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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

Machine Work
Since we were using so many new pieces for this build, machining operations were focused on the block, so we hauled the pistons and block over to R&R Performance in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota, for the required machine work. After some measurements, the block was align-honed and the decks were cut to square them up with the crank centerline. Next, the cylinder bores were power-honed 0.040 over to fit the pistons. Finally, the block was washed and new cam bearings were installed in preparation for the build. The final machine work tally came to about $700.

Heads
We selected the 428CJ version of Edelbrock's FE heads over the 427 version for their smaller chamber and 16-bolt exhaust pattern, allowing different header combinations to fit. We started with the fully assembled heads for the street engine. Examination of the new heads showed the opportunity to pick up some easy horsepower with a home porting job. The heads were disassembled and the intake bowls and ports were cleaned up, first with a burr to rough in the shape and then with a Summit Racing sand roll porting kit. Flow numbers on the top end of the lift scale improved noticeably, but the numbers below 0.400 lift remained about the same, reflecting the limitationsof the single-angle stock-type valve job and 30-degree intake-seat angle.

For the strip version, we started with a set of bare Edelbrock castings and acquired new valves from Survival Motorsports. The larger 2.19/1.71 valves featured 45-degree seats and 11/32-inch stems for improved flow. At R&R, the stock 3/8-inch guides were replaced with 11/32 guides, the intake seats were cut for the 45-degree seat angle, and a street/strip porting job and competition valve job were done. Springs, retainers, and locks from Comp Cams rounded out the strip engine head assemblies. Our efforts were rewarded with 300-plus cfm on the intakes, making these heads capable of supporting 600 hp.

Oiling System
Early 428 Cobra Jet Mustangs had oiling problems because with only 5 quarts in the passenger car pan, 3 quarts were circulating in the engine while it was running, and a hard launch would shoot the remaining 2 quarts to the back of the engine away from the pickup, resulting in bearing carnage. To save your FE from oil starvation death, you must use a good oil pan and windage tray, have 6 quarts of oil in the 5-quart pan, and restrict the oil flow to the rocker arms.

The pan needs to be baffled properly to keep the oil near the pickup, and the windage tray is necessary to keep oil off the spinning crank when using a stock capacity pan and 6 quarts of oil. Restricting oil to the rocker shafts keeps more oil in the pan and bearings, where it belongs.

For our street engine, we selected the Milodon stock replacement FE pan, which has a much better baffle arrangement than the stock pan. For the rigors of the track the strip engine was expected to encounter, we elected to go to a Milodon 7-quart pan and pickup.

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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