I can't really explain or justify my interest (some would say obsession) with old Ford Flathead speed equipment, especially multicarburetor intake manifolds. I guess it's insufficient to rationalize that I was speed equipment deprived as a teenager. Collecting aluminum is a recent phenomenon for me. Fourteen years ago, I wanted a high-rise Ford intake or two as a wall hanger. My first acquisition mushroomed into what's now more than 140 intakes, and there's no sign of stopping.

Mike Russell inadvertently started me down the never-ending road of aluminum hoarding. He had a superb collection of over 150 Flathead intakes. The first time I visited his Northern California garage and saw those manifolds mounted like so many silver trophies on his garage walls, I was hooked. I wanted to know more about the men who made them, why there were so many manufacturers, and why they were cast in so many different configurations. I wondered which ones worked well and which of them were flops.

I soon learned Russell was one of a small group of passionate Flathead manifold devotees. Floyd Hulegard, in the Pacific Northwest, owned an impressive early Ford intake hoard, as did Bill Ewing in Arizona. All three sold their collections. Serious Flathead manifold collectors, like Ron San Giovanni in Connecticut, Harry McAuliffe in Detroit, and Bob Whitehead in Arkansas, have been augmented by the irrepressible "Speedy Bill" Smith in Lincoln, Nebraska, and John Mumford, in South San Francisco. To better understand their obsession, you need to know more about Ford's fabulous Flathead.

Considering Henry Ford's many contributions to the automobile industry; arguably, the lightweight, affordable, powerful, and remarkably long-lived Flathead V-8 has to rank with the best. Stated simply, the elder Ford hated Chevrolet's inline-six. After considerable experimenting with cylinder configurations as varied as an inline-five (they couldn't balance it) and an X-shaped eight (which wouldn't cool), Ford's crack engineering team, led by Don Sullivan, Laurence Sheldrake, and Emil Zoerlein, developed a cast-iron, 221-cid V-8 engine, with a central camshaft, nonadjustable tappets driving inclined valves, and a pair of flat, detachable cylinder heads.

In the mid '30s, hot rodders still prized Ford's sturdy four-banger. Vic Edelbrock Sr., Tommy Thickstun, Eddie Meyer, and Phil Weiand recognized the Flathead V-8's potential, but there wasn't much aftermarket speed equipment available in the beginning. So it took a while before Ford's Flathead was able to assert its superiority.

When Harry Miller prepared a quintet of radical Flathead-powered front-drive race cars for the '35 Indianapolis 500 (only four qualified), they sported two different intakes. Don Sullivan created a clever 2x2 with the twin Stromberg 97s facing rearward; it was later sold in volume by Hexagon Tool Company in Detroit. The other was a slick four-carb setup that used a quartet of Winfield SRs.

Some of the earliest commercially available dual-intake manifolds were made by Robert Roof (in Anderson, Indiana) and Californians Wayne Morrison, Jack Henry, Eddie Edmunds, Thickstun, and Vic Edelbrock. Barney Navarro cast his first manifold just after the war. Before the conflict began, he machined high-rise intakes for Weiand. West Coast Flathead pioneers like Colonel Alexander (Colonel was his real name), Earl Evans, Jack Radke, Mal Ord, Al Sharp, and others offered intakes, as did Ed Almquist on the East Coast.

Morrison's now-rare "Duo-Dual" was a side-by-side unit with the carburetors mounted on two adjacent risers. So were the intake designs of Jack Davies and Alexander. They're highly prized today. Most early intakes used the high-rise configuration ostensibly so there was ample clearance for the generator. Thickstun's tall PM-7, Eddie Meyer's beautiful exhaust-heated unit, (he made a water-heated manifold too), and Vic Edelbrock's famed "Slingshot" designs soon proved popular. Low-rise intakes by many of the aforementioned makers, plus newcomers like Navarro, Burns, Schultz, Fenton, Offenhauser, Freiman, Clark, and Lightning, to name a few, soon appeared. Interestingly, while the low-rise style was thought to be more suitable for racing, later dyno tests showed that some high-rise manifolds actually provided a mild ram intake effect that was more efficient.

Navarro, Vic Edelbrock Sr., Iskenderian, Charles "Kong" Jackson, Weiand, the Spaulding brothers, Evans, and others dove right into the fledgling speed equipment business. And most of them concentrated on hop-up equipment for the popular Ford Flathead. Racing, at the dry lakes and later at Bonneville and the drags, was the crucible; if your car won, people flocked to you and bought your equipment.

As a collector of vintage Ford speed equipment, I once asked (the late) Navarro why there were so many different manifold, ignition, and camshaft designs. "Following a sheep won't give you success," he said wisely. "You have to go down a different path than the rest. When you do that, you've got to learn what the rest don't know."

When World War II ended, anticipating a career as a civilian, Navarro realized he knew more about machine work and hot rods than anything else. Before he was discharged from the Army Air Force, he designed his own dual manifold, loosely based on the stocker on his '42 Ford, a car he'd bought seven days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Barney's first 2x2, a low-rise affair with a "dog bone" shaped removable heat riser, resulted from an experience he'd had crossing the mountains in New Mexico in winter, using the tall, high-rise prewar Weiand manifold. Both carburetors had iced up and his car slowed to 35 mph, painfully strangling itself.

Navarro decided to improve on that design. "Remember," he told me, "the firing order on a Flathead alters from bank to bank, except for cylinders one and two, which fire sequentially. Every time it fires you have exhaust on one side or the other, so it (my design) kept the carburetors warm. For summer use, you simply took out the long center stud and replaced the dog bone with a little finned cover. Unfortunately for Navarro, it wasn't very popular (though it's a $750-plus collectors' item today if you're lucky enough to find one, especially if the original "dog bone" attachment is intact). "People thought an absolutely cold charge gave maximum horsepower; later I built a manifold with the heat riser underneath.

"In those days," Navarro said, "most equipment was sold by speed shops and very little was sold by mail order. It's the other way around now. In the '50s, Alex Xydias and Ray Brown sold my equipment, as did many others."

In his era, most competitors didn't do much theorizing in writing. Navarro, whose nickname was "The Professor," charitably opined that most of them didn't have the requisite educational background. "They really didn't understand the principles," he says. "Some of those early manifolds (the ones that we collectors cherish today) really didn't work."

Ford factory engineers understood how to maximize the Flatty's 180-degree firing order and effectively harness their engine's firing impulses. Navarro's first really successful manifolds were built on those principles rather than trying entirely new manifold configurations like many less successful rivals. He further improved the dual, and later, his triple intake's plenum chamber, to maximize mixture flow.

Navarro authored many articles in Hop Up, and later did the same in Hot Rod, always focusing on why things worked the way they did. In a story he wrote in March 1952, titled "How Many Pots?," he wrote: "If one more helps, a lot should do wonders," Navarro says. "This is the line of reasoning that is often applied to carburetion. After installing a basket of carburetors, the budding mechanic expects his car to leap like a jackrabbit when he punches the throttle. However, such a procedure often causes bitter disappointment rather than the fabulous performance that's expected. In fact, it is actually possible (and went on to explain why) to add so much carburetion to an engine that the car will slow down if the engine is floored under 35 mph in top gear..."

Soon several manufacturers, in addition to Navarro, offered three-carb intakes. Sharp's finned dual evolved into the snappy-looking "Triplet." Vic Edelbrock lost no time in marketing a competitive triple intake. Weiand, Offenhauser, Cyclone (who'd never made a dual), Evans, Fenton, and Edmunds followed suit. Andy Granatelli's dual manifold was an unabashed copy of the Edelbrock "Super", but his unique Grancor triple was never imitated. The center carburetor setup accommodated a four-bolt Rochester; the two end units were set up for three-bolt Stromberg 97s, permitting one large single carburetor for street use, and two flanking carbs for high-speed work.

A rare four-pot Schnell intake from the Pacific Northwest may have been the first commercial inline-four carb setup for a Flathead, when it appeared after Miller's Indy efforts, but very few were made. Californian Frank Baron was the first to sell a four-carb Flathead manifold, in volume, marketed under the Tattersfield brand. Before long, the leading speed equipment marketers of the era, like Edelbrock, Sharp, Fenton, Granatelli and Edmunds, all offered four-carburetor units. A few, now really rare four-carb manifolds were briefly sold by E&S, L&S, Lightning, Weiand, and Earl "Pappy" Evans.

By the mid '50s, as the Flathead's popularity began to fade, Navarro offered a four-barrel "Duo-Duplex" manifold for the '49-53 Ford and Mercury V-8s that used a then-contemporary '55 Thunderbird Holley Quadrajet carburetor and an oil bath air cleaner from an F-8 Ford truck. He claimed this setup, which he admired when Ray Crawford refined it for the winning Mexican road-race Lincolns, gave a 15-bhp increase, using the stock distributor. Soon afterward, Fenton, Offenhauser, Edmunds, Edelbrock, Sharp, and others sold four-barrel manifolds for the Flathead, principally to fit the '49-53 models.

Flathead devotees could order centrifugal superchargers from McCulloch and Italian-made Roots-type blowers from Italmecanicca, later S.Co.T (Supercharger Company of Turin (Torino)). I run one of these (with Eddie Meyer heads) on my '32 roadster. Perhaps a dozen Stephens-Frenzel centrifugal superchargers and special manifolds were sold. Good luck finding one. A few stalwarts adapted GMC 3-71s and 4-71s using S.Co.T, Navarro, or homemade manifolds. Those intakes (and the blowers) are highly collectable.

Navarro also offered a McCulloch supercharger kit to further enhance the four-barrel, and claimed a 5-psi boost was easily achievable. Unfortunately for the Flatheaders, Ford went to overhead valves in 1954, and Chevrolet followed in 1955 with a superior V-8 that quickly became a hot rodder's delight. By 1957, demand for Navarro's Flathead equipment had slackened. Successful survivors, like Edelbrock, Weiand, Offenhauser, and for a time, Edmunds, began casting intakes for the new overheads.

Many highly collectable Flathead intakes were simply scrapped in the '60s. Others were relegated to garage walls and storage bins. But by the early '80s, dedicated collectors had begun looking for these artifacts. In the '90s, intake manifold collecting began in earnest. Swap meets, garage sales and good ol' word-of-mouth were the sources. A few enterprising collectors hunted down the remaining pioneers to see if they'd saved anything from their manufacturing days.

A resurgence of interest in Flatheads coincided with the popularity of "retro" and "rat rodding." Traditionalists wanted to run Flatheads again, and vintage manifolds began to appear at swap meets as it became fashionable to use unusual intakes and heads. Not long after eBay began, manifold collectors realized the perpetual electronic swap meet was a terrific way to find new acquisitions. Rare manifolds began appearing on eBay, attracting spirited bidding.

Vintage intakes that once went begging in the $200 range quickly doubled. Really rare items went for $1,000 and more, as frenzied collectors bid wildly. Even homemade manifolds found buyers. Small "Y-type" accessory 2x2s, really "low-buck" $10-15 quick add-ons using a stock intake, also went for silly sums. A rare Dixie Western "Y" manifold sold for $600, and prosaic Almquist and Speed Gems "two-into-one" units have sold on eBay for lofty prices that would have bought conventional manifolds a few years earlier. A Y-intake by Bill Meyer (no relation to Eddie Meyer) of San Diego was offered two years ago at the L.A. Roadsters Show for a price in excess of $1,500! This year, Don Orosco offered a prewar water-heated early Edmunds intake for $2,500.

The increase in Flathead manifold demand has encouraged a few small manufacturers to reproduce classic styles. Orosco offers the once-popular Eddie Meyer exhaust-heated high-rise (so does Speedway), and a perfect repop of Ord's 2x2, as used by Doane Spencer. Orosco also created a staggered four-carb intake with the Meyer logo, based on an early design by Jack Ruel. H&H Flatheads sells nearly all of Navarro's classic intakes, including the "dog bone" freshly cast and neatly machined. They sell the blower manifold too.

Tony Baron has reproduced the Thickstun dual and Tattersfield four-carb. Vic Edelbrock Jr., continued to sell his company's triple manifold, and is now remarketing the classic "Super" dual as well as an improved Edelbrock four-barrel. Offenhauser duals and triples never went out of production; Don Ferguson cast a few Alexander manifolds; Jim DesJardins offered the handsome Harrell dual and he's selling Harrell triples; Kevin Preciado marketed the classy Cyclone triple.

You can buy brand-new Sharp dual manifolds again via mail order from Red's Headers. You can also get them through Sharp Speed & Power Equipment now owned and operated by Pat McGuire, who also owns Wilcap.

After extensive flow bench testing, Motor City Flathead's Mark Kirby is offering his improved version of a Thickstun-style high-rise. Ken Austin still sells copies of the unique 4x4 he designed in high school-both pairs of carburetors face one another.

My collection includes rarities like a Kelly Brothers dual, made in San Jose, along with intakes by Battersby, Ken-Rich, SAE, Ord, Nicson, and McGuire. I have a beautiful one-off 2x2 made by Owen Betry of Glendale. Apparently, Betry had a Ford garage, and he raced at the dry lakes. He proudly riveted his SCTA timing tag onto the manifold, and it's still there today. I also have an unused Fenton dual intake in its original box, along with the linkage, the generator mount, and instructions. And I have an Edmunds dual that was used in the '40s by noted lakes racer Jim Khougaz. Still covered with dry lakes dust, preserved the way it looked right after Khougaz removed it from his '32 roadster, it's a time warp.

Rare manifolds still turn up, mostly from collectors who acquired them years ago, kept them for decades, and only now have decided to sell.

It's getting harder and harder to find the rare ones, and prices keep escalating. My collection now covers several walls in my garage, and there are a dozen more to hang. My wife, Trish, insists that when I turn off the garage lights, they're breeding. "They were only hanging halfway across the back wall last time I looked," she says, not unkindly, "and now they're over on the other wall. They must be going at it in the dark." I assure her they're better than a 401(k), so she's taken to calling them her "aluminum annuity."

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