(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”.
Next up: 406, 427 and 428:
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