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Ford 390 FE - Build A Low-Buck Street/Strip FE

A budget 500hp 390? We'll show you how we did it.

By Jay Brown, Photography by Jay Brown

For years FE stood for "freakin' expensive." The good factory performance parts were scarce even in the engine's heyday, and when Ford stopped producing them in the early '70s, demand soon outstripped supply, resulting in a high per-horsepower cost for any serious FE build. Things have changed over the last few years, though, and now a multitude of aftermarket manufacturers are producing blocks, heads, and stroker kits, leading to a resurgence in popularity for the venerable engine. The end result is that it's now possible to put together a strong FE combination using aftermarket parts and do so without breaking the bank.

We decided to take a stab at putting together an economical FE engine with a target of 500 hp and 500 lb-ft, based on a readily available stock block and bolt-on aftermarket parts. From the beginning, two versions of this engine were planned: the street version for the occasional trip to the track and the strip version for a bracket car with significant power potential using a roller cam and valvetrain.

The local junkyards yielded several truck FEs in the $125-$175 range that were likely candidates for this project. But in the end, we located an old 390 circle-track warrior with the factory adjustable rocker arms and Mercury pent roof valve covers for $300 and brought it home to start the project.

The first call was to Barry Rabotnick at Survival Motorsports. He suggested a stroker kit to reap the benefits of more cubic inches. The 4.25-inch stroke was nearly 0.500 bigger than stock, and with a 0.040 overbore we got 446 cubes-a good start to the project. For $1,949 we got the crank, 6.700-inch rods, and Probe pistons, plus the complete ring-and-bearing package, balanced and ready to install.

Rather than spend a grand to revamp and port the stock 390 heads, we opted for a set of Edelbrock FE heads. They're aluminum and offer a more modern chamber than the stockers, and they flow like 427 Medium Riser heads out of the box, offering good power potential. To keep the costs down, we used the factory valvetrain and a Comp solid lifter cam with matching springs. Also required was the addition of rocker-shaft end support stands from Precision Oil Pumps.

We topped off the street version with an Edelbrock Performer RPM dual-plane intake and a 750 Holley double-pumper and sent the exhaust on its way with a set of Dynomax truck headers. Ignition was handled with a remanufactured Ford Duraspark electronic distributor and Accel wires.

The strip version got a beefed-up bottom end with H-beam rods, a high-volume oil pump, and a Rollmaster indexable timing set. The Edelbrock heads got a street/strip porting job and a switch to bigger 2.19/1.71 valves with 11/32 stems, resulting in intake flow of more than 300 cfm at 0.700 lift.

For top-end performance, we chose an Edelbrock Victor intake and an 850 Holley, plus a set of Hedman 2-inch primary headers to fit a Mustang chassis.

The end result was 500 lb-ft and 500 hp for around $6,000 from the street version and a bump to 550 hp for the strip motor, with plenty more available from a cam swap. That's enough to turn an old Fairlane, Galaxie, or Mustang into a serious street bruiser or strip contender. The FE is back!

By Jay Brown
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97 comments
Chris Hulings
Chris Hulings

One of each: '79 Nova/250 I6, '72 F-250/390 2bbl and a '69 Polara convertible/383 4bbl. All awesome vehicles.

Tobias Montoya
Tobias Montoya

I used to drive a crowne vic with more than 390,000 miles on it and it still passed emissions

Tobias Montoya
Tobias Montoya

Consider how much more it is to start with an after markit crate moter . 6000 not bad for something you can drive daily and 500 horse eazy . Shoot a modest 9 lb of boost and a roller cam and that's 800 horses easily.

Garon Combee
Garon Combee

Boss crate engine few mods 467 horsepower

Branden McNamee
Branden McNamee

Cool if your ok with the knocking after a short time.

Martin Kock
Martin Kock

Iam schizofreen...like both chevy and ford..I have a 63 1\2 galaxie with a empy enginebay. Very intressed in tips for my 352 ore 390 fe...;)) 4 speed toploader trans...carcraft is the coolest mag ever...thanxs...martin...

Daniel Scott
Daniel Scott

Should have found a 410 mercury crank. If you have enough meat in the bores to punch it out. Tara 428 c.j.

Bruce Anderson
Bruce Anderson

William Anderson might have use for an FE build....

Erik Larsson
Erik Larsson

Mopar, have had a couple of Chevys but no Fårrd.

Gene Stribling
Gene Stribling

the new ford motors are the best one? so far, but in old days was so hard to keep a ford motor running this hard now not. a chevy, can save your ass if you want power. and keep it up going fast all motors are good a for all time power (Chevy. 350ci. 350hp. Motor. the best one )

Gene Stribling
Gene Stribling

and this how to get 500hp. go get a chevy. motor first....?

Andrew R Meek
Andrew R Meek

Nice engine with the right oiling mods. Watch out for detonation. I like Windsors.

Age Cobra
Age Cobra

Ford for the most part but if I have to i will use Chev or Chryco.

David Kudrna
David Kudrna

At Jason McGowan, I would agree with you were it not for seeing the numbers myself on a Ford site. I'm building for torque, not horsepower. Using ported heads and comp cams 270 xe with 10:1 pistons.

Jason McGowan
Jason McGowan

Your power to torque is off. With 360 Ci and only 350 hp your torque is only going to be around 375-425. Cubic inches really limit the torque potential of a n/a engine.

Jason McGowan
Jason McGowan

Ever built an FE Ford? That kind of power in one at that price is pretty reasonable.

Jason McGowan
Jason McGowan

Like that left front mount. Cheesco brand by chance? At least gusset the darn thing.

Dan Edwards
Dan Edwards

Wow, somebody actually put the LS Crack-Pipe down.......good job!

Roger Womack
Roger Womack

Always liked the 390FE and had 2 cars and a truck with it !

Justin Valdez
Justin Valdez

Is there anything good you can do to a 352 for some more power?

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