Like the big-block Chevy and the Cleveland Ford, two more American V8s of the ’60s, the 385 employed a canted-valve cylinder head layout, with the intake and exhaust valves inclined 4-5 degrees and splayed 9 degrees. The 385 was produced in two displacements: a 429 cubic-inch version (4.36-in bore x 3.59-in stroke) for the ’68 Thunderbird and a 460 cubic-inch unit of 4.36-in x 3.85-in bore and stroke for Lincoln. (Reportedly, the 385 name is taken from the stroke of the 460 version.) A racing engine based on the 385 architecture was also under development, and when Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudsen left General Motors to become president at Ford in March of 1968, he threw his enthusiastic support behind the project.
Another distinctive Boss feature: There are no head gaskets as such. Instead, a receiver groove was machined around the circumference of each cylinder (above) to accept a Cooper ring (aka WIlls ring) These rings were manufactured from hollow metal tube around .093-.096 inches in diameter, which collapsed around .016 inches when the head bolts were torqued down, sealing the cylinder and leaving a .010-in air gap between the head and the block. The sealing rings were earlier used on some British racing engines in the ’50s, and Ford tried variations of the setup on the DOHC Indy and Le Mans 427 engines before they were used on the Boss. To seal the oil and coolant passages, receivers were also machined to accept DuPont Viton O-rings. While the no-gasket system required extra care in assembly, it was essentially bulletproof.
In the photo, also note the gigantic Holley four-barrel carburetor. Later named the Dominator in a customer contest, this carb, capable of processing more than 1000 cubic feet of air per minute, was jointly developed by Ford and Holley specifically for the Boss 429, and Ford racing teams enjoyed its exclusive use for a time. Later the design was turned over to Holley and marketed to racers of all makes.
The Boss 429 engine story isn’t over yet. Ford engine guru and perennial Engine Masters dyno competition winner Jon Kaase offers a Boss for the 21st century, if you will. The Boss Nine V8 (below) is based on Kaase’s own cylinder head castings, which sport the latest combustion and airflow technology. The package, designed to be both powerful and practical, has been re-engineered to use the standard (and widely available) 429/460 Ford cylinder block and conventional steel head gaskets. Buyers and builders can go the traditional carburetor route or use electronic fuel injection. Prices start at $23,500 for a complete engine and combinations with up to 1,000 normally aspirated horsepower are available.