Why Ford’s flathead V-8 engine died

Ford’s famed flathead V-8 was revolutionary when the automaker put the engine into production in 1932. After over two decades of service, the flathead V-8 engine was finally laid to rest in favor of an overhead valve design.

Why did Ford kill the innovative V-8 engine? That’s a job for Jason Fenske of to tell us about. Jason takes the time to walk us through why the engine was so advanced, but also its downfalls that led to its death.

Ford’s design was incredibly simple, which made the engine cost-effective to produce. Its simplicity and affordability also meant an everyday person could purchase a V-8 powered car. The first flathead V-8 displaced 3.6 liters and boasted a compression ratio of just 5.5:1. Power sat around 65 horsepower, a major selling point in the 1930s.

The simple engine featured a rather flat engine head, which is how the mill earned its nickname. The one piece of metal helped keep costs much lower, and everything was cast into a single block. Inside, a single camshaft sits in the center of the V.

So, why did the revolutionary V-8 die off? Advances in technology is the overarching answer, but it came down to the flathead V-8’s major airflow problems and inefficiencies. The airflow path for the engine is hardly ideal, per Jason. As the air feeds its way up, the flow must change 90 degrees, then change another 90 degrees to head into the cylinder. A modern engine’s valves help route air towards the piston, around it, and then down into the cylinder.

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When the air comes back up from the cylinder, the air has to perform the same direction changes again. Add in the fact that the intake and exhaust flow sit in opposite directions, and it’s easy to see why the flathead V-8 wasn’t an efficient engine. Engineers couldn’t simply open the intake and exhaust valves open more, either. That would have meant digging out more area in the cylinder head, which would lower the compression ratio further.

In 1953, Ford made the final flathead V-8, which displaced 3.9 liters and made 110 hp. But, as engineers sought more power, Ford scrapped the design in favor of an overhead-valve engine. And the flathead V-8’s tenure came to end. Check out more of the details on airflow in the engine right up above.

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