Curbside Restoration: My Engine, Transmission and Engine Compartment Project

Ford 400 Engine installed in Ford Torino

It’s been nearly two decades since I took ownership of my Torino from my Dad and for the last decade I have been slowly refurbishing the car. The act of refurbishment has always made my bond with a car much stronger.  Not only does my Torino have countless memories, it’s my hands that have put this machine together and carefully assembled it to bring it back to its full glory.  After years of thinking how I’d rebuild the engine, the time had finally come in the fall of 2017. I had always tried to keep the projects on the Torino relatively small so I didn’t have to lose out on a driving season with the car.  However, this particular engine rebuild project suffered from some significant project creep resulting in a much longer than usual project.

From my first ride in a fast car, I have long been fond of speed and power.  When I was young, I was more into hot rods and street machines than stock cars. Burning rubber and driving fast was all I wanted to do.  As time has gone on and I have matured, so have my tastes.  Today, I have a much greater appreciation for stock vehicles, nevertheless, my love for speed and power remains.   Having a 1972 model year car meant that my engine was far from the pinnacle of 1960s and 1970s unfettered performance.    On top of that, while my 400 in stock form was reasonably powerful, it wasn’t a high performance engine even by 1972 standards.

Engine Compartment 1972 Ford Gran Torino Sport - unrestored

This is the unrestored engine compartment. It was original, other than the intake and carburetor.

Much like a 1972 Torino, the Ford 400 is often maligned and unloved by many.   As the owner of both, I always thought that the reputation was highly undeserved, at least in the case of my particular iterations of both.  Being a big fan of the 335 series engines, I was well aware that the Ford 400 was an inherently good design, but was poorly executed.  So the last thing I wanted to do was to rebuild it back to bone-stock specs.

Engine being removed for 1972 Torino

My game plan was to build the engine to appear stock, but I would perform a number of subtle upgrades to address the shortcomings from FoMoCo’s original execution.   While many engine builds today resort to stroker crankshafts and modern aluminum cylinders heads to make serious power, that was too far from original for me.  I knew that I could easily make my 400 a much more powerful engine with mostly stock parts. It was also important to me to keep most of the original parts that had been with the car since day one.

Engine on crate in back of Toyota truck

I drove the engine to a shipping terminal in Buffalo, NY to ship to TMeyer.

So in the fall on 2017 I parked my Torino after taking one last gratifying ride and parked it for the season.  Shortly afterwards, I pulled the engine out of the car and shipped out it to Fairmont, Minnesota.  There it was left in the expert hands of Tim Meyer of TMeyer INC.  Tim Meyer is well known in the 335 Series engine community, as he has specialized in these Ford engines, in particular the 400s.

Ford 400 engine on stand

The engine at TMeyer before tear down.

One of the biggest problems with the Ford 400 engine is the piston design.  The stock 400 piston has far too much deck clearance which causes all kinds of detonation problems if one tries to increase the compression simply with smaller chamber cylinder heads.  TMeyer makes has an exclusive piston for the 400 that addresses these problems and also increases the compression to a much improved but street friendly 9.3:1.  I also knew that TMeyer’s machine work was second to none when it came to 335 series engines. They also make modifications to improve the oiling system, including custom camshaft bearings.

Ford 400 Engine block

The engine block after the completion of machine work

After the tear down, the block was stripped and cleaned, while the cylinders were bored with a 0.030” overbore.   The stock crankshaft and rods were refurbished, and the new high compression pistons were installed.  The entire rotating assembly was balanced and while all fasteners were replaced with ARP hardware.  Along with the increased compression, the camshaft was the other key area that where I could increase engine power.  The stock 2V heads actually flow quiet well, but a decent induction system and camshaft are needed to properly utilize the flow.  The stock camshaft is very mild with short duration and low lift. I had already upgraded the induction system prior to rebuild with a Holley 4-bbl carburetor and an aluminum intake manifold. So I chose to upgrade to a roller hydraulic camshaft for improved durability and the ability to use a modern cam profile.  Tim Meyer designed the custom camshaft profile that had a little more duration than stock, but significantly more lift.  This camshaft was specifically designed to have excellent drivability, and strong low end power, but vastly improved breathing and high RPM performance.

The bare cylinder heads after machine work.

The stock cylinder heads were rebuilt with all new valve hardware and one piece stainless steel valves.  I also upgraded to rollerized rocker arms to reduce valve train friction.

TMeyer did the assembly on the long block before shipping it back to me for final assembly. The engine was run an engine sim tester prior to sending it back to ensure all was assembled correctly.  Overall the engine build took longer than I had originally planned, but I was okay with that, as Tim Meyer prides himself on quality work over speedy work.

Ford C6 transmission - unrestored

C6 Transmission after clean-up

The top photo shows the C6 transmission as I removed it. After hours of clean up, I was able to get it looking much better as seen on the bottom picture.

While the engine work was being done in Minnesota, I was busy working away on other parts of the car.  With the engine out of the car, I decided it was also time to freshen up the transmission.  The C6 is very strong in stock form, but with the new found power I figured some upgrades were worthwhile.  I bought a 500 hp rebuild kit from one of the most respected Ford transmission shops, Broader Performance in Texas.  I also upgraded to a more performance oriented torque converter with a slightly higher stall speed to compliment the new camshaft.

1972 Ford Torino with not front clip unrestored

Note all the undercoat on the frame and firewall. It was a very messy job to clean up.

Along with the mechanical refurbishment, I also wanted to restore the engine compartment.  While I was very lucky to have a completely rust free 1972 Torino, it came at a cost.  Not only was it undercoated when new, but the car had annual oil spray rust proofing.  This perfectly preserved the car, but it made for a dirty oily mess under the hood.  Quite honestly, I was sick of getting covered in grease whenever I did something under the hood.

1972 Ford Torino Frame bare

The frame after stripping all the undercoat.

I decided to disassemble the entire front clip to properly detail all the parts.  The front end sheet metal on a ’72 Torino is far from a simple design, especially compared to modern cars.  So, I took lots of photos and bagged and tagged all parts to make sure I remembered how to assemble it correctly.

1972 Ford Torino frame restored.

The frame after being painted.

1972 Ford Torino inner fenders

1972 Ford Torino parts powder coated

I had all of these parts chemically stripped and then powder coated. Fortunately, all were rust free so no repair was required.

After the front end was torn apart, all components were removed from the frame and I stripped the undercoat.   The frame was in excellent condition and required no rust repair.  I repainted the frame in a semi-gloss black as originally done by Ford.  I had to remove the brakes lines and combination valve restore the frame, so I decided the combination valve might as well be rebuilt too. The radiator support, the wheel houses and various other brackets were sandblasted and powered coated.

1972 Ford Torino firewall in primer

1972 Torino firewall painted.

The firewall in primer and then paint.

Next up was tackling the firewall. After another lengthy and dirty degreasing, I found the paint underneath was actually not in too bad of shape.  It probably could have been saved.  However, years ago a big chunk of seam sealer fell off the firewall and took much of the paint around it with it, meaning a repaint was in order.   I stripped firewall and replaced the seam sealer with a more advanced modern product.    I shot it the firewall with an epoxy primer and followed it up with some new 2B red paint.

1972 Ford Torino fender unrestored.

1972 Ford Torino Fender

The fenders aprons were repainted and then the inner fenders were reinstalled.

The fender aprons were also covered in undercoat and after the lengthy task of degreasing them, I decided to repaint the aprons to match the firewall.  I was happy with the end result, especially considering I am no body man.

1972 Ford Torino hardware

Along with doing all these bigger jobs, I also cleaned and detailed all the other small parts that were removed, which was some of the most time consuming work.  The brake booster, every bracket, every bolt was and even the brake lines were stripped, cleaned, painted and detailed.   Along with that, all the wiring harnesses were also cleaned and detailed.

Ford 400 engine parts painted in blue paint

Once I got my engine back I needed to complete the final assembly. Since I wanted to keep it stock appearing, I restored and reused the original stamped valve covers. I also painted all other engine parts in Ford blue paint to match, including the new oil pain, the aluminum intake and the restored engine timing cover.

1972 Ford 400 engine

1972 Ford 400 engine with C6 transmission and hooker headers

I finished the assembly of the engine on the stand before mating it to the freshly refurbished transmission.  One other concession I made was long tube headers.  If I wanted to fully take advantage of the new camshaft, not only did I need the freer flowing induction of the aluminum intake and Holley 4-bbl, but I also need an exhaust that was free flowing.

400 engine being installed in 1972 Ford Torino

I installed the engine and transmission into the car without the front clip and then I fitted the headers, which required some minor clearancing on the driver’s side.  Once that was done they were sent to be ceramic coated and I reinstalled the cast iron manifolds for the initial break-in run.

Ford 400 distributor

This is distributor is a Ford Dura Spark distributor but uses a GM HEI module mounted inside.

This was also when I built my new ignition system. I purchased a prototype distributor from Tim Meyer, which was a Ford Dura Spark distributor that was specially fitted with a GM HEI module.  I ended up using an e-coil from a circa 1993 5.0L Ford Mustang which works well with the module.  After wiring up the new ignition the engine was read to fire.

The break-in was uneventful for the most part, other than the aftermarket fuel pump diaphragm failing.  It was later replaced with a stock style pump, as I was not happy with the poor quality of this aftermarket hi-po unit.

1972 Ford Torino front fenders installed.

1972 Ford Torino hood, header panel and lights installed.

1972 Ford Torino grille and bumper installed

With that, final assembly began on the body began.  The engine was lifted and so I could get the new headers installed. All of the front end sheetmetal was installed.  While somewhat time consuming, it went back together without too much difficulty.  I was fortunate to have the help of a friend who formerly worked as a bodyman to help get the massive fenders installed and aligned.  All said and done, the whole project ended up taking considerably longer than initially anticipated, and I missed the 2018 driving season.  I was okay with the lost season, as I am a weekend warrior with family obligations and I ended up doing more work than I had initially planned.

1972 Ford Torino engine compartment

This is the restored engine compartment. I was happy with the end result.

So at the end of last summer the time had come, to bring the Torino back onto the road and start the break-in miles.  The new engine is very strong and I am very impressed with the power but also its excellent driveability.  With the short driving season, and my busy schedule, I didn’t have a lot of time to drive the car, but I wanted to do a minimum of 500 miles on the engine.  I was able to surpass my goal and logged about 800 miles in total. I was even able to take the kids over to visit my Dad so he could see the new engine.

Ford 9" differential disassebled

This is my Ford 9″ differential dissembled ready for the fresh bearings and clutches.

This winter I decided to keep things simple and tackle smaller jobs on the car.  The new found power resulted in the original Trac-Lok limited slip on the 9” differential starting to get weak.  So the differential was pulled for new clutches and to freshen up the bearings.  I also am working on restoring a factory air cleaner with an auxiliary air door to match the newly painted engine.

There are still a few more minor jobs to finish up on the car once I take it out for this driving season.  I have to bring it to the exhaust shop to have an entirely new system built and installed.  The current system is too small and I kind of cobbled it together to connect it to the headers.  I still am working on tuning the carburetor, and plan to use a wide band O2 sensor to get it dialed in really well.  Even with the carb not being perfectly dialed in and the engine being green, I still managed 15 MPG (US), which I thought was respectable.

1972 Ford Gran Torino Sport

This was the biggest project I have done to my Torino and overall I am very happy with the end result.  While my car has never undergone a full restoration, I have been slowly refurbishing it over the last decade to and made it into something I can be proud of.  There is almost nothing on this car I haven’t touched, disassembled, cleaned or refurbished.  So this Torino has not only become a part of my personal history, but I have become part of it as well.  Here’s hoping to many more years of enjoyment and memories.

Related Reading:

Auto-Biography – 1972 Ford Torino – A Tale of a Torino, Fathers, and Sons: Part 1  Part 2

The Ford 335 Series V8 Engines (351C, 400, 351M) – It Could’ve Been a Contender:  Part 1  Part 2