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Six Small Ford Small-Block Heads that Work

Bolt-on power for less that you think. by Jeff Smith @ HotRod.com Feb 1 2013

“Today’s small-block Ford street engine builder has it easy. Not all that long ago, the small-block fan’s only choice for Ford cylinder heads was the classic 351W Ford heads swap on a 302. Today, the aftermarket lineup of Ford cylinder heads has plenty of castings from which to choose. We’d love to test ’em all, but we decided to line up as many performance small-block Windsor Ford heads as we could find, as long as they were available complete for less than $1,350 for the pair…” (First paragraph from Jeff’s article.)

Jeff Smith’s article from Hot Rod magazine is an excellent discussion of entry level heads for the small block Ford engines. I mention it here as I used it to choose a set of heads for my engine rebuild. The more expensive heads offer better performance but even the entry level heads are a tremendous improvement over the stock Ford heads.

I was facing an engine rebuild due to bad head gaskets on both sides. Was it better to clean up the existing heads or replace them with a new set. The cost of a set of heads for your small block Ford is cheaper than you expect. Read Jeff’s article.

How bad can a blown head gasket be for your engine?

Real bad. A member of my car club had the same blown head gaskets issue, only he didn’t realize how bad it was and continued driving it. Coolant got into the cylinders because the head gaskets were leaking. Water is a very poor lubricant. His engine threw pieces of the pistons out the bottom of the block. His engine was trashed. Last time I talked with him he was shipping it to a firm out east who said they could re-weld the block. It was a numbers matching early ’66 Shelby engine.

My choices were to fix it, park the car or sell it. My wife suggested it was time to sell it. Nope, time to make it better. And the block and crank were fine so the engine could be saved.

If that engine needed work, it would be pretty dumb not checkout the rest of it while it was being opened up. The last time this engine was updated was 40 years ago. I hadn’t put that many miles on it but old cars have old car problems. If parts are coming off, why not replace and/or upgrade those parts? For sure, all the basic things should be replaced like the bearings, water pump, fuel pump and oil pickup plus there could be some worn or broken parts,

The crank shaft was fine and could be polished & turned. But the cam and valve train were worn. The timing chain was loose and needed replaced. One of the exhaust headers was leaking. And the old Holley carb wasn’t working well.

What can I do within on my budget? I spent a lot of hours reading about the Ford 302 and this year engine in particular.

My engine builder told me those existing heads would need some work if I wanted my engine to be better. Those early Ford heads limited what that engine could be. They might have done what their job back then, but by today’s standards, you can do a whole lot better. The biggest obstacle on these classic small blocks are the cast iron factory heads. They are too restricted. Ford basically used the same head on all their small blocks.

Lots of head options. When it comes to heads you can spend from $500 a pair to much more. But they are not all the same. Apparently the cheaper heads are cast in China and machined here. I wasn’t interested in Chinese heads. I happened across this excellent article from Jeff Smith on HotRod.com. This helped to decide to spend a couple hundred dollars more and get Edelbrock’s E-Street aluminum heads. If you are in the market for heads or want to know some specifics on why I picked these heads, read this article. By the way, I purchased the heads from Summit Racing. The E-Street Edelbrock heads offered a 35% increase in the intake valve size (1.78″ to 2.02″). The exhaust valve increased 11% (1.45″ to 1.60″). More fuel and air should yield more horsepower and torque. Edelbrock says you can gain an extra 35+ horsepower with these heads.

Since it is such a great article and the basis for me selecting these heads, I am going to make a copy of the article for this web page, just in case it disappears like so many other web pages have. Click to see a copy of that information.