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Modifying Small Block Ford Cylinder Heads
Modifying Small
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4.6L Pistons
Ford chose to use hypereutectic pistons in the 4.6-liter engine in all applications except the ’99-up
Lightning 5.4, and the ‘03 Cobra, both which are equipped from the factory with forged slugs.
Mustang racers were used to the forged pistons Ford offered in the 5-liter pushrod engine, which
could accommodate fairly large doses of supercharger boost or nitrous injection. The hypereutectic
piston is made of an aluminum solution that is supersaturated with silicon. Normal aluminum alloys
do not contain more than 11-12% silicon. The hypereutectic alloy is created by adding the silicon
while the aluminum is still molten. Then it is cooled rapidly, before the silicon can disperse from the
alloy. As the cooling occurs, silicon crystals form evenly throughout the alloy. The advantage of the
high silicon (16-18%) content is that the engine manufacturer can run tighter piston-to-wall
clearances, typically .001 inch or less. This reduces the crevice volume of unburned hydrocarbons
above the top ring between the cylinder wall and the piston. This, of course, results in reduced
emissions and the low noise level associated with the tight piston-to-bore clearance. By running the
piston clearances tight, the engine can use lower viscosity oil and run lower tension oil rings. With
reduced fuel contamination in the oil, the oil-change intervals can be extended.
Production 4.6 liter hypereutectic 
The stock 4.6-liter hypereutectic
piston is adequate for
applications. The dark color on
the thrust face of the piston is
the Teflon anti-scuff coating.
The piston pin is retained with a
round wirelock.
The factory pistons have a dark-colored patch on their thrust face. This is a Teflon-type antifriction
coating that reduces piston scuff on cold starts. The standard piston is offered in a couple of
different compression styles, depending upon application. 2-valve engines have had an 11-cc dish
when used in 1992-1998 applications with a 51-cc combustion chamber volume, and a 17-cc dish
on the 1999 and newer PI (power improved) engines, which have a 42-cc chamber volume. 4-valve
engines have used a 3-cc dish in all applications since 1993. The OEM piston performs quite well
for most performance applications, but any detonation at all results in the piston self-destructing
immediately. This normally manifests itself by breaking the ring land between the top and second
ring. This can go undetected for quite some time, the only clue being high oil consumption. That
being said, there are many cases where the stock piston, when combined with a low-boost
supercharger system (10 psi or less), preferably intercooled, can provide long, trouble-free service.
Production 4.6 Liter Ford Piston that has been damaged by excess detonation
Detonation will damage the stock
piston by fracturing the ring land.
The damage may go undetected
for some time, since it causes no
apparent noise. Eventually, oil will
work past the rings into the
combustion chamber, at which
time the damage is usually noted.
The key is to have a calibration for the computer that is conservative enough to not detonate under
poor fuel, heavy-load conditions. Even then, a combination of factors could combine to push the
loads involved beyond the design capacity of the stock piston. The fact that Ford uses forged
pistons in supercharged applications like the Lightning and ‘03 Cobra should give us a clue as to
what needs to be done for supercharged engine durability.
Forged Pistons
Forged pistons are now available from a number of aftermarket companies. They may be produced
in 2 different alloys, depending on the manufacturer. 2618 alloy is a traditional aluminum alloy used
for race pistons and high-performance street pistons. The 2618 pistons can handle about 35 lbs of
boost. 4032 is a high silicon content alloy that is used sometimes for high-performance street
pistons. These can then be fitted with a tighter piston-to-bore clearance, due to reduced expansion
characteristics of the 4032 material. The break point on this type of material is about 10 psi of
boost. Anything much more than that is more of a race than a street-type application.
The forged pistons manufactured by Manley or JE will feature full-floating pins with dual spirolocks.
The top ring will be located further down from the crown of the piston, reducing the heat the top ring
is exposed to during combustion. The stock piston has the top ring land placed .150 inch down from
the crown of the piston. The forged pistons will typically place the top ring land at .235 inch down
from the crown. We still use the original ring package for most applications, which includes a 1.5
mm top, a 1.5 mm second, and a 3 mm oil ring. Most of the off-the-shelf pistons that are offered
also use this ring package. There are some applications where different rings are used, for specific
Manley forged piston for a 4.6L Ford Engine
Manley forged pistons are
available in .020- and .030-inch
oversize, in both flat-top and
dished design. Dish volumes of
11, 17, and 23 cc are available,
allowing the engine builder to
vary the compression ratio
depending on the application.
One of the challenges with the forged piston is to have a relatively quiet start up, which is difficult
until the piston retains some heat and expands to the operating dimension. The shape of the cam
and barrel finish that the manufacturer has applied to the piston can have a profound effect on this
noise level.

The 4.6 suffers from the fact that the area on the piston that is the largest in diameter is withdrawn
from the bore at bottom dead center (BDC), leaving an area that is .002-.004 inch smaller in OD
than the measuring area of the piston. This effectively means that the measured piston-to-wall
clearance increases by .002-.004 inch at BDC, until the engine is at operating temperature. This
excess clearance allows the piston to rock excessively at BDC, which causes piston clatter.
Although the additional noise created with a forged piston on start up may be acceptable for a race
application, the street car owner is going to want the least noise possible. The normal piston-to-wall
clearance used on a 2618-alloy piston is .003-.0035 inch. I have experimented with clearances as
tight as .002 inch with 4032 forged pistons, and no undue scuffing was observed. A cam profile that
places a wide area of the skirt in contact with the cylinder wall seems to have the least noise.
Overbore Sizes
Aftermarket forged pistons are generally offered in .020- and .030-inch oversize. It is possible to
bore the block .040-inch oversize, but I never do this. On the aluminum block, I will make .035-inch
oversize pistons to save a block from requiring sleeves, but with the iron block, .030 inch is as far
as we go. Federal Mogul offers their hypereutectic pistons in .010-inch oversize, in addition to .020,
.030, and .040 inch. They also offer the ring sizes to match. Sonic testing of the iron blocks has
shown the thrust face of the cylinder bores are typically .100-.125 inch thick, and the bore
thickness parallel to the crank centerline can be as thin as .080 inch. The 5.4 iron block shows the
same range of material thickness as the 4.6. The increased side load on the 5.4 block due to the
increased stroke could provide additional wear and introduce some ovality into the cylinder wall.
The flexing of the cylinder walls will cause poor ring sealing. If I was building a max-effort 5.4-based
drag engine, I would definitely fill the water jacket to within 1 inch of the deck surface to add rigidity
to the cylinder assembly. The 4.6-liter aluminum block is not as sensitive in this area. It has a
.080-inch thick liner, backed up with .178 inch of aluminum casting material behind it.
4.6L Ford Forged Stroker Piston
Stroker pistons have their pin
placed higher on the piston,
reducing compression
distance from 1.22 to 1.07
inch. This allows the use of a
longer connecting rod,
maintaining a favorable rod
ratio. A groove-lock spacer is
used to support the oil ring,
where the pin bore intersects
the oil ring land.
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This has been a sample page from

How to Build Max Performance 4.6 Liter Ford Engines How To Build Max Performance 4.6 Liter
Ford Engines
by Sean Hyland
This revised edition features new and current
information throughout the text, an additional 16 pages,
and all black and white photography.
When the ’96 Mustang came out with the 4.6-liter V-8, some
performance enthusiasts were scared away by its technology. But
those days are long gone. Ford added horsepower and torque to
its 2- and 4-valve V-8s over the years, and the number and
quality of available aftermarket performance parts has exploded.
Ford took things to the next level with the new 3-valve Mustang
GT engine and the 5.4-liter GT and Shelby GT500, adding even
more high-performance options.

In this updated edition of How To Build Max-Performance 4.6-Liter
Ford Engines, Sean Hyland gives you a comprehensive guide to
building and modifying Ford’s 2-, 3-, and 4-valve 4.6- and 5.4-liter
engines. You will learn everything from block selection and
crankshaft prep, to cylinder head and intake manifold
modifications. He also outlines eight recommended power
packages and provides you with a step-by-step buildup of a
naturally aspirated 405-horsepower Cobra engine. This is the
definitive guide to getting the most from your 4.6- and 5.4-liter

Temporarily Out of Stock - More On their way!

Click below to view sample
pages from each chapter.
Chap. 1 - Engine Block
Chap. 2 - Crankshafts
Chap. 3 - Rods
Chap. 4 - 4.6 Pistons
Chap. 5 - Cylinder Heads
Chap. 6 - Int. Manifolds
Chap. 7 - Fuel Injection
Chap. 8 - 4.6 Camshafts
Chap. 9 - 4.6 Exhaust
Chap. 10 - Ignition
Chap. 11 - Lubrication
Chap. 12 - Cooling
Chap. 13 - Power Adders
Chap. 14 - Packages
Chap. 15 - 405HP Engine
8-1/2 x 11
44 pages
445 B/W Photos
Item #SA82P
Price: $22.95
Click here to buy now!
This is a great book that any modular engine owner or enthusiast will enjoy!

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