(first posted 11/30/2014) The story of Detroit’s alter-universe overseas operations is full of surprises. We’ve been unraveling the Australian story here for years, and it’s far from complete. And we’ve covered Ford’s long-lived Argentine Ford Falcon and its unique variations of the Falcon six engine. But when LDeren posted this Argentine Fairlane, I became intrigued, especially so when I discovered it was powered by the venerable 292 Ford Y-Block V8. Whoa! And not in the form we know it: it was the beneficiary of a completely new cylinder head (beginning in 1971) which cured it of its asthma. And it was further turned into a rip-snorting 7,000 rpm racing engine. The engine so commonly referred to as a ‘boat anchor’ hereabouts became a terror of the tracks and a legend. Only in Argentina.
The Y-Block was Ford’s first OHV V8, which appeared in 1954. It was named after its deeply skirted (and heavy) block, which extended well past the crankshaft center-line. Except for a problem with getting oil to the rocker arms, due to the non-detergent oil of the times, it was a rugged lump, and proved itself to be a great truck engine.
Its performance potential was highly compromised by an unusual cylinder head design, that paired intake valves, and the intake ports snaked around so as to be paired, on top of each other. Quite odd. That, combined with relatively small valves, resulted in a cylinder head that did not breathe well, almost the perfect counterpoint to the 1955 Chevy small block, which did. Despite Ford’s near-domination of the hot rod scene with its flathead V8 for decades, the high-performance crowd almost instantly shunned the Y-Block and embraced the Chevy small block. A painful lesson.
The Y-Block’s odd head also had the exhaust ports turned upwards, which meant exhaust manifolds that sat alongside the valve covers, and typically, a rather obnoxious cross-over right in the front of the engine. Odd too.
In its final year as Ford’s top V8 engine, the 312 Y Block did get heads that were an improvement, and there are tricks to make a US Y-Block sing, including aftermarket aluminum heads. And it’s finding some love again, in that folks are appreciating originality more than ever again. A Y-Block will generate a lot more interest at the car show than another sbc.
Speaking of singing, the Y-Block has a very distinctive exhaust sound thanks to its unique V8 firing order (the diagram is wrong, in that the distributor is actually in the back). I have to assume that the paired intake valves (EIIEEIIE instead of the usual EIEIEIEI) was the reason, and the result is quite melodious.
The Y-Block first arrived in Argentina to power the 1961 F100 trucks, which are similar but not quite identical to the American versions, since they don’t have the ‘unibody’ cab/bed. We looked at the odd three-door F150 utility here.
In 1968, the market in Argentina was deemed to be ready for something bigger and more luxurious than the Falcon, which had been Ford’s mainstay there since 1962. The 1968 Fairlane/Torino was the obvious next step up, but the Torino name couldn’t be used, because IKA (Kaiser Argentina) was already using it for their nee-Rambler Classic car. So it had to stay a Fairlane, available in DeLuxe, 500, and LTD trim. In addition to the 292 V8, the 221 Falcon six was also available.
The Y-Block was of course originally intended to be installed only in Ford’s full-size cars and trucks, which meant that shoehorning it into the Falcon-platform 1968 Fairlane engine compartment, with its tall spring/shock towers, was obviously a challenge, especially those upswept exhaust manifolds. The only image I could find was this close-up, which shows the problem very clearly. And that brake master cylinder sitting right above it wasn’t ideal either, although it does seem to be oddly far forward. Maybe it’s not even hooked up. Power was modest: 145 hp with a two-barrel carb.
In 1971, Ford Argentina gave the Y-Block a new lease on life, in the form of all-new cylinder heads. Now they looked decidedly more conventional, the valves were significantly larger, and the valve arrangement was in the usual manner. These are called Fase II (Phase II) heads. I can’t find a whole lot of detailed information, but I suspect that their design was influenced by the Windsor V8 heads, although they’re not identical. Given that the bore spacing (4.38″) was the same on both of these engine families, it wouldn’t have been that hard to adapt or evolve the Windsor design, or aspects of it. It appears the Fase II heads still kept the old-school rocker arm shafts instead of the Windsor’s rocker design.
Along with the new heads, the Fase II also adopted a more traditional 1-5-4-8-6-3-7-2 firing order. No more distinctive Y-Block exhaust sound.
Thanks to the better-breathing heads, even with a modest two barrel carb, power was up to 180 hp. As is readily apparent, the exhaust manifolds are now down swept, and the engine looks more like a typical later FE V8 at first glance, except for the rear distributor.
The changes even made it possible to drop one into a Falcon. And performance mods upped power. Argentina had created a genuine performance engine.
The translations of the Spanish by Google are a bit fuzzy, but it appears there was a 1967 racing program with the Falcon (using a narrowed body) that supposedly used 289 heads from the US, adapted to the 292. Rules required a production head, which may be the specific impetus for developing the Fase II heads.
But that’s not all that was done in terms of new heads. A local firm Tandil manufactured some very serious racing heads for the Y-Block, with huge round ports. This is a Fairlane with a race-tuned 292 with these heads, including four Weber twin-choke carbs.
These heads are obviously based on the English Gurney-Weslake heads made for the Windsor, or adapted from them. I spent way too much time trying to unravel how these heads ended up being made in Argentina, cast in both aluminum and iron, and yet nobody seems to know the full story. But here they are, and there’s several sets of these still kicking around, like this fully restored engine here. This is the ultimate Y-Block; or is it?
How about DOHC heads? Yes, these were designed and built in Argentina by a small shop, Bucci. The block was sleeved and de-stroked to run in a 3 liter racing class.
The racing Fairlane eventually got an aerodynamic nose, and as late as 1986-1988, it was the dominant car of the Touring Car series, beating the formidable GTX Dodge with its powerful 318 LA engine.
So we’ve come to the tail end of this story. The Fairlane was built in Argentina in this form until 1982. By then, the market had shifted away from big American cars to smaller, more efficient European cars. The venerable Y-Block soldiered on in trucks for a few more years, but sometime in the late 1980s it was finally laid to rest, along with its new Fase II cylinder heads.