Just think of the engine bays that have been occupied by the Ford FE: fastback Galaxies screaming to victory in fender-to-fender NASCAR competition, beating the Ferraris at the 24 hours of LeMans in the Ford GTs, the race boats powered by Holman & Moody engines, the '64 Fairlane Thunderbolts in drag racing, the Stroppe trucks that took Parnelli and others to victories in Baja, and of course the powerplant of the kick-ass Shelby Cobras. If you look at the vibrant history of the Ford FE motors over their long production period, even fans of other marques would have to admit this is an engine design with an unmatched pedigree in every form of motorsports. For the true Blue Oval guys, just hearing a 427 with open exhaust is a heart-starter.
Of all the vintage engines we're covering in this series, perhaps the 332-428 FE V-8s are the most modern, available, buildable, and today have the widest selection of vintage and contemporary rebuild and performance parts. "Speed costs money, how fast do you want to go?" was the old speed shop slogan, and you can build a normally-aspirated FE motor with 600 and-more horsepower running on pump. But the stroker kits and other modern components made for these engines today are pricey when you add them up. Fortunately, most of us are content to build a nice, reliable, tire-burning 300-400hp engine, and just tell everybody it has 500hp.
In addition to the ready supply of modern components, the FE also has an exclusivity factor for a street rod, since these engines are overwhelmingly utilized in Fords from 1958 through the '60s. You don't see a lot of FE engines in street rods, so here's your chance to get ahead of the next trend. There are probably less pre-'49 street rods powered by FE motors than, say, Studebaker V-8s. There won't be an "FE Corral" section at your next NSRA event, so you can put the hot in your rod with one and be cool at the same time.
If you can recall our story on the Y-blocks (September, 2008), that line of Ford V-8s was a worthy replacement for the old Flathead, but was limited in displacement potential for the increasingly bigger and heavier Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln lines. The FE design made its entrance in 1958 as a 332-cube powerplant, overlapping with the Y-blocks for several years. It is said that the FE designation stood for Ford/Edsel, and they were indeed used in both lines of cars. Of more interest to our readers, 1958 also introduced the 352 FE, which was much more suitable for performance applications, with the four-barrel version sporting over 10:1 compression and 300 hp, perfect to replace the old Lincoln V-8. The FE engine family retained the beefy bottom end with the same deep skirting of the lower block as its OHV Ford predecessors. This would come in handy over the following years as bigger and more powerful versions of the FE design were entered in the rarified heat of street, drag, and NASCAR competition.
There is a dizzying array of FE engine versions, and for the sake of the mainstream street rodders (guys without Blue Oval blood in their veins), we'll just touch on a few of the more memorable in Ford's long history in street performance and racing.
The Chevy-in-a-Ford trend...
The Chevy-in-a-Ford trend has been bucked in the last 10 years with great 5.0L motors, but if you really want to get some attention from Ford guys, the 352-428 Ford FE motors are the ticket for a traditional ride. What could be cooler than a 390 or 428 with Cobra valve covers in a flamed '40? These are buildable with new parts, and their torque is legendary.
Typical of '50s Ford candidates...
Typical of '50s Ford candidates ripe for an easy FE swap, Nolan Carter's '56 Ford hardtop has been running this 400hp 390 for ten years. Bored .030-inch over, 9.0:1 compression for pump gas, SVO cam, ported/polished heads with 428 valves, and a 625 Carter on an older Holley intake, it's backed by a reworked C6 trans and 9-inch Ford rear.
Bill Brumley's '63 has the...
Bill Brumley's '63 has the mutha of crate motors, a 510-incher using a Carroll Shelby aluminum 427 block and heads and collectible Ford 3x2 intake. It drives normally, but can do 11.80s with wide rear street tires.