 13,000 Mustang Mach I’s came equipped with the 428 Cobra Jet. The 428 Cobra Jet was also available in Cougar, Torino, and Cyclone models.
Many cars throughout the Ford lineup would be eligible to receive the 428, such as the Thunderbird in 1966 and 1967; the Mustang and Cougar from 1968 to 1970; the full-sized Ford and Mercury from 1966 to 1969; and the Montego and Torino in 1968 and 1969.
Maintenance note: Does your 1966 Ford or Mercury with a 352, 390, or 428 have a metallic knock that sounds similar to a tappet clip? It may be caused by the rocker cover oil baffle touching the rocker arm shaft pedestal support attaching bolt.
The Ford FE engine was replaced by a combination of the Windsor and 385 series. Appearing as anything from a two-barrel 332 in 1959 to a 428 Cobra Jet by 1969, the FE is one of the most adaptable and versatile engines ever to come from Ford. Despite the last FE engine being placed in a passenger car over forty years ago, the continued popularity of the FE series engines is a testament to the intrinsic qualities of this fine power plant.