The flathead has a complicated exhaust system with the forward half of left side bank of cylinders sending exhausted gasses around the front of the engine to the right side exhaust manifold then leaving the rear of the vehicle through a single pipe. A performance upgrade would funnel the left side bank of cylinders exhaust out a second pipe for much improved flow. The common free flowing muffler would have minimal sound dampening qualities, but would add a classic rumble to the exhaust noise.
Street rods might have shortened exhaust pipes with covers that could be removed for increased performance in straight line speed racing. The covers are often located out of sight behind the front wheel and is called a lake plug. The pipes are called lake pipes and were/are common in both sanctioned and illegal racing events. Hot rod enthusiasts would increase the air flow by removing iron from the top of the block where the cylinder bore and the valves meet which is called “relieving”. The enlarged passages have been “ported” and then would be “polished” to smooth out the rough surface. The aftermarket suppliers could supply higher capacity intake manifolds and aluminum heads for another step up in power. The factory equipment cast iron head could also have material removed as a cheaper option than a new set of heads. The camshaft could also be upgraded when the heads are removed for the ultimate power boost, and might normally be done when a major reworking of the engine is required.
The flathead or side-valve engine could also be easily converted to an overhead valve style with a kit supplied from manufacturers such as Ardun and Zora Arkus-Duntov. The upgrade was most popular for trucks and vehicles with a need for lots of torque but eventually became the favored way for a power boost on the street racers. These head upgrade kits decrease overheating engine and also move the exhaust gasses out more efficiently.
The best part of the Ford flathead is the crankcase and block, complete with all eight cylinders, cast as one piece or “monoblock” which eliminates a serious flaw of the typical early automobile engine. Prior to the flathead, a V8 block could consist of any number of cast iron pieces with bore holes which would then be attached with a gasket to seal the joint. This design is flawed and a common cause of engine failure. Early car engines traditionally were called “in-line”, but long and narrow would be more accurate, with a large unused space between the engine and each fender. The brilliant V8 design has two banks of four pistons radiate out either side from the centrally positioned crankshaft. This makes the new smaller lighter “V” shape almost half as long, double the width plus producing more power while fully occupying the engine compartment. Ford was not the first plant to cast a monoblock, but is the first to mass produce a V8 engine. Once again Ford capitalizes on a revolutionary idea and is the first to turn out a high volume of a product in record time with minimal effort equating to a very pleasing bottom line for the world’s wealthiest family owed business. Ford Motor Corporation is one of the few businesses to survive the depression of the 1930’s unscathed and perhaps two of the reasons was the company’s shorter work week and profit sharing with employees. The Ford motor company had always paid its plant workers an industry leading high wage, which not only created happy workers, it produced workers with a large enough salary to buy the cars they made. An early Ford employee that deserves honorable mention, is “Cast Iron Charlie” or Charles E. Sorenson, who was the one to devise casting methods, handling practices and work flow to get the flathead on the production line.
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