CC TV: Challenge! – The Development Of The 1963 Ford Indy V8 (In A Galaxie Sedan, No Less)

The 2024 Indianapolis 500 is in the books, having logged a long rain delay, an exciting finish, and a NASCAR driver attempting the “double” for the first time in a decade. Today, IndyCar is a spec series with an aging chassis and two engine manufacturers, but in 1963, the field consisted primarily of Indy “roadsters” with Offenhauser four-cylinder engines. The “Offy” was a staple of open wheel racing, but in the decade of Total Performance, Ford decided to try its hand at the greatest spectacle in racing. It worked out pretty well for them.

In honor of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” YouTube’s Periscope Film released this Ford video about the development of the Ford Indy V8, which was based on the Fairlane’s 260.

Ford installed the engine in two Lotus cars and hired two of the world’s most renowned drivers to wheel them: Jim Clark and Dan Gurney. Clark is pictured here: He would go on to finish second. Some say he should have won; Parnelli Jones (the winner) had an oil leak that USAC ignored for many laps, electing not to throw the black flag. It’s still a discussion point for IndyCar fans, despite the fact that Jones was a more-than-deserving winner, being an all-time Indy great himself. Additionally, Jones clearly had the best car that day and had run away with the race, rendering any Ford/Lotus complaints reeking of sour grapes. The rear-engined special’s time was coming, but not yet.

Gurney, one of the sport’s most accomplished all-around drivers/team owners/engineers in racing history, finished seventh in the second Lotus.

As a side note, Clark would eventually win in 1965; his winning car is on display at the Henry Ford Museum.

Clearly, Ford was astonishingly successful right out of the gate in 1963, but it wasn’t as if they plucked a 260 out of a Fairlane Sport Coupe and sent it on its way — this film shows the extensive modifications Ford’s engineers pursued in their quest for an Indy 500 win.

Before they got into the nuts and bolts, the film department dropped this little grenade onto the screen: a Galaxie sedan looking as if it accidentally rumbled through the gates at the Wayne County Fairgrounds Demolition Derby, headers shooting toward the sky and all.

Equipped with short rear axle gearing to keep the Indy V8 revving to the moon, was this the most intriguing test mule in Ford history? A Galaxie sedan with an Indy motor?

In this shot, one can see the Weber carburetors favored by Ford’s racing engineers; the 1963 Ford Indy engine was the last to use carburetors instead of fuel injection. The old Offy had been using injection for years, but Ford wanted to keep things as simple as possible for this first effort.

In case you were wondering, the Galaxie probably didn’t last long; the video implies that the test engineers removed the body for wind tunnel dyno testing.

Wind tunnel dyno testing? Yes, they wanted to see the effects of the wind on header design: not bad for 1963. Earmuffs must have been the order of the day: an 8000 rpm engine combined with a roaring wind tunnel would send me scattering for the Advil with the happiest headache I’d ever have.

The film goes into fairly good detail about the modifications needed for Indy duty. The block and heads were cast in aluminum to save weight. The block was “dry decked,” which means that o-rings were used rather than head gaskets for sealing the combustion chambers, along with the oil and cooling passages. You can see the metal o-rings atop each cylinder in this picture.

Additionally, Ford used head studs rather than head bolts, and increased the number of fasteners per cylinder from four (in the production engine) to six.

The cylinder heads were clearly reworked; anyone who has worked on small-block Fords will recognize that the exhaust ports on this head are significantly larger than those on a production head. You can also see the casting change for the extra row of studs along the exhaust side.

The engine was set up for a camshaft gear drive rather than a timing chain, and a (seemingly) simplified magnesium front cover finished the job. Ford used shaft-mounted rocker arms for valvetrain stability at 8000 rpm.

According to “The Ford V-8 Engine Workshop,”  the crankshaft was a special forging and the connecting rods were based on those used in the new-at-the-time 289 High-Performance engine. All this work had the desired effect: the Indy V8 produced 376 horsepower on the dyno, compared to 164 in the passenger Fairlane (although a bit short of the Offenhauser’s 400).

It’s fascinating to think that the basic engine from a Ford Fairlane scored two positions in the top 10 at the Indy 500 in its maiden outing, with less than a year of development time. For 1964, Ford switched to overhead-cam cylinder heads, creating an even more potent combination that would eventually include turbocharging and some Borg Warner trophies to its credit.

Ford is no longer involved in the IndyCar series, and the spirit of rampant innovation of the 1960s that resulted in a turbine-powered car almost winning the race has been gone for a while. The Indy 500 is still a must-watch in my household, but I personally can’t stop thinking of driving a screaming Galaxie sedan with Webers and Zoomie headers down the straightaway at Ford’s proving grounds.

Additional Indy-Based Reading: Grandpa’s 1969 Indy 500 Photos – A Man With Credentials