The Ford Motor Company had a plenty on its plate for the 1958 model year. First, there was the rollout of an entire new car division, the ambitious but unfortunate Edsel. Next, there were two distinct new big-block V8 engine families heading into production, the FE series and the MEL series. The FE (short for Ford-Edsel) went on to glory at Daytona, Le Mans, and elsewhere, while the MEL V8 (Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln) is largely forgotten today. But that doesn’t mean the MEL isn’t an interesting engine and worthy of a closer look.
Between 1958 and 1968, the MEL V8 was produced in four displacements: 383, 410, 430, and 462 cubic inches. All were built on the same basic architecture with 4.90-inch bore spacing, and they all shared the unusual design feature shown above. There were no combustion chambers in the cylinder head. Instead, the block deck was machined at a 10-degree angle, forming a wedge-shaped combustion space in the top of the cylinder bore. This unusual construction, engineered in part to provide manufacturing flexibility, was a Motor City fad of the late ’50s that was also found in the Chevrolet 348/409 V8 (read our feature on the 409 here) and Ford’s SD series large-displacement gasoline truck engines. While the MEL V8 resembles the big SD V8 in some aspects, it shares no major components with the SD, the FE, or any other FoMoCo engines—it’s a lone ranger. Applications for the MEL V8s break down as follows:
+ 383 CID: 4.30-in x 3.30-in bore and stroke, used by Mercury in 1958-60
+ 410 CID: 4.20-in x 3.70 bore and stroke, used in 1958 Edsel Corsair and Citation. Marketed as the E-475 V8 in accordance with its 475 lb-ft torque rating.
+ 430 CID: 4.30-in x 3.70-in bore and stroke, used in 1958-60 Mercury, 1959-60 Ford Thunderbird, and 1958-65 Lincoln.
+ 462 CID: 4.38-in x 3.83-in bore and stroke, used by Lincoln from 1966 to 1968, when it was replaced by the 460 CID V8 from the Ford 385 engine family and the MEL series was discontinued for good. The MEL and 385 engine families share 4.90-inch bore centers, suggesting that the 385 was designed to run on the MEL’s tooling.
As we’ve seen, Ford wasn’t afraid to try new things in this period. For example, check out the elaborate engine shroud with thermostatic air intake shown above left on an Edsel E-400 V8 (361 CID, FE series). While a press photo was released, it doesn’t seem the remarkably modern-looking engine cover ever made it into production. (We haven’t seen one, anyway.) However, we can see that the production Edsel engines (410 CID E-475, above right) did use thermostatic air control, ducting exhaust heat into the air cleaner housing.
Despite its multiple virtues, the MEL V8 never gained a foothold in the high-performance world. Its exploits in racing were few but noteworthy: Johnny Beauchamp’s 430-powered ’59 Thunderbird nearly won the 1959 Daytona 500 in the famous photo finish with Lee Petty, while the team of Rodney Singer and Karol Miller took Top Eliminator honors at the NHRA Nationals in Detroit in 1959 with their Lincoln-powered dragster.
Among production MEL V8s, the ultimate in looks and muscle might well be the 1958 Mercury Super Marauder, a special package with three two-barrel Holley carburetors and a fabulously styled cast-aluminum air cleaner assembly (below). With 400 hp at 5200 rpm and 480 lb-ft of torque at 3200 rpm, the 430 CID beast is easily among the most powerful engines offered by the Motor City in the ’50s.