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Ford Flathead V8

A bit of nostalgia for the week end...



The Toy

Finally the weather is warmer, the motorcycles are out, and the toys are coming out too.

The other day we were reflecting on what constitutes a toy at Strada. The car that usually spends its time in the garage under a cover.

Here is the summary:

Push rod V8 naturally aspirated, clutch pedal, 6 speed manual transmission, some form of positraction, well calibrated fast steering, robust brakes, sticky tires.

Lets get The Colonel involved in this conversation.

Q: Push rod V8...sounds archaic

A: Not at all push rod V8 with a Bow Tie, reasonable displacment, is not archaic at all. Its a reminder of a different time, and its a toy that awakens the emotions. The Chevy engine does the trick.

Q: Clutch pedal, why not paddle shifts.

A: No...a clutch pedal is de rigueur...its old school, it demands a level of concentration.

Q: You mean a 6 speed manual with a shifter...H pattern?

A: Precisely...with synchros that are need the synchro sound.

Q: slip, whatever...why not traction control?

A: Its a throwback to having both rear wheels engaged...(smile).

Q: Well calibrated steering?

A: A slightly heavy steering feel, well calibrated, good on center, and a fast steering ratio.

Q: Robust brakes...we can understand.

A: The brakes have to be strong, dramatically stronger than the engine, obvious discs all around.

Q: Sticky tires...what is that?

A: High performance tires with strong adhesion, that will wear out fast.

Q: What level of performance?

A: Up there to generate fun, enjoy.

Q: Colonel why is this toy sounding like a Z28?

A: Perhaps the folks that put together the Z28 have the same understanding of what a toy with a push rod V8 should be.

Q: Don't you have one of those?

A: Yes from a few decades back, push rod V8, clutch pedal, manual transmission, reasonably fast steering, acceptable brakes. Good thing you reminded me.




In Torque We Trust

The magical pushrod V8, manual transmission, clutch pedal set up...



Rear Wheel Drive V8 Sedan

Have you noticed the North American infatuation with rear wheel drive V8 sedans. Have you noticed that its almost an exception today to have an RWD V8, while at one time there were multitudes on North American roads.

What is it about RWD cars that captures the imagination. When you think about it, its simple, the front wheels steer, the rear wheels power, and all four stop the car. Yes...rear wheel drive cars were made popular in geographic areas with wide spaces, that easily accommodated bigger than smaller cars, and implied covering longer than shorter distances.

Agreed back in the day it was probably easier to design and engineer a rear wheel drive layout, than a front wheel drive, even if a drive shaft running the lenght of the car is cumbersome.

Yes...the V8 is (was) a North American preference for decades.

In 2013 what is it about RWD that captures the imagination? 

We all know that you cannot pack serious power in a FWD configuration, the torque steer becomes annoying, the back of the car is constantly telegraphing that its a litle light. The AWD configuration which is very popular in Canada, is a constatnt reminder of something more useful, practical than fun. Agreed you can pack serious power in an AWD configuration. 

Should we mention that FWD was for years associated to an econo box, and AWD was a 4x4 pick up, should we had diesels in the mix to truly make it interesting.

Anyone seeking a fast car that could/can accomodate adults to this day gravitates to a RWD configuration with a V8, and if you need to go faster the V8 is bigger or you had turbos. 

Somethings never change...

From back in the day, the inline 6 cylinder sedan with an automatic transmission (3 speed at best) is comparable to our current FWD V6 sedan.

From back in the day the cars with V8's always had a special allure, a distinctive sound, captured the imagination.  





Stinger 609

From Conley Precision...captivating details...miniature V8



Detroit V8 Iron

With the resurgence of pony cars from the Detroti 3, there is an immense pool of opinions expressed and exchanged on the various cars (you know the one's) with the V8's. 

Its usually to the effect that the cars are big, bulky, heavy, seem to prefer straightlines, while implying that there are other vehicles "out there" that do a better job of going from A to B. Obvious they are also fast, and can do burn outs.

Sounds like the same stories being recounted from over 40 years ago...or close.

Here is the deal....

For many individuals some older, and some younger there is an undeniable fascination, interest, captivation with a good ole' domestic V8 pumping out some power, coupled to a manual transmission with a clutch pedal, rear wheel drive, and a generally heavy feel. 

Are these cars every day drivers, not really...were they every day drivers 40 years ago...not really. 

Perhaps all the folks that have one, have understood that the cars provide a good level of old school performance, fun, and enjoyment for the money...the cars are a strong performance value proposition. 





Ignition Points

Do you remember ignition points? Dwell meters? Perhaps you have replaced points at one time in your automotive voyage. Possible too that you sort of know of points from a distance (reading about them).

Here's the thing...

When cars had ignition points, condensers, rotors, coils, distributor caps, and carbon core ignition wires (for radio suppression), obvious spark plugs. It was great fun resolving the variables.

During the days of ignition points spinning an engine to 6,500 RPM and a little higher was a feat in having everything work in unison the way it should. Easier said than actually doing it...easy to spin to 5,000 to additional 1,500 were a challenge.

How come?

> An engine..yes a V8 that would spin, and pull to 6,500 would have an aggressive camshaft, it would get on the cam at 3,000 and pull strong to 6,500.

> Such an engine would usually have a "little too much" carburetor at lower revolutions, timed to optimise the top end, have a distaste for dealing with traffic congestion (back then there was less congestion). The end result was usually fouled spark plugs.

> Depending on the condition of the points, for a few reason usually above 5,000 it could start to misfire (the ignition is not in the correct sequence). The point are worn, the points are floating. 

> Lets conclude that the rotor, distributor cap, spark plug wires, and coil are in good condition to deal with 6,500 RPM. 

What would happen...

> If for whatever reason (what do you think) you needed to wind up to 6,500 and the engine comes alive at 3,000 starts pulling, at around 5,000 it gets a little rough, at 5,500 its misfiring, you cannot get the last 1,000 revolutions which you would always need....the edge was always in the last 1,000.

> As you can imagine from 3,000 onward it was happening very quickly, like an explosion, thats when it would start to misfire you had a few seconds to diagnose the culprit or culprits, shift, and stay away from the misfire in the next gear. 

> No check engine lights, no OBDII plugs, it was your car, probably an engine you built, its all being processed in your head.

> If the points were floating, it would generate one symptom (ignition totally garbled). The solution was either a dual point system, or finding points with a stiffer spring that would not float.

> If it was a few spark plugs that were fouled, or the points worn, the sequence of events was "slower" . Pull the spark plugs, usually the front 2 on each bank would be more prone to fouling, check the rotor contact, the distributor cap contacts, and a few other variables.

Yes...spinning an engine that you were using as a daily driver to 6,500 required ongoing attention.

When transistors became popular, and enabled "capacitive discharge" ignition systems (MSD), and when distributors became "transistorized" eliminating ignition points it was much simpler, with less variables to deal with.

Care to share your story...leave a comment.

For my friend DR1665 this is a dwell meter













Power Back in the Day

The other day it struck me how far we have come, and how easy it is to make power with a V8 engine, compared to some years ago. At that time it was more work, and the engine became "temperamental" once it was modified to make power.

Back in the day....


  • One usually "discovered" an engine at a wrecking yard (if you were on a tight budget that's what you did).
  • You were seeking an engine that could be modified to generate approx 300 HP (back in the day it was a lot)
  • You usually had a car that would accept that engine when it was all done.
  • Or if your budget permitted you acquired a new vehicle with a high performance engine from the factory. 
  • Although building your own was more satisfying.


Some points....when you were done with the engine


  • If you were aggressive it would have "mechanical lifters".
  • You were "over carburated" at low revolutions, until it came alive at higher RPM.
  • The idle was lumpy, and perhaps it even had a tendency to get a little hot in traffic.
  • But when you throttled up that engine...worth all the aggravations.


The car....


  • Usually had drum brakes all around, and no power brakes or power steering.
  • Yes...brakes were marginal on a good day, and almost non existent on a bad day.
  • The classic "more power than the rest of the car can handle" applied.


It was all great fun, with unforgettable with power (what was understood as power back then) were endearing, demanding ongoing TLC, tuning, tinkering, were miserable at low revolutions, hated being stuck in traffic, had a tendency to over heat, would throw V belts on a strong run. 

But...when everything came together...what a joy, what a sense of satisfaction, what a feeling of accomplishment.

Today's cars are multiples better, multiples safer, they actually stop, but do they provide the same joy? The same satisfaction? What do you think?