Words And Photos: Richard Holdener
If you look through the pages of most performance magazines, you’d swear that the Chevy marketing machine is paying top dollar to ensure their big block gets the lion’s share of the exposure. If after market support is any indication, the Chevy has certainly enjoyed an advantage over the boys in blue, but that doesn’t mean Ford enthusiasts should immediately dismiss their beloved big block. It seems that the big Ford is in the middle of a resurgence, with plenty of different after market heads now available for the once forgotten warrior.
With names like Cobra Jet, Kaase, and AFR in the mix, there is no shortage of power potential for the big Ford and since (unlike the Chevy), the production Ford will swallow both big bores AND big strokes, displacements exceeding 550 cubes are possible with the right combination of crank, rods, and pistons. With the market ripe for more Ford performance, we decided to give big blue some much-needed love, but rather than go whole hog with a tunnel-ram stoker build (Tunnel Vision: Dual-Quad 557 Ford Build), we decided to start at the opposite end of the spectrum with a junkyard 460 and your basic bolt-ons. This build was both much less expensive and more in line with what the average big-block Ford owner might realistically perform.
Obviously the first item on our list of 460 mods was the motor itself. Not wanting to break the bank, we headed straight over to our favorite big-block Ford race shop, more commonly known as the local wrecking yard. The terms big block and cheap don’t usually go hand in hand, except behind the hallowed walls of a Pic-a-Part. A stroll through the Ford/Lincoln section of your local wrecking yard should easily reveal a dozen or so big-block Fords just hankering for a new home. The 385-series Fords were also offered in slightly smaller 370 (truck only) and 429 cubic-inch displacement, but since displacement equals power, stick with the extra inches offered by the 460s.
Resist the temptation to select one of the many 1988-up EFI 460s used to power the full-sized trucks. While they make decent power, the late-model heads should be avoided in favor of the earlier, carbureted versions. The non-EFI configurations (both 429 and 460s) can be further broken down into the early (pre 1972) and late motors. The early motors featured cylinder heads with smaller (74-77cc) combustion chambers versus 90cc for the later heads. Smaller chambers equal higher compression which, in turn equals more power. Don’t be above playing musical heads, as the pre-72, small-chamber heads will really wake up an EFI 460 short block.
We managed to secure a 1968 460 equipped with rail rockers and screw-in rocker studs along with a 2.07/1.64 valve package. This might seem small compared to the massive 2.24/1.72-inch valves used in the Cobra and Super Cobra Jet heads or even slightly less massive 2.19/1.66 package in the Police Interceptor heads. Fear not as the heads were more than adequate for the mild mods we had planned. According to our sources, the smaller combustion chambers on these early heads actually make them less sensitive to detonation (despite the increased compression ratio). The one downside to our heads being equipped with rail rockers was that they were not suited to performance use with higher-lift cams, but since the early heads were equipped with screw-in studs, aluminum roller rockers (and attending guide plates) were an easy swap. Later 385-series heads featured positive-stop pedestals for non-adjustable rockers.
Our early 460 came factory equipped with 4V carburetion, though the Autolite carb was not terribly performance oriented. All of the carbureted 460 motors we found were equipped with 4-barrel carburetion, but 429s were also available with 2-barrel intakes. The induction system matters little if you plan to upgrade it any way, besides, no self respecting intake manifold should be made of iron. A peak inside our test mule revealed that it had been treated to some machine work recently, as bores measured .030 over, but the cylinder heads were untouched except for a possible valve spring upgrade (just new factory units). Our plan was to run the motor as it came from the wrecking yard then after a few minor upgrades. For its maiden voyage on the dyno, the 460 was equipped with a set of 1 7/8-inch Hooker (Fox swap) headers and a Holley 750 HP carburetor. Run with 37 degrees of timing, the stock 460 produced 349 hp at 4,700 rpm and 492 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. While the big-bore, short-stroke combination might favor top-end power production, the 460 thumped out impressive torque, bettering 490 lb-ft down at 2,500 rpm.
With our baseline power numbers established, it was time to spin some wrenches. It should come as no surprise that our list of bolts-ons included the major power producers, namely the heads, cam, and intake. As part of the head/cam upgrade, we also replaced the valve springs and upgraded to a set of aluminum roller rockers. To keep costs down, we mildly ported (fluffed up) the stock heads and stuck with a hydraulic flat-tappet cam (no roller upgrade here). The cam specs of the Xtreme Energy XE262H hydraulic flat tappet (from COMP Cams) checked in with a .513/.520 lift split, a 218/224-degree duration split and a 110-degree lobe separation angle. This mild grind was essentially 1 step above the typical RV cam for the 460. The cam was combined with new lifters (with plenty of break-in lube), new 926-16 valve springs and a rocker upgrade that included 1.73:1-ratio, aluminum roller rockers, new rocker studs and guide plates.
Starting from the top, the factory, cast-iron induction system was upgraded with a Weiand Stealth intake manifold. The dual-plane, Stealth intake was combined with the same 750 HP Holley run on the stock motor. After removal, the 1968 C8VE head castings were given the once over by the guys at L&R Automotive. Porting mods to the heads included removal of the sharp edges in the ports and bowls and a performance, 3-angle valve job using the stock valves.
Since our small-chamber heads already offered adequate compression, they were treated only to a minimal surface cut to ensure proper sealing. After installation of the heads with fresh Fel Pro head gaskets and ARP head bolts, the 460 was run once again on the engine dyno. Equipped with the mildy ported heads, COMP cam and Weiand intake, the junkyard 460 stepped up with peak numbers of 437 hp at 5,700 rpm and 507 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. Our admittedly minor upgrades improved the (peak-to-peak) power output of the big Ford by nearly 90 hp, with gains exceeding 110 hp at the top of the rev range. With gains like this and the advent of all the new performance parts, owners of “other big blocks” better watch out!
There is nothing we love more than significant changes to a power curve. Adding the ported heads, COMP Cam and Weiand intake to the stock 460 increased the power output by over 110 hp at 5,500 rpm. In stock trim, the 460 produced 349 hp and 492 lb-ft of torque. After the upgrades, the peak numbers jumped to 437 hp and 507 lb-ft of torque. The new combo suffered a slight loss in power below 3,000 rpm, but the trade off was more than worth the extra top-end power.