CC Global: Steagul Rosu 131/132 – The Ford Y-Block V8 Goes To Work Behind The Iron Curtain

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While Ford is pretty often seen as a Western enterprise with Western-focused culture, we know they liked to keep an open minded approach to their business. As such, they always left an open door for Eastern bloc countries of Europe. Whether it the Ford-licensed GAZ AA or the Romanian Ford factory from the 1930s, Ford was ever-so present around these parts of the world. In this case, it was Ford’s Y-block V8, which was manufactured in Romania in a distinctly unique version, to go along with its distinct exhaust burble.

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By the end of the 1950s, Romania was leaving the Second World War wounds behind and embarking on a new stage of forced communist industrialization. Furthermore, the country’s leaders wanted a politically and economically neutral country and thus began to distance themselves from the Soviet Union. The Americans saw this as a breech between the Warsaw Pact countries and helped Romania with their industrial know-how to consolidate its economy. Ford quickly jumped in on the technology transfer, offering a license to its still-modern Y block V8. They did this in the hopes of getting even more automotive contracts from the Romanian industry in future.

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Ford’s dreams aside, the V8 found a home in the new Steagul Rosu (Romanian for “Red Flag”) 131/132, a new range of 3 and 5 ton trucks to be launched in 1960. While the chassis was largely carried over from the predecessor, SR 101 (a copy of Zil-150), the cab had to be all new, to show everyone the “unstoppable socialist progress”. As no factory in Romania had any sort of experience in mass producing and designing modern car/bus bodies, the cab and tooling were developed by the French company Chausson. The cab design seems all-American to the naked eye but it is actually inspired in the lower half by the 1953 Citroen Type 55 (lower image; also designed by Chausson). The upper half and cab sides have a clear US influence to them, resembling Chevrolet and Ford trucks of the era.

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The Y block itself got a thorough reworking for its new home in Romania. Firstly, all the dimensions were transformed to metric; the bore is 97mm/3.82 in and the stroke 85mm/3.35 in, making the 5.025cc/306 ci engine unique in Fords Y line-up, sitting somewhere between the 292 and the 312 V8 in displacement. Since the biggest Ford Y block for trucks was the 292 ci, I suspect the Romanian version is a bored and stroked version of that. Its 3.82″ bore is actually a bit more than the 312’s 3.80 bore, and its 3.35″ stroke is a bit more than the 292’s 3.30″ stroke. An oddball in the Y-Block family.

It definitely shares the biggest intake valves 1.93 in/49mm and exhaust valves  1.51 in/38.5mm of the Y engine family, the metric dimensions corresponding almost perfectly with the American ones. The 6.7:1 (later 7.2:1) compression ratio is pretty low for this engine, a tribute to the poor gas quality in Romania at that time. The power is also given in the metric DIN Norm, producing 140HP@3600rpm and 320Nm@2100rpm, so maybe around 170HP SAE gross hp. Other than this, the Romanian V8 is pretty similar to the 292 Y block, including its crossplane crankshaft, the unusual firing order of the cylinders (1-5-4-8-6-3-7-2), making that distinctive Y-V8 burble on the go and the unusual intake/exhaust arrangement as can be seen in the pictures. The first engines were even delivered with Holley 2 barrel carburetors!

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The new truck made quite an impression. With 45HP more than the immediate predecessor, and helped by a 4-speed gearbox, the SRs 131/132 pushed a good 55mph top speed. The trucks were rugged enough and easy to maintain, which made them highly praised by drivers and state accountants alike. The typical Y block oiling issues were sorted out by this time, and the stiff bottom end remained, helping these machines reach over 60,000 miles before needing any internal work. It sounds laughable today, but you have to consider the local industry’s lack of experience in building this sort of engines, untrained drivers, and the poor gas quality, rarely going over CO 65. And then truck work is just more demanding on an engine, and these trucks were worked hard.

At some point the piston rings would fail to seal, oil would be consumed in copious quantities, and the engine would need an overhaul. Fuel consumption was seen as average, in the order of 25L/100km or 9.5 mpg down to 35L/100km or 6.7 mpg. One cannot help but wonder if this is the most American truck to come out of the eastern block countries. While the 1964 ZIL 130 also had a longhood design, it definitely had much more Russian technology under its hood.

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Anyway, like US V8s, the 1973 fuel crisis made the SR 131 look like the gas guzzler that it was, especially in Europe. As a result, the V8 engine’s days were numbered, finally ending production in 1975. The truck/cab combo would soldier on though. Renamed as a DAC 6135 and re-motorised with a licensed SAVIEM inline 6 diesel of 135HP. The cab received a facelift too, if we can call moving the front lights in the bumper a facelift. They weren’t fooling anyone, though.

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During the 1980s, the cab was refreshed once again with a more squared off design and a fiberglass hood. Well, almost, as that top half of the cab inspired from the 1950s was still there, the last American reminiscence on this long line of trucks.

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Production ended in the early 1990s after a good run of 40 years, but these trucks were in regular civilian and army use as late as 2005. Almost all of them were run in the ground with minimal maintenance during the 1990s. By that time you couldn’t see a SR/DAC truck of any kind on the road without a heavy smoking exhaust, bold tires and slightly bent chassis. They were finally superseded in the light/medium truck duty by the boxy ROMAN 8.135, this time a MAN licensed truck.

And the Ford licensed V8? Well, after production ended 1975, it served in these trucks and various Romanian built buses, finally disappearing from the Romanian roads during the 1980s. The army kept them longer thanks to the gas engine’s ability to start better than the breathless SAVIEM diesel in cold weather.  The V8 was reincarnated in the form of the 1962 derivate half-a-V8 four  to power the Romanian offroader ARO. Through small redesigns, the OHV four managed (if barely) to cross the 21 century mark in production. But that’s another story for another time…

 

Editor’s note:  The Ford Y-Block was also built in Argentina (by Ford Argentina) from 1961 all the way through the late 1980s, and was even bestowed with some Windsor-like heads along the way. The full story on that, and a bit more Y-Block insight, is here:

CC Global: Ford Argentina Fairlane With 292 V8 – The Y Block Gts A Second A High-Performance Second Act In Argentina