Once you begin to understand the workings of the FE-series big-blocks, it becomes easier to match the right components for mighty impressive performance. The beauty of the FE is its interchangability and simple dimensions throughout. All FE crankshafts have 2.7488-inch main and 2.4384-inch rod journals. This makes crank swapping a breeze. The only hangups are the externally balanced 410- and 428-ci engines that are unlike the rest of the FE engines, which are internally balanced. This means that if you intend to interchange components, you must balance your mill accordingly or face serious vibration problems later. The 428 Super Cobra Jet mandates further balancing considerations due to its add-on counterweight and heavier LeMans rods.
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There are two connecting-rod lengths for all FE engines: the long rod, which is 6.540 inches in length; and the short rod, which is 6.488 inches. And there are four stroke dimensions: 3.30, 3.50, 3.784, and 3.984 inches, resulting in four basic crankshaft types. When these strokes are combined with specific cylinder bore sizes, you come up with different displacements.
The shorter strokes, 3.30 and 3.50 inches, belong to the smaller FE bigblocks, the 332, 352, 360, and 361. The longer-stroke dimensions, 3.784 and 3.984 inches, belong to the 390-, 406-, 410-, 427-, and 428-ci engines. The 3.30-, 3.50-, and 3.784-inch engines rev high. The 3.984-inch stroke engines, the 410 and 428, don’t rev as high because they are limited by stroke. With stroke comes torque, however—lots of torque.
Piston types for the FE are certainly varied, depending upon engine type and transmission. Likewise, flywheels, harmonic balancers, and accessory drive pulleys are quite involved as well for the FE-series big-blocks.
The 385-series big-blocks, the 429 and 460, are much easier to understand and remember than the FE engines because just two displacements were offered. The 429 and 460 use the same length connecting rod—6.6035 inches. Displacement difference comes from the crankshaft only. All of the 385-series bigblocks are internally balanced, which means interchangeability is unlimited.
Whether it’s an RPM-happy short stroke or a torque-monster long stroke, knowing what crankshaft you have (or are looking for) is of critical importance. Identifying the many different cranks offered in classic Ford V-8 engines isn’t incredibly difficult, and all of the key features and casting information has been collected here.
These FE-series engines all employ a cast-iron crankshaft. The only real different is stroke. The 332 crankshaft has a 3.30-inch stroke. Three castings were made during the life of the 332. All are interchangeable. The 352 is more involved, but just as interchangeable. Fourteen variations of the 352 crank were produced. The 360-ci engine, available only in pickup trucks, used two crankshaft types during its 1968–1976 service life. The Edsel 361 was produced with two crankshaft types during its twoyear run. The 390, which arrived on the scene in 1961, employed 16 different crankshafts through 1976.
Forged Steel Crankshaft
If you are seeking a forged-steel crank for your 352/360/390/406/427 engine, you may opt for an FT crank from the 330HD, 361, or 391. These engines, like the 410 and 428, are externally balanced. This means proper balancing procedures must apply in your build. Where the steel crank suffers to a certain degree is weight, because there is considerable weight gain both in the crank and flywheel. The weight increase in the crank is due to larger counterweights. The FT crank also has a larger 1.750-inch front shaft versus 1.375 inches for the FE shaft. The trick here is to turn down the FT shaft or opt for the FT timing cover, harmonic balancer, and pulley.
With these engines, there is a variety of crankshafts encompassing two stroke lengths: 3.784 and 3.984 inches. The 406 and 427 employ the shorter 3.78-inch stroke also common to the 390. The 410 and 428 utilize the longest FE stroke of 3.98 inches. These two engines are externally balanced, unlike the 406 and 427, which are internally balanced.
Because the 385-series engine family is relatively small, crankshaft choices are few. All 429- and 460-ci engines were fitted with cast-iron crankshafts, with the exception being the Boss 429. All Boss 429 engines were fitted with forged steel cranks due to their NASCAR origins.
Ford Motorsport SVO
Ford Motorsport SVO has plenty for the 385-series 429/460-ci engines. Nothing is available for the FE-series engines.
The truth about FE connecting rods is that they are easier to understand than one might think. There are two lengths that I call “long” and “short” for the sake of simplicity. The FE long rod measures 6.540 inches in length from center to center and was used in the 332, 352, 360- and 361-ci Edsel engines. This rod was used with the shorter-stroke engines with 3.30- and 3.50-inch strokes. The only issue worthy of mention is the 352 highperformance rod, which was 6.540 inches long with a wider beam and larger bolts. The first 352 High Performance engines introduced in 1960 had 3/8-inch rod bolts, later upgraded to 13/32-inch midyear. Be mindful of this difference when you are scouting for rods.
FE short rods measured 6.488 inches long center to center and were common to the 390, 406, 410, 427, and 428 engines. This rod was used in 3.78- and 3.98-inch stroke FE engines. At a glance, it is impossible to tell a long rod from a short rod because the difference in length is just 0.052 inch. Not much larger than a spark plug gap! The short rod has a very involved history, which is detailed in the identification table to follow.
The first high-performance connecting rods for the FE were the C0AE-A and C1AE-A long rods mentioned earlier for the 352-ci High Performance V-8. The better rod is the C1AE-A rod with 13/32-inch rod bolts. The first high-performance short rod was the C1AE-E rod for the 390 High Performance engine introduced in 1961. This rod was also used in the 390 Police Interceptor engine in 1961–1962. Five different revised C1AE and C2AE rods were also used in the 390 and 406 High Performance engines. The late-1963 C2AE-D rod is the best rod because it employs 3/8-inch bolts.
The C5AE-B 427 LeMans rod is the first of the LeMans rods, equipped with 7/16-inch cap screws. This is the first of the cap-screw rods for the 427. The LeMans rod is a heavier rod by roughly 70 grams than the older 390/406 highperformance/ Police Interceptor rods. However, it is also much stronger. This rod was revised a number of times, netting new forging numbers each time. The LeMans rod was used later in the 1969–1970 428 Super Cobra Jet engine. However, the 428’s longer stroke made it necessary to use cap screws with shorter heads to clear the block. Keep this in mind whenever you’re swapping these rods from a 428 to a 427 or vice versa, because rod weight is less with this rod in the SCJ. And, because the 427 LeMans rod has more cap-screw head, weight is greater, and the head does not clear the 428’s block.
The rarest FE rod is the 1969–1970 NASCAR rod, which can only be used with the NASCAR crank. The NAS CAR rod and crank are married, due to the wider rod journals. These journals are 0.080-inch wider than the 427 High Performance, 428 Cobra Jet, and Super Cobra Jet. The NASCAR rods can be used with a standard 427/428 crank if the journals are machined-out 0.080 inch.
The 385-series big-blocks use a smaller inventory of connecting rods than the FE engines of yore. See the chart for a quick rundown on the 385-series rod line-up.
All FE big-blocks, with the exception being the 427, were originally equipped with cast aluminum pistons. All employed free-floating wrist pins retained with a clip on each side. The 427 was the only FE engine equipped with forged-aluminum pistons.
The 332- and 352-ci FE big-blocks had 4.00-inch bores with flat top pistons equipped with valve reliefs (so-called eyebrows) to clear the valve heads during overlap. Compression height on the 352 was 0.100-inch less than the 332 because of the 0.200-inch-longer stroke on the 352. Pistons are not interchangeable with these two engines.
The 360-, 361-, 390-, and 410-ci engines had larger 4.05-inch bores than the 332 and 352. Pistons are not interchangeable with any of these engines due to different compression heights and crankshaft counterweight clearance concerns. Like the 332 and 352, these engines had flat-top pistons with valve reliefs. In later years, Ford dished the pistons as necessary to reduce compression.
The 406 and 428 engines had a 4.13- inch bore with flat-top pistons. Where the two engines differ was the use of valve reliefs and dishing in the 428. The 406 was a true flat-top piston without valve reliefs.
The 427 is unique when it comes to pistons, due to its larger and distinctive 4.23-inch bore. Those first 427s had forged flat-top pistons. When the 19631⁄2 Galaxies and Marauders were making their debut, Ford upped the 427’s compression with domed pistons for the 8- barrel engines. Compression remained the same with the single 4-barrel 427s. Compression ratios went even higher later on in 1965 with revised high-dome pistons.
You will likely never encounter, much less need, a 330/361/391 FT piston in your engine building efforts. The FT piston is a full-skirt, four-ring design that has no performance purpose.
Flywheels, Flexplates and Balancers
It is important to understand the bolt-on components that round out the bottom end of any Ford big-block engine. Matching the right parts is critical since not all engines are balanced the same way. In the FE engine family, for example, the 332/352/360/361/390/406/427-ci engines are internally balanced. This means the crank is zero-balanced by the counterweights only, which means the flywheel/flexplate and harmonic balancer are balanced separately. Ideally, you balance the engine including the harmonic balancer and flywheel/flexplate for more uniform dynamic balancing.
The 410- and 428-ci engines are externally balanced. This means you have to add counterweighting at the flywheel/flexplate to achieve perfect dynamic balance. External balancing is necessary because there is no room within the FE block for the size counterweights necessary to balance the rod and piston mass in the 410 and 428. This means you counterweight that mass outside of the block at the flywheel.
Each type of FE engine mandates the use of a different type of flywheel, flexplate, and harmonic balancer. Because the 410 and 428 are externally balanced, you have to consider the necessary counterweighting that must be added at the flywheel/flexplate. This has already been thought out by Ford engineers. All you have to do is use the right combination of parts.
Whenever you are building a 410 or 428, or if you are using 330, 361, or 391 steel truck cranks, you have to go back to balancing school. The 410 and 428 are counterweighted at the flywheel. However, if you are using a 330, 361, or 391 truck crank, you are faced with counterweighting at the balancer as well.
Our best advice in any case is to blueprint the bottom end, dynamically balancing your FE engine from balancer to flywheel/flexplate. If you’re faced with the replacement of a flywheel or balancer replacement, always specify the correct unit for your application. Do not mix internal- and external-balance bottom-end engine parts. For example, don’t install a 428 flywheel on a 390 High Performance engine because the two engines are balanced differently. The only successful way to interchange internal and external balance parts is to dynamically balance the assembly completely before installation. Otherwise, you can count on serious vibration and engine failure.
Written by George Reid and Republished with Permission of CarTech Inc