Going inside Ford’s first overhead valve V-8

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What is it about the Y-Block Ford engine that continues to get our attention?

Perhaps it’s that soft series of exhaust pulses and the gentle chatter of those shaft-mounted rocker arms thrashing out a beat in rhythm with its true flat-tappet cam. We’ve all heard the Y-block in some form or another since its introduction in 1954 as the 239ci in Fords and 256ci in Mercurys.

Ford’s Y-block V-8 really isn’t the company’s first overhead valve V-8. The larger displacement 317ci Lincoln Y-block was introduced in 1952 as a flathead replacement. What we like most about the Y-block and its larger cousin, the Lincoln Y-block, is its demeanor as a classic all-American V-8 engine. It is surely one of the best looking and sounding V-8s ever made in America.

John Mummert’s website (www.ford-y-block.com) is an incredible treasure trove of Ford Y-block information if you’re into vintage Ford V-8s. We can say with confidence no one knows more about Ford Y-blocks than Mummert, who has a lifetime of experience building these engines. We’re going to impart some of that wisdom to you here.

The Y-block is an interesting study because it incorporates nuances rarely seen anywhere else, like toadstool tappets you install through the bottom before cam installation and stacked intake ports that could be considered opposition to Chevrolet’s side-by-sides. It also utilizes a huge 16-pound cast iron timing cover and a precision-fit aluminum rear main seal cap. There’s an external oil pump and pipe style pick-up. Its flattop pistons are the size of trash cans, and if you know anything about the FE Series 332/352 big-blocks that arrived in 1958, you know the FE copped a number of Y-block design features, including its skirted Y-block persona and shaft-mounted rocker arms.

Because skirted blocks were heavier, Ford eliminated them when it conceived the 90-degree small-block and 385-series V-8s in the 1960s. Yet eliminating skirted blocks also meant sacrificing strength. Look at Ford today with its skirted block modular and Coyote overhead cam V-8s. Skirted blocks are back in style for their indestructible demeanor and smoothness, which is one reason why Y-blocks remain great desirable V-8s a half-century later.

Where the Y-block tends to fall short is power-making potential, though a few have been successful at it. Ted Eaton of Eaton Balancing has managed to get 540 horsepower and win the Engine Masters Challenge, but not without a lot of effort and raw talent. It was done with the new aluminum Y-block heads from John Mummert.