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Modifying Small Block Ford Cylinder Heads
Modifying Small
Block Ford Cylinder

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Engine Disassembly
One of the most fascinating parts of an engine rebuild is the teardown. During an engine teardown,
you can learn a great deal about how the engine ran, how it was treated, and how its many
components wore in during its service life. Hammered rod bearings indicate hard use and abuse.
Scuffed cylinder walls indicate oil starvation issues and high operating temperatures. Valves worn
deep into the seats indicate a poorly executed valve job or hard use with unleaded fuels.
Ford 289 Engine Disassembly
Gloves are a great idea
when you’re tearing down
your engine – it will be
dirty. Take your time, and
be careful not to drop
anything on your foot.
The area you should be concerned with most is the cylinder block and its many dimensions. Ideally,
you will find a block with standard 4.000-inch bores that has never been rebuilt. A 289/302/351W
block that has been bored .020- or .030-inch oversize can go one more oversize up to 4.040
inches, but that’s it. The 351C can go as high as 4.060-inches, but no more.

Although quite a few builders push the 289/302/351W to 4.060-inches, this is strongly discouraged
because the lightweight gray-wall iron cylinder walls are quite thin. Taking bore size to 4.060 inches
is courting trouble, but doing it without sonic-checking the block is foolish. By taking the bore size to
4.060 inches, you drive the compression ratio higher, which raises operating temperatures and
pressures. With a larger bore, we drive compression higher by increasing the volume we squeeze
into the existing combustion chamber. Because cylinder wall thickness is marginal at best at this
oversize, you also risk getting into the water jackets. So, take it from us – do not go above 4.040-
inches on bore size with any small-block Ford.
The Teardown
In Chapter 1, we told you about our subject engine, a 1965 289-2V engine removed from Jeff
Fischbach’s Mustang convertible. When Mustang Monthly decided to target this engine for a
“Budget 289 Build-Up” last year, they invited us to follow to gather information for this book. The
engine had failed coming off of a Los Angeles freeway. Suddenly, it had no power and developed a
horrible knock in rhythm with the crankshaft. When Mustang Monthly Senior Editor Jim Smart was
troubleshooting the noise, he knew it was serious. He started by shorting each of the spark plugs
out one at a time. When he pulled the number-4 spark plug wire, the knock stopped – a bad sign.
He also did a compression check. All cylinders checked healthy except for number 4 – which came
in low. Pouring some oil into number-4 cylinder and checking compression showed a big
improvement – another bad sign. Cylinder sealing on number-4 was poor for a reason. The piston
was cracked, which allowed compression to escape. That cracking also caused the knock.
1965 Ford 289 2 barrel 289 Rocker arms and valvetrain
This is our rebuild candidate for this book – a 1965 289-2V engine from a Mustang
convertible. It has experienced at least one rebuild by a Los Angeles area mass-production
rebuilder. The prognosis for this engine isn’t good. It appears well maintained and clean inside,
thanks to regular oil and filter changes, but improper assembly by the rebuilder caused it to fail.
Jim also learned in the course of the teardown that number-5 cylinder on the opposite bank was in
all kinds of trouble, too, even though compression checked within limits. Coolant was leaking into
cylinder number 5 from a defective head gasket while the engine sat. Compression from the
number-5 cylinder undoubtedly leaked into the water jacket, aggravating overheating issues
already caused by the right-bank cylinder-head gasket being installed backwards during the last

What we learned from this teardown is something we hope you’ll learn from this book – what not to
do when you rebuild your small-block Ford. Because our 289 engine experienced a really sloppy
mass-production-style rebuild at some time in its past, it was not properly machined and assembled,
which led to the failure. We’re going to talk about this failure in great detail to help you avoid the
same mistakes. We’re also going to address common mistakes that cause a lot of engine failures.
Jeff’s 289 engine failed for two fundamental reasons – the water pump wasn’t installed properly (no
backing plate), and the right-bank cylinder-head gasket was installed backwards. The backward
cylinder-head gasket is an easy mistake to make because it isn’t very apparent at first glance. It
happens whenever we’re not paying attention to what we’re doing during an engine build. Each and
every head gasket has “FRONT” stamped in the surface to ensure proper installation, but people
mix it up all the time building Ford V-8s. Cooling passages in the cylinder-head gasket must always
go at the rear of the block to ensure proper cooling. This allows coolant to circulate completely
through the block and heads on its way to the thermostat and radiator.

Whenever we install both head gaskets backwards, trouble begins the minute we fire a new engine.
If we get both head gaskets backwards, overheating will become apparent immediately. Whenever
you install a small-block Ford cylinder-head gasket backwards, coolant flow is cut off to the rear of
the block and cylinder heads. Coolant then circulates only at the front of the block and heads,
causing a large percentage of the engine to overheat. In this case, only the right bank ran hot
because a significant percentage of the coolant was allowed to circulate and cool normally.
In time, engine oil broke down on the extremely hot surfaces – cylinder walls, pistons and rings,
bearings, valveguides, and more. Because cylinder number 4 suffered the greatest amount of
thermal abuse, it failed first. Extreme heat cracked the piston from the crown to the skirt. It probably
wasn’t noticeable until the piston cracked all the way through, when a horrible misfire and knock

Jeff’s engine failure wasn’t something that happened overnight. It happened over a period of many
years. Heat went to work on the rear of the right bank of cylinders, resulting in eventual failure. Had
he continued to drive the car the way it was, the engine would have seized due to total number-4
piston failure. Had that not done him in, cylinder number 5 on the left bank would have finished the
engine off by drawing coolant into the cylinder bore.

Let’s take this idea a step further. Had the car sat for several months, coolant would have filled
cylinder number 5, causing a nasty hydro-lock the first time Jeff tried to start the engine. Hydro-lock
is what happens when we try compressing fluid in the area above the piston. Because fluid cannot
be compressed, more fragile elements (piston, rod, and block) are compromised instead. Typically,
the piston and rod both fail – even causing the cylinder wall to crumble in the process. We have
seen hydro-locked engines in which the cylinder wall failed right along with the piston and rod,
causing coolant to flood the oil pan. In this case the hydro-lock would have bent or snapped the
number-5 connecting rod, and even could have broken the crankshaft.
Jeff probably noticed his Mustang’s temperature gauge running on the high side, especially during
hot weather, but it was never quite hot enough to boil over. As Jeff, and earlier his uncle, drove the
Mustang, the right bank of cylinders ran very hot without notice. Adding insult to injury was the fact
that the water pump was installed without a backing plate, which further aggravated cooling issues.
Without the steel backing plate, coolant was never properly channeled through the pump and the
water jackets, making a hot-spot situation even worse. In this case, the water pump impeller
contacted the timing cover due to the missing plate. Why anyone removed this plate in the first
place is beyond us. In any case, it all contributed to engine failure.
Original 289 Cast Iron 4 barrel intake manifold
Since the owner, Jeff
Fischbach, wants this engine to
be kept original, he has elected
to go with a factory cast-iron
four-barrel intake manifold with
the correct Autolite 4100
carburetor. We can improve its
performance without adversely
affecting originality.
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How to Rebuild the Small Block Ford How to Rebuild the Small Block Ford
by George Reid
One of the best reference books available for rebuilding the
Ford 221, 260, 289, 302, Boss 302, 351W, 351C, 351M and 400
Over the years, the small-block Ford has remained one of the most
popular and widely used engines on the planet. From the earliest
Fairlanes and Mustangs to the latest Mustangs and light trucks, the
Ford small-block has powered them all. With the amount of aftermarket
support and rebuildable cores out there, you don’t have to worry about
spending an arm and a leg for a quality rebuild – especially if you do
the teardown and assembly yourself. This all-new color edition of How
to Rebuild the Small-Block Ford guides you step by step through a
rebuild, including: planning your rebuild, disassembly and inspection,
choosing the right parts, machine work, assembling your engine, and
first firing and break-in. The Workbench format also gives you helpful
hints and tips on performance upgrades, including cams, heads,
ignition, induction, and more. It also points out problem areas to watch
for, professional builder tips, jobs that need special care or special
tools, and more. Whether you're a first-time engine builder or a
seasoned professional, this is the essential guide to rebuilding your
small-block Ford.
Chap. 1 - Before You Begin
Chap. 2 - Engine Disassembly
Chap. 3 - Selecting Parts
Chap. 4 - Machine Shop
Chap. 5 - Engine Assembly
Chap. 6 - Break-In Tuning
Chap. 7 - Buyer's Guide
Chap. 8 - Engine Math
This is one of the best reference books available for rebuilding the small
block Ford and something that any enthusiast will love!
How to Rebuild
the Small Block Ford
by George Reid
Condition: NEW
8-1/2 x 11"
144 pages
495 Color Photos

Item: SA102
Price: $
Click here to buy now!

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