How The Ford FE Engine Works (A Comprehensive Guide)

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The FE engine was a mainstay for Ford from 1958 - 76, appearing in countless cars and trucks. What makes the FE engine one of the best Ford made?

Ford produced the FE engine as a V8 powerhouse for its North American market from 1958 - 1976. The engine was used throughout the Ford and Mercury lineup and in industrial and marine applications. The FE engine has a cast iron block and heads, giving it high reliability and longevity.  

In the late-1950s, Ford’s recent Y-block engine was barely four years old, but it simply wasn’t meeting the demands of the American public. Consumers gravitated toward cars with larger engines with more power and performance and were willing to spend their hard-earned dollars to get them. Spurred by both GM and Chrysler introducing their revamped motors, Ford needed to stay competitive. The solution was a cast iron FE (Ford-Edsel) motor that was versatile enough to be adapted for various vehicles. Over the years, the FE engine would make its way into almost every Ford passenger vehicle along with truck, racing, industrial, commercial, and marine applications.

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What Is An FE Engine?

The Ford FE engine was based on a Y block design that had been in production for about four years. The heavy cast iron block provided excellent structure and rigidity for the new engine and ample space for bore and stroke increases. (Over the years, Ford did exactly that as different needs presented themselves, changing the displacements from 332, 352, 360, 361, 390, 406, 410, 427, and 428 cubic inches) A version of the FE engine used for trucks and heavy-duty applications, the FT, was offered in various displacements, including the 330 HD and MD, 359, 361, 389, and 391.

In addition, FE engines were developed in two basic versions: top oilers (meaning that the oil was sent to the top of the engine first) and side oilers (where the oil is directed to the lower part of the engine). During its run, the FE engines had many different head types, from low-riser to SOHC, various chamber sizes and styles, and different carburations, all affecting the performance and power output of the engines. 

The Early Years Of The FE V8

As the new V8 debuted in the fall of 1957, three FE motors were offered, the 332, 352 (Ford lineup), and the 361 (produced for Edsel). The early engines were offered for the 1958 model (although the first car to have any FE motor was a 1958 Edsel which sold in September 1957). 

The 332 was the smallest displacement producing between 240 hp (2 bbl) to 265 hp with a four bbl carburetor attached.  Ford Motor Company advertised these new engines as “Interceptor V8s” with new “Precision Fuel Induction.” The fuel-air mixture was “zoomed” (Ford’s words) through eight expressways from the carburetor to the chamber to provide better power, smoother performance, and increased fuel economy. The 332 V8 was the standard engine for the Fairlane 500 and was offered as an option for the station wagon and a few other vehicles.  

The 352 “Interceptor V8” produced 300 hp with a 4.0-inch bore and 3.5 stroke. The motor was an optional engine for almost the entire Ford lineup, from the Thunderbird, Fairlane, Fairlane 500,  Custom 300, and Ranchero. Cars equipped with the 352 could zip down the roadway (The 1960 Thunderbird 352 with Holley 4 bbl did 0- 60 in 8.4 seconds).

Ford would drop the “Interceptor” label for the engine soon afterward, replacing it with the “Thunderbird V8” and “Thunderbird Special V8” moniker. (Mercury referred to the engine as the “Marauder”). The 352 would become a bedrock for other displacements to follow, and it wasn’t long before Ford found itself offering many more options, such as the 390, 406, and the famous 427, within the first five years. 

The FE Engine Leads Ford Back Into Racing

The development and growth of the modern television industry provided a unique opportunity for car companies to advertise their vehicles and increase brand recognition. At the same time, racing organizations wanted more visibility among viewers in the early sixties. To exploit the newfound interest, Ford split its divisions into separate units to develop high-performance engines for entities like NASCAR and NHRA. Ford started with highly tuned offerings of the 352 and 390, but with heavy competition from both Chrysler and Dodge, it soon found that these displacements needed to be improved. In 1963, Ford developed the 427 V8 because the 7.0L was the maximum displacement allowed by racing organizations at the time. 

The 427 soon became the backbone of the Ford racing performance era, with a large bore of 4.232 inches (it kept the same stroke as the 390 - 3.785). Initially, the engine was designed as a top-oiler, but in 1965, the side-oiler version was produced with low, medium, and high-rise configurations. A 427 V8 side-oiler grabbed the top three places in the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. The 427 became Ford's racing division's “go-to” racing engine for much of the sixties. To compete, Ford had to offer the 427 in production vehicles, and in 1963, it made the engine an option across the Ford and Mercury lineup. 

Ford’s racing division continued to tinker with the 427 to find ways to produce more horsepower and performance. Spurred to compete directly with Chrysler 426 HEMI, Ford developed the upgraded 427 V8 SOHC for racing in 1964. When equipped with dual 4bb carbs, the single overhead cam engine was a monstrous beast that produced 657 hp and 575 lb-ft of torque. Even though Ford offered the engine for sale through its parts division, the modified engine was not offered in production models. The engine was so powerful that Chrsyler’s objections convinced NASCAR to ban the motor from competitive stock car racing. The 427 did find a home for drag racing, funny cars, and modified Mustangs for much of the late sixties.  

The Cobra Jet 428 Makes Noise

Due to the larger bore size of the 427, it was an expensive motor to build. Ford needed a solution to keep production costs does, so they combined previous iterations of the FE and gave it a 4.13 bore and a 3.98 stroke. Ford offered the redesigned 428 primarily in Galaxies and Thunderbirds in ‘66 - ‘67. 

The 428 Cobra Jet is the best-known of all FE engines. As a high-performance FE engine built on the production line, Ford offered a 'Super Cobra Jet' in its Mercury Cougar Cougar, Cyclone, and Ford Cobra. While the engine had some modifications, the standard hp remained unchanged from the previous 428 version. (Just to give you an idea, the 1969 Mustang with a Super Cobra Jet 428 ran the 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds).

The FE Didn’t Just Power Vehicles

By 1971, Ford discontinued the FE engine for its passenger car lineup but continued to offer the hefty cast iron engine like the 352M and the 390 in its pickup trucks. These motors, called “FT” engines, continued until 1976 (although U-haul made them until 1978). The truck engines do not get as much glory as the high-performance muscle cars of the sixties, but they were virtually indestructible, and many continue to run today.