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Comparing Older Domestic Engines

hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,184
edited September 2010 in Chevrolet
Let's start with a comparison of the Chevy Stovebolt, Ford flathead V8 and the Mopar flathead 6. Which of these was best, overall, and why?

I'd vote for the Mopar, for its comparative reliability and economy. Sure, the Ford V8 was faster, but not by much in stock form. The Stovebolt had overhead valves, a comparatively modern feature, but from what I've read it was neither as reliable nor as durable as the Mopar.
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Comments

  • euphoniumeuphonium Great Northwest, West of the Cascades.Posts: 3,320
    My '39 Chev would leap off the line against the flathead V8's, but by 55 they would always go by me.

    The exhaust sound of the flathead's is much preferred over the 216 Chevy 6 and you didn't have to spend a lot of time adjusting tappets.

    I remember the flatheads went through a lot more fuel pumps too.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,184
    Weren't the Ford flatheads also more prone to overheating and head gasket failures than the Chevy Stovebolt, or was that directly related to the fact that more of them were modified?
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,892
    Weren't the Ford flatheads also more prone to overheating and head gasket failures than the Chevy Stovebolt, or was that directly related to the fact that more of them were modified?

    I think the Ford flathead V-8 was prone to overheating, right from the get-go. One thing I always thought was interesting is how it had two upper radiator hoses, one for each head. Initially, I thought that was to provide better cooling, but more than likely it was done out of necessity, because Ford KNEW these things would overheat!

    Did it also have two lower radiator hoses as well? It's been awhile now, so I can't remember. I just remember the two uppers gave the engine bay a neat, symmetrical sort of look.

    One thing that surpised me though, is how lightweight the Ford flathead is. I always thought those things were a bulky, heavy lump of an engine, but I've seen 525 lb quoted, and 569 for the 1953 239 CID. In comparison, the Chevy stovebolt is listed at 630 lb! I always knew the Stovebolt was heavier than the smallblock V-8, but the fact it was heavier than the old Ford flathead surprises me.

    Unfortunately, the tables I find online don't list any of the old Mopar flathead 6es. I'd be curious to know what they weighed, in comparison. The slant six, which replaced them, weighed 475 lb
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,515
    I think it depends whether or not you are viewing these engines in the context of their time, or the context of *our* time.

    If viewed by 1933 standards, the Ford V-8 was sensational, since it brought power and speed to the common man, along with V-8 prestige---a form of prestige that was considerable at the time.

    Buick had already pioneered efficient ohv inline 6 engines, so the Chevy Stovebolt was more of a continuation of technology rather than something new on the market. Nonetheless, the Stovebolt, along with very snappy Chevy styling, allowed Chevrolet to run neck and neck with Ford and then surpass them in sales.

    The Mopar flathead was smooth, and economical, but obsolescent by 1933---still, in straight 8 form they got the job done for many years to come.

    By 2010 standards, the award has to go to the Stovebolt, as one of the most durable and long-lived engines in automotive history, along with the Chevy V-8 shortblock and ironically, the Jaguar OHC I-6.

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  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,184
    edited September 2010
    For purposes of this discussion I think we should only consider those engines within the context of their time. By later standards, not to mention modern standards, they were all obsolete. Those old engines certainly did their job for millions of owners in their day, and were probably significantly improved compared to the engines of the '20s and early '30s.

    We can certainly expand this discussion to include the pre high compression, short stroke 6 and 8 cylinder engines offered by Pontiac, Olds, Buick (on which you commented), Lincoln and the independents. For example, I understand that the Nash Ambassador's OHV 6 was rugged (seven mains?), smooth and economical.

    Yeah, the Jag I-6 was more technically advanced than any of the domestics we're discussing here. Too bad the same couldnt be said about the electrical system.
  • explorerx4explorerx4 Central CTPosts: 9,614
    edited September 2010
    When you long lived, how many years is that?
    The SBC started in 1955, but when did that design get replaced?
    I think the 4.8/5.3 was a different design.
    Random thought. How about the small Buick V8 that was adopted by Land Rover?
    That was around for quite a while.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,515
    edited September 2010
    you mean for the Chevy short block V8? From 1955 to 1997---so 42 years. Then came the next "generation" (which I guess is called the LS1).

    For the Jaguar OHC I-6, that was 1948 to I think 1988, so 40 years.

    Chevy Stovebolt 6 --- 1929 to 1962, so 33 years

    Ford Flathead V8 -- 1932--1953, so 21 years

    Chrysler Flathead 6 1932 to 1959, so 27 years. (still used for industrial engines for at least another 10-12years).

    So I guess the "Champ" is the Chevy Short Block, although some might argue the VW air cooled motor because of all the years being made in Mexico.

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  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,621
    In comparing those engines, the 216's were pretty tough but they did have babbitt bearings and splash lubrication. If driven carefully, they would last a long time. They did not, however like high RPM's.

    The flatheads were pretty amazing. If the were running right, they could idle so slowly you could watch the fan spin around. They had only three main bearings but that part seemed to work out. the did tend to overheat even with two water pumps. They also liked to burn valves which took some doing to fix.

    Chrysler didn't go to an overhead valve engine until 1960. The flatheads were pretty tough as I recall as long as you weren't in a hurry.

    In 1953 on Powerglide cars, Chevy went to the wonderful 235 with full pressure lubrication. by 1954 they all had this. Those were the best engines of the bunch by a wide margin at least in my opinion.
  • texasestexases Posts: 5,528
    You can get some 'modern' Ford flatheads now, interesting combination of old and new technology. One maker talked about how some of the overheating of the old ones was caused by incomplete removal of the casting sand. No idea if that was true...
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,515
    Flatheads had the advantage of pretty good TORQUE for their displacement, probably due to decent bore sizes and long stroke. They were lazy acceleration engines, though and they ran out of breath pretty quickly.

    Flatheads remind me of diesel engines in the way they behave.

    With some of the really large displacement Straight-8 flatheads, like the 40s Packards or Hudsons, you could pull a house down with those things.

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  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,621
    An overhead valve straight eight Buick is another powerhouse that were hard to kill.

    Nothing sounded quite as nice as and old Chevy six with a split manifold. The best combination was to run a straight pipe (no muffler) on one side and an 18" glasspack on the other. What a sweet sound especially going down a steep hill in second gear. If you spotted a cop, you better shove in the clutch or you would get a noise ticket.

    I grew up in a Chevy town but I remember the flatheads sounded good too.

    Not so the Chrysler six's. With a split manifold they made a raspy unpleasant sound. Not many Mopar products where I grew up. Mostly Chevys.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,515
    I had an old Studebaker that came with some kind of aftermarket cylinder head (flathead 6) and dual carbs. It was still a pig but looked great. I'm sure an engine overhaul would have helped some. As I recall, the head was an old "Edmunds". !!

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  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,621
    edited September 2010
    I knew a kid who inherited a "bullet nose" 1950 Studebaker. It was black and it was spotless inside and out.

    He thought it was so cool to drive by the high school in second gear and switch off the ignition only to put it back on as he eased up to a corner full of kids.

    I won't say who taught him that trick. :)

    It didn't take long fro him to need a new exhaust system and he put on a set of duals. Then he actually lowered that Studebaker to the ground.

    Within a few months the car was junk. Nobody cared about Studebakers back then they only made fun of them. Too bad. It was so nice when he got it.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,184
    Although I'd heard the terms, what exactly were babbit bearings and splash lubrication? By contrast, what did competing engines have?
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,621
    edited September 2010
    The splash engines didn't have full pressure to the rod and main bearings. They used scoopers on the crank that "splashed" oil onto the bearing surfaces which were babbited. Other engines used replaceable insert bearings and typically had 30 or more pounds of oil pressure.

    Chevy hung on longer than anyone else I think?

    Maybe someone can post a link that would explain this better.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,184
    edited September 2010
    isell and shifty, let's focus on the GM 8 cylinders mills for a moment. How do you rate the Pontiac and Olds I-8s (in the context of their time, of course)? Aside from the displacement and power differences, were they better or not as good as the Cadillac flathead V8? I take it that the Buick OHV I-8 was the best of the GM eights, right?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,515
    edited September 2010
    Oh I think pound for pound the Oldsmobile Rocket 88, America's first mass-produced OHV V-8, was the best of that particular era. Cadillac soon came out with an engine that is not internally related to the Olds Rocket, but which represented all the good things learned from Olds' first effort.

    Buick kept a Straight-8 ohv motor for a while longer, until their famous "nailhead" V-8, but I don't think that engine had anywhere near the performance characteristics of the original short-stroke, hi compression Olds V-8.

    The Olds engine was truly an automotive milestone, and it paved the way for all the engine-driven options and electrical gadgets we see popping up in the 1950s.

    No flathead could have handled the chore of driving AC, power this and power that, and the monstrous, elephantine cars that were to come in the late 50s.

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  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,184
    edited September 2010
    Thanks for your explanation, but my question related to the pre-Rocket V8 engines, most of which remained in production for several years after the the '49 Olds and Cadillacs were introduced.

    To clarify, your comparison of the Olds Rocket and the Buick was between the '49 Olds V8 and the Nailhead, not the Buick I-8, correct?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,515
    correct.

    Oh the Cadillac flathead V-8? I really don't know much about them. I've driven a few, and certainly they didn't have the punch of the OHV V-8s of the late 40s. They struck me as a smooth lazy kind of powerplant.

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  • armesarmes Posts: 32
    edited September 2010
    I have a 1917 Oldsmobile Model 45 Touring that has a flat head V-8, babbit bearings, a gear driven oil pump that puts out 15 psi. and instead of the flat tappets found on most flat heads this one has roller tappets. It is a beautiful engine and only has 1,226 miles on it.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,515
    edited September 2010
    Babbitt means the bearings are POURED into the con rods. This works okay but babbitt tends to be soft and hence cannot withstand heavy duty use.

    That Olds engine is interesting because it is a split case, not a monobloc like the later Fords.

    Olds also made another V8 in 1929 (gee, bad timing).

    I think the 1917 was something like 40 HP, which, for 1917, was relatively powerful.

    Here's the Chevy V8 of 1917, but it looks like an OHV engine to me:

    image

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  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,184
    Re the Stovebolt: "If driven carefully, they would last a long time."

    I think that could be said of any of those old (post ~1932) engines.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,621
    The flathead Olds and Pontiacs were available both in six cylinder models and eights. Tough engines that didn't cause many problems.

    Of course in those days a valve job was a 40,000 mile event and a total overhaul with a rebore usually happened around 80,000 miles.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,184
    "Nothing sounded quite as nice as and old Chevy six with a split manifold."

    I heard one or two, and they did sound good. The Ford flathead V8 with glasspacks sounded really good too. The Fords seemed to rev more freely than the Chevy and Mopar 6s too.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,184
    edited September 2010
    "They were lazy acceleration engines, though and they ran out of breath pretty quickly. Flatheads remind me of diesel engines in the way they behave."

    Overdrive was definitely helpful for highway cruising with those engines.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,184
    "...in those days a valve job was a 40,000 mile event and a total overhaul with a rebore usually happened around 80,000 miles."

    I'm wondering whether that would be the case if modern synthetic oil and unleaded gas were used.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,515
    Good question. Of course, getting a cylinder head off was pretty easy---it was just a slab of steel over the pistons. Not much to a cylinder head. This presumes, of course, that the head bolts don't snap off, which they do with alarming regularity on a flathead.

    I doubt that carbonization would be much of a problem today, but babbit bearings are still babbit bearings, and fewer and fewer people are able to offer this service to hobbyists.

    Rebuilding a Ford Flathead is quite an expensive repair these days.

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  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,184
    "Oh I think pound for pound the Oldsmobile Rocket 88, America's first mass-produced OHV V-8, was the best of that particular era. Cadillac soon came out with an engine that is not internally related to the Olds Rocket, but which represented all the good things learned from Olds' first effort."

    Better than the '51 Chrysler Firepower hemi V8? The Chrysler and '51 Cadillac engines both displaced 331 c.i., but the Chrysler V8 out out 180 vs. 160 for the Caddy. Torque for both was identical, at 312 foot pounds.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,515
    Drag racers played with the Cadillac V8 and the Hemi and the Olds V8 but once the Chevy V8 came along, that was the end of the competition.

    I owned both a '56 Chevy with a 283 and a '55 Dodge Royal Lancer with the Hemi, and the Chevy was quite a bit faster and more responsive. Besides which, you could do more to it, and more easily.

    You can't argue with how things turned out. People embraced what worked the best.

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  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,184
    Excellent points.
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