(first posted 6/13/2013) When we think of the quintessential American engine. the V8 undoubtedly comes to mind first. Understandable, given how Henry Ford’s 1932 flat head V8 and its successors came to symbolize American’s love for affordable and effortless power, and which really came into full bloom with the modern post-war OHV V8s. For decades–Until Honda and others re-ignited four cylinder love–four bangers were typically dismissed as poverty mobiles, certainly by Detroit; think Chevy II, Vega, Iron Duke and Pinto.
But it would be a mistake to overlook what a huge performance legacy the big four cylinder engine created in America. From the time the first Model Ts were hopped up in the early teens through the the last 252 inch big Offy four roadster to win at Indy in 1963, the distinctive bark of a big four was the sound of power to generations of America. And some today still can’t do without it.
The history of aftermarket Ford four-cylinder performance parts and upgrades is vast. There were literally dozens of companies offering everything from a basic higher-compression cylinder head, to full-blown Indy-racing DOHC engines, like this Rajo conversion on a 1909 Model T block with essentially stock innards.
Nobody built a tougher block, crank and connecting rods than Henry, and engines like the Rajo, Frontenac, Rily and others powered the overwhelming majority of the race cars doing battle on dirt tracks all over the country for decades. Here’s a superb visual rundown (and details) of well over 100 unique high-performance engines based on the T and A block. Makes the Ford and Chevy V8 hot-rod era look downright tame in comparison.
It’s become so stereotyped to only remember, see, think, and build hot rods as V8s, as if that’s what they all were back in the day. There’s no ready statistics, but hopped-up Ford four bangers once were the real default rod.
And of course, some have kept the four banger faith all along, and more are returning to appreciate its authenticity and unique characteristics. A better example of that than this ’28 Model A Speedster I found sitting in front of one of Eugene’s last road houses would be hard to conjure up. This thing is just dripping with authenticity, even if it is a more recent build (or a restoration of an older one).
I have long nurtured an irrational passion for Model T and A Speedsters, which by definition predate hot rods. Speedster body kits for Ts date back to the early-mid teens, like this 1915 PACO. The term “speedster” encompasses a huge range of modifications, everything from just tearing off the body and sitting on bare seats, to a complete new body from stem to stern.
This one encompasses a pair of buckets in a low-cut body, but is stock from the cowl forward (except the fenders).
The tail end sweeps down to just above the axle line, and the over-sized tires on later V8 wheels (a popular upgrade) are ready to kick some gravel in your face.
The best way to experience the aural delights a of warmed-over Ford four is in person, but if you haven’t had the chance, this is a pretty decent substitute, the best I could readily find (the real action starts at 1:45). It’s the starting line for a modern hill climb, for Ford four bangers only. And there’s a fair amount of rubber being left at the start.
From the moment I laid eyes on this gem from a distance, I was certain that it was a four. I was intrigued by the Tillotson carburetor’s cut-out, wondering what that implied. My attempts to peer through the cooling vents told me it was still a flathead, and obviously not very modified, if at all. Most likely a high compression head and a cam, to let it breathe a bit better. But with a single stock-type carb, not very ambitious. A slight disappointment, actually; I assumed that it would at least have a couple of downdraft Strombergs, the default intake upgrade. Is this more of a poseur than it lets on?
The Secrets Of Speed Society is a magazine dedicated to Ford four bangers. Maybe this is still a work in progress.
Instead of “this” I should use its proper name: Blue Yonder.
Here’s another sticker to announce it membership in a Northwest group dedicated to their obvious interest.
All the necessary instrumentation is accounted for. No 9000 rpm tach here.
Love that big “third eye”.
And that long straight exhaust. I really should have gone in and asked him more about it…now its bark will have to live in my imagination. That won’t be hard. BrBrBrBruppprrraaaapppppp.….
Update: This same owner has another A Speedster, which I showcased here (mainly just pictures). I got a video of him taking off, which gives some indication of how quick these cars are.