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Old 05-30-2012, 10:57 PM
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Old Ford flatheads

I went to a vintage car race a few weeks ago, and I have a question about flathead Ford engines. Everyone there was running either flathead Ford or Mercury V8 engines.

I've been to a lot of hotrod meets & custom car shows, and the flathead Ford seems to be the engine of choice. From what I've seen, however, the engine seems to have stayed somewhat static. What I mean here is they look to be pretty much the same. What's the difference between a flathead Ford engine from the mid to late 30's, lets say, from one made in the early 50's? I'm assuming that they made some improvements over time, but I can't really see much difference in them.

Keep in mind that everything I see has been modified to some extent, but even looking at restored cars that were kept stock, it seems like the engines didn't change a whole lot.

Say for example, I got an engine from a '39 Ford coupe. What's the difference between that engine and one from a '48 pickup?

Is there one (or more) of these engines that is more desirable as far as parts availability, mods, and so on? What engine should I be looking for, if any?

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Old 05-31-2012, 06:27 AM
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flatheads

a few changes over the years, the blocks changed, the water outlet location on the heads changed, the 50's have a regular looking distributor pointg up at an angle. early engines have a bellhousing partly cast on the block, later ones used a seperate piece. because of the valves being in the center of the block the exhaust travels through the block, that's why they are known for having heating problems. the crankshaft only had 3 main bearings, the desirable engines are known as the French blocks, better alloys, have features of both types, made in france for a few years after US production stopped. expensive. hard to find. I had a friend that was partners in a drag race 27 T roadster, back in the 50's. Ardun overhead valves, Scott blower. they regualary had crank shaft problems. expensive parts didn't last very long. they ended up talking the local scrap iron dealer into being a sponsor, They could trade pound for pound scrap iron for any engines they could find in the scrap pile. they would clean up the blocks look the crank and bearings over then paint them red. They would make 3 or 4 runs then pull the block out and get a fresh one in.

Last edited by timothale; 05-31-2012 at 06:36 AM.
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Old 05-31-2012, 07:06 AM
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old cars

I was in Robets Idaho the other day and saw a lot of old cars, a few ford flatheads and even a caddy flathead, no prices, no parts for sale.
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Old 05-31-2012, 07:16 AM
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Hey Drop Tank. If you are interested in looking for a flathead the biggest concern is finding a good block. All flatheads are 239 cubic engines from 1941 (i think) until 1953 with the exception of the Mercury engines from 1949 to 1953. They had a 4 inch stroke which gave them 255 CI. I am running a 51 Merc motor. It does well. They are kind of like an old Harley. Not much HP but gobs of torque. As Timathale advised,the challenge has always been to keep them cool. Interesting enough, cooling them around town or in traffic is not the issue. Keeping them cool on the interstate at 75 mph can be difficult. There are several things that can be done to help. Run a good radiator shroud and fan. Keep RPMs down with tall gearing or overdrive. Make sure the timing is advanced as far as possible without engine pinging. As Timothale stated, the exhaust exits these blocks right through the water jackets and essentially turns them into a blast furnace. Keeping the combustion in the cylinder head is a must. One last thing to consider. These are expensive little motors to build. I could have built 3 SBC engines for what I have in mine. Labor was free though..... My wife built it.

John l
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Old 05-31-2012, 11:27 AM
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ford flatheads

1932 was 221 cui 65 hp flat top pistons 33-34 similar but domed pistons,32-34 21stud heads wated pumps in the heads1932-1942 221cui
1946 went to 3 3/16 bore 239.4 cui
new style with dist on rt head 1948 for light trucks 1949 to1953 cats and trucks,except canada which stayed flthead in 54
mercury was 239 in1939 and went to ind. rod brgs,ford cars stayed to full floating rods til 1946
1 exception was the v8 60 that was 136 cui 1937-40
mercs went to 256 in 49 to end of 53.
so they wher far from the same cliff
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Old 05-31-2012, 05:32 PM
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Ford Flatheads

Thanks for the help. I was unaware of the cooling problem. That's very good information.

What can you tell me about this engine (besides that it isn't a very macho color)? It's for sale locally. He wants $450, but it has a stuck piston. Whoever he bought it from left a spark plug out. He thinks it's a 1935, but it's been modified. It does have the partially cast bell housing at the rear, which would make it an early engine?

John - How'd you get your wife to build the engine? My wife won't even hang a picture on the wall because it involves a tool. If you need a tool to do it, it's my job!
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Old 05-31-2012, 05:54 PM
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My personal opinion is you don't want to buy a flathead you can not either hear run or pull apart and check. The machine work alone on my engine was 1200 dollars. By the time the engine was put together I ended up with somewhere around 3500 dollars. Bear in mind that is parts and machine work only. The engine was given to me. There are too many bad blocks out there to take pot luck on one.

John L
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Old 05-31-2012, 06:12 PM
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Old Ford Flatheads

That's good advice, John. Thank you. I was a little leery, anyway.

Wow! that's a lot of $ for an engine rebuild! The race I went to is basically a group of old racers. Some of them actually have old pre '50's dirt track racers, while others built them out of old parts.

It looks pretty fun, and not horribly expensive, relitively speaking. I need to find out more about it, but I think the object here is to only use stuff that was available in the late 40's early 50's.

Does anyone know what rodders did to these engines in those days? All I know is that you could shave the head a little to get higher compression, but with only three mains, what else could you do? I don't want to get too crazy (they only race for fun), so I don't want to overdo it and replace the engine every 3 or four races. Just a mild mod or two to keep it fun. What do you do to these?
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Old 05-31-2012, 06:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Drop Tank
Thanks for the help. I was unaware of the cooling problem. That's very good information.

What can you tell me about this engine (besides that it isn't a very macho color)? It's for sale locally. He wants $450, but it has a stuck piston. Whoever he bought it from left a spark plug out. He thinks it's a 1935, but it's been modified. It does have the partially cast bell housing at the rear, which would make it an early engine?

John - How'd you get your wife to build the engine? My wife won't even hang a picture on the wall because it involves a tool. If you need a tool to do it, it's my job!
the intake is 1932-33 as it is for a single barel carb, is it a 24 stud head bolts,if yes it is newer than34 looks like a miss match of years. you want a3 and 3/16 bore engine,parts ar cheaper and more avail.ther ar lots of good books on more power from flat heads with out breaking the bank.
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Old 05-31-2012, 08:45 PM
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Cliff is correct. You certainly don't have to spend that much. I got a little carried away. The point is flat head parts are roughly double what small block Chevy are. A set of aluminum heads is close to 500 dollars. An intake will run 300 up. put that with 1200 dollars for machine work and you have 2000 dollars without buying the first internal part. I used a new Crower cam, 1.60 in SS Chevy valves, adj lifters, .060 over pistons, port dividers, Machined a Chevy distributor, coated headers, Holly 390 carb. new water pumps,... Adds up fast. And for all that I get about 210 HP.

John L

PS There are some used parts around but they are high and many times not usable. For example most used aluminum heads have been milled so many times they are Junk.
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Old 05-31-2012, 09:42 PM
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I really appreciate your help.

There's a guy near me who has two engines & 3 transmissions. My guess is they are junk, but it a short drive, and he's selling the whole lot for $100, so I'll take a chance and go look.

From what I've read, it looks like I'd want to get an 8RT or an 8BA. Are there any identifiers of these engines? For example, Cliff mentioned 24 head bolts, and recommended not messing with the others.

For $100, if the engines & trannys are mainly intact, I just might go for it. I might get a part or two, and worst case I could probably get something for the lot of it at the scrapyard if they turned out to just be scrap metal.
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Old 05-31-2012, 09:58 PM
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Don't be to concerned about the designation. 8BA is a 49 ford but there are many different ones. 8CM is a 49 Merc, Same engine but has 4 inch stroke instead of 3 3/4. Generally any engine with the water outlets in the front of the head,24 studs and distributor on upper rh side will be '49-53. An engine with 24 studs, water outlet in the middle of head and distributor on the front will be 48 or older. Many have a Cast number on the top of the bell housing of 59AB. If you see that you will know it is a 239 ci version 1946-1948. There are exceptions and others may post some but generally the above will get you by. If you do buy something we may be able to narrow it down more by width of belts, type of water pumps etc. ... Good Luck

John L
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Old 06-01-2012, 08:29 AM
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"Lil deuce Coupe"

The beach boys song Little Deuce Coupe. "ported and releived" My brother had a fast 40 ford coupe in the 50's, merc engine, HC ignition , aluminum heads, 3 2's, Lincoln gears, Releiving is grinding a path in the top of the block for better air flow, also they pounded copper pennies in the heat crosover and it gave an distinctive Flathead exhaust sound.
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Old 06-01-2012, 08:34 AM
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ignition short

In the 90's we had 2 old ford pickups with merc flatheads, My son was having ignition problems on his. An old timer said the check the wire in the distributor. It is a very flexible wire, with hair sized strands and after all those years the insulation deteriated and was intermetenly shorting out.
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Old 06-01-2012, 09:07 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by timothale
The beach boys song Little Deuce Coupe. "ported and releived" My brother had a fast 40 ford coupe in the 50's, merc engine, HC ignition , aluminum heads, 3 2's, Lincoln gears, Releiving is grinding a path in the top of the block for better air flow, also they pounded copper pennies in the heat crosover and it gave an distinctive Flathead exhaust sound.
Interesting you brought the penny trick up. I have been wishing I had done that. Since I painted and installed the hood I have begun to have problems with carburetor vaporizing. Just received 1/2 inch carb insulator from speedway yesterday. Hope it helps. I also notice now the car runs much stronger when it is cooler. It may help that some too. I could just take the hood back off Huh.

John L

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