Flat­head Faux Pas

New Zealand Classic Car - - Readers Writes Letters -

The ar­ti­cle in your Novem­ber is­sue, Ford Flatheads For­ever, is so full of er­rors and dis­tor­tions that my in­ner pedant has driven me to the key­board to try and cor­rect some of them. There is al­ready enough myth and folk­lore about th­ese old en­gines with­out Gor­don Camp­bell spread­ing more. Be­fore I get into that, com­par­ing a 1932 V8’s per­for­mance to a Chevrolet four, as the au­thor does, is about as valid as com­par­ing a pomegranate to a ba­nana. Chevrolet hadn’t made a four since 1929, and its 1932 mod­els were pow­ered by an over­head-valve in­line six rated at 60bhp [45kw], not far short of the Ford’s 65.

The 1932 V8s had forged crankshafts, not cast as stated. The in­no­va­tive cast steel cranks didn’t ar­rive un­til 1934. The state­ment — “From 1936 the Ford V8 had shell bear­ings …” needs clar­i­fi­ca­tion too, I feel. In fact shell bear­ings, of an un­usual fullfloat­ing type, were used in the big ends right from the start, and from 1936 shells were used in the mains too.

It is not true that, “The ex­haust ports were lo­cated on the in­ner side of each part of the en­gine val­ley …” The ports are ac­tu­ally on the out­side of each bank of cylin­ders. The valves are on the in­side of the vee, and the ex­haust ports from the two mid­dle cylin­ders on each bank are siamesed into one which passes through the wa­ter jacket be­tween those two cylin­ders to reach the out­side. The port from each of the end cylin­ders runs around the end, be­tween its cylin­der and the end of the block, so each bank has three ports on the out­side. The de­sign of the ex­haust ports has no af­fect on over-bor­ing the cylin­ders as stated. Be­cause the ports are un­usu­ally long there is a lot of very hot cast-iron sub­merged in the cool­ing wa­ter, and this is the main rea­son why flatheads take a lot of cool­ing. Through­out the life of the de­sign Ford made pe­ri­odic up­dates to help cool­ing such as in­creas­ing ra­di­a­tor sizes, mov­ing the wa­ter pumps (there are two) to the block from the heads and tak­ing steps to con­trol wa­ter dis­tri­bu­tion within the block.

Other fal­la­cies in the ar­ti­cle in­clude — “Flatheads run hot­ter than over­head valve en­gines any­way …” and, “there is no wa­ter jack­et­ing around the two rear ex­haust valves.”

What Fred Boggiss prob­a­bly means is that parts of the rear ex­haust ports have no wa­ter jack­et­ing around them so the port wall is also the outer wall of the block. It’s not un­usual to see the paint burned off th­ese ar­eas of a hard-worked flat­head block, so Fred’s tale of see­ing them glow red-hot rings true. The sug­ges­tion that this some­how causes over­heat­ing is an­other fal­lacy though. The heat given off by th­ese hot spots is lost to the sur­round­ing air, not the coolant, so it con­trib­utes noth­ing to en­gine over­heat­ing. But it does con­trib­ute a lot to over­heat­ing the feet of the driver and front seat pas­sen­ger, just cen­time­tres away on the other side of the floor­board. A lit­tle more time spent on re­search would have im­proved the ar­ti­cle a lot. Al­lan Wylie, Christchurch

Gor­don Camp­bell replies: Oh dear, I got that badly wrong! Un­for­tu­nately, I took Fred at his word and it didn’t oc­cur to me to un­der­take my nor­mal level of re­search. I did a rea­son­able amount, but it was more along the lines of changes to the Ford Flat­head over time, rather than check­ing Fred’s state­ments. I’m very dis­ap­pointed — next time I’ll take Al­lan’s ad­vice and spend more time on re­search!

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