Engine History: Lincoln’s Two-Barrel Carb MEL 430 Engine – Taming The Thirsty Beast

image source: hemmings

(first posted 5/18/2012. updated 4/18/2017)     The 1958 – 1960 Lincolns were all about superlatives, especially in size. These were the biggest (non-5 mph bumper) Lincolns ever made (131″ wheelbase; 229″ overall length), as well as the roomiest ones: front and rear shoulder room that has never been surpassed, as well as extravagant legroom. Weight? The 1959-1960 Continental was the heaviest non-extended wheelbase American car built since WW2, weighing up to 5700 lbs. Its 9.00 and 9.50 x 14″ tires were the biggest ever made for fourteen inch rims.

The new 430 inch MEL (Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln) engine for 1958 was also the biggest by far in its time, and with 375 hp and a big four barrel carb, it could push the the 1958 lead sled to sixty in some 8.7 seconds. But its thirst was single-digitly prodigious, to say the least. Given that 1958 was a major recession year, and thrift was in the air, it was time to get the big MEL on the wagon. So for 1960, its appetite was choked off.

A Carter ABD-2965 S two-barrel was installed, dropping power to 315 hp. Torque was probably only slightly affected, so the normal driving experience wasn’t impaired all that much. And reputedly, highway mileage was now solidly in the teens. Probably low teens.

The MEL engine had a combustion chamber that was fully inside the cylinder, made possible by a 10 degree offset in its top deck. Chevy’s 348/409 engines had a very similar arrangement, although with a valve placement that optimized porting for better high-speed breathing.  But that was not the MEL’s main design goal; torque was.

The MEL’s design was also quite similar to Ford’s Super Duty V8 engine, which also appeared in 1958. I couldn’t find a full-size MEL cross section, but from the part that is shown above this SD ad, the two look very similar indeed.  The MEL came in 383, 410, 430 and 462 cu.in versions, while the SD came in 401, 477 and 534 cu.in versions. The SD was a larger engine all the way around though, and weighed close to 1000lbs. But the head design is very similar.

Although the 430 MEL was the first American engine to attain a 400hp rating in the 1958 Mercury Super Marauder, its torque rating of 510 ft. lbs. is still a phenomenal number.

Under one of the most superb air cleaner housings ever sat triple two-barrel carbs, but it appears they were Holleys, not Carters.

The later MEL engine was detuned not just through a reduced carb size, but also smaller ports and valves, and a substantially reduced compression ratio (8.0:1). The two barrel 430 continued all the way through 1962, and its advertised horsepower was down to 300 for 1961 – 1962. For 1963, a four-barrel returned, but with a mild 320 horsepower rating, probably due other changes to emphasize smoothness  and torque over top-end power. The luxury-car horsepower wars of the 1950s were long over, having moved into the lower-priced segments.

But in its heyday, the 430 had a brief NASCAR career, although the extremely heavy MEL engine made handling scary, and drivers were terrified at times of its tendencies at high speed.

The 430 MEL was adopted as the engine of choice for Chris-Craft  boats. A detailed analysis of its strengths and weaknesses can be found at this Chris-Craft forum.

For 1966, the MEL’s displacement was increased to 462 cu.in., and it carried a 340 (gross) hp rating through its final year, 1968, when it was replaced by the new 460 “385” engine, which was lighter and superior in every way, thanks to improvements in casting technology and much improved cylinder head architecture.