Quick, make a mental list of famous Ford V-8s. The flathead’s a no-brainer, and so are the side-oiler 427 and Cammer. Then there’s the Cleveland, FE big-blocks, Boss 302…. The list goes on. But we’ll guess only the most die-hard Blue Oval fans pulled the Y-block out of their mental filing cabinets.

This is a shame. The Y-block marked a significant development in Ford’s history. It succeeded the flathead in 1954 with an industrial-strength block and a contemporary, overhead-valve design (as GM had already done with its postwar Caddy and Olds mills). Right out of the chute, it produced 130 hp from 239ci, besting the 125 hp from the 255-inch Merc flattie. It also had none of the flathead’s overheating problems. It powered the first Thunderbirds, was a terror on NASCAR tracks, and helped Ford beat Chevy in the 1957 new-car sales wars. It grew from 239 inches to 272, 292, and eventually 312 inches; and a 312 in supercharged trim produced over 300 horses.

Yet the Y-block barely made a ripple in the rodding community. Remember, in 1954, Chrysler’s Hemi was already grabbing attention on the strip and at the lakes, and Chevy was only a year away from altering the high-performance landscape with its 265-inch small-block. Even the Ford faithful soon had other motors to choose from, as the FE big-blocks first appeared in 1958. Compared to the 20-plus-year run of the venerable flathead, the Y-block enjoyed barely a decade of production before getting phased out in favor of the Windsor small-block in 1962.

So why should rodders care about this motor? Well, if you want something different than the Chevy small-blocks you see in every other car and you’re seeking a period motor for a Ford-based project, why not choose a Blue Oval mill from the Eisenhower-Kennedy era? Especially since it’s capable of making 300 horses. Its extra-stout construction makes it heavy, but it also allows an engine builder a lot of latitude in terms of boring the cylinders and running serious compression. (Ford engineers built it to withstand pressures up to 12:1, though stock engines never surpassed 9.7:1.) Dressing one in mid-’50s T-bird trim with dual-quads, or even an era-correct supercharger, would look pretty cool.

Plus, there’s the sound of the Y-block. “There’s nothing like it,” says Bob Carlisle of Bob’s F-100 Parts in Riverside, California. “It’s as distinctive as a Harley’s. It’s got that certain ‘la-la-la-la’ lope to it.” To prove his point, Carlisle took us out to one of his trucks—a ’59 4x4—and turned it over. He was right. The Y-block almost shuffles at idle, as if it could do anything you asked without breaking a sweat.

“These were tough, quick motors in their day,” Carlisle tells us. “[The Y-block] was one Chevy-eating SOB. Put 300 horses in a ’Bird and you couldn’t touch it.”

Bob Carlisle knows Y-blocks. They were used in Ford trucks longer than in the cars—up through 1964—and he’s built and rebuilt a ton of them. Carlisle was recently building a Y-block for one of his personal trucks, so we looked over his shoulder and soaked up as many Y-block building tips and tricks as we could. This engine has its quirks, and Carlisle showed us how to navigate around them to make power and help the engine live. The assembly wasn’t complete before we left, but his goal was to make 300 hp from a 9.1:1 compression motor that could run all day on premium pump gas.

One of the first things you can do to successfully build a Y-block is to gather the right parts. You might want to head straight for the big-cube 312, but that may not be the best choice, Carlisle tells us. For one thing, 312s are getting hard to find. “I must have 50 Y-blocks in house, and only about a dozen are 312s,” he says. The 292s are much more plentiful and can easily be machined to the 312’s 3.80-inch bore—or more. “I’ve seen blocks that have been rebuilt five or six times, and they wind up being bored 0.120 inches with no problems,” Carlisle says. Plus, neoprene main seals aren’t available for the 312 block, so builders must use the old-school rope main seal. There are neoprene seals for the 292, however.

Then there are the crankshaft issues. The 312’s crank had main journals that were 1/8-inch bigger in diameter than the previous 272 and 292 engines, but widening that radius removed just * enough metal to cause cracking problems between the main bearing bores and the main bolt holes. Ford’s original fix was to back off the main cap torque spec from its original 145 lb-ft to 95, which helped. Ford also changed the design of the main bolt, going from a 25/8-inch bolt with a lock washer to a 3-inch bolt with no washer. This extended the reach of the bolt into a meatier part of the block, and the cracking issues were solved.

Carlisle’s favorite Y-block combination is a 312 crank in a 292 block. That requires turning the mains down to fit the 292’s bearing supports, but the result is a stroker crank that can use the 312’s shorter rods but doesn’t have the 312’s block-cracking problems.

There’s another factor to consider: There are forged truck cranks available for the 292, but the 312s only had cast cranks, as they were never intended for truck duty. So if you’re thinking about forced induction or nitrous, you may want to opt for the steel 292 crank for extra beef in the bottom end.

As you’ll see from the photos, though, extra beef is not an issue with the Y-block. “Henry designed these engines to run forever,” says Carlisle. “They’re basically truck or tractor engines—built to last. Not like the throwaway engines that came later.”

SOURCE
Bob’s F-100 Parts
Riverside
CA