The mid to late 1980's and early to mid 1990's EFI port injected cars have been fairly reliable and fairly economical transportation for many years, but they are getting very old now and parts availability isn't what it once was. The parts are largely still available, but less often in stock and more often needing to be ordered. The parts are also getting a lot more expensive. On top of that most of these cars had severe problems such as poorly flowing two valve cylinder heads with small camshafts, excessively long stroke lengths and often drastically lower gearing than required for the actual engine and vehicle combination. When a crappy little four cylinder "economy car" gets only 25mpg on the highway it doesn't look very good compared to other vehicles. One of those other vehicles that happened to show up recently is the overhead valve V8 powered 1954 Ford.
What's a 1954 Ford?
Early Ford V8 Engines
The Ford Y-Block
The 1954 Ford Country Sedan Wagon
Frame On Restoration
The OHV 239 V8
1954 Ford Gearing
What's Inside the Y-Block
The Ford Six
1954 Ford Gas Mileage
1954 Ford Carburetor
American Bosch 7V Regulator
Y-Block Performance Options
It looks like a 1953 Ford, and the 1952 Ford has the same sheet metal also. Visually the external differences between the 1952, 1953 and 1945 Fords are minimal; just some different trim, badges and such. Obviously the goal was to make the 1953 Ford look as different from the 1952 Ford as possible with the same sheet metal, but it is in fact still the same sheet metal. And the external differences between the 1953 Ford and the 1954 Ford are even less substantial.
What is really different about a 1954 Ford is the overhead valve V8. An overhead valve inline six was introduced for 1953, but that's a whole different story.
The ball joint front end was also new for the 1954 model year, making the 1954 Ford more of a 1955 through 1959 Ford with 1954 sheet metal than a 1953 Ford with an overhead valve V8 engine.
What's different between a 1954 Ford and a 1955 Ford is obviously the sheet metal, as the 1955 is an entirely new body and interior. In the end though what most significantly differentiates a 1954 Ford from a 1955 Ford are the bore and stroke dimensions. Again, more about that later.
The first Ford V8 was of course a flathead, and that was way back in 1932. It was a big 3.75 inch stroke length engine with a 6.2:1 compression ratio. At first it was 221 cubic inches with 3-1/16" bores, and later it was punched out to 239 cubic inches with 3-3/16" bores. This was what was known as the Ford V8-85, although it was actually rated at 100hp once it was punched out to the 3-3/16" bore diameter.
Then there was also the very short production run Ford V8-60, which was a much smaller flathead at only 136 cubic inches of displacement. With 2.60" bores and a 3.2" stroke length the V8-60 looked like a small engine. I have seen them lying about, and they sure are cute little flatheads. The problem is that they don't work worth a darn. Mostly the problem is that it's a dirty flathead that won't make power. That whole thing about an extra couple of turns in both the intake and exhaust plumbing, bad shrouding of the valves and an elongated combustion chamber that reduces light load efficiency and increases exhaust emissions.
The other problem with the V8-60 is that the 3.2 inch stroke length is actually far too long. Small under square flatheads shouldn't have as much trouble as big flat heads because small bore engines don't need such high compression ratios, and the compression ratio can be traded for bigger valves and more space around the valves for sufficient flow capability. That didn't work on the V8-60 though because the 3.2" stroke length was too long for practicality. And it's still a dirty flathead. Maybe dual spark plugs would have helped. Maybe the camshaft was excessively small. Maybe the log type exhaust manifolds were a bad idea. In any case the V8-60 fell out of production after a short three year run, and fell into deep obscurity in the later part of the 20th century.
By 1953 the 239 cubic inch Ford flathead V8 was up to a 7.2:1 compression ratio and a 110hp output rating. That's actually quite a bit of power for a 3.75" stroke length flathead, and the torque rating of 196 foot pounds at 2,000RPM is substantial. The output ratings for all of those Ford flathead V8 engines were down at around 3,500 or 3,800RPM, although near peak power came at even lower engine speeds. The 196 foot pound torque rating would be 104hp at 2,800RPM if that level of torque were available up to 2,800RPM.
By 1953 though flatheads were a thing of the past. Chevy and Buick cars had had overhead valve engines since the 1930's (Chevy sixes and Buick straight eights), and other automakers had been beginning the process of phasing out the flatheads for a few years. The first big change was again within General Motors, and that was the 1949 Cadillac OHV 331 V8, followed in 1951 by the Chrysler Early Hemi with the same bore and stroke dimensions for the same 331 cubic inch displacement. At Ford Motor Company the first OHV engine was the 1952 Lincoln 317 V8.
These early OHV V8 engines were all in big, heavy and very expensive luxury cars, and despite what might seem like smallish displacements compared to late 20th century V8 automotive engines they really were big blocks. The 331 Cadillac engine was punched out to 365 cubic inches for 1956, stroked out farther to 390 cubic inches by 1959 and these early engines aren't all that different from the later Cadillac engines that went all the way out to 500 cubic inches.
The story is similar with the Chrysler and Lincoln motors, although it does have to be said that the Chrysler Hemi is quite different from the Cadillac and Lincoln motors. The Lincoln went out to 368 cubic inches, and goes much bigger still in hot rod applications. The Chrysler Hemi was bored out to 354 cubic inches for 1956 on the same 3-5/8" stroke length bottom end. Then the 392 Hemi of 1958 was enlarged in many aspects, including a bigger crankshaft with bigger bearings and more room in the block for still larger displacements.
There is also the 1951 to 1954 Studebaker 232 OHV V8 engine, and the 1953 to 1955 Dodge 241 Hemi to consider. They were first, but they were marginalized for various reasons. Mostly that their 3-1/4" stroke lengths were still far too long. There were also specific problems with these engines. Take the 241 Hemi, which in many respects looks like it should be a very functional power producer. The rod journals are a modest 1.94 inch diameter, and there is clearly plenty of room in the hemispherical combustion chambers for sufficiently large valves. The specific problem with the 241 Hemi is the defective hydraulic lifters and very small camshaft. The 331 Chrysler Hemi was a big power producer with hydraulic lifters, but they are not the same type of hydraulic lifters. Good hydraulic lifters just hydro lock and don't move at all. Defective hydraulic lifters squish down more and more as engine speeds increase, ruining torque production and preventing power delivery. The 241 Hemi was initially rated at only 140hp with a 7.1:1 compression ratio, climbing to 150hp at 4,400RPM with a 7.5:1 compression ratio for the 1954 model year. The 232 Studebaker was at 120hp with a 7.0:1 compression ratio, climbing to 127hp with a 7.5:1 compression ratio for the 1954 model year.
This is the environment into which the 1954 Ford OHV V8 engine was introduced. Not much was expected of the engines in terms of power and performance.
What the Ford Y-Block is centers around the wedge combustion chamber. It's pretty much the same as on the earlier Cadillac, Lincoln and Studebaker engines. Two parallel valves per cylinder operated by pushrods. It's sort of the worst possible valve train configuration other than a flathead. The Chevy and Buick OHV inline engines had somewhat worse combustion chamber configurations, but only by virtue of offsetting the spark plug location past the edge of the cylinder wall. This radically offset spark plug location was what was copied for the 1952 Ford OHV inline six. Again, those sixes are a whole different story.
What was new and unique about the 1954 Ford Y-Block was mushroom lifters on an OHV V8 engine. That hadn't been done before, and hasn't been done since either. The mushroom lifters ride in small 1/2" bores, but have large 1.05" diameter follower surfaces. That larger follower diameter allows more aggressive fast opening lobe profiles, with lower peak valve acceleration.
I had always been interested in the smaller early V8 engines, but I also had an inkling that they would need to be used in the car that they originally came in. I never saw a Studebaker. I mean for a lot of years I never saw any Studebakers at all other than the later cars that came with Chevy engines. The 1953 and 1954 Dodges and the 1955 Plymouth that came with the same 241 Hemi are frankly atrocious cars, and they weren't exactly available either.
When I saw the add (printed in a real paper car add newspaper) for a 1954 Ford with the "Original OHV V8 Overdrive transmission", I immediately saw something worth chasing. The advertised price was $2,500, and the little photograph indicated that most of the parts were there. The first thing I did was check the old Chilton's manual to see what kind of brakes a '54 Ford came with. Sure enough it turned out to be floating pivot brakes, not the colossally crapy fixed pivot brakes found on many of those 1940's and early 1950's cars.
With assurance from the seller that the car was complete and original and a tentative sales agreement for $2000 cash we headed out with the tow dolly and four used tires. Getting the tires was a bit tricky. First I tried a junk yard that has racks of used tires, but all they had in the 15" size was 60 profile tires. Then I went to a tire shop looking for new tires, and was told that they didn't have any 75 or 70 profile 15" tires in stock. Finally I found a tire shop that had a pile of the now very common 195/65-15 tires. At about half worn out $30 each seemed a bit steep, but when I saw a 195/65-15 tire that was only slightly used I asked if that one was $30 also. He said he would need more for a tire like that, and when I asked how much he said $40. I said that if he had two nearly new tires like that I would take those for $40 each and two of the half worn out tires for $30 each.
Only when I got home did I notice that the nice nearly new 195/65-15 tire I had spotted was in fact a very expensive Continental brand summer rated long wear tire. Having only three of the normal all-season tires I thought it would be a bad idea to throw just one of the harder summer tires into the mix. So in the end we headed down with the three good used tires and an old 195/60-15 tire with cracked sidewalls that I had lying around.
The 1954 Ford was pretty pathetic looking as it sat. The interior was mostly falling apart, the engine was covered in so much grease, dirt and falling apart rubber parts that it was hard to imagine it as anything but junk, and there was rust also. Having sat outside since it last ran in the mid 60's it was not exactly a pristine barn find, but the parts were all there. First of all we jacked the back up to make sure that nothing was too badly frozen up, and I gave the engine a little nudge by hand to make sure it wasn't' seized. After taking care of paperwork and handing over the two grand I proceeded to pull the wheels off.
The cracked and hardened old 1960's bias ply tires were very stuck to the rims, and it was difficult to even get a bead broken loose by driving over it with the truck. Then I couldn't get the second side of the tire off the rim with tire irons as the tire was so hard and inflexible. Instead we loaded up all four wheels and headed to a tire shop. Another $80 and I had four used tires mounted up and balanced on the original 1954 Ford steel wheels. I put the worn out tires up front and the ones with good tread on the back. The 65 profile on the right and the 60 profile on the left since driveshaft torque lifts the right side of a solid rear axle vehicle.
With the rear and the transmission topped up with fresh gear oil we towed the hulk home.
The first thing I did was rip the original headliner out. The fabric was deteriorated to the point of being hard, and simply fell apart when touched. What I found under the original fabric headliner was a mess of fiberglass insulation. I ripped it all out, and removed the steel cross pieces. It will need some carpet or something stuck to the inside of the roof for summer time heat insulation, but it's not going to be fiberglass under cloth that's for sure.
With the offending fiberglass headliner removed I washed the interior down with a garden hose, and when dry I vacuumed up a half century of rodent leavings under the seats. Along with huge amounts of filth there were some interesting artifacts under the front seat. Some pencils and match books from heavy industry companies, and one very large six inch ball bearing.
The story I got from the guy that sold me the car was that it had been his father's car, and that he remembered riding in it as a small boy back in the late 1950's. It had been their family car for a number of years before his father bought a Buick Super sometime around 1960 or so, but they didn't sell the Ford. The older brother had driven the '54 Ford when he first got his driver's license and it had also been his mother's car for a while. His story was that the '54 Ford just got used less and less as his father collected more and more junk cars. Still they didn't sell the '54 Ford. He said it never ran after 1966, and the last registration sticker was 1969.
Part of the reason they stopped using the '54 Ford was that the driver's side had gotten side swiped, which made it less than a perfect looking car. He said his mother kept driving it after the left front fender and both driver's side doors were somewhat crunched. No doubt it was a bit problematic though, as the dents do prevent the driver's side rear door from opening smoothly.
What I saw when I looked the car over carefully was that the fresh dent circa 1960 was not the only crash damage. It had been fixed before, probably by a professional body shop. The front fenders and hood are the original pieces, but they had been repainted. I could see that the front sheet metal had been removed and reinstalled just by the somewhat sloppy fit of the fasteners.
The rest of the body has the original two tone paint job, what is left of it anyway. Much of the paint has simply disappeared over the decades, and in places it's down to bare rusty metal.
The motor fired right up after I cleaned the points and poured some gasoline down the intake, but all was not well. The fuel pump diaphragm was long gone, and the carburetor was in sad shape also. All the jets and passages were severely plugged up with old gunk, and then after disassembly it needed new gaskets also.
At first I just glued the old carburetor gaskets back in place with a thin coating of RTV silicone sealant, and that sort of worked. With an electric fuel pump I got the car running and moving. The brakes were full of old gunk, but after flushing through with fresh brake fluid I got the master cylinder working. The wheel cylinders also started working, but they leaked. Right away all I did to the brake system was to install new rubbers in the front wheel cylinders and adjust the brakes. That got the brakes working, although the old shoes were worn down to about 1/32" thickness at the secondary shoes.
With a 1.5 ohm ballast resistor on the ignition coil and the rest of the 6V electrical system disconnected I drove the car around a bit on a 12V battery. Then when I powered up the 6V system with a little 7.4V battery I found that nearly everything worked. The gauges worked, the taillights worked, the headlights worked, the horn worked, the heater blower worked and the interior light even worked. I had been thinking I would go straight to a 12V conversion with an alternator, but with the entire original 6V electrical system fully functional I decided to buy a 6V battery.
Then I found what had finally stopped the car back in 1966. The generator brushes were worn out and the charging system was dead. When I took the generator off the car and took it apart I found that the brush springs were broken, and they fell out in little pieces. That's what happens when the brushes are finally worn all the way down. When the spring tension drops off too far the brushes overheat, and then the overheated springs break. To get it going right away I just made up some custom brush springs out of old hose clamps, and sure enough the generator then worked as new although it still needs new brushes. The "American Bosch 7V" mechanical regulator worked also once adjusted, although that's a whole story unto itself also.
At first I was playing a little game with myself of trying to buy all of the parts I needed at local auto parts stores. Most of the drive train, brake and suspension parts are the same on the 1954 through about 1959 Fords, but of course not everything. Brake shoes are the same 1954 through 1959 (55-59 rear shoes go on the front of a 54 wagon), so those were in stock at a local auto parts store. The wheel cylinder rebuild kits are the same 1954 through 1959, so those were in stock also. Spark plugs of course were available, but the fan belt I had to buy by size as they claimed not to have a listing for that. A thermostat was harder to get, as the first several auto parts stores I checked with only had 180 degree thermostats listed for 1950's Fords. Finally I found an auto parts store that had a listing for a 160 degree thermostat, although they had to special order it. With the 160 degree thermostat installed the temperature gauge held steady right in the middle of the range between "C" and "H".
The electric fuel pump didn't work out well because it was a 12V pump that I was trying to use on the 6V electrical system. The first 12V pump I used was an old model from many decades ago, and I was actually able to take it apart and cut the spring down so that it delivered less pressure. Then it kept leaking gasoline down into the contacts area at the bottom, so I had to throw that one away. The next 12V pump I tried was a sealed unit, and it also worked on 6V. Sort of. It ran on 7V with the generator charging, but sometimes it wouldn't get it's prime when trying to start the engine from cold. At first it seemed like it was the small voltage drop through the ignition switch wiring that was making the difference, as the pump would run when connected directly to the fully charged 6V battery. I wired in a 12V relay that I modified to work on 6V by stretching the spring, and that seemed to get the 12V pump working on the 6V battery. But then when cranking the battery voltage was lower and I continued to have trouble with the pump not being able to prime. And why was it a problem that the pump wouldn't prime from battery voltage? The carburetor was leaking and going dry when the car sat overnight, so new gasoline had to be pumped up into the bowel before the engine would fire.
A new fuel pump from the local auto parts store was the solution, and I got a carburetor rebuilding kit also. With new gaskets the carburetor no longer leaked, and the mechanical fuel pump was able to prime nearly instantly anyway. The problem was that the fuel pump listed for the 1954 Ford had the wrong pressure setting. The 1954 Ford factory service manual lists the test pressure as 4.5 to 5.0psi, but the pump I got tested at 6.2psi. With the float level set to the stock setting the carburetor flooded badly. Especially with the front of the car somewhat uphill the engine would stall and then wouldn't restart until it was leveled out. I lowered the float level down to 0.1" lower than the stock setting listed in the Chilton's Manual and the 1954 Ford Factory Service manual. This did the trick, mostly. There were still times when the car wouldn't restart when hot if the front was uphill, but even this was highly variable. Sometimes it restarted easily even with the front end slightly uphill. That 1954 Ford carburetor is the same model as was used on the old Ford flathead V8 engines, and it's the worst carburetor I have ever seen. More about that later, but this juncture in the story is still about the first bits of the process of getting the 1954 Ford running and driving.
The main problem I had with the car when I first drove it around was that it kept bending pushrods on cold startup. This was very confusing as the engine ran on all eight cylinders, but then each morning it would bend a pushrod or two on cold startup. The solid 1/4" pushrods are soft and bent back easily enough, but it was very confusing that they kept bending. What I finally figured out was that I hadn't been revving the engine up enough to splash oil on the valve stems. The valve stems were somewhat varnished with 50 year old oil, and that varnish was sticking. The only reason this was a problem was that the stock valve springs are very soft, with a 54 pound seat pressure specification. So soft that the valves can be pushed open with a single finger. Yeah, that's soft.
With more normal valve springs like are usually used varnished valves would not have been any sort of a problem. The stock soft valve springs are sufficient for normal operation, but after sitting for all those decades the engine needed to be run in at higher engine speeds.
The reason that I wasn't revving the engine up much is also a story unto itself, and that's the story that is next up.
The 1948 through 1956 Ford distributors (1948 through 1964 for six cylinder engines) are called "Loadamatic" distributors, and they don't have an advance mechanism. They are empty inside, no weights, no springs no centrifical advance. Yeah, that ain't going to work is it?
I didn't even try hooking up the vacuum advance. The specifications list 30 degrees of crankshaft rotation of vacuum advance pulling in at 4.4 inches (of mercury) of vacuum. What happens is that the full advance pulls in as soon as the throttle is cracked open a small bit at 1,000RPM, and then as the engine speed increases the amount of advance drops off. Not going to work.
But first a little bit about the 1954 Ford OHV V8 engine. It's the same 239 cubic inch displacement as the earlier Ford flathead V8, but with very different bore and stroke dimensions. The Ford Y-Block V8 was introduced with a 3.50" bore diameter and a 3.10" stroke length for the 1954 model year. The compression ratio is 7.2:1, and the output rating is 130hp at 4,200RPM and 214 foot pounds of torque at 1,800RPM. That's a lot of torque for 1,800RPM. The 214 foot pounds of torque from the 239 cubic inch engine is 0.90 foot pounds per cubic inch, which doesn't seem like all that much compared to the 1.05 to 1.10 foot pounds per cubic inch that many later carbureted automotive engines delivered. The difference though is the engine speed. The 1.05 and 1.10 foot pound per cubic inch torque ratings were always up at around 2,800, 3,000 or even 3,800RPM. Down at 1,800RPM 0.90 foot pounds per cubic inch is huge torque.
The reason that the 1954 Ford OHV 239 V8 had a peak torque rating down at such an unbelievably low engine speed was the lack of an advance mechanism. With a low 7.2:1 compression ratio it takes a lot of spark advance to make power. What happens with the vacuum only distributor is that the advance all goes away as soon as the throttle is opened. No advance, no torque. How then did the 1954 Ford OHV 239 V8 get a 130hp at 4,200RPM power output rating? It's the miniscule little carburetor with 1.0" venturi diameters. The carburetor is so small that up at 4,200RPM the engine is choked off and operating under some substantial intake vacuum even with the throttle held wide open. Some of that 30 degrees of crankshaft rotation of vacuum advance pulls in by 4,200RPM. The reality is that those torque and power ratings are totally bogus and have little or nothing to do with the actual OHV 239 V8 engine.
So that's why I wasn't revving the engine up much. And by not much I mean like hardly at all. I just idled it around at 1,000 to 1,500RPM. When I checked the base timing setting it was at 10 degrees BTDC, which is way earlier than the stock 3 degree BTDC base timing setting listed for the 1954 Ford OHV 239 V8. Ten degrees BTDC was where the points and distributor had been set back in the 1960's, and at first I didn't change it. I just cleaned the points lightly without taking them out, and I didn't touch the distributor hold down.
At 10 degrees BTDC the OHV 239 V8 pulled amazingly strong at around 1,500RPM, and it was able to keep pulling to 2,000RPM also although clearly torque was dropping off above 1,500RPM. At first it was hard to believe that there was no advance mechanism at all, as torque was so strong over such a wide range of lower engine speeds from 1,000 to 2,000RPM. It felt like about 6 or 7 degrees BTDC at 800 and 1,000RPM, and it felt like 12 or 13 degrees BTDC at 1,500 and 1,800RPM.
As soon as I figured out that it was lack of splashing oil that was causing the pushrods to bend on cold start up I held the throttle open and twisted the engine up as far as it would reasonably go with no spark advance. Amazingly it actually did continue to rev to around 3,000RPM, just without any power. That was enough twist though to get the oil splashing and I had no more trouble with bent pushrods.
The 1954 OHV 239 V8 actually does have some impressive capability compared to other parallel valve pushrod engines. It's got the same wedge combustion chamber with the spark plug pushed over to one side, but not quite as severely far as on many of the other wedge engines. And then there is that huge long reach Ford spark plug that sticks way out into the combustion chamber. Mostly though it's just the smaller bore and stroke dimensions. The smaller 3.5" bore diameter can get away with much less spark advance compared to 4" bore engines, and the shorter 3.10" stroke length is nothing but better than the more typical 3.25 and 3.5" stroke lengths.
What the stock 1954 Ford OHV 239 V8 doesn't have is enough carburetion. The very small 1.0" venturi diameter is drastically undersized for a 3.5" bore diameter. I mean not just a little undersized, but vastly undersized. That stock 1954 Ford two barrel would be correct on about a 60 or 100 cubic inch V8 engine.
I knew right from the beginning that I wasn't going to run the stock distributor. It's not that it would be impossible to run an OHV 239 V8 without an advance mechanism, but there would be some very big changes required. First of all there is the 6V starting system. It cranks really slow on 6V, and cranking so slow the spark timing needs to be extremely late for reliable starting. That's why the stock timing setting is 3 degrees BTDC.
Then there is also the compression ratio issue. At 7.2:1 even a rather small 3.5" bore engine still needs tons of spark advance to make power. With no advance mechanism there just isn't any way to provide those large spark values. Even with a supper fast cranking 12V starting system it's just impossible to deliver really big spark advance without an advance mechanism. Going up to a very large camshaft to reduce cylinder filling at cranking speed might help a little bit, but it's still not going to crank at more than about 20 degrees BTDC, and that just isn't enough for a 3.5" bore 7.2:1 engine to make power. The first thing that would be required to use the stock advancless distributor on a 1954 Ford would be a compression ratio bump up to around 9:1 or so and it might have to go even higher than that depending on what sort of gasoline actually ended up in the tank.
I decided to just swap out the distributor. The distributors are interchangeable in terms of the drive gear and mounting location on all of the 1954 through 1962 Ford Y-Block V8 engines, so distributors are available. When I first asked about a 1957 Ford distributor at an auto parts store I was told that they had a listing and previously sold them, but none were currently available. The guy I talked to did say that it had been a common part in the past though, so it probably could be found somewhere.
Instead I just headed to a junk yard that had lots of old cars, and sure enough I was able to get a distributor out of a 1957 Ford F100 for $50. It was the most pathetically worn out old distributor I had ever seen, and when I looked the truck over I decided that it probably was the distributor that had gotten the truck junked in the first place. The shaft bearings were badly worn, worse than I have ever seen on any other distributor, and the points were worn away to nearly nothing.
Instead of putting new points in right away though I just cut the old contact surfaces down flat and reinstalled the old points set. The follower was still good enough, and with the contact surfaces flattened off they worked and the engine fired right up. I set the base timing at 5 degrees BTDC initially, which yielded 35 degrees BTDC up at 4,000RPM and again I left the vacuum advance disconnected. The engine seemed to run well, with lots of pep and immediacy when blipping the throttle. Pulling out I was immediately impressed with the very large torque gains everywhere above 1,500RPM. For the first time the 1954 Ford actually felt like a normal car accelerating in second and third gears.
That didn't last long though. And by not long I mean like three minutes. As soon as the engine fully warmed up the torque dropped off and there was a nasty harsh grumbling when opening the throttle around 2,500 and 3,500RP. Too much spark advance.
I backed off all the way to a zero degree BTDC timing setting, which was then 30 degrees BTDC at 4,000RPM. That didn't sound like enough spark advance at low idle and very low engine speeds, but it did the trick for power and torque delivery. The harsh grumbling was gone, and torque actually increased at all engine speeds from 1,500 to about 3,500RPM. And amazingly power was exactly the same up at the top of the engine speed range around 4,000RPM, it just sounded a lot better. What was really surprising though was that even at very small throttle openings at 1,500 and 2,000RPM there was more torque with less spark advance.
The 1957 Ford distributor advances very fast from low idle up to about 2,000RPM. The total advance is 30 degrees of crankshaft rotation, but the bulk of that is in by about 2,000RPM. Then from 2,000RPM out to 4,000RPM the remaining advance pulls in much more slowly. It's 20 degrees of crankshaft rotation of advance from 700RPM to about 2,000RPM, and then the last 10 degrees pulls in slowly out to 4,000RPM.
It turns out that the gradual advance from 2,000 to 4,000RPM is well matched to the undersized carburetor. Normally it would be expected that a 3.5" bore engine couldn't handle extra advance from 3,000 out to 4,000RPM, but with the very small carburetor cylinder filling drops off drastically beyond 3,500RPM so the extra advance just isn't very noticeable. The huge 30 degree BTDC spark timing can be heard in the form of a very aggressive growl as the engine is twisted out, but it's not overly crisp up at 3,500 and 4,000RPM because the miniscule little carburetor cuts off cylinder filling.
Down at 2,000 to 3,000RPM the gradual advance works fairly well for the stock automotive engine. The stock 1954 Ford camshaft lifts the valves 0.37", not the 0.33" listed in the Chilton's manual and in the 1954 Ford factory service manual. But it is in fact a very small automotive camshaft. Total duration is just 232 degrees (at 0.019" valve lash) with a 110 degree lobe center, and it's installed advanced five degrees which makes it like an even shorter duration camshaft.
The result is that cylinder filling is high down to very low engine speeds, and then as the engine speeds increase above about 2,500RPM the undersized carburetor begins to slightly reduce cylinder filling. The approximately five degrees of crankshaft rotation of spark advance from 2,000 to 3,000RPM provided by the 1957 Ford distributor seems to work perfectly with the all stock 1954 Ford OHV 239 V8 engine. Torque is strong down at 1,8000 and 2,200RPM and continues strong as engine speeds increase. Then around 2,500 or 2,800RPM the torque really takes off substantially with a bit of a roar. With the very small stock "EBU" stamped 1954 Ford two barrel carburetor peak torque seems to come at around 2,800 or 3,000RPM, and stays fairly strong out to around 3,200 or 3,500RPM. Above about 3,200RPM the small carburetor is significantly reducing cylinder filling, and above 3,500RPM cylinder filling drops off steeply so that power is flat out to 4,000RPM. It is a very strange sensation to hear the engine growling more and more aggressively as engine speeds increase from 3,500RPM to 4,000RPM while power stays flat. It sounds like it should be pulling really hard at 4,000RPM, but the power is just flat.
Down at 3,000 and 3,500RPM though the 1954 OHV 239 V8 pulls amazingly hard. Especially right around 3,200RPM before cylinder filling drops off much it's just really a lot of power for that displacement at that engine speed. And the strong torque continues down unbelievably low also. Really very substantially strong growling torque down to around 2,500 or 2,700RPM, and then very impressive surprisingly strong smooth and quiet torque everywhere from 1,500 to 2,500RPM.
The reason that the 1954 OHV 239 V8 makes so much torque way down at 1,800 and 2,200RPM is mostly the small displacement per cylinder. Both the smaller 3.5" bore diameter and the shorter 3.1" stroke length are advantages for torque production compared to 300 and 400 cubic inch engines. Of course the low 7.2:1 compression ratio is good for very low engine speed torque production also, as it allows plenty of spark advance with the throttle substantially open at at 1,800 and 2,200RPM without detonation.
What is somewhat surprising is that the low 7.2:1 compression ratio is also able to make very strong roaring torque from 3,000 to 3,500RPM. It wouldn't be expected that such a low compression ratio could deliver the sharp increase in torque at 2,500 or 2,800RPM like that, but it does.
How can such a very low 7.2:1 compression ratio get going and roar at 3,000RPM? Part of it is the long reach Ford spark plugs. They just stick way out into the combustion chambers, which starts the flame front building farther out into the intake charge versus shorter reach spark plugs. Part of it is also the mushroom lifters. The large diameter mushroom lifters allow more aggressive lobe profiles to be used, and those more aggressive profiles deliver higher cylinder filling over wider ranges of engine speeds. For the small stock 1954 automotive camshaft what this means is that cylinder filling stays higher down lower than compared to engines with smaller flat tappet lifter diameters. Of course the smaller 3.50" bore diameter can work with a considerably lower compression ratio than a 4" bore engine, and that's really very significant.
Other factors like iron cylinder heads and actually running a thermostat also add up to allowing the low 7.2:1 compression ratio to deliver power. The iron heads transfer heat slightly less readily than aluminum heads, and that combined with a thermostat to hold the coolant temperature up at 160 degrees does allow a slightly lower compression ratio to work.
The stock 1954 Ford shock absorbers were mostly shot. One of the rear shocks was bent from some sort of an impact, and the others only barely worked. The main problem was that the ride of the car was somewhat harsh over sharp bumps at moderately low speeds around 15 to 30mph. This was especially noticeable on rough dirt roads. On big paved roads the ride seemed fairly smooth, but then going a bit faster over rough undulating bumps the rear end was bouncing up uncomfortably. Clearly it needed new shocks.
The Monroe brand "OEM Spectrum" front shocks I got at a local auto parts store at first seemed a bit too long for the 1954 Ford they were listed as fitting. It was a small difference, but it was looking to me like the shocks would bottom out before the suspension fully bottomed out. The shocks also only came with half as many new mounting washers as were required. What I figured out after some frustrating test fitting was that I had to re-use the thinner original Ford biscuits on the inboard sides of the mounts, and then the much fatter Monroe biscuits could be used on the outboard ends of the mounts. This got the front shocks mounted up nicely, with just enough room for the suspension to fully compress without bottoming the shocks. I was being a bit pedantic about the mounting, as it was unlikely that the bottom out bumpers would have compressed down far enough to actually bottom the shocks. Still though the Monroe shocks were longer than the original Ford shocks, and then on top of it they came with big fat biscuits that further increased the overall length.
The Monromatic rear shocks that I got with the Monroe front shocks turned out to be three inches shorter than the original 1954 Ford rear shocks, and that really didn't work at all. I tried test fitting the short shocks with both biscuits on the inboard side, but even at that the rear wheels were prevented from dropping down. Because the rear shocks are inclined steeply towards the center of the car a three inch reduction in shock length results in considerably more than a three inch reduction in wheel travel. Those shocks were really just very far from fitting, so I returned them without having even taken the car for a test drive. At a different auto parts store they had a longer Monromatic shock listed as fitting the 1954 Ford "Country Sedan" station wagon. That one turned out to be 1/4 longer than the original 1954 Ford shocks, but they seemed to fit.
If the rubber bottom out bumpers are removed the 1954 Ford has 9-3/4" of front wheel travel, which is very substantial. The bottom out bumpers are however huge, and limit the travel considerably although they are tapered down small enough at the tops that the suspension does in fact continue to move rather far after the bottom out bumper first touches down. At 2-3/4" tall the bottom out bumpers look huge, and they are placed only 2/3 of the way out the lower control arm so that the wheel moves 50% farther than the bottom out bumper does. This means that the bottom out bumper squishing down by 1" represents 1.5" of wheel travel. Still though the bottom out bumpers seem huge, and the suspension gets stiff and harsh after the first little bit of travel.
For cruising along under normal conditions the 1954 Ford front suspension works just fine, and with the new Monroematic shocks the ride quality improved substantially. Especially at very low speeds the ride was noticeably a lot smoother, with the suspension eating up sharp speed bumps and holes in the road with ease. Going a bit faster over badly washboarded dirt roads the suspension was seeming to pack up rather easily, but for the most part the Monroe shocks provided an amazingly smooth ride at both ends. With the stock 1954 Ford shocks I had thought that the leaf spring rear end felt excessively progressive and just didn't work very well, but with the Monromatic shocks the suspension action was so smooth and plush that I could hardly find any fault even with the overly progressive rear leaf springs. At higher speeds also the ride was very smooth, although the Monroe shocks seemed a bit under damped for the 3,600 pound car. To be fair though I only noticed a lack of damping when pushing the car harder and faster than would be considered normal for public roads.
Overall the Monromatic shocks worked very well, although the damping profiles could be better. The packing up at low speeds followed by an under damped feeling at high speed is due to the rebound damping being too far towards high speed rebound damping. If the rebound damping was more towards low speed rebound damping then there would be less packing up of the suspension over washboarded dirt roads and also more substantial damping over big bumps at high speeds. The extreme smooth action at very low 10 and 15mph speeds followed by a loose and floppy feeling when pushed hard at high speeds is due to the compression damping being too far towards high speed compression damping. If the compression damping were biased more towards low speed compression damping then there could be a bit more compression damping without making the ride any harsher at normal 20 to 60mph road speeds. Of course low speed compression damping would give up some of that extreme plush smoothness at 10mph, but going 10mph in a car with a two hundred cubic inch engine is sort of ridiculous, and that's part of the incongruity of the 1954 Ford. The car likes to go very slow, but the drive train likes to go very fast.
The 1954 Ford "Country Sedan" station wagon has 4.10 gears, which sounds rather low. The overdrive transmission is however a big overdrive. It's 1:1 in third gear, but then the overdrive unit is a big 43% overdrive. Especially with the undersize 195/65-15 tires it feels like it's in low range when not in overdrive. The stock 710-15 tires are about 29" in diameter, so at about 25" in diameter the 195/65-15 tires are much smaller. The odometer reads 20% high, and the speedometer also is obviously high but works so poorly that it's hard to get much useful information out of it. The speedometer actually didn't work at all when I first started driving the car. Then the speedometer started screaming when cold, and then usually stopped screaming after a few minutes. My initial attempt to do something about the screaming was to spray lube all over the back side of the speedometer from up under the dashboard in the hopes that some of it would find it's way onto the gears. This did sort of work to stop the screaming, and the needle also started reading in between values between the zero and 95 that it previously always stayed at. Lately I have been joking that the speedometer works perfectly as long as I accelerate to the current reading. Mostly it does seem like it reads a bit high, but the response is quite slow and inconsistent.
At first the overdrive unit didn't work because the cable was stuck. By spraying lube all along the cable and then working the lever at the transmission back and forth I got it moving smoothly, and that was all that was preventing the overdrive unit from shifting into overdrive.
The initial problem was that it would shift into overdrive when the cable was pushed in, but then it wouldn't come out of overdrive until the vehicle speed dropped way down very low. When I got a wiring diagram for the 1954 Ford I realized that there is a kick down switch, which I hadn't previously noticed. Once I installed a new gas pedal the kick down switch did work, although it was sticking a bit. Just as described in the 1954 Ford Owner's manual getting out of overdrive only requires momentarily pushing down on the kick down switch, and then the overdrive cable can be pulled out again to "lock out of overdrive".
The electric features on the 1954 Ford overdrive unit are actually not very functional. The idea with the electric control is to add governor control so that the overdrive unit automatically drops out of overdrive when the vehicle speed drops bellow about 21mph. That does sort of work. Once the engine speed drops down so low that the engine will barely run anymore then the overdrive unit automatically drops out of overdrive, and then it can be shifted back into overdrive by momentarily lifting off of the accelerator once the vehicle speed is up above about 27mph. The problem is that this is controlled by contact points on the governor that seem less than consistent. Sometimes it just drops out of overdrive for no reason when cruising down slight grades, and then sometimes it drops out of gear entirely and is reluctant to go back into gear. It would be much better if the overdrive unit was controlled only by the cable, without any fancy governor or electric control.
It does need the overdrive though with the 410 gears. When not in overdrive the gearing is oppressively low, and only suitable for cruising at about 35mph. Once in overdrive the gearing is still low, but works fine for cruising at any speed from 30 to... Yeah, how fast? That's a good question. It's a huge drive train that really wants to go very fast. It cruises along nicely at 45 to 50mph for sure, but using only 10hp from a giant two hundred cubic inch eight cylinder engine is a mismatch. The drive train is sized more for 90 to 120mph cruising, but the 1954 Ford chassis wants to cruise much slower than that. As a compromise 75 to 80mph works fairly well. And with the very small stock two barrel carburetor it's ridiculous to run the engine above 3,500RPM anyway simply because the power output hardly increases. It will still go pretty fast with that very small carburetor, but it just seems pointless to rev the engine up to where the carburetor is so small that torque is dropping off. I kind of like driving it along at 35mph out of overdrive, and that's where the suspension feels most at home also.
Overall the 410 gearing seems much too low for the small 195/65-15 tires, but it does give a very low first gear for maneuvering. Since it's a fairly wide ratio three speed transmission first gear does end up quite low.
The very low first gear is also good for burnouts, for getting rid of those offending non-original tires. And the OHV 239 V8 powered 1954 Ford "Country Sedan" station wagon will roast both rear tires on dry pavement. By putting the 60 profile on the left side and the 65 profile on the right side there is a bit of pre-load to the rear suspension that counters the driveshaft torque induced lift. Low 410 gears are also better for even traction at both wheels as more reduction means less right side lift for the same forward thrust. In any case it does roast both tires evenly even with no limited slip, and that's kind of nifty.
When it comes right down to it the 1954 OHV 239 V8 is way too much motor for a car. The very small two barrel lops off the top end and limits power output severely, but even at just 3,200RPM it's way more power than a car really needs. Even at just 1,800RPM it's a lot more power than required. If the OHV 239 V8 makes it's rated 214 foot pounds of torque at 1,800RPM that's 75hp right there. With the 1957 distributor torque then increases sharply as engine speeds are increased from 2,200 to 2,600RPM. Even if it were only 214 foot pounds of torque at 2,600RPM that would be 107hp. The reality is that it's a lot more torque at 2,800 and 3,000RPM than down at 1,800 and 2,000RPM, and the full 130hp rated power output is probably available by about 2,800RPM or so. The power doesn't stop there though, as the torque continues to increase up to at least 3,000RPM. I would guess about 160 or 170hp at around 3,200 or 3,300RPM, and it goes up at least slightly from there to 3,500 and 3,700RPM even with the miniscule stock two barrel carburetor. If the 1954 OHV 239 V8 weren't so choked off power would be a whole lot higher up at 4,000 and 4,500RPM. And of course the really big power comes up above 6,000RPM. Talking about high engine speeds on the 1954 OHV 239 V8 though brings up some other issues.
The big problem with the 1954 Ford OHV 239 V8 is the massively overweight reciprocating assembly. I have seen the rods only in photographs, but they sure are big. The rod journals are 2.189" in diameter, which is just about as big as the 2.2" rod journals on a 454 Chevy big block. No doubt the pistons are typical heavy automotive parts also. The fact that the connecting rods are over six inches long is good for providing an efficient 2:1 rod length to stroke length ratio, but long oversized rods are even heavier than short oversized rods. The parts weigh as much as the parts in engines with nearly twice as much displacement, and that means wasted power and low efficiency when the engine is revved up even a small amount. With tall gearing and keeping the engine speed down at 2,000RPM for cruising the heavy parts don't do much to reduce gas mileage, but that's not the point. The 1954 OHV 239 V8 is hugely oversized for pushing a car, so anything better than about 25mpg is out of the question regardless of piston and rod weighs. What the massively overweight parts do deliver is huge reductions in power output, making what should be considered a largely oversize engine seem only somewhat non-functional.
Again it's the miniscule little 1.0" venturi stock 1954 Ford two barrel that actually limits power output above 3,200RPM, so in the bone stock configuration the overweight pistons and rods mater hardly at all. Torque and full load efficiency are reduced a bit around 2,800 and 3,200RPM, but probably not by more than just a few percent. Getting performance out of any gasoline engine involves much higher engine speeds though, and twisting those overweight parts just up to 5,000RPM turns a few percent loss into a one quarter loss of torque.
If just the 3.50 inch bore diameter and 3.10 inch stroke length dimensions are considered then a 239 cubic inch V8 engine should make about 200 or 220hp at 4,200RPM and well over 275hp at 6,000 or 6,500RPM. If more powerful gasoline is considered then a 3.5" bore by 3.1" stroke length V8 would be expected to pull over 450hp at 8,000RPM. Yes, it's a huge engine to be sure. Way too big for a car, and way too big for just about any practical purpose really.
What the 1954 Ford really needs is a 60 cubic inch overhead valve V8 engine. What kind of power output could be expected from a 60 cubic inch V8 with a square 2" by 2" bore and stroke configuration? A 130hp output rating wouldn't be out of the question, although that would be a high performance high revving engine that would deliver 130hp way up at about 10,000RPM. That's not exactly what the 1954 Ford needs for practicality. More like a mild 60 cubic inch V8 with a camshaft biased towards big torque at 3,500 to 7,000RPM. It would still be at least 100hp of available output at 8,000RPM, but would also be very practical for cruising up hills casually at 40 to 50hp output at much lower 4,500 and 5,500RPM engine speeds. With a 60 cubic inch V8 and a six speed manual transmission and rear end matched to those bore and stroke dimensions gas mileage could be expected to be up around 50 or 60mpg from the big heavy 3,600 pound 1954 Ford station wagon. Of course a big car like that is only going to get it's best mileage going rather slow around 30 to 40mph, but a 100hp 60 cubic inch V8 would also be able to cruise comfortably at 70mph if required.
Too much power? How about a 2" stroke length under square V8 with 1.5" bores for half as much displacement? Terrified of going to short on the stroke length on the first try? Then a 2.5" stroke length under square V8 with 2" bores yields approximately the same 100 to 130hp output with only slightly more displacement.
In any case a 2x2 is much better than a 4x4 when it comes to bore and stroke dimensions in inches. A 4" bore by 4" stroke length V8 is 400 cubic inches, which is essentially where the automotive industry has been stuck since the late 1950's. A good start might be a 3" bore by 3" stroke length V8 which is only 170 cubic inches, but that's just going to be way too long of a stroke length for good light load efficiency and way too much total displacement for practicality. No, it's going to be some variation of the 2x2 V8 that's going to be practical for gasoline powered land vehicles. And it's possible to go smaller yet. For very small engines going down to six or even four cylinders can work fine, especially when the goal is the absolute lowest possible output at reasonable heavy load efficiency. How does a 1.5" stroke length under square four cylinder displacing five cubic inches strike you? That's 10hp total output, and good light load efficiency at around 3 to 5hp cruising output. That's like a horse, a horse that weighs ten pounds and can sprint all day long. And the five cubic inch horse replacement doesn't eat when not working either, a big advantage.
If the 60 cubic inch V8 went in a lighter car with better wheel bearings 70mpg might be possible, although that's really just speculation. The 60 cubic inch V8 isn't available, the smaller transmission and rear aren't available and the better wheel bearings aren't really available either. An example of a better transmission is a motorcycle six speed, but those are generally sized for much larger displacements per cylinder. Just use the transmission out of a 125 two stroke? Wait, that's the same transmission as on the 600cc four stroke isn't it?
Why not just a 1,000cc four cylinder motorcycle engine and transmission in a car? That might be an improvement, but it's a lot of work to get a liter bike engine configured for use in a car. The camshafts are way too big, and everything is oriented towards peak power not peak efficiency. Even with custom camshafts there is still the problem of it being a radically over square engine that's more for 12,000RPM high power output than for practical 3,500 to 7,000RPM torque generation. And on top of that the transmissions on liter bike engines might be of a good overall design, but like all motorcycle transmissions they are generally sized for about 500cc displacement per cylinder not 125cc displacement per cylinder. Going down to four cylinders instead of eight cylinders already is reducing the transmission efficiency, and then using a transmission sized for several times more displacement per cylinder than the engine has just compounds the already high transmission losses.
The point is that a practical car has to be designed and manufactured to be such. Two hundred cubic inches of gasoline engine isn't practical, and when the whole drive train is setup around 500 to 900cc displacements per cylinder there just isn't much of any way to get it to work better. And that's a good segue into a discussion of 1952 through 1964 Ford six cylinder automotive engines.
There was no Ford six cylinder engine until the 1941 model year. First it was the flathead fours of the Model-T and the later Model-A, and then the fours were replaced by eights for the 1932 model year. The first Ford six of 1941 was a giant 226 cubic inch 4.4 inch stroke length 6.7:1 flathead rated at 90hp at 3,300RPM with a peak torque rating of 180 foot pounds at 1,200RPM. By 1951 the compression ratio was up to 6.8:1 and the output rating was up to 95hp at the same 3,300RPM with 185 foot pounds of torque at 1,500RPM.
The new 1952 Ford OHV six was slightly under square with a 3.60" stroke length, and then that same 3.60" stroke length OHV six was bored out to a 3.62" bore diameter and 223 cubic inches for the 1954 model year. By 1955 the Ford 223 six was up to a 7.5:1 compression ratio and a 120hp output rating at 3,900RPM. Where it begins to look like something is seriously wrong is that the 3.60" stroke length 223 six has a peak torque rating of 195 foot pounds way down at 1,200RPM. That's too low for a 3.60" stroke length engine.
Why is the torque peak so unexpectedly low? Yep, "Loadamatic" distributor with no centrifical advance. It's the same problem that the 1954 Ford OHV V8 engines suffered with, but it's even worse on the six. A larger displacement per cylinder means that spark timing is more critical for low end torque production, and the "Loadamatic" distributor was not able to deliver spark timing even remotely close to what was required. A single carburetor on a six cylinder engine is also tricky because multiple cylinders are sharing the same carburetor bore at the same time. On a four cylinder or a dual plane V8 there is minimal carburetor sharing between cylinders, but with six cylinders all drawing from the same pot, two are sucking at the same time. That means that a single carburetor on a six cylinder engine has to be sized much larger to get comparable cylinder filling, and what does the larger carburetor also do? It means less vacuum at wide throttle openings. Open the throttle on a "Loadamatic" distributor equipped Ford six and the spark advance simply goes away, hence the 1200RPM torque peak. Down at 1200RPM it doesn't take much spark advance to make some torque. Up at even 1,800RPM though the big six needs substantial spark advance to make it's best torque.
I know people say there were sixes in 1950's and early 60's Fords, but it just isn't so. The big Ford sixes didn't work at all without advance mechanisms.
The 1954 model year was the only year for the Ford OHV 239 V8, and 1954 was also the only year for the similar Mercury OHV 256 V8 that differed soeley in it's slightly larger 3-5/8" bore diameter. For 1955 these small engines were gone, and the new Ford Y-Blocks were 272 cubic inches and 292 cubic inches. The 272 shared the 3-5/8" bore of the 1954 Mercury 256, but with a longer 3.30" stroke length. The 292 had the same 3.30" stroke length crankshaft, but with a bigger yet 3.75" bore diameter. Then for 1956 an even bigger 312 cubic inch version of the Ford Y-Block was available. These engines all still used the "Loadamatic" advanceless distributor.
In order to get power, compression ratios were increased to 8.1:1 and 8.5:1, and vacuum diaphragms were made more sensitive with softer springs so that full advance was available with as little as 1.95 inches of vacuum. The amount of advance was still up in the 27 to 32 degrees of crankshaft rotation range though, it just pulled in more quickly at even lower engine speeds around 800 and 1,000RPM. Tons of advance as soon as the throttle is cracked open way down at low engine speed is an obvious recipe for disaster.
Essentially what the vacuum only distributors became were mere starting devices. Full advance was pulled in nearly all the time when the engine was running, but when starting there was at least a chance that the spark timing would stay down at the base timing setting so that the 6V electrical system could fire the engine up.
For 1956 the Ford cars all came with 12V electrical systems, all the better to start the engine if the extremely sensitive vacuum diaphragm doesn't happen to stay retracted during cranking. Then for the 1957 model year the "Loadamatic" distributors were scrapped and a conventional centrifical advance distributor came on each new V8 powered Ford car and light truck. Torque jumped up from 317 foot pounds at 1,700RPM on the 1956 Ford 312 to 332 foot pounds at 3,200RPM on the 1957 Ford 312. More torque, but also up at 3,200RPM instead of way down at 1,700RPM. And that's on the longer 3.43" stroke length 312 engine. Then 1958 was of course the introduction of the Ford 352 and Chevy 348 big blocks. The horse power wars were on, and it was probably the crazy "Loadamatic" distributors of 1948 through 1956 that set the stage. The 1955 introduction of the small block Chevy can't be ignored though either, as it was largely the Ford Vs. Chevy competition that necessitated large power gains each year.
As it turns out the small block Chevy is a lot bigger than the Ford Y-Block. Looking at the engines it's hard to see this difference. The Ford Y-block looks just about as big, and is if anything even heavier than the small block Chevy. The Ford Y-block also has bigger main and rod bearings, so how is it that the small block Chevy is actually bigger. It's all about the valve spacing. The small block Chevy (265, 283, 302, 305, 307, 327, 350, 400) has a wide 1.85" spacing between the valves, where the Ford Y-block (239, 256, 272, 292, 312) has a significantly tighter 1.75" spacing between the valves. This means that the small block Chevy is for bore diameters approximately 1/4 inch larger than the Ford Y-block, and the actual bore diameters of the production engines are representative of this. The Ford Y-block was introduced with a 3.50" bore diameter and was later punched out to 3-5/8", 3.75" and 3.80" bore diameters. The small block Chevy was introduced with a 3.75" bore (265 Chevy) and was later punched out to 3-7/8" (283 and 307), 4" (302, 327 and 350) and 4-1/8" (400) bore diameters.
The small block Ford (260, 289, 302, 351W) and the small block Chrysler (318LA, 340, 360) both have valve spacing dimensions very close to that of the small block Chevy, but slightly tighter at about 1.82 inches. The reason that this is of interest is in considering the short production run 1962 and 1963 Ford OHV 221 V8. The OHV 221 V8 was introduced essentially simultaneously with the 260 V8 and they are really exactly the same engine aside from the bore diameter difference. The 221 has a 3.50" bore, and the 260 has a 3.75" bore, but otherwise they are the same small block Ford that was punched out to 289 cubic inches with a 4.0" bore for the 1963 model year.
People who were around at the time claim that the OHV 221 small block Ford was introduced before the Ford 260, but everything I have seen indicates that the small block Ford was introduced as both a 260 and a 221 for the 1962 model year. The 1962 model year was also the last year that the 292 Y-block was available in new Ford cars, so there were a lot of small blcok Ford V8 options around that time.
The 1962-1963 Ford OHV 221 V8 has the same 1.82" valve spacing as all the 260, 289, 302 and 351W small block Ford V8 engines, and that 1.82" valve spacing is too wide for the 3.50" bore diameter. The minimum reasonable bore diameter for the 1.82" valve spacing is the 3.75" bore of the 260. Going down to a 3.50" bore diameter with a 1.82" valve spacing just doesn't work, the valves end up small and are pushed right up against the cylinder walls. Parallel valve engines never work all that well, and using the wrong valve spacing for the bore diameter makes them drastically worse. Too wide of a spacing between the valves is actually much worse than excessively narrow valve spacing. If an engine is bored out farther than is ideal for the valve spacing, the 4-1/8" bore Chevy 400 for example, then maximum size valves for that valve spacing (2.07"/1.60) end up a bit small for the new larger bore diameter. In this case it's just slightly small valves, and the extra space between the valves and the cylinder walls is not entirely wasted. If an engine has a bore diameter smaller than works for a particular valve spacing though then maximum size valves cannot be used, and the extra space between the exhaust valve and the intake valve is entirely wasted. With a bore diameter smaller than works for the valve spacing, the valves get small, and the valves become more severely shrouded by the cylinder walls. It's a loose, loose situation.
The Ford OHV 221 V8 would have needed much tighter valve spacing to work well with it's 3.50" bore. In fact the 1.75" valve spacing of the earlier Ford Y-block is also slightly too wide for a 3.50" bore diameter. The minimum reasonable bore diameter for 1.75" valve spacing is 3-5/8", and 3-3/4" bores actually make the most sense with 1.75" valve spacing.
The 1.75" valve spacing is slightly too wide for a 3.50" bore, but the 1.82" valve spacing is grossly too wide for a 3.50" bore. The 1.82" valve spacing on the small block Ford OHV 221 V8 results in drastically undersized valves crammed up against the cylinder walls.
The 3.50" bore Ford OHV 239 V8 on the other hand has reasonable 1.51" exhaust valves and only slightly small 1.75" intake valves, and there is actually room to go a bit bigger on the intake valves. The 3.50" bore is too small to fit maximum size valves on the 1.75" valve spacing, but it's not too far off. Maximum size valves on the Ford Y-block are 1.94" intakes and 1.54" exhaust valves, and that fits well on a 3-5/8" bore. The 3-5/8" bore Ford Y-blocks didn't actually come with 1.94" intake valves, but that's a common problem that many automotive engines have come with the wrong size valves and valves seats installed from the factory. The factory big valve Ford Y-block heads with 1.94" intake valves came on 292 and 312 engines, and will bolt right onto the 3-5/8" bore Y-block engines.
A big question is what sort of gas mileage the 1954 Ford OHV 239 V8 might be able to get. One day I filled up in one small town, then drove to another small town 34 miles distant and filled up again without stopping anywhere in between. In the first town I topped the tank up by restarting the pump once, which added another 0.2 gallons above where the pump had shut off the first time. In the second town I repeatedly topped up the tank until gasoline ran out the top of the filler neck and onto the pavement. The pump then read 1.61 gallons of gasoline dispensed. Miles traveled divided by gallons dispensed is then 21mpg, but obviously the actual mileage was slightly better than 21mpg since the level of fill was higher at the second gas station than at the first gas station. And that 34 miles is the actual distance between the two towns, not the odometer reading. The odometer has generally been reading about 20% higher with the 65 profile tires, but it hasn't been consistent all the time either. When the thousands wheel was up for rolling over it didn't, and the odometer then got stuck for about 10 miles before the tens and ones wheels began to roll over again. Most of the time the odometer has been right at 20% above the actual mileage traveled, but when it is that inconsistent it is hard to count on.
When the car sits unattended the mileage has been much worse. Several mornings I have noticed that the gas gauge reads much lower than it did when the car was parked the day before, and not just small differences. Like five gallons missing overnight. Then there is also the mystery of the size of the gas tank. The 1954 Ford factory service manual calls it a 19 gallon tank but it does not appear to be that large. The pickup is about four gallons above the bottom. I know that because I had to add four gallons of gasoline to the dry tank before I could get anything but air out of the line. At three gallons added I pressurized the tank by pumping air into the filler neck, but all I got out of the fuel line was vapor. After adding another gallon though pressurizing the tank squirted gasoline out the disconnected fuel line. The gauge reads empty at that point, but adding another five gallons brings the gauge up to 1/4. Running the tank down while driving it appears that the tank only holds 12 gallons. Once it reads less than 1/16 remaining it takes only about 11 to 11.5 gallons to fill the tank.
I expect that the 239 cubic inch OHV V8 with stock 410 gearing and the 43% overdrive transmission will be able to deliver a maximum of about 25mpg in highway cruising, but that's just a guess based on the displacement compared to other vehicles.
Back a few decades ago got a reliable 15 to 15.5mpg tank after tank in highway cruising with the stock two barrel 318 powered 1961 Dodge W100 four wheel drive truck. Even on long 500 mile trips where I filled up several times it was always right around 15mpg. That reliable 15mpg was available anywhere from about 45 to 65mph with the big 318 pushrod V8. I got 15mpg with the small 30" tires I ran at first, and then going up to 35" tires mileage actually improved to 15.5mpg. With the small 30" tires it was at lower 45 to 55mph speeds where I got 14.5 to 15mpg, then with the big 35" tires 15.5mpg was turned in at 50 and 55mph speeds. It was also with 35" tires that I got 15mpg going 65mph on the freeway, and those mpg numbers were always using corrected odometer readings calibrated by distances between towns.
At the other end I have seen around 30 to 40mpg with two liter four cylinder powered cars in 50 to 60mph highway cruising, both carbureted and port injected. Clearly EFI delivers at least slightly better mileage, as the 40mpg returns were always with four door sedans powered by throttle position sensor equipped EFI port injected four cylinder engines from 1.5 to 2.0 liters of displacement cruising at mostly constant 50 to 60mph speeds. With bigger 2.2 and 2.4 liter port injected four cylinder powered cars the mileage was no better than 35mpg, and often down at 30mpg.
I have heard tell of much worse mileage also. The only time I actually got worse than 30mpg in highway cruising with a sub two liter engine it was a torque converter automatic that was to blame for the 25mpg performance despite EFI and only 1.8 liters of displacement. I know exactly what mileage that car got as it actually ran out of gas and stopped. I knew that the same model with the same EFI port injected 1.8 liter engine would get around 35 to 40mpg in moderate speed highway cruising with a five speed manual, so running out at 25mpg after cruising along small highways at 45 to 55mph was a big surprise.
I have seen repeated reliable 28 to 30mpg performance from a carbureted 1.8 liter engine, and I have noticed that other people have gotten as low as 25mpg with 1.8 to 2.2 liter carbureted cars in moderate speed highway cruising and as high as 35mpg with 1.5 liter carbureted cars. Mostly these numbers are all from back before the federal 55mph speed limit was lifted, especially numbers derived from the passenger's seat. In my own driving I have continued to check mileage at steady 50 to 60mph speeds, but this has become increasingly difficult as speed limits have continued to go up over the past quarter century.
I have very little experience myself with any larger displacement gasoline powered vehicles other than the '61 Dodge W100 I drove for a few years. Other people have reported anywhere from 12mpg to 22mpg from automatic transmission equipped five and six liter carbureted and EFI port injected engines in highway cruising.
From IDI pre-chamber Diesel engines I have seen 14.5mpg from a 6.9 liter Ford Navistar running empty and as high as 52mpg from a VW 1.6D, both with manual transmissions and both at about 50mph on the highway. The direct injection 5.9 Cummins 6BT powered '95 Dodge 2500 has turned in as high as 23 to 24mpg at 55mph, and that was repeated over two fillups on the same long trip with no stops in between.
In general the torque converter lock up clutch automatics from the past quarter century seem to go a long way to narrowing the gap between manuals and automatics, but the automatics are still less efficient. All of those clutches and the torque converter sloshing through the transmission fluid does suck down extra power compared to a dry clutch manual transmission. The extremely tall gearing of many cars from the past 15 years also goes a long way to reducing fuel consumption from drastically oversized engines. The very tall gearing is however most significant at higher speeds. A carbureted 350 Chevy spinning 4,000RPM on the highway is going to use several times more fuel than a similar engine idling along at 1,700RPM at 70mph.
Often it has seemed that automatic transmission equipped vehicles tend to use about 1/4 more fuel, although sometimes it seems like as much as half again more fuel. Automatics tend to be more of a penalty with smaller displacement engines, where big five and six liter engines tend to give up only rather small amounts of mileage with automatic transmissions.
The largest single determinate of gas mileage from carbureted and port injected engines certainly is total displacement. Six liter engines nearly always use about twice as much gas as two liter engines. This general trend can however be interrupted by a number of factors. If a very tall geared 3.48" stroke length Chevy 350 getting 20mpg at 1,500RPM and 55mph is compared to a very low geared 3.4" stroke length 2.0 liter four cylinder getting 25 or 30mpg at 3,000RPM and 55mph then the displacement doesn't seem to matter much at all. What is happening in this Chevy 350 Vs. 2.0 four comparison is that the long stroke length four cylinder is pushing twice as much mean piston speed. Both engines are running under extremely light loads, but the much higher mean piston speed wastes tons of gasoline.
And it is in fact an extremely light load for a 2.0 liter engine pushing a midsize four door sedan down the highway at 55mph, like 15 or 20hp. The 2.0 liter four cylinder can do at least 60hp at 3,000RPM, so just 15hp output is a 25% load. That's an extremely light load, and gasoline engines need drastically lower mean piston speeds to do at all well under light loads.
The same 2.0 liter four cylinder powered car can do as much as 40mpg if geared higher to spin just 2,100RPM at 55mph.
If comparisons are made at exactly the same mean piston speed then gas mileage is much closer to proportional to engine displacement. Doing this with numbers that I am very sure of it's obviously going to be the 318 powered 1961 Dodge W100 4x4 that's going to represent the large displacement end. It's about 55mph at 2,100RPM from the 4.10:1 ring and pinion '61 Dodge W100. Since the Dodge 318 has a 3.31" stroke length it compares easily with most four cylinder automotive engines of about two liters displacement. So an EFI port injected 2.0 four getting 40mpg with tall gearing is directly comparable to the 318 powered W100 getting 15.5mpg at a similar mean piston speed. In this comparison the 2.0 liter engine gets 40mpg and the 5.3 liter engine gets 15.5mpg; 2.65 times the displacement that burns 2.6 times as much fuel to go the same distance at the same speed. This isn't an entirely fair comparison though as the 40mpg car has an EFI port injected 2.0 liter four cylinder and the 15.5mpg 4x4 truck has points and a carburetor. Someone might also point out that the full size four wheel drive truck is a lot bigger and heavier, and that certainly is significant. The thing is though that the '61 W100 weighs about 5,000 pounds, where the 2.0 four powered four door sedan weighs in at just over 3,000 pounds. It's 2.65 times as much displacement, but not even half again as much weight.
If the 15.5mpg carbureted 318 Dodge W100 is instead compared to a carbureted car the results look different. Big heavy station wagons powered by 2.3 liter mechanically controlled gasoline engines usually are said to get 25mpg, but I have seen reliable 30mpg performance with tall gearing where the engine spins less than 2,300RPM cruising at 55mph. In this comparison it's apples to apples, and the four cylinder powered cars are big heavy beasts weighing in at around 3,500 pounds. The 0.030" overbore 324 cubic inch (5.3 liter) 1961 Dodge 318 is 2.3 times as much displacement and uses 1.97 times as much gasoline to travel the same distance at the same speed. That's still close to fuel mileage being exactly proportional to displacement, but here displacement is going up 15% more than fuel consumption.
Transmission efficiency tends to be lower with a four cylinder engine than with an eight cylinder engine, but the 1961 Dodge W100 has a transfer case in addition to the transmission and rear end. And even though the displacement per cylinder is only slightly larger on the 318, the W100 has huge gear boxes that are actually sized for big block power. Then the Dana 60 rear end is a whole lot bigger than rears found in even big heavy car based station wagons. Much of the advantage of the higher cylinder count disappears in the drastically oversize gear boxes, which makes the 2.3 liter four cylinder to 5.3 liter V8 comparison come out more proportional to displacement than it otherwise might.
Something else that has to be kept in mind is that there is a minimum vehicle speed for peak mileage from a certain engine size. For medium size four door sedans with 3.4" stroke length 1.5 liter EFI port injected engines peak mileage is typically available down to around 35mph or so idling along in high gear at about 1,500RPM. For larger 3.4" stroke length 2.0 liter EFI port injected engines in similar or slightly larger midsize four door sedans with taller gearing vehicle speeds need to be kept slightly higher, up around 40mph to attain peak mileage. Then on the other end 2.0 liter cars tend to hold onto their peak 40mpg all the way up to about 55 or 60mph, where 1.5 liter cars can squeeze out a bit better than 40mpg even up to 55 and 60mph but tend benefit even more from slowing to 50mph.
These differences are much more dramatic with larger variation in displacement . Five and six liter EFI port injected automotive engines tend to have minimum vehicles speeds for peak mpg up at around 55mph, and when installed in small cars with very tall gearing (Chevy Corvette) peak mileage may occur only way up above 80mph. Even in big full size pickups the huge five and six liter engines tend to hold onto their peak mileage up to much higher speeds. Peak mileage of 20mpg might be available down to 55mph or so, but close to the same peak mileage tends to be available up to 75mpg also if the gearing is tall enough. With low gearing big six liter engines don't experience a drop off in mileage down to 45mpg, but then peak mileage is only 15 or 17mpg instead of 20 or 22mpg with tall gearing.
If two liter four cylinder engines are installed in big heavy vehicles then the vehicle speeds need to be kept even lower to get their best mileage. My 1987 Toyota 4x4 truck with it's 3.50" stroke length 2.4 liter EFI port injected four cylinder has only gotten it's highest 26 and 27mpg returns when vehicles speeds were kept down at 40 to 50mph. Cruising at steady 50 and 55mph speeds mileage was never better than 25mpg, and often only 24.5mpg. When I first got that truck I only checked the mileage on the freeway, and it got around 23mpg cruising at higher 60 and 65mph speeds. Later when I was driving a lot on smaller mountain roads at speeds rarely exceeding 55mph was when it reliably got 24.5 to 25mpg every time, tank after tank. And I also got that same 25mpg mileage from the '87 Toyota 4x4 on extremely small twisting steep paved mountain roads where speeds stayed way down at 30 to 45mph including substantial use of 3,000 to 4,000RPM wide open power in second and third gear to accelerate up hills and out of turns. The way that I got 25mpg in those slow and twisty conditions was to only use lower gears for heavy acceleration, and then to hop into high gear for all steady speed cruising even at vehicle speeds as low as 35mph. The 4.10 gears and overdrive five speed on that '87 Toyota results in a hair over 2,000RPM at the 50mph vehicle speed where peak 26 and 27mpg mileage occurs.
The 1954 Ford "Country Sedan" station wagon goes 55mph at 2,250RPM with the small 65 profile tires, which again is a very similar mean piston speed to the '61 W100 going 55mph at 2,100RPM. The 318 has a 6% longer stroke length, and the OHV 239 V8 spins about 7% faster to go the same 55mph. That's pretty much exactly the same mean piston speed at the same vehicle speed. The 318 is one third again more displacement than the 1954 Ford OHV 239 V8, so the '61 Dodge W100 would be expected to use about a third again more fuel to go the same distance at the same speed. If the 15% correction derived in the above paragraph is applied the expected gas mileage for the 1954 Ford "Country Sedan" wagon would be 20mpg.
In this comparison there is however a big glaring difference from the 2.3 liter four cylinder station wagon comparison. And that's the fact that the 1954 Ford is only 3,600 pounds, yet has a huge 239 cubic inch engine. The 1954 Ford wagon is only slightly bigger and slightly heavier than the 2.3 liter four cylinder powered station wagons, yet the '54 ford has a giant 239 cubic inch engine. Clearly the 1954 Ford OHV 239 V8 is considerably more lightly loaded than either the 318 pushing the 5,000 pound Dodge W100 or the 2.3 liter four pushing a big heavy station wagon. The lighter load at the same engine speed means less fuel consumption per cubic inch of engine displacement, so the '54 Ford would be expected to get somewhat better than 20mpg.
Another way of looking at this is that the 1954 OHV 239 V8 is going to get at least 20mpg, even if it were installed in a somewhat larger and heavier vehicle. The 1954 Ford body and chassis is similar to station wagons that get 30mpg with smaller four cylinder engines, and the OHV 239 V8 is small enough that it is going to deliver better than 20mpg. That all adds up to somewhat better than 20mpg expected gas mileage from the OHV 239 V8 powered 1954 Ford "Country Sedan" station wagon.
And then there is the fact that the 65 profile tires result in lower gearing than the '54 Ford has with stock size tires. And it's not just a little bit of a gearing difference. No, it's nearly a 20% difference. Clearly the stock gearing of about 58mph at 2,000RPM is going to deliver at least slightly better gas mileage than the 50mph at 2,000RPM gearing with 65 profile tires.
The main thing that makes the 1932 through 1955 Ford two barrel carburetors seem inferior is the fact that the main jet discharge nozzles are bellow the float level. This makes the carburetor extremely sensitive to changes in the float level, and then it has just a single small brass float that makes the float level very sensitive to changes in fuel pump pressure. A bigger or lighter float would reduce fluctuations in float level with changes in fuel pump pressure, although that's really only an issue if a replacement fuel pump doesn't have the precise 4.5 to 5.0psi pressure setting specified in the 1954 Ford factory service manual. That wouldn't happen, now would it?
No amount of precise matching of fuel pump pressure to float setting or float enlargement would do anything about the 1932 to 1955 Ford carburetor's dislike for extreme angles though. With extreme sensitivity to float level changes tipping the car far in any direction doesn't work well.
At least the float chamber is in the front of the carburetor so that any flooding occurs when going uphill. When the engine is running and making power some extra gasoline getting dumped in isn't going to stop it, it just gets overly rich.
The reason that the main jet discharge nozzles are so low on the 1932 through 1955 Ford carburetors is simply that this is the easiest (cheapest to manufacture) way to provide good mixture control on a butterfly valve type carburetor. If the main jet circuit has to suck the gasoline up farther then it has a harder time beginning to flow at small throttle openings, which then necessitates a larger number of intermediate circuit discharge holes (or an intermediate circuit discharge slot as in the case of Carter, Holley and some later Stromberg carburetors).
There is something else unique and a bit annoying about the stock 1954 Ford "EBU" stamped two barrel carburetor, and that's the orientation of those low placed main jet discharge nozzles. On most carburetors the main jet discharge nozzles are placed right in the middle of the fastest flow area of the venturi, and are oriented to discharge approximately 90 degrees to the flow of intake air. On the 1954 Ford carburetor the main jet discharge nozzles are located on the bottom of a rather large "nozzle bar", and they face about 45 degrees downward from horizontal. There are two things that this does. One is that the vacuum signal at the discharge nozzles is weak, which again has to do with the main jet discharge nozzles being lower than the float level. The other significant thing is that the tightest restriction in flow is fully above the discharge nozzles, meaning that no gasoline flows through that smallest restriction in the venturi. That sounds good in terms of flow capability, but the problem is that it's a big fat nozzle bar that severely restricts flow above the main jet discharge nozzles. It doesn't flow all that well compared to a better 1.0" venturi carburetor, and that's not the worst of it. The real problem is that dumping the gasoline in bellow the large restriction in the venturi makes the carburetor insensitive to over rich conditions. The extra gasoline dumped in doesn't block the flow of intake air as much because the intake flow is already blocked by the large nozzle bar located above the main jet discharge nozzles.
There are some features of this main jet nozzle configuration that can be seen as somewhat desirable, but overall it mostly just means that there is less noticeable sign of the engine running overly rich other than high fuel consumption. One potential benefit of the bottom discharging main jet nozzles is reduced sensitivity to changes in altitude, but this depends on the carburetor being under sized to begin with. Another is reduced sensitivity to changes in gasoline density, at least in terms of quantity of torque production. Changes in gasoline density may still make a difference in float level and therefore propensity for flooding since lower density gasoline sinks the small float and raises the float level.
And finally the bottom discharge main jet nozzles would tend to result in less noticeable loss of power due to high concentrations of alcohol in the gasoline, especially if the carburetor is jetted very rich. Normally large quantities of alcohol in gasoline can't be made to make good power, even with richer jetting, since the larger volume of alcohol blocks the flow of intake air. On the 1932 through 1955 Ford carburetors with bottom discharge main jet nozzles though the larger volume of alcohol does not pass through the tightest flow restriction in the venturi, and therefore is less of a hindrance to flow than would be the case if the same alcohol mixture were run in a more normal carburetor.
The voltage regulator that was on the 1954 Ford when I got it looks like the original 1954 part, and it says "American Bosch 7V" on the cover. That's interesting that a 1954 Ford had a Bosch voltage regulator on it. It works, but the response is rather poor and there are other associated problems also.
The biggest problem is that the regulated voltage remains low during the first few minutes that the engine is running until the regulator warms up and the voltage regulator coil comes up to full temperature. This is backwards, as modern automotive alternator voltage regulators start out high when the alternator is cold, and then drop down to a lower charge voltage once the alternator has warmed up some.
The poor response of the 1954 Ford American Bosch regulator is however only a problem if the car is used for extremely short trips of less than two miles. For longer trips it's no problem at all that it takes a few minutes for the regulated voltage to come up, and it can even be seen as desirable that the regulated voltage starts out low so that the generator is never subjected to full current output. Trickling the battery back up over a several minute period would tend to increase the service life of the brushes.
If the car is used repeatedly for very short trips though it could be confusing and annoying to not have enough charge voltage right away. It just makes the battery system look even less functional than it actually is.
The reason for the poor response from the American Bosch 7V regulator is simply that the voltage regulator coil is rather small. A larger coil wouldn't heat up as much, and the voltage would remain more constant right from first firing the engine up. It's just a cheap little regulator, and the result is poor response and low charge voltage when first fired up.
The other problem with the charging system on the 1954 Ford has nothing to do with the regulator, but is instead an issue with the generator. It is a huge generator that makes enough output to hold the battery voltage up at 7.0V with the headlights on at rather low idle speeds around 700RPM or so. That sounds great for keeping the battery up during extended idling, but it has a downside also. The problem has to do with the type of generator.
All of these old automotive generators have permanent magnets and also field windings. The permanent magnets boost efficiency and reduce required field current, so that's why they are there. The problem is that enough permanent magnet field strength to make a dent in the required field current at an engine speed of 1,200RPM results in a runaway voltage condition up at higher engine speeds. The permanent magnets aren't enough to make output by themselves at low engine speeds, but then up at higher engine speeds the generator makes output even with the field windings completely turned off. And this is related to battery size. The battery has to be big enough to be able to absorb the unregulated output at high engine speeds. If the generator puts out more current than the battery can handle at a safe voltage then the battery goes into an overvoltage condition where the electrolyte is rapidly electrolyzed off requiring more frequent watering and shortening the life of the sulfuric acid.
What this means is that the 1954 Ford really needs the huge 100Ahr Group 2N battery listed in the specifications. A smaller batter goes into an over voltage condition more readily, and then gets destroyed much more rapidly. And that 100Ahr 6V battery is quite huge. The 6V starter is actually more efficient than many 12V starters, meaning that it requires less electrical power for the same mechanical output. And since the 6V starter cranks the engine very slowly the actual mechanical load is quite low. A higher thermodynamic efficiency, while also driving a much smaller mechanical load means that the 6V starter doesn't draw much current. Just a very small 6V battery is enough to start the 1954 Ford, provided of course that it fires instantly or nearly instantly as it often does. The huge battery is required only to increase the service life of the battery.
As a side benefit there is lots of juice available to run a humming power hungry vacuum tube radio all night long. And the dome light also if that's your thing.
The original vacuum tube 6V radio in my 1954 Ford hasn't fire up yet as the buttons are stuck, and the small vacuum tubes are sure to be flat by now 65 years later. Those are however simple and easy to replace if replacements are available. I don't know how long it takes for that size vacuum tube to lose it's vacuum, but what I gather from stories I have heard is that typical one cubic inch sizes often went for at least a decade. A miniscule little 2 cubic millimeter vacuum tube reed switch I once bought lasted for a few months before losing it's vacuum and failing, although I don't know what level of vacuum was in it when new either.
Volume goes up with the cube of size, and surface area goes up with the square of size which means that doubling the size of a vacuum tube doubles the ratio of volume to surface area. A vacuum tube twice as big should last at least twice as long. The problem though is that for most normal types of vacuum tube devices power consumption also goes up with the cube of size. A vacuum tube twice as big uses eight times as much power. This is likely why vacuum tubes in car radios are sort of long and skinny looking, with a length of about three times the diameter. The device itself is contained down at one end, and then the long extension is just added volume to store vacuum so that it will last longer before going flat.
And no, going flat isn't the correct term. I don't know what to call it. Going round maybe. Filling with air and loosing it's vacuum is a more technically correct way to describe a vacuum tube going bad, but that's a lot of words to say something that should be simple.
In case anyone is wondering, a vacuum tube filling with air and loosing it's vacuum is the result of air molecules slowly migrating right through the glass. Obviously that's a slow process, but it doesn't take much air getting in to drastically change the plasma environment in a vacuum tube component.
And why do they call them "vacuum tubes" anyway if the gas inside is an inert gas such as argon or neon? I guess it's just a very small amount of inert gas that's required to setup the desired plasma environment, so the pressure relative to atmospheric pressure is in fact a vacuum.
When I studied electronics in the 1990's and the first decade of the 21st century vacuum tube components were so old fashioned that they weren't even part of the curriculum. Really all I know about vacuum tubes is entirely conjecture. I have heard stories about replacing vacuum tubes and how there were testing jigs at auto parts stores for testing the common types of vacuum tubes, but the people I have heard these stories from weren't electronics experts. They were just consumers who were used to vacuum tubes burning out periodically.
As a side note the year 1954 was when transistors were first announced publicly. The theory of silicon based semi conductor electronics goes back to some papers from the 1930's, but it was apparently all very hush hush until 1954. Then after 1954 it took a few years for transistorized consumer products to make it to market. In the automotive industry it was for the 1961 model year that the first diode equipped alternator was introduced. Then it was nearly another whole decade before transistorized control modules such as hall effect ignition triggers and solid state voltage regulators were introduced.
None. Buy a Chevy.
Well, not exactly none. Bigger camshafts in a variety of durations are available from Isky, Comp Cams and others. Aftermarket aluminum 4bbl intake manifolds are also available, although at much higher prices than for other V8 engines, and there are currently even aftermarket aluminum cylinder heads available for the Y-blocks, again at exorbitant prices due largely to very low sales volumes.
The other hot upgrade for Y-blocks is the installation of small block Chevy connecting rods, since the 545g aftermarket steel rods for Chevy 350/400 engines have long been the lightest on the market. With these rods for the "large" 2.1 inch journals the stock Ford 272/292 crankshafts can be stroked out to a 3.38" stroke length. The Chevy rod bearings are a bit wider at 0.842", but apparently there's plenty of room on the Ford Y-block cranks to cut in the larger journal width.
So what sort of Y-block build makes sense? A t a 3-7/8" bore diameter the Ford Y-block compares poorly with a 3-7/8" bore small block Chevy sporting a 2.02"/1.60" valve combination. Going down to a 3.75" bore the tighter valve spacing on the Ford Y-block looks much better, as 3.75" bore small block Chevys are notoriously cramped for valve space. At a 3.75" bore diameter the Y-block maximum 1.94"/1.54" valve combination looks pretty good since that's about all the valve size that will fit on a 3.75" bore small block Chevy anyway. And again the extra space outside the Y-block valves at a 3.75" bore diameter isn't entirely wasted, where the space between the 1.94"/1.50" valves on a 3.75" bore small block Chevy is in fact totally wasted.
What really makes sense for a Ford Y-block though is the 3-5/8" bore diameter where the Y-block max 1.94"/1.54" valves fit nicely with essentially zero practical space for going down to smaller bore diameters.
A 278 stroker Y-block is hardly bigger than a stock 272, but the big valve heads and largely reduced connecting rod weight add up to quite a lot more power output. Stroking out from 3.30" to 3.38" is going the wrong direction, but these are all huge parts that beg for more displacement. The 278 stroker Y-block is as small as it gets for reasonably functional custom V8 engine building with off the shelf parts.
If instead someone wanted to attempt to get the best possible gas mileage out of available V8 engine parts, then there are some different directions that can be taken. Connecting rods for the early 2.0" small block Chevy rod journals are often the same forgings as those for the 2.1" larger journal cranks, just without the extra material removed from the big end bore. This makes for a much heavier "small" rod. Still though the Chevy rods for 2.0" journals do provide the option of de-stroking a 272/292 Ford Y-block crankshaft down to 3.12" of stroke length, which is pretty close to the original 1954 OHV 239/OHV 256 Ford/Mercury crankshafts. A 272 or 292 block can also be sleeved down to a 3.50" bore diameter, so it's possible to re-create a 1954 Ford Y-block motor with currently available parts.
I would recommend against re-creating a 3.50" bore engine with the 1.75" valve spacing. That was a bad idea in the first place, and it's still a bad idea. The 3-5/8" bore is what the Ford Y-block is supposed to be, so that would be the bore diameter to re-create.
Of course there is also the issue of piston availability. The 3.50" pistons may be more easy to come by, since that was a common size used in a variety of four, six and eight cylinder engines over the years. Common size pistons are usually available in a variety of oversizes, and a 0.040" over piston at 3.54" does give that little bit extra room to cram valves into the small bore diameter. Using stock 1.51" exhaust valves it might just be possible to stick the commonly available 1.94" intake valves into a 3.54" bore. Clearly the valves get very close to the cylinder walls, but that is just the way it is on parallel valve engines. Creative pocketing out around the valves in the combustion chamber might just be enough to make 1.94" intake valves on a 3.54" bore diameter look good enough to run.
No matter how it's put together it's not going to be quite a small as the stock 1954 Ford OHV 239 V8, but a miniscule little 0.02" longer stroke length is totally insignificant adding only two cubic inches to the total displacement. A 0.040" overbore is also pretty much totally insignificant, adding only six cubic inches. This absolute minimum displacement 1954 Y-block re-creation would be 248 cubic inches, which is still a solid dozen cubic inches smaller than anything else commonly available in V8 engines. And most importantly it's got the smallest bore diameter that can be attained with commonly available V8 automotive parts.
A 260 Ford with 3.75" bores and 2-7/8" stroke length is actually a more practical engine. The shorter stroke length is a big advantage for ease of tuning and broad torque. A 260 small block Ford isn't quite as small, but overall it's a better engine simply because reductions in stroke length bellow 3.0" yield such large gains in efficiency and performance.
The 260 Fords are few and far between these days also, but would be even easier to re-create using the long production run 302 Ford block. The 2-7/8" stroke length 260/289 crankshafts have been available as new reproductions, and 3.75" pistons can be had also. A 3.0" stroke length Ford 302 crankshaft can also be de-stroked down to 2.89" of stroke length using small block Chevy rods for the "small" 2.0 inch journals, which is again essentially identical to the original 2-7/8" stroke length 260/289 engines. Just be sure to keep track of that 0.020" when setting the compression ratio. Dot your I (beams?)'s cross your (Model?) T's and carry your combustion chamber variations.