Best Carburetors Ford 390

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The Ford FE 390 V8 is one of the favorites for rebuilds, but what about the carburetor? What are the best carburetors for the Ford 390?

While most of the attention on a rebuild gets centered on the motor, how your car pulls in air and mixes with fuel is just as essential. The choice of a carburetor can make the difference between running well or struggling to get down the road with no power. If the mix is fuel-heavy, the car’s plugs will fowl, and your garage fills with a gasoline smell.

The best Carburetors for the Ford FE Big Block 390 V8 are -

  • Holley 4160 390 CFM Square Bore 4-Barrel Vacuum
  • Edelbrock 1406 Performer 600 CFM Square Bore 4-Barrel Air
  • Refurbished Holley 600 CFM STREET WARRIOR
  • Holley 600 CFM BRAWLER
  • 1964 - 1966 Ford Autolite 4100 4 bbl
  • Quick Fuel 4 Bbl Carburetor

What's the best carb for the FE 390? Should you purchase a new unit or go for a rebuilt one? The last thing you want to buy is a unit that won’t fit or doesn’t have enough intake to produce the power you desire. No question rebuilding your existing carb is the cheapest solution, but it isn’t always the best way to go.

In this article, we will attempt to offer some choices for carburetors that work with the 390 engine. In addition, we will explore some history of the 390 and why Ford put such confidence in this durable motor.

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The History of the Ford FE 390 V8

In the 1960s, when muscle cars with giant engines were designed to go fast, Ford pushed all its chips into the center of the table with the FE Big Block 390. They manufactured the engine for use across multiple vehicles in the Ford and Mercury lineups through a joint partnership with fellow company Edsel (hence the name FE for Ford-Edsel). From 1961 through 1976, the engine had a solid following, powering everything from the Ford Fairlane, Mustang GT, Mercury Cougar, Comet, and even Ford’s Police Interceptor. The engine became so versatile that Ford sold it for use in buses, trucks, and even some marine applications.

For the most part, the motor was a bored-out version of the 352 (another FE venture), which Ford had used since 1958. Chevrolet had come out with the 409 V8 (which was even more significant than the 390 but didn’t have the output). Unfortunately, Americans fell in love with the Impala SS, and the engine became the choice of many hotrodders who converted their parents' old jalopies into drag-strip monsters.

The emergence of racing had a considerable impact on the desire Ford had to be able to compete. More and more Americans were clamoring for the sport of Nascar, with the very first Daytona 500 being held in 1959. (Lee Petty won a photo finish driving an Olds 88 with a 428 cubic in Big Block V8). Ford perceived that Americans wanted full-sized engines, not only in their family sedans but in their race cars. So, the engineers experimented with their most reliable engine to see if they could pull more power out of it.

Initially, the engine was used in family sedans and police interceptors in the early 60s. The engine continued through a few versions as engineers found more ways to increase the power. In the late 60s, the car would find its way into the Mustang GT, making it one of the fastest muscle cars on the road. The engine was discontinued for passenger car use in 1971 but continued to appear in pickup trucks until as late as 1976.

The 70s brought increasing pressure by both the government and consumers as they waited in long gas lines both973 and later in 79. The large cars with monstrously big V8 engines were easy targets because they tended to guzzle gasoline. The emergence of imports from Toyota and other companies continued to erode the car market, and after a while, the Big Block era was all but dead.

Are There Some Things to Know Before Choosing a Carberator?

Initially, most 390 engines were paired with an Autolite 4300  bbl carburetor. While plenty of aftermarket carbs are available for purchase, a couple of pieces of information are good to know before taking the plunge and choosing one.

Know Your CFM number

The size of your carburetor is based on the amount of air that flows through it in cubic feet per minute (CFM). The formula for calculating the maximum CFM your engine needs is -

CFM = Cubic Inches x RPM x Volumetric Efficiency ÷ 3456.

Most Ford forums and car enthusiasts recommend a carburetor that produces 600 - 650 CFM, depending on the engine application. If you want to car to scream down the track, then find a carb that produces more. (Although, anything above 750 probably won’t be worth the effort - except if you are replacing the carb on a truck).

Often the CFM number or list number is hand stamped on the carburetor. The number for Autolite/Motorcraft carbs is found outside the float bowl, behind the accelerator rod, and inside a circle. Holley has a list number hand stamped on the choke tower. The list number is usually four-six digits long.

Know the Flange Size

Because different companies make carburetors, you will need to know the flange size for your engine. If you choose the wrong flange style, you won’t be able to secure the carb to the intake manifold.

Know if you want a 2bbl or 4bbl

By inspecting the existing carburetor on the car, you should be able to determine how many barrels it has. A four-barrel carburetor will have four distinct chambers, two primary and two secondaries. The primary barrels work when the engine is idling or revving at low rpm, while the secondary barrels kick in to provide a different mix of air and fuel when there is a greater need for additional speed.

What Are the Best Carberators for the FE 390?

Here are some recommendations for the best carbs for the Ford FE 390 V8.

Holley Classic Carburetor 4160 600 CFM Universal Chromate

The 4160 was the gold standard for these Big FE engines. They were affordable and easy to use, and most carburetors are pre-tuned, so you can use them out of the box. The unit has a manual cable attachment and gold dichromate finish for an OEM look and is corrosion resistant. While most of the 4160s used by Ford were of the Autolite brand, Holley makes a quality carb that can be effectively used in place of the original. The fit is vehicle specific, so do your homework to ensure it fits before you purchase.

For more information, see Amazon's website.

Amazon rating - 4.5 out of 5 stars

Price $504.95

Pros

Good Substitute for Autolite

Universal fit for Big Block engines

Cons

Won't fit early 390 engines

Edelbrock 1406 Performer 600 CFM Square Bore 4-Barrel Air.

This reasonably priced carburetor fits the 6.4L Big Block V8 like the 1969 Ford LTD, 67 Thunderbird, and many other engines (67 Mustang with 328, among others). It has a square bore design with a brushed exterior with a shiny silver finish - (looks great on the install). In addition, this carb has an electronic choke, with a single feed fuel injet. The carburetor stays tuned once you have set it up and delivers quality performance. We like the ease of installation, a universal carb built for many 4bbl applications.

For more information, see the manufacturer’s website or Amazon.

Refurbished Holley 600 CFM STREET WARRIOR

This excellent refurbished carburetor was returned to the factory for some reason. The folks at Holley can’t sell it as new, even though it has been bolted to a car. They check them out and then offer them back to the public as refurbished. This particular carb fits 390s like the 64 Thunderbird, 64 - 68 Mustang, Fairlane and Police Interceptor. The carb can be used right out of the box with minimal tuning. The carb has an electric choke for more effortless startups, and the staff at Holley wet-flow tests it. Refurbished carbs are a good way of saving money if your rebuild is on a budget.

Amazon rating - 4.2 out of 5 stars

Price $342.95 on the website

Pros

One year warranty

Universal fit for most Big Block engines

Electric choke

It can be used right out of the box

Cons

Check the fit before ordering.

For more information, see the manufacturer’s website.

Holley 600 CFM BRAWLER Carburetor

This brand new carburetor works on Fairlanes, Cougars, and Mustangs equipped with 390. It has a single-line fuel connection, universal throttle levers to accommodate Ford A/T kick down, and mounting holes. The carb has secondary vacuums that increase the number of vehicles it can work with.

Amazon rating - 4.2 out of 5 stars

The price is $366.75 on the website.

Pros

1-year warranty

Universal fit for most Big Block engines

Electric choke

It can be used right out of the box

Cons

Check the fit before ordering.

For more information, see the manufacturer's website.

1964 - 1966 Ford Autolite 4100 4 bbl

Most of the original equipment on Ford Carburetors was of the Autolite brand. (Check with most Ford forums; the overwhelming favorite seems to be opting for a remanufactured Autolite 4100. This is probably the way to go if you are a purist and want as close to stock parts as possible. The unit puts out 600 CFM which is more than adequate for occasional street use. This unit has been completely reconditioned and should operate typically once tuned. It is also ethanol resistant, so running most ethanol gasoline through is okay. One of the things I like about these folks is that they run the carb through live engine testing to ensure that the calibrations are correct. Many enthusiasts mentioned it was a basic bolt-on and then plug and play.

Amazon rating - none

Price 540.75 on the website

Pros

Universal fit for most Big Block engines

It can be used right out of the box

Cons

Remanufactured

Core Deposit of $150

For more information, see the manufacturer's website.

Quick Fuel 4 Bbl Carburetor

This company began in 1998 with a group coming over from Holley. They are growing and building a reputation for making a quality carburetor. The unit is reasonably priced (low $400s) and has enough CFM to perform adequately for most applications on the street. (Many forum enthusiasts purchased the 600 CFM, figuring that if they wanted to upgrade to something more powerful later on, this gave them that option). This unit fits anything that has a Holley 4160 bolt pattern like a 1967 Ranchero.

Amazon rating - 4.2 out of 5

Price $405.75 on the website

Pros

Universal fit for most Big Block engines

It can be used right out of the box

Cons

None

For more information, see Amazon’s website.

What about Rebuilding the Carburetor I have?

There is great debate about whether it is better to rebuild the existing carburetor on your car or replace it with a brand new one. Any article about carbs wouldn’t be complete without addressing the issue. If your carb is cracked or so deteriorated that it cannot hold up to a good cleaning and new gaskets (warped), you need to purchase a new or rebuilt unit from a manufacturer.

However, with a few simple tools, some carb cleaner, and a carburetor kit that you can purchase from lots of vendors for less than 50 bucks, then take the old one off your car and give it a go. Many website videos can help you learn the ins and outs of carb repair, which are worth reviewing. Here is an excellent article on the intricacies of what’s involved in rebuilding your car’s basic 4bbl carburetor. Its found at fixmyride.com.

Our recommendation of suitable carburetor kits is from the folks at Summitt Racing. The website can help you with recommendations, and they offer a kit for almost any kind of carb that works with the 390 Ford FE V8. I love that you can input the exact make and model of your car and the engine size and get an exact match to the kit you need.

About THE AUTHOR

Matt Lane

Matt Lane

My name is Matt and I've been around cars all my life! I have owned and worked on many different classic vehicles, so I started this site to share my experiences. If you're new to classic cars, then this website is for you.

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