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 it so popular? How does the Ford FE engine work?

The Ford FE engine was a V8 engine produced from 1958 - 1976. First appearing in the Edsel 361, it appeared in various Ford and Mercury full and midsized cars, trucks, buses, and boats over the next 18 years. The FE engine has a cast iron block with high reliability and longevity.

In the late 1950s, Ford Motor Company was at a crisis point. Their recent Y-block engine simply wasn’t meeting the demands of the American public, who wanted more potent engines to move them down the road. While GM and Dodge experimented with big-block V8s, Ford felt pressured to follow suit. The development of the Ford-Edsel engine, which they rushed into production, was offered in the fall of 1957. Over the years, the FE engine would make its way into almost every full-sized sedan and many F-series pickup trucks. It would also be an engine that NASCAR banned, and it would enjoy a rich drag racing history. So, what makes the Ford FE engine so loved?

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What is the History of the FE Engine?

The Ford FE engine was developed in 1957 to compete with the growing demand of a public who longed for more potent powerplants. The short-lived Y block simply could not cut the mustard and needed a new high-performance engine. Hence the FE block was born.

The Ford FE first appeared in the Edsel sedan in the fall of 1957 (as a 361 cubic-inch engine). Over the next eighteen years, Ford would offer the FE engine with 332, 352, 361, 406, 410, 427, and 428-ci displacements. In the mid-sixties, these durable Ford engines were used in trucks, buses, and marine applications. The Ford FE engine helped bring the Ford racing team back and was used with great success in drag car racing.

Most historians believe that the name FE refers to the Ford-Edsel engine due to the first sedan in which the motor appeared. Others feel that the FE meant Ford-Engine, or as a reference to the cast iron block used in its construction. (FE is the chemical symbol for iron on the periodic table).

The engine design was a Y-block due to the iron casting extending below the crankshaft centerline by about 3 ½ inches. The FE block’s added length allows the engine to contain larger components when enhancements are needed (like larger cylinder heads and hydraulic lifters). The intake manifolds were sizeable, helping to provide more torque and power than the former engines had offered. The engines were offered in 2V and 4V carbs.

The Ford FE engines were offered in many configurations, from 332 to 428, and came as a top oiler version or side oiler, depending on the year. The engines are known for a large cylinder head with a forged steel crankshaft, which aids compression and power.

The smallest displacement of the FE engines had only 332 cubic inches, which had a 4-inch bore and a 3.3-inch stroke and was used in late 50s Ford and Edsel vehicles. The engine did not last long as it quickly gave way to the 352.

The 352 was also a part of the early FE engines and found its way into Ford vehicles like the Thunderbird, Galaxie 500s, and Fairlane. It shared the bore width (4”) and stroke of 3.5 inches that had been a part of the 332. During its tenure, the 352 first appeared in the 1958 models as part of the Interceptor Base (2 bbl) and Interceptor Special V8s (4 bbl), and a year later, it became known under the Thunderbird tag. The displacements and performance numbers of the 352 varied over the next eight years, as the horsepower ratios ranged from 208 to 360.

The 361 Edsel appeared for only a couple of years in the Edsel, and when Ford discontinued the model, they tossed the engine out as well.

The Ford engineers took their 352, developed a higher-powered version, and produced a 390 ci, the most common FE engine. Over the next few years, the big three would become embroiled in a war. Each one began developing more powerful engines with higher compression ratios, valve clearances, and oversized cylinder heads. The race would include the 426 Hemi and the Chevy 409. Eventually, Ford developed the 427 V8, winning almost every race imaginable. The SOHC Cammer version was an engine that NASCAR banned (at Chrysler’s insistence) due to the 615 HP it produced. (It ran circles around everything else on the track). After their ban, the company offered its engine to drag racing with equal success.

The most common FE engine was the 6.4L 390. The bore was slightly larger than the 332 or 352, but barely. The Fe series engines were the standard engine in full-sized passenger cars (Thunderbird, Fairlane, and most mid-sized Ford truck models). In addition, it appeared in the Mustang and most Mercury vehicles like the Comet, Cougar, and Cyclone GT. As most classic truck collectors know, the 360 and the 390 are virtually identical engines. The FE blocks had solid valve lifters, reinforced cylinder heads, exhaust headers,

Later versions of the 406, 410, and the powerful 427 varied in horsepower production from 330 to 405 and were used throughout the sixties. The 406 had a larger bore diameter of 4.13 but shared the 3.785 stroke with the 390. The 410 was the opposite, sharing the bore width of the 390 (4.05) but increasing the stroke length to 3.98, also in the 427.

The most well-known of the FE engines was the 428 Cobra Jet. The 428 Cobra Jet was a modified high-performance version of the 428 used in racing circles and eventually found its way into the NHRA in 1968. It was built on the assembly line, placed in a Mustang Mach 1 and Mustang Cobra. It was produced with SOHC heads which increased its high rpm significantly. The CJ engine was also produced for the Torino and Mercury Cougar, Comet, and Cyclone. The Cobra Jet engine had an aluminum intake manifold and produced a respectable 335 HP and 440 lb/ft of torque, but many owners tweaked their engines for even more power.

Even though the FE engine has a reputation for performance, there were some issues. Bent rods, valve cover leaks, oil pan gasket failure, and intake manifold issues were common.

Many FE block engines guzzle gas, which costed consumers money. Ford moved on to the 385 engine family, which helped satisfy stricter regulations for fuel economy and emission standards. By the early eighties, the FE was considered an antiquated powerplant that only a few die-hard classic car owners loved to tinker with. The lack of available replacement parts also made the engine struggle to stay afloat.


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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