Brent Lykins’ 531 Horsepower Naturally Aspirated 352 Ford FE Engine

The tried and true Ford FE engine was the absolute go-to power plant for Ford during the 1960s. Nowadays, if it doesn’t say “Coyote” on it, some Ford fans aren’t paying much attention. However, Brent Lykins, owner of Lykins Motorsports, isn’t one of those guys. He recognizes the performance potential of the old Ford FE engine and he makes his living hand-building these vintage engines for drag racers, road racers, and high-end restoration projects.

To show the world the ongoing relevance and potential of the Ford FE engine, Brent decided to grab a junkyard 352 FE engine and put his magic touch on it. This project would be old school; no turbos, no superchargers, not even fuel injection. Brent wanted to see how much power he could get from a 352 cubic inch displacement engine — an engine most people overlook. He scored the motor from Craigslist for a mere $200 and, over time, after he put his expertise into the engine and after a lot of trial and error, he earned a dyno pull worth 531 horsepower.

The Ford FE engine, produced from 1958 through 1976, has been used in some epic Ford Racing machinery, like the GT40. Created in displacements from 332 cubic inches to 428 cubic inches the FE engine was the workhorse for many Ford trucks. This $200 352 FE engine was sourced out of a junkyard 1966 Ford pickup. When Brent pulled the oil pan he realized the engine was actually in great shape. With a fresh water pump added he put it on his engine dyno.

Lykins started building engines back in 2002. He has owned his own business, Lykins Motorsports, since 2008 and is a true-blue Ford guy. He only does Ford engines and of those, 97.7-percent of those are FE engines. “I think I might be one of three different guys working with FE engines,” says Lykins.

The whole project started off as a parts grab for a block and heads for future customers of Lykins Motorsports. Located just outside Louisville, KY, the $200 engine was a complete 1966 352 out of a Ford F100. It had a two-barrel intake with an Autolite carburetor. When Brent pulled the valve covers off he noticed the engine looked really good. He dropped the pan and checked out the bottom end and it was good there too.

To baseline the engine Brent slapped the old 352 on his engine dyno at Lykins Motorsports and after some timing changes found 208 horsepower on the vintage motor with the original bottom end.

From Rags to Riches: Project Junky Junk

Instead of taking it apart to use as parts for customers, he decided to run it on his in-house engine dyno as it sat. “I buttoned it back up, put a new filter on it, filled it full of oil, then took it to the dyno, and right off the bat, the engine made 196 horsepower,” said Lykins. That isn’t a bad number for a worn-out 352 with an all-original bottom end. Brent advanced the ignition timing to 42 degrees and was rewarded with 208 horsepower at 4,250 rpm with 300 lb-ft of torque at 3,250 rpm. He was going in the right direction.

Brent had some spare parts laying around the shop so he began to tinker. He dropped a Holley 500 cfm two-barrel carburetor, which raised the horsepower to 234 and kept the torque right at 300. Next Brent yanked the factory two-barrel intake off and slapped on a Blue Thunder four-barrel intake with a mechanical secondary Holley 650, which increased horsepower up to 264 and 344 lb-ft of torque. According to Brent, that was more horsepower than his 2002 Mustang GT had when it was brand new.

After its baseline run on the engine dyno, this FE block was baked, tumbled, align honed with ARP main bolts, square decked with a BHJ fixture, and the cylinders were bored, and then honed with torque plates.

The fact that a vintage junkyard FE engine was making more power than a 2002 Mustang GT engine earned respect with Brent. “I formulated the plan to pull it all down, put all new parts inside, and make it a dyno mule. Since it came out of a junkyard truck, and it was junky on top of that, we nicknamed it ‘Junky Junk’, or affectionately, JJ.” Brent said he wanted to do the project because he’s always been a fan of underdog engines.

A fresh bake/tumble treatment was also performed on the cylinder heads. They were fitted with bronze valve guides, which were then sized to fit the custom 2.08/1.6, 5/16″ stem stainless valves.

“Anyone can build a 445, 462, 482, or 505 and make horsepower, but an engine builder learns a lot more when he attempts to push envelopes. My goal was to make incremental changes — only moving one variable at a time — to get a better handle on what these smaller-displacement FEs respond to. You don’t hear of a lot of guys building 352s. A lot of guys will mess with a 390, but the majority of my customers want to use longer-stroke combinations.”

As things escalated with Junky Junk, Brent decided to have Comp Cams grind a custom billet-core solid-roller camshaft to his specs.

Digging Into the FE

Because Brent specializes in Ford FE engines, he has learned over the years that the FE engine doesn’t function optimally with off-the-shelf camshafts. So for the cam, he had Comp Cams create a custom billet-core solid-roller camshaft to what Brent specs knew would work. “I had them create .050-inch durations which were 256-/266-degrees and I had it ground on a 106-degree lobe-separation angle, with .650-inch/.670-inch net valve lift,” explains Lykins. He replaced the stock connecting rods with a set of Molnar rods. Racetec built a custom set of flat top pistons with 6cc valve reliefs, a 1.920-inch compression height, and 1mm/1mm/2mm ring grooves for Mahle rings.

Brent had Racetec build custom pistons for his 352 FE.

For the heads, Brent milled the deck surfaces of the stock pieces down to where the thumbprints were essentially gone, which awarded him with a 62cc chamber. The valve job was followed up with assembly using PAC small-diameter valvesprings, Manley titanium retainers, Victory radiused valve locks, and Viton valve seals.

In addition, TimeSerts were installed in the rocker stand stud holes to shore up some of the worn-out threads. “At this point we were working with a 359ci long block, sitting at 10.3:1 compression ratio,” says Lykins. “To top it all off, I added a custom Kevko oil pan and pickup, a Powerbond balancer, a factory replacement water pump, and a 1966 PI “F” intake that had been ported by Joe Craine of San Antonio.”

After some machining and calculating Brent had a long block 359 cubic-inch FE with a 10.3 to 1 compression ratio.

“One of the goals I had for this engine was to do some additional development of my non-adjustable roller tip rocker arms,” explains Lykins. “Most guys reach for non-adjustable rockers to complement a hydraulic camshaft, but you only really test the longevity of a product by stressing it.” Lykins knew that with almost 700 pounds of spring pressure across the nose, and a goal of 7,500 rpm, this would certainly serve as a nice test-bed for his rockers.

“It took several orders from Trend Performance, a variety of lash caps, and some specialty shims, but I was able to dial in the lash and get the engine ready for the dyno.” With a Holley 830 carb, he was first rewarded with 433 horsepower at 6,800 rpm with 405 lb-ft of torque. Lykins was happy, but knew there was room for improvement. “We were making more horsepower from a 352 than the majority of 427s made back in the day. I was hooked and began to plan the next stages.”

Brent designed his own non-adjustable roller tip rocker arms and put them through some grueling testing on the Junky Junk FE engine project. They came through with flying colors.

FE Phase Two

It was time to tear Junky Junk down again. This time, the heads were ported. Since the new valve job changed the way the valves sat on the seats, Lykins ditched his own non-adjustable rockers for some T&D street rockers. “We threw it right back on the dyno and hit it again,” says Lykins. The new changes netted 465 horsepower at 7,200 rpm and 410 lb-ft of torque. From there Brent began to make single changes one step at a time to earn more and more horsepower out of his 200-dollar Craiglist engine.

A series of intakes and carburetors sat on Junky Junk with the latest iteration being a Weiand 351C tunnel ram with twin custom carbs.

Overview of the Changes Made

Brent used the scientific method as he systematically improved the FE engine, making one minor single change at a time. Here is the list:

1. Change the PI intake to a new Blue Thunder MR 8V intake with two Holley 600s from Drew Pojedinec which equaled 464 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 417 lb-ft of torque.

2. Change the BT MR intake to a ported FE Power intake adapter, with a ported Weiand 351C tunnel ram netting 496 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and  445 lb-ft of torque.

3. Change the two Holley 1850s to a pair of Holley 660 center-squirters getting 512 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 445 lb-ft of torque.

4. Change the Holley 660s to a pair of custom 660 center-squirters mounted “side saddle” with a pair of shear plates and a pair of 4-hole spacers, getting Lykins the big number of 531 horsepower @ 7,200 rpm with 457 lb-ft of torque.

During the final few changes, Brent added nearly 100 horsepower to the engine.

Junky Junk peaks at 531 horsepower on the Lykins Motorsports’ engine dyno.

Even after immense success with Junky Junk, Lykins is still at it, and as of right now, the engine has been disassembled, with every component inspected, with the block and heads back in the machining queue. “Since the lower compression ratio was holding us back, I’m having Racetec make a new set of domed pistons, which will complement the custom-made aluminum rods that I had R&R connecting rods make for me. Junky Junk will be back!” Lykins concluded. In the video below Brent walks through the dyno numbers on Junky Junk and at the 7:10  mark you can hear an outstanding 531 horsepower dyno run.

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About the author

Rob Krider

Rob Krider will race absolutely anything. He is a multi-national champion racing driver and is also the author of the novel, Cadet Blues.
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