Cars & Racing | 11 December 2015Ford Flatheads Share article facebook twitter google pinterest The Ford Flathead V8 engine is a classic favorite among car enthusiasts, as it was the first mass-produced ford engine. And boy, does it hold up! Some of the greatest vintage race cars made by Ford have a flathead under the hood. This post, excerpted from Martyn L. Schorr’s Ford Total Performance: Ford’s Legendary High-Performance Street and Race Car, features some of the most memorable flatheads in history. Flatheads Forever! Until the advent of modern OHV V-8 engines in 1949, Ford’s flathead V-8, introduced in 1932, was the enthusiast’s engine of choice. It still is for traditional old-school hot rodders and competitors in prewar-class road racing. As early as the 1930s, Ford was capitalizing on what would become known in the 1960s as “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” marketing. It all started with the 1932 Ford side-valve, flathead V-8, the first engine of its kind to be mass produced and available in popular-price vehicles. The 221-inch V-8 was rated at 65 horsepower at 3,400 rpm and, in 1933 and 1934, increased to 75 and 85 horsepower, respectively. A major win at the 1933 National Road Race in Elgin, Illinois, established Ford as a feared competitor in road racing. Savvy dealers wasted no time bragging about Ford’s win in local advertising. This drove customer traffic and V-8 model sales. Almost instantly, new V-8 Ford roadsters could be found, less mufflers and fenders, tearing up racetracks. One of the ten flathead-powered front-drive Miller-Ford Special open-wheel racers built for the 1935 Indy 500. Photo taken during practice, prior to paint and racing livery. Ford Motor Company While modified Model T and Model A Fords gave birth to hot rodding in the 1920s, it was the flathead V-8 that took it to the next level in the 1930s. Displacing 221 cubic inches and weighing just 585 pounds, the first V-8 was only 20 percent larger than the Model A four yet produced 62 percent more power. It didn’t take long for stripped-down Fords with modified V-8s to become the cars to beat at Southern California’s dry lakes. Racing engineer Henry Miller and partner Preston Tucker of Miller and Tucker Inc. had been trying for years to get Henry Ford’s son, Edsel, to commit to racing programs. They finally succeeded in the early 1930s when Edsel signed off on building a team for the 1935 Indy 500. Miller and Tucker built ten front-wheel-drive Miller-Ford Specials, powered by flatheads, for the race. They were the first front-drive, four-wheel, independent suspension cars seen at Indy. Unfortunately, it was not a successful venture; none of the cars finished. Years later, in 1948, Preston Tucker would develop and build the highly advanced and controversial Tucker 48 sedan. After World War II, hot-rodding, racing, and the speed equipment industry experienced incredible growth. As the dry lakes became less and less availablefor racing, the popularity of quarter-mile drags surged. It would not be until 1950 that the first organized track, Santa Ana Drag Strip, would open on a Southern California airfield. In 1951, Wally Parks, then editor of Hot Rod magazine and founder of the National Hot Rod Association, produced the first official NHRA race at the Los Angeles Fairgrounds in Pomona, California. The flathead also distinguished itself in NASCAR competition. Jim Roper, driving a Lincoln, won the first NASCAR race on June 19, 1949, at Charlotte Speedway. Over the Ford flathead’s more than two-decade life cycle, V-8 engine displacement grew from 221 to 255 cubic inches and 65 to 112 horsepower. Teenager Fran Hernandez with the flathead-powered ’32 Ford roadster that he built and raced at El Mirage in a photo taken in 1939. Years later, Fran would start his thirty-year career at Ford, most spent managing drag, Trans-Am, and NASCAR racing programs and the building of Boss 429 Mustangs. Photo Credit – Fran Hernandez Collection This is what a typical Southern California ’32 Ford hot rod looked like back in the day. This one was photographed in 1962 at fifth-mile drags in Virginia Beach, Virginia, running 79.53 miles per hour in the 14s. Owned by Joe Montgomery, its power came from a 100-horsepower, 292-inch flathead with a single carb. Bill Burke built the first “belly tank” race car in 1946, creating a new class now known as lakesters. He started with a $35 World War II surplus P-51 “drop tank,” added a dual-carb flathead, and competed at El Mirage. With the original long gone, Burke oversaw the building of this “tribute” using original surplus parts and Flathead. A beautifully detailed Ardun-Merc with four-carbs in a ’32 Ford rod. The Ardun conversion, originally produced by Zora and Yura Arkus-Duntov for truck applications, turns a flathead into a higher-revving, more powerful OHV engine with Hemi combustion chambers. Output is increased more than 60 percent over stock In 1937, Ford introduced a smaller, lighter version, displacing 136 cubic inches and rated at 60 horsepower. It had first been produced in Europe in 1935 for use in small British, French, and German Fords. In the late 1940s, Ford had a substantial contract to export garbage trucks to England, primarily for use in London. The problem was that the available flathead engines were grossly under powered for the job, which put the contract in jeopardy. They brought in Zora Arkus-Duntov, an engineer with racing experience, to consult on the project. Working with his brother, Yura, they conceived a sophisticated OHV conversion for the 239-cubic-inch V-8 that would solve the typical overheating and hill climbing problems associated with heavily loaded trucks. With overhead valves, they could extend the flathead’s usable rpm range and substantially increase horsepower and torque. Dubbed the Ardun (ARkus-DUNtov), the projected output was 160 horsepower at 3,600 rpm, peaking at 175 horsepower at 5,200 rpm. At 3,600 rpm, the flathead delivered only 100 horsepower. This increase in horsepower was just what Ford was looking for. In 1947, the Ardun Mechanical Corporation, with an office in Manhattan and the shop in Queens, was primarily working on high-security military programs. Being a racer, Arkus-Duntov welcomed the Ford engine program. While the brothers conceived the OHV conversion concept, credit for the final design of the cast Alcoa 355-T6, heat-treated Ardun heads with hemi combustion chambers goes to a staff engineer, George Kudasch. His next project was designing OHV heads for Ford’s V-8-60 used in midget race cars. After Ardun supplied a couple of hundred kits to Ford, the car maker decided they needed a larger displacement engine and opted to go with the 337-cubic-inch Lincoln in 1948. Since the extremely wide Ardun engine was too big to fit in passenger cars, the Ford project was over. There were a few hundred kits left in inventory; they ended up in hot rod and race shops and at Allard in England. Four years later, Arkus-Duntov went to work for General Motors, where he would later become internationally known and respected as the Godfather of the Corvette. Ford’s V-8-60 was embraced by dirt-track racers as well as builders of sports car specials. It was also very popular with imported sports car owners in search of alternative power plants for both road and track. There was no shortage of speed equipment for the small V-8, including OHV conversion kits. Legendary hot rodders and racers wasted little time developing speed equipment for the flathead. The list included cam-grinder Ed Iskenderian, aluminum intake manifold and head pioneer Vic Edelbrock, Ansen’s Lou Senter, Bell Auto’s Roy Richter, So-Cal Speed Shop’s Alex Xydias, and speed merchants Barney Navarro and Meyer Kong, among others. Racing venues increased thanks to George Wight and George Riley; Muroc Racing Association (MRA); Lou Baney, Russetta Timing Association (RTA); Bill Burke, Southern California Timing Association (SCTA); Art Benjamin, Valley Timing Association (VTA); and, of course, NHRA’s Wally Parks. Miles Collier, at the bottom of the hill and turning right in his flathead-powered Riley Ardent Alligator onto the main drag to win the 1949 Watkins Glen Grand Prix. He beat some of the most prestigious marques—Ferrari, Bugatti, Delahaye, Mercedes-Benz 540K—to win the second annual GP. Photo Credit – Revs Institute for Automotive Research Bill Burke, in addition to his involvement with SCTA and Bonneville Speed Week, is best known as the originator of the belly-tank race car, a mainstay of land speed record racing on the Salt Flats. Now known as lakesters, the cigar-like cars were originally built with bodies crafted from war surplus aircraft droptanks. Burke was the first to build one, using a $35 P-51 Mustang fuel tank and a flathead V-8. After one season racing at El Mirage in 1946, it was sold, never to be seen again. He built his next belly tanker in 1949, honored as “the World’s Fastest Hot Rod” in the August issue of Hot Rod. Collier turns right off the Watkins Glen main street and then left and up the Old Corning Hill. Photo Credit – Eric Davison Zora Arkus-Duntov racing his Ardun-Allard at Watkins Glen, 1949. He successfully raced Allards in Europe and appointed Allard to handle distribution of his Ardun OHV conversion kit for the flathead after the Ford contract was over. Photo Credit – Harold Lance An engine dynamometer cell at Edelbrock Equipment in 1950s, with the three-carb flathead used in Hernandez-Meeks ’32 Ford roadster. Bobby Meeks, left, was Vic Edelbrock’s top engine builder; Fran Hernandez, right, ran the machine shop from 1950 to 1956. Photo Credit – Fran Hernandez Collection To re-create Burke’s original race car, Geoff Hacker and Rick D’Louhy put together a team in Tampa, Florida, in 2008 headed by Ted Kempgens and Tom Bambard of Creative Motion Concepts. The mission was to use a period-correct surplus military drop tank and a vintage flathead. Ninety-year-old Bill Burke agreed to serve as project consultant to the team to ensure its authenticity. Burke’s participation was critical as period parts and techniques authentic to the original build would be used. It was completed in 2009 and Burke’s grandson drove it at Bonneville Speed Week, followed by a cross-country tour of shows and a six-month display at the NHRA Museum. It is currently at Sarasota, Florida’s Classic Car Museum. At the first SCTA-sanctioned Bonneville Speed Week in 1949, Dean Batchelor drove the Xydias and Batchelor So-Cal Speed Shop Special. It was powered by a single flathead V-8, running 193.54 miles per hour and setting an E/Streamliner record. Later driven by Bill Dailey, the streamliner averaged 208 miles per hour on the salt. Powerful and versatile, flatheads excelled in a wide variety of racing activities in the 1930s through 1950s. One of the last places you would have expected to see a winning flathead was at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix in 1949. Those were the early days of American road racing, a hobby/sport dominated by wealthy men driving rather sophisticated sports and touring cars. Frank Griswold won the first race in 1948 in a brand-new Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta. Many participants started racing as members of the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA), the premier road racing sanctioning organization founded by Miles and Sam Collier in 1933. At the outbreak of World War II, ARCA was dissolved and replaced by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) in 1944. Organized by Cameron Argetsinger, the father of Grand Prix (Formula One)racing in America, the length of the 1949 GP was doubled to 100 miles on a 6.6-mile course on public roads in and around the village of Watkins Glen. The starting grid in 1949 was a veritable who’s who of sports car racing and exotic marques. Briggs Cunningham entered three cars, one of which was a Ferrari V-12 166 Inter, a car seen racing in the United States only once before. There were a bunch of Bugattis, a Duesenberg J, George Weaver’s Maserati, James Melton’s Mercedes-Benz 540K, Dave Garroway’s SS-100, and a few hot-rodded, Ford-powered Anglo-American race cars. Briggs Cunningham was the odds-on favorite and, until the fourteenth lap, had a healthy lead on the field. The spoiler was the flathead-powered Ardent Alligator, a 1929 Riley Brooklands that was rebodied and repowered in 1939, owned and driven by Miles Collier. The modified Mercury V-8 was rated at 175 horsepower—more than three times the output of the Riley’s original 55-horsepower four. Miles Collier started in twelfth place and, by the thirteenth lap, had set a lap record at 5.39 minutes, lowering it again on the fourteenth lap by clocking a 5.24. And that was just for starters. He later freight-trained Cunningham’s Ferrari, winning the GP with an eight-second lead. Miles Collier’s hot-rodded No.39 Riley-Mercury Special embarrassed some of the most prestigious names in racing. It broke the previous year’s track record by nearly 7 miles per hour with an average speed of 75.38 miles per hour. The Ardent Alligator has a long racing heritage that continues today. Owners Joanne and Pete McManus of Thornton, Pennsylvania, compete in historic racing events. And it’s still powered by a flathead fitted with Edelbrock aluminum heads and three carburetors. Ford’s flathead lived on long after being replaced by the Y-block OHV V-8 in 1954. Today, you can buy new, much-improved aftermarket flathead blocks and heads as well as Ardun OHV conversions. There’s no end in sight for Henry’s first V-8. Ford Total Performance: Ford’s Legendary High-Performance Street and Race Cars Author: Martyn L. Schorr Foreword by: Lee Holman Follow Ford’s leap into the 1960s and the performance era–on the streets and on the track! In the early 1960s, Ford Motor Company underwent a dramatic change in corporate philosophy. Previously, under Ford’s young chairman, Henry Ford II (“the Deuce”) safety, not performance, was the goal. But by 1962, even the chairman realized his philosophy needed to change. Ford was nearly invisible to car-crazy baby boomers. Lee Iacocca convinced Ford that he needed to act decisively or risk losing the emerging youth market to the competition. Thus began Ford’s “Total Performance” program. Ford Total Performance is all about Ford’s prime racing era from 1961 through 1971. In addition to purpose-built race cars, it also covers production performance cars, specialty models, and unique concepts such as lightweight drag race cars. The book explores the 427 Fairlane Thunderbolt; Mercury Comet; unique V-8 Falcons that competed in the 1963 and 1964 Monte Carlo Rallies; Dick Brannan’s 427 A/FX drag car; Ford Indy 500 winning race cars; 427 Overhead Cam SOHC 427 engines as used in A/FX and fuel race cars; Boss 302 and 429 Mustangs for street, drag racing, and Trans-Am; and many more. The Ford-Ferrari war that led to the creation of the legendary GT40 Le Mans race cars isn’t forgotten. Featuring unpublished period photographs, plus photos and artwork from Ford designers, Ford Total Performance covers all of Ford’s classic race and street cars, including Cobras and Shelby Mustangs. It’s a must-have book for any fan of classic American performance cars! Buy from an Online Retailer US: UK: Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.