Throughout Ford’s Total Performance campaign of the 1960s, the FE big-block V8 did the bulk of the company’s heavy lifting in NASCAR, drag racing, and at Le Mans.
It’s fun to reflect that one of the most successful racing engines of the 1960s was not designed with any performance aspirations at all. Ford’s FE series big-block V8s were big winners in drag racing, NASCAR, and even at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. (See our feature on the 427 Le Mans engines here.
) Indeed, the FE was the go-to horsepower machine of the Ford Total Performance era. Yet when the engine was first rolled out in 1958, Ford had no involvement in motorsports. Under the direction of Henry Ford II, the company had publicly renounced all forms of auto racing the year before.
At its 1958 introduction, the original FE V8 hardly foreshadowed the 7-liter monsters that would dominate at Daytona a decade later. That first year, the FE family (the initials stood for Ford-Edsel) consisted of three displacements: 332 and 352 cubic inches for Ford and a 361 CID version for Edsel. In most respects, the FE was a fairly conventional American V8 of the period with a deep-skirted block, modified-wedge combustion chambers, and shaft-mounted rocker arms. The 332 was especially modest in its proportions with a bore and stroke of 4.00 inches by 3.30 inches—dimensionally, it was pretty close to the classic 327 Chevy.
However, all FE V8s share the same basic architecture with 4.630-in bore centers and 10.170-in deck height, as there was room for growth. The engine soon expanded to 390 CID in 1961, 406 CID in 1962, and 427 CID in 1963. Along the way, additional displacements arose for various applications, including 360 CID, 410 CID, and 428 CID. By the way, the Edsel 361 and the Ford truck 360 actually have the same 4.047-in x 3.50-in bore and stroke and the same displacement of 360.18 cubic inches. For whatever reasons, Ford simply chose to round up for the Edsel version. And the famed 427 V8 has a true displacement of 425.82 cubic inches. Evidently, Ford decided that 427 sounded better.
FE V8s were offered by the factory with every popular carburetor setup: two-barrel, four-barrel, three two-barrels, two four-barrels. For the 427 performance applications there were multiple cylinder head and manifold combinations, including the Low Riser, Medium Riser, High Riser, and the most radical wedge-head design, the race-only 1967 Tunnel Port (shown above.) Here, the intake passages were so enormous that the pushrods had to be routed straight through them. The photo above also shows an FE trademark feature: The intake manifold actually extends outboard beneath the rocker covers on both cylinder banks, allowing greater flexibility in intake manifold design. Of course, the near-legendary 427 SOHC Cammer V8 is also a member of the FE family, despite its hemispherical combustion chambers and other wild departures. (See our feature here.
Along with all its glorious victories in NHRA, NASCAR, and international sports car and GT competition, the FE engine family also did loyal duty in milllions of Ford and Mercury passenger cars and trucks—and thousands of Edsels, too, lest we forget. (There was also a ruggedized FT variant of the FE for trucks.) As Ford pivoted to the 385-series big-block V8 starting in 1968, the FE gradually fell out of favor for factory performance and motorsports applications. Still, while there were more recent engine designs available in the Ford product inventory, the FE remained in regular production use all the way through 1976.