Not long ago I made mention that I'd finally become the proud new owner of a pair of Ford Flathead V-8's; one a stock runner pried out of a '48 Ford sedan, the other an identical engine in need of some serious attention. Needless to say I'm pretty excited at the prospect of finally having a traditional-style hot rod with an actual traditional engine, but therein lies the rub--as much as I hate to admit it, I don't know a thing about 'em other than they're cool looking.

So, with this in mind I got my hands on as much educational material regarding Flatheads as I could and began to at least attempt to self-induce at least a rudimentary education. I also thought (actually hoped) there may be others who might be interested in sharing my attempt at a Flathead education. Here, above and beyond sharing some of the info I've gleaned over the last few weeks, I'll also share some of the goings on back at the shop regarding that runner I mentioned earlier--you didn't think I could just let it sit there without messing with it (whether I knew what I was doing or not) did you? Luckily the rebuildable core that I've got will in the near future receive a professional rebuild by Flathead experts Mike and Max Herman Jr. at H&H Flatheads, and that's where we'll get a real step-by-step look at what it takes to build a drivable yet stout Flathead V-8--so keep your eyes peeled for that story in a upcoming issue. Back to the issue at hand--I think a quick Flathead fathead's look at the origin of Ford's Flathead V-8 would be a good place to start.

In The Beginning
From what I gather, Henry Ford was sort of prodded into developing the V-8 by the success Chevrolet's six-cylinder-powered cars of the late `20s early '30s. To combat the disparity he began to look closely at the other V-8 engines on the market at the time to see if a V-8 for Ford would advantageous. After studying a bunch of different manufacturer's V-8 designs Henry deemed them too complicated and expensive to fit his business model. So, he decided to build his own version of the V-8. One that'd be lightweight, simple, low cost, and able to be mass produced just like Ford's other components. To this end Ford's V-8 was designed and constructed with the block cast as one single unit versus separate cylinder and crankcase castings as most competitor's versions. He also scrapped their overhead-valve designs as too complicated and expensive for him, as well. A simple side-valve design would do; in fact Henry often described his first V-8 as basically two fours mated together. Of course, there were a lot of needed upgrades over the four-cylinder design made during the V-8's development, like the addition of water pumps, an actual oil pump, and a fuel pump too.

Because of all this experimenting, and R&D was done as quickly as possible (to help overcome the six-cylinder Chevrolet's sales lead), there wasn't a lot of internal testing involved--in 1932 that task ended up falling upon the public, and it didn't take very long for the Flatheads initial shortfalls to become evident. First and foremost were their inherent overheating problems. This was actually due to the initial cooling design in which the water pumps pulled hot water rather than pushing cold. Oil consumption was another drawback in the earliest Flatheads, as well. But the new Ford V-8 created quite a buzz with the public, especially since it was introduced in the new design '32 Ford--a great advancement over the previous flagship Model A. But, even with the new Ford V-8, Chevy still led Ford in overall sales, at least up until 1935 anyway.

The Flathead Evolves
During the time the Flathead was in production (22 years) Ford made lots of changes to its original configuration. During its first 8 years ('32 to '39) the V-8 had a 3.0625 x 3.750 bore and stroke adding up to 221 ci and a horsepower rating starting at 65 hp in '32, 75 hp in '33, and 85 hp in '34 thru early '39. Late '36 saw the introduction of insert-style main bearings and in `37 the relocation of the dual water pumps from the heads to the front of the block. In late '39 the Mercury version was reconfigured with a 3.1875 bore (the stroke remained the same) which upped its displacement to a hair over 239 ci and bumped its horsepower to 95. During the course of this evolution the Flathead's compression rose from an initial 5.5:1 to 6.1:1, and in '39 received an upgrade from a 21 head stud to 24 head stud configuration as well. After the war the Flathead's 239ci remained but compression bumped up to 6.8:1 to take advantage of improved gasoline quality. The last few years of the Flathead (from '49 to '53) brought a redesign of the block, shedding the earlier integral bellhousing for a removable separate item, separate front of the head, mounted thermostat housings, and a better more accessible ignition system located in a redesigned front engine cover. From '49 to '53 the Mercury displacement was upped to 255 ci.