MUSCLE CAR MANIA: Legends of the Ford*

We explore a few legendary Ford muscle-car engines and premium AMSOIL products to help protect them.

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Brad Nelson
by Brad Nelson
February 12, 2024

The muscle car is an American innovation as original and rebellious as rock and roll, and few things in this world are as satisfying as their unbridled power. The “there’s-no-replacement-for-displacement” era didn’t produce cars that excelled at hugging corners, braking fast or conserving fuel, but they satisfied the seemingly insatiable itch for power and speed – designed to outrun their rivals on wide, straight American roads. The beating heart of classic muscle cars were their large-bore V8 engines that were crammed into mid-sized two-door sedans. In this edition of “Muscle Car Mania,” we look under the hoods of a select few legendary Ford muscle-car engines.

Ford Flathead*

The Ford Flathead is what hot rodding was built on, laying the foundation for the performance-parts aftermarket we know today. When it arrived in 1932, it was the first mass-produced V8 on the market, measuring 221 cubic inches and producing only 65 horsepower. But its cast block was far more affordable than the boutique V8s other brands were producing, and a high-performance aftermarket sprang up to support it, including carbs, intakes, camshafts, headers and cylinder heads. Servicemen returning from WWII sought out the Flathead as they joined the burgeoning scene out of California. It wasn’t long before roadsters and land-speed racers were stuffing the design into their custom projects. By the third iteration (1949-1953), the engine had grown to 255 cubes and could produce 125 horsepower.

289 Small Block

From the high-performance K-code down to the 200-hp two-barrel versions, the 289 small block helped make the Mustang* famous. The 289 was available in 1968 and the pony car’s massive popularity gave the small-inch Windsor* an outsized purpose. The K-code Hi-Po* was available from 1963-1967. It featured beefier block hardware, a reciprocating assembly and a solid lifter valvetrain. Without a doubt, Carroll Shelby helped place this small block in the spotlight, where it powered Cobras,* G.T. 350s* and Trans-Am* racers to a variety of championships.

427 FE Medium Riser

The Ford 427 was bred for NASCAR,* became an instant drag-race success and powered Ford muscle cars of the mid-60s. It was a bored-out version of the 390 cubic inch FE V8 with a forged crankshaft, solid lifters and high-nickel-iron-alloy block. The first 427s were low risers; then the high risers appeared in 1964 in Thunderbolt* Fairlanes* and lightweight Galaxies.* “High-riser” intake manifolds were raised to allow the air-intake charge a straight path to the valves. The medium riser was introduced in 1965 to provide a lower profile that would fit under stock hoods like Galaxies, Fairlanes and Comets* and they retained much of the flow of the high risers, in part by using the same 2.195/1.733 valve package. The 427s were also equipped with a side-oiling system designed to fight against the g-forces of track racing and keep the 427 well-lubricated. Featuring a range of high-rise and mid-rise heads, and even an advanced single overhead cam version dubbed the “cammer,” racecar 427s could produce between 500 and 2,500 hp. That output helps explain the engine’s performance at Le Mans, where it propelled the famed GT40* to victory in 1966.

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428 Cobra Jet*

When the 428 Cobra *Jet debuted in 1968 it immediately turned heads. The 428 Cobra was a muscle car engine for the masses. Built from passenger-car components, it was affordable and boasted undeniable kick. It’s no wonder half of 1970 Mustangs used the engine. Cobra Jet-powered cars also established themselves as scrappy competitors in Stock and Super Stock drag racing – and maintained that status for over 40 years.

Boss 429*

When Ford sought to compete with the Chrysler* 426 Hemi* in the NASCAR Grand National Division, known today as the NASCAR Cup Series, it developed the Mustang Boss 429. Ford went on to dominate the season with 429-powered Torinos* and Cyclones,* claiming 30 victories out of 54 races. The engine featured aluminum cylinder heads with a semi-hemispherical combustion chamber dubbed the “crescent.” The Boss 429 engine came standard with a single Holley* 4-barrel carburetor rated at 735 cfm, mounted on an aluminum intake manifold. Rated at 375 horsepower, the Boss 429 held the highest factory horsepower rating for a Mustang until the 2000 Cobra R arrived with its 385-hp 5.4L four-valve. The engine was also practically invincible, consisting of a four-bolt main bearing block and extremely tough reciprocating assembly.

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Boss 302

The 1969–70 Boss 302 engine was developed for the 1969 Trans-Am race series. The engine married Cleveland* heads to a completely different block found in the 427. It featured four-bolt main bearings, screw-in freeze plugs, higher nickel content and cylinder heads using a canted-valve design. The original version was used in the 1969 and 1970 Boss 302 Mustangs and Cougar Eliminators.* The wide and large port heads with staggered valve placement gave the 302 high-power capabilities of 290 hp with 290 lb. ft. of torque. The engine wasn’t necessarily a killer street brawler, but on the track it could do 8,000 rpm all day. The Boss 302 Mustang turned into one of the most successful Ford muscle cars of all time with some 8,600 total Mustang units built.

Boss 351

The Boss 351 had just one year of production and no factory-supported race effort; yet it stands as perhaps the best small-block V8 performer of all time. It featured a four-bolt block, four-barrel Cleveland heads and 11:1 compression. Boss 351 Mustangs might be the fastest classic Mustangs, with car-critic tests of the day measuring high 13-second ¼-mile runs.

Protect Your Legend

If you’re lucky enough to have your foot on the accelerator of a legendary Ford V8, protection is a priority. Here’s a list of AMSOIL products to help keep your classic muscle car ripping far into the future.

AMSOIL Z-ROD® Synthetic Motor Oil

AMSOIL Z-ROD 100% Synthetic Motor Oil is engineered specifically for classic and high-performance vehicles to perform on the street and protect during storage. It features a high-zinc formulation that protects flat-tappet camshafts and critical engine components, along with a proprietary blend of rust and corrosion inhibitors for added protection during long-term storage. It’s available in 10W-30, 10W-40 and 20W-50 viscosities.

AMSOIL Break-In Oil

Freshly rebuilt engines should start off with AMSOIL Break-In Oil. It’s formulated with zinc and phosphorus anti-wear additives to protect critical components during the break-in period when engine wear rates are highest. It doesn’t contain friction modifiers to allow for quick and efficient piston-ring seating, an important aspect of the break-in process to ensure maximum power and engine longevity.

AMSOIL Assembly Lube

As they say, a great engine isn’t built in a day. Partially assembled engines can sit idle for weeks or months at a time. During this process, an engine-assembly lube must be applied that will cling to parts and provide wear protection, inhibit rust and help prevent deposit formation. AMSOIL Engine Assembly Lube handles all of the above.

AMSOIL Miracle Wash® Waterless Wash and Wax

AMSOIL Miracle Wash is a must-have for owners dedicated to keeping their vehicle’s appearance on par with its performance. Simply spray and wipe off to lift dirt away from the surface instantly. It leaves vehicles with a super-shiny finish that protects against dust, light dirt and harmful ultraviolet rays.

AMSOIL Gasoline Stabilizer

When it’s time to put her away at the end of the season, AMSOIL Gasoline Stabilizer is crucial to ensuring your ride is road-ready in spring. Gasoline can degrade in as few as 30 days. Treat your fuel tank prior to parking the vehicle for the winter to help prevent fuel degradation and poor engine performance when it’s time to fire it back up.

AMSOIL DOMINATOR® Octane Boost

Early V8 models were designed to use leaded gasoline. As a result, classic and collector autos often require the use of a lead substitute to preserve the components that were designed for the fuel of days gone by. AMSOIL DOMINATOR Octane Boost is excellent as a lead substitute in older vehicles. It increases octane up to four points, helping reduce engine knock and improving ignition while helping fuel burn more cleanly.

AMSOIL Engine Fogging Oil

Any engine facing storage or lengthy inactivity should be treated with a good dose of AMSOIL Engine Fogging Oil first. Giving the cylinders a shot of oil protects them from rust, corrosion and harmful dry starts when it comes time to fire up your classic car the following season.

*All trademarked names and images are the property of their respective owners and may be registered marks in some countries. No affiliation or endorsement claim, express or implied, is intended by their use. 

by Brad Nelson

AMSOIL Writer who also enjoys wilderness exploration, skiing and marketing for a local craft brewery.

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