Flathead Faux Pas
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!