A lot has been written about the FE oiling system over the years. Many have suggested that the factory system is inherently flawed, and that major modifications are warranted. Having built numerous FE engines over the past 30 years, I disagree. The FE factory oiling-system strategy is essentially identical to that of most other Ford V-8s, and requires only modest detail work and attention to assembly in order to function perfectly well. Dramatic alterations are unnecessary in the vast majority of applications.
The FE engine uses a gerotorstyle oil pump. It’s mounted to the front left corner of the engine block inside the oil pan. The distributor drives the pump through a 1/4-inch hex-ended intermediate shaft. A pressure bypass spool valve is integral to the pump, and a selective spring controls maximum pressure. Some original pumps were aluminum, but the replacement pumps are cast iron. Replacement pumps are offered in standard volume and pressure. But several other options are available. You can choose from high volume designs with a deeper pump body, high-pressure designs with stiffer bypass springs, and high volume/high-pressure versions that combine the stiff bypass spring with the deeper pump body.
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The bypass spring serves as the effective limiter for peak oil pressure when the engine is cold or at high RPM. The cumulative area of all bearing and valvetrain clearances in the engine defines the pressure at any time below peak, such as at idle. FE engines are noted for having fairly low-idle oil pressure, and therefore a hot idle reading of 15 to 25 pounds is common with standard-volume pumps. A higher-volume pump generates higher-pressure readings at all points below peak and serves as something of a confidence booster, along with having value in higheroutput engines where clearances are intentionally larger. The oft-repeated adage of needing 10 pounds minimum pressure per thousand RPM is still valid. Some builders desire higher pressure values as a matter of personal preference; and those can be had with the high-volume pump configurations. Some have reported that a highvolume pump pulls the stock oil pan “dry.” Therefore, the drainback speed isn’t fast enough to adequately keep the oil pan filled and, as result, delivery is more of an issue than back speed. Ford specified that factory 428 CJ engines carry an extra quart of oil, so the 5-quart pan was the same depth and volume while actually holding 6 quarts. The combination of high RPM and the front sump can apparently cause problems in certain conditions, and the highvolume pump may well exacerbate these conditions. The solution seems simple though. If you want to run a high-volume pump in an otherwise stock-style application, add an extra quart of oil.
At Survival Motorsports, we tend to use a common Melling M57HV high-volume oil pump on the majority of engines. We disassemble them, detail the inlets and outlets by removing any obvious burrs or impediments to flow, check clearances, and inspect for free movement of pump components and the bypass valve upon reassembly. Pump rotor-to-cover clearances are critical, and they need to be level and around .001 to .003 inch at the most. If the clearance is larger, bleed off causes idle oil pressure to suffer. The edges of the gerotors need to be nearly sharp for greatest pump efficiency, so they may be deburred but should not be chamfered. On our personal race engines built at Survival Motorsports, we will use a standard-volume pump, trading off the small increase in power against the reduced oil pressure, but do not typically do this on a customer engine.
Precision Oil Pumps offers several blueprinted and safety-wired oilpump options if a ready-to-install “out of the box” package is desired. This company also offers an extrahigh- volume pump, which has merit in aluminum block and racing applications.
We commonly install oil pumps with high-quality fasteners and a bit of Loc-Tite. We safety wire the bolts for those applications that are going to see extended running and high vibration, such as road-race cars or off-road trucks. Ford pumps have a thin paper gasket between the block and the pump. We use a very small amount of sealer on the gasket.
The factory FE pump shaft is a simple piece of 1/4-inch hex stock that connects the distributor to the pump center rotor. A serrated washer is pressed onto the pump shaft to prevent it from coming upward and loose during distributor removal. Some FE truck engines use a larger 5/16-inch hex drive, but these drivers are not typically used for highperformanc engine builds.
The factory shafts had a reputation for twisting into a “barber pole” when debris jammed into the pump, causing an abrupt loss of oil pressure and subsequent engine failure. Often, pieces of valvestem seal or timing gear teeth were ingested into the oil pump on high-mileage engines, which caused the oil pump to jam and the engine to fail.
For longevity and reliability, we use an ARP heavy-duty pump driveshaft in all of our builds at Survival Motorsports. This upgrade isn’t absolutely necessary because shafts only fail when debris stops the pump, and debris should never be present in a performance engine, but it is inexpensive insurance. The heavyduty shafts have a large-diameter fullround center section with the drive hex formed at each end. Precision Oil Pumps offers shafts similar to the ARP parts, along with a 5/16-inch pump drive end option to match its specialty pump line.
Oil Pump Pickup Screens
The pump pickup is a matched item to your choice of oil pan. Most FE pump screens mount to the side of the pump with a pair of 5/16-inch fasteners. FE automotive oil pans are front-sump types, thus the pickup is pretty short and fairly vertical. Some trucks use a center/rear sump pan with a long pickup tube. Both work perfectly fine, but the long tubes take more time to prime during engine prelubing, causing a couple tense moments waiting for the gauge to move. Higher-end dragrace oil pans may also have a center sump design. The factory-style front sump is not well suited for maximum acceleration in which the oil is forced toward the rear of the engine. The center sump can be a challenge to fit into the car, though, often requiring cross-member and/or steering modification.
I do have a preference to the mesh-screen design as used by Moroso over the perforated metal seen in some others. Every OEM oil pump pickup I’ve ever seen used a mesh screen. The screen should be between 3/8 inch and 1/2 inch off the bottom of the oil pan. Factory screens use a folded sheetmetal strap to prevent the screen from bottoming out against the pan, which is a useful feature that most aftermarket performance screens do not have. Factory screens also have a provision to allow oil flow even when the screen becomes obstructed. Race parts do not include this feature, nor should they require it.
Use a very, very small amount of sealer on oil-pump screen gaskets to prevent any possibility of air leakage on the inlet side. This is very important because the inlet side of a pump is very sensitive to air leakage. Think of having a pinhole in a drinking straw. Also use red Loc-tite on the mounting fasteners. This makes removal more difficult, but you need the fasteners to be secure. They can be safety wired in high-vibration applications. The center-sump-style screens often have a support that mounts to a center main cap bolt as a way to eliminate vibration induced damage.
Oil Filter Mounts
The FE oil filter mounts to an aluminum casting, which is bolted to the front driver side of the engine block. The vast majority of these orient the filter in the vertical position. Some truck parts offer alternate filter positions for special needs. Within the common passenger-car mountings, there are a few variations to be aware of. Most physically function on any application, but some are tilted rearward slightly, allowing improved sway-bar clearance. The performance-style mounts have larger cavities for enhanced flow, but standard mounts can be modified results.
I modify the mounting gaskets for the filter mounts. The normal gasket has a pair of holes that match the block. You can take a handicraft knife and open up the holes to match the bean-shaped openings on the filter mount, which eliminates the chance for loose gasket material to impede oil flow. Precision Oil Pumps offers a billetstyle mount for those seeking that appearance. Also available are a variety of remote filter and cooler adapters for road-race applications.
Block Oiling Circuitry
With the oil pump and filter hardware defined, you can move on to the block itself. While hard to describe, a few minutes spent probing through passages with a piece of welding rod or coat hanger makes it easy to understand the oiling strategy on an FE block.
On a typical center-oiling-style FE, the oil leaves the pump at the block mounting surface. It makes an abrupt 90-degree turn and heads out toward the filter. The pump outlet is an oblong, roughly 1/2-inch-diameter opening, while most factory blocks have a straight 5/16- or 3/8-inch drilled hole for an inlet. Use a carbide burr on a die grinder to open that passage up to match the pump outlet. Then use a 60-grit cartridge roll (aka, “tootsie roll”) on the die grinder to blend and contour the turn, so it has a smooth transition.That same cartridge roll will be use at the filter mount openings to clean up any machining steps or burrs.
Oil routes from the side of the block and through the filter. It then returns into the block through a passage that is angled upward toward the passenger side, and then it lubes the front main and cam journal on its way through. This meets up with another passage just forward of the passenger-side lifter bank. This passage runs back and upward toward the driver side, intersecting the front-to-back center galley and ending with a plug right alongside the distributor hole.
The main center passage in turn carries oil to vertically drilled passages and feeds each cam bearing along the block. There are annular grooves around each cam bearing in order to carry oil to the vertical passages feeding the main bearings. The feeds to the main bearings are vertically in line with the respective cam journals and are often slightly offset from the feed holes in the main-bearing inserts. It is a common practice to use a die grinder with a small burr to blend the block feeds so that they match the bearings. If you choose to make this modification, remove only the smallest amount needed and go only a quarter inch into the opening because this is a known crack-prone area in non-cross-bolted blocks.
FE block galleys all end with plugs, either press-in or 1/4-inch NPT screw-in. I prefer the screw-in design and convert to screw-ins on press-in-type blocks if the casting is thick enough. When I cannot add screw-in plugs, I use epoxy as a plug sealant, and stake the press-in plug with a few light punch marks around its circumference.
The center galley also feeds the lifters, in most cases, through a pair of angled galleys found toward the rear of the block’s lifter valley. On the typical FE, the lifter galleys feed the lifters only, which is different than the common Ford engine. Factory solid-lifter engines had no oil to the lifters and relied on splash; the lifter feeds were undrilled. It used to be common practice for race-engine builders to block these feed passages on solid-lifter applications, but now the trend is to either leave them open or restrict them using a drilled set screw. The passages are easy to tap to 3/8-inch thread size. When they are restricted, I use a .060-inch drill, preferring to keep some oil flowing to the lifter bodies.
A pair of galleys (that run front to back) feed the lifters and have plugs at the rear of the block. The cam retainer plate bolt plugs the front of the passenger-side galley, while the driver side has a plug that hides behind the distributor hole.
On FE engines, the rocker-arm system feeds lubricant through a series of convoluted passages. They start with passages leading from the number-2 and -4 cam bearings upward to the cylinder-head deck. Once there, they go to an opening in the head, around a head bolt, and up to a feed hole alongside one of the center rocker mounting bolts. On factory installations, the rocker bolt in that position has a reduced shank diameter to improve oil flow. Oil travels around that bolt, through the pedestal, into the rocker shaft, and then out to each rocker arm.
Side-oiler 427 engines are different. The upward-angled passage coming out of the filter first intersects a front-to-back passage that runs alongside the block on the driver side. This serves as the primary feed for oiling to the crankshaft, and therefore feeds the mains and rods before any other parts. This routing strategy is also found in new race engines and is called “priority oiling.” These blocks generally do not support hydraulic lifters, and lack the annular oil grooves behind the cam bearings. They require a special cam- bearing set with extra passages, and a camshaft with grooves in the number-2 and -4 bearing journals in order to supply oil to the rocker arms.
There are a couple variations on the above themes. Some lateproduction 427 engines, as well as many service blocks and most aftermarket blocks, have a side-oiler mainfeed design along with hydraulic lifter capability. You may also find marine engines, which are visually cast as side oilers, but these have a centeroiling strategy. Often, these engines have a portion of the side-oiling galley casting machined off for mounting clearance, and can be identified by the brass core plugs—as opposed to the common steel versions.
Pressure bypass systems are found at the rear end of many sideoiler or center-oiler blocks. Consisting of a spring and a spool valve, these are used to regulate peak oil pressure and require an extremely high-pressure bypass spring in the oil pump to be effective. It has become common practice to disable these valves with steel shims or tubing and rely on the “normal” oil-pumpmounted bypass valves.
Restricting the oil supply to the rocker arms is a very popular modification. It’s not a mandatory upgrade when using stock-style rockers, but a useful move on roller-bearing-style rockers, such as the Erson parts, which require far less lubrication. The restriction can be made either at the cylinder-head deck, or at the rocker mounting pedestal. A .060- inch-diameter feed provides plenty of oil for most applications. On factory heads, a common Holley carburetor jet drops right into the feed and works well. On Edelbrock heads, you need to fabricate a restrictor from a piece of tubing or rod. Restricting the rocker feed usually adds a few pounds of idle oil pressure.
Valvetrain drainback tins sandwich between the rocker pedestals and the cylinder heads, and come in a couple of styles. The earlier parts have long, finger-shaped drains that extend into the openings in the intake just inside the valve covers. The more common tins have shorter fingers that serve the same purpose. The tins are not compatible with many aftermarket rocker systems. Some intakes also do not permit the use of the drain tins. The only other drainback concern lies with the front and rear corner drains in the heads. These drain oil around the corner head bolts. Earlier Edelbrock heads had very small drilled openings that were not in line with the openings in certain intake manifolds and gaskets, and therefore prevented proper drainback. This has been corrected in later heads, but should still be checked on assembly.
Factory high-performance FE engines used a stamped-steel windage tray with a series of louvers for oil drainback. These are sandwiched between the oil pan and the engine block using two oil pan gaskets. Aftermarket windage trays are available from a number of suppliers and are either the louver-style or a screen-mesh design. In dyno testing, I have never seen any horsepower from a windage tray on an FE. The improvements in oil control under acceleration are more important in any case, which makes a windage tray a good investment. When installing a windage tray, it’s important to check for crankshaft and connecting rod clearance, especially when using a stroker crank. Also be sure to test fit the dipstick; sometimes the tray needs to be trimmed for clearance so that the stick does not bend back up into the crankshaft when inserted.
The oil-pan mounting flange on an FE engine is flat all around, and the gasket is a single piece of cork or rubber composite without the separate molded rubber ends found in other engines. FE oil pans are available in numerous configurations. Most factory automotive pans have a front sump with a shallow rear section which has a couple indentations where the tie rods swing close to the engine. Some truck pans as well as specialized race pans have a center or rear sump.
In a wet-sump system, a very deep fabricated pan provided the only dyno-proven horsepower improvement I’ve documented, and this pan would be impractical in any application. The horsepower improvement was very modest. In any race or street vehicle oil control is realistically the main factor of concern.
Dry-sump pans use a series of suction sections on a remote pump to effectively vacuum oil out from below the engine. There should be a measurable power advantage to this expensive design package, which is commonly employed on professional-level road-race and drag-race applications. Although I have not had the opportunity to personally dyno test a dry-sump FE, the simple fact that every Pro Stock and NASCAR team employs the drysump design speaks volumes about its effectiveness.
Written by Barry Robotnik and Republished with Permission of CarTech Inc