The FE engine family evolved from relatively primitive roots to world-beater status in its first few years of existence. Knowing whether you’ve just found a pedestrian 332-ci block or a rare 427-ci unit takes some special knowledge. Selecting and identifying the best possible block for your application is a critical step, and this chapter will clarify all you need to know.
Although the FE-series big-blocks have an identical external appearance in many respects, there are distinct differences in these engine blocks which are important to understand in any engine-building project. The first FE engine blocks used for the 332 and 352 in 1958 were designed to only use mechanical lifters and did not have the oil galleries necessary to feed hydraulic lifters. Mid-year 1958, Ford upgraded the new FE big-block engines to hydraulic lifters, which meant the addition of two oil galleries down the middle of the valley, which pressurized and lubricated the hydraulic lifters. The one exception was the 352 High Performance engine of 1960, which was equipped with mechanical lifters and not drilled for hydraulics.
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Another change to watch out for is the engine-mount bolt holes on pre-1965 FE blocks. Blocks before 1965 had twobolt engine mounts while those from 1965 and later have three-bolt engine mounts. This isn’t a problem if you plan on using a 1965+ in a pre-1965 vehicle. Problems abound when using a pre-1965 block in a post-1965 vehicle because some machining and drilling are required. If you find a block with four engine-mount attachment holes on each side, you’ve found an FT block for trucks.
Another important change addresses cylinder-head bolts beginning in 1961. From 1958–1960, all FE blocks were fitted with 47⁄32-inch-long cylinder-head bolts all around. Beginning in 1961, however, all FE blocks were fitted with 27⁄8-inch-long head bolts along the outside of the block and 419⁄32-inch-long bolts inboard. One other change to watch for is on late- 1963+ blocks where an additional bolt hole for the alternator was incorporated into the front of the block.
When searching for a block, bore size is your first clue regarding what you have found, in addition to the presence of oil passages, casting numbers, and date codes. The 332 and 352 had 4.00- inch bores. The larger-displacement Edsel 361 had the same 4.05-inch bore as the 390. Though it is highly unlikely that you will stumble upon an Edsel 361 block, be mindful of its 4.05-inch bores coupled with 332/352 characteristics when you’re looking for a 390 block.
The 390 block doesn’t differ much from the 332/352/361 blocks of 1958–1960. The 390 uses the same block as the 360 and 410. All share the same 4.05-inch bore, with displacement varying according to stroke. The only real difference here is the crankshaft. The 410 Mercury is a 428 crankshaft in a 390 block. The 360 for trucks is a 352 crank in a 390 block. Where this block varies at all is in the area of high-performance applications. The 1961–1965 390 Police Interceptor and High Performance blocks (C1AE-V, C2AE-BC, C2AE-BE, C2AE-BR, C2AE-BS, C3AE-KY, C3ME-B, C4AE-F, and C5AE-B) have heavier main-bearing caps and drilled oil passages for hydraulic lifters. The trick here is: Ford never drilled the oil passages from the main galleries to the twin lifter oil galleries, which means no oil pressure to these galleries. Hydraulic lifters cannot be used in this block. Another difference in the 390 Hi-Po block from 1961–1962 is additional ribbing between the main-bearing webs. Ford also added an oil-pressure relief valve to the block for added protection on the 390 Hi-Po.
The 406 block was a brute from the start because it reflected Ford’s desire to race and to win. As you might expect from a race block, the 406 was a heavier casting than the 332/ 352/361/390—thicker cylinder walls, a larger 4.13-inch bore, thicker webs, and main caps. Look for C2AE-J, C2AE-K, or C2AE-V. These upgrades are all products of the 390 High Performance engine and what was learned from racing with the 390. The 406 didn’t make it through 1962 without significant changes to the block, however.
Although we associate the crossbolted block design with the 427 that came later in 1963, cross bolted mains started with the 406. During severe duty conditions experienced at high RPM in NASCAR racing, Ford quickly learned that the main bearing cap bolts had a tendency to work loose, causing catastrophic engine failure. Cross-bolting number-2, -3, and -4 main bearing caps solved this problem and won Ford a few races. Identifying a 406 cross-bolt block is easy. Aside from the obvious, the date code, look for the 4.13-inch bores and cross-bolted main caps/bosses. The bottom line here is the bottom line. Because 406 cross-bolt blocks are extremely rare, expect to pay a very high price. Look for the C2AE-BD casting number.
Undoubtedly the most desirable Ford High Performance block going is the 427 because it shares nothing in common with the rest of the FE line-up. Its high-nickel content gives it extraordinary strength. Thicker decks handle horrific compression ratios. All 427s were cross-bolted. The huge 4.23-inch bores give the 427 block great potential for cubic inches. Install a 428 crank and you have a 454 ci. The only challenge here is proper balancing. The 427 can tolerate only one .030-inch overbore, and then it must be sleeved. If you find a standard block that has never been bored, expect to pay a lot.
Because Ford cast some 24 different 427 block casting numbers, which I became aware of while researching this book, learning what you have may be the greatest challenge. The earliest 427 blocks had the 390 High Performance oiling system. Ford soon learned that at high revs, the 427’s number-2, -3, -4, and -5 main bearings could sometimes become oil starved, resulting quickly in bearing failure or worse. Ford went back to the drawing board and cast an entirely new FE casting, called the Side Oiler block, early in 1965. The mains received a wealth of oil pressure thanks to additional oil galleries that fed the mains from the sides of the block—hence the name. When seeking a side-oiler, look for oil galleries along the left-hand rails and the following casting numbers: C5AE-D, C5AE-H, C6AE-B, C6AE-C, and C6AE-D. Believe it or not, there were three sideoiler blocks designed for hydraulic lifters: C8AE-A, C8AE-B, and C8AE-H. These are more obvious by their ribbed sides and oil gallery plugs.
Despite all of Ford’s hard efforts to improve the 427’s reliability, engine failure continued to plague racers. Ford solved the bottom-end oiling and rigidity issues with side oiling and cross-bolted mains. Still, another shortcoming remained, which was corrected in 1966. The 427 didn’t have enough material/metal around its cylinder bores, which resulted in wall failure at high revs.
Ford added iron in four corners around the cylinder walls, which made the 427 block virtually bulletproof—an even higher nickel content added to rigidity. Ford built 427s for uses outside of passenger cars and auto racing. And this is where you can latch on to a 427 block for less money, if you know what you’re looking for. Look for C5JE-D or C7JE-E, which were industrial engines. Still other casting numbers are C6JE-B and C7JE-A, which were marine blocks.
One of the easiest FE engines to find a block for is the 428. The casting numbers to look for are C6ME-A and C7ME-A, which are 428-4V and Police Interceptor blocks. The 428 Cobra Jets were C7ME-A and C. Not all of these blocks had casting numbers either. The quickest way to determine a 428 block’s identity is to look just inside the center freeze-plug opening on the side of the block. You see “428” cast inside of the block, confirmation of a 428 block find. None of the other FE blocks are cast this way. An “X” on the block indicates high-nickel content. A “CX” means an industrial 428. The C6ME-A block is the only 428 mechanical lifter block. You guessed it—no oil galleries for hydraulics. Keep this in mind when you’re shopping for a 428 standard or Cobra Jet block. Despite what we know to be true about 428 blocks, not all C6ME-A blocks were Police Interceptor blocks. Nor were all of them mechanical lifter blocks either. I have seen both with the C6ME-A casting number, which leads to confusion. The best advice is to use your eyes and look for the important details.
Key points to observe for highperformance 428 applications are heavier main-bearing webs, ribs, and caps. I have seen odd-ball 428 castings with 427 crossbolt bosses that weren’t machined for the bolts. I have also seen 428 blocks with one half of the block cast with cross-bolt bosses. The presence of cross-bolt bosses isn’t a problem, and it won’t adversely affect your buildup. Again, keep an eye out for the important details.
The 429/460 block is a hardy soul in standard form. Its heavy main webs and thick cylinder walls make it a very indestructible block. Finding a Cobra Jet block is the icing on the cake, since the standard block offers plenty. What’s more, the 429 and 460 are completely interchangeable engines with their 4.36- inch bores. The only difference is stroke. The quickest path to displacement is the stock 460 crank. Drop a 460 crank into the 429 block and you have a 460.
These blocks are easily identified by their casting numbers: C8VE, D0VE, and D1VE-A. Visual references are straightforward. All 1970 429 SCJ blocks had four-bolt mains. All 1971 and later 429 CJ and SCJ blocks had four-bolt mains. If your search doesn’t yield a good CJ/SCJ block, opt for a D7TE or D8TE truck block, which also has four-bolt mains. These are plentiful.
Ford’s hemi-head Boss 429, as one might expect, has a distinctive block which is specific to the Boss 429. The first clue is the “HP 429” marking in the casting on the front of the block. Because the Boss 429 was conceived for NASCAR racing, the block is a four-bolt-main design with high-nickel content. It is the strongest 385-series block there is.
Written by George Reid and Republished with Permission of CarTech Inc
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