Dressing up a modern small block Ford as a vintage Thunderbird Y-Block engine

T-Bird Transformation

By Ryan Manson * clampdowncomp@gmail.com

When the Flathead engine was discontinued in 1954, it was no surprise when Ford replaced it with a V8 engine that featured an overhead valve design. By that time, nearly all the Domestic OEs offered an OHV V8, save Chevrolet who would follow less than a year later. With an initial displacement of 239ci, ironically the same as the Flathead engines that it replaced, by the mid ‘50s the Y-Block, as it became known, grew to 312 cubic inches, with optionally supercharged arrangements being offered in Ford’s flagship Thunderbird model. Being the top of the line Ford at the time, it’s no surprise that the F-100 guys began to use “take-off” T-Bird parts on their own Y-Block engines, dressing them up or adding high performance parts to a rather benign motor. Finned aluminum valve covers and the 2×4 intake manifolds were among the favorite.

Recently, our friends James and Chris McMenimen purchased a Blueprint Engines crate 306ci Ford small block from Summit Racing (#MLL-BP3060CT) and wanted to give it a more “period” look. We decided that basing the look of the Windsor motor to that of a late ‘50s Thunderbird Y-Block engine would not only look cool, but would demand a second glance.

In addition to the vintage aesthetic, we also set about adding the necessary accessories to the front of the engine in the form of an Eddie Motorsports (EMS) S-Drive serpentine belt kit. As anyone familiar with the Blue Oval motors can attest, swapping engine brackets and pulleys from one model to another doesn’t always result in a setup that works together. Different pulley offsets and bracket arrangements make for a junkyard nightmare when it comes to adding an a/c compressor, alternator, and power steering pump using factory fittings, not to mention the requirement of two or more v-belts to drive all those components. EMS’ S-Drive solves the fitment problems as well as the multiple belt arrangement by driving everything with a single 6-rib serpentine belt, just like a modern car. The result is a compact arrangement in a reliable package.

Continuing with the modern/vintage theme, we opted to top the long block with Holley’s brand new Sniper EFI throttle body mated to a Weiand Street Warrior dual plane intake manifold. Designed with ease of installation in mind, the Sniper EFI features self-learning technology that puts an end to cold start issues, hesitations, vapor lock, and flooding. Increased fuel efficiency and the end of that dreaded “exhaust smell” are further improvements gleaned from a simple EFI conversion. The Sniper EFI throttle body features a dual bolt pattern that will mate to 4150-flange as well as spread bore intake manifolds, and the simple four-wire connections make installation almost as easy as swapping out a carburetor. The internal fuel pressure regulator eliminates the hassle of running an external unit and is factory preset at 58.5psi. After an initial setup using the calibration wizard on the full-color touchscreen handheld display, the self-tuning ECU creates a base fuel map which allows for instant start-up before it begins to further tune on its own, automatically. An integrated ignition timing control & coil driver allows the Sniper EFI ECU to control our MSD Digital 6AL ignition box, Blaster coil, and MSD Pro-Billet Distributor, further improving the performance of our “vintage” small block Ford. With minimal wiring, plumbing, and tuning necessary to get the Sniper EFI system up and running, installing the Wideband Bosch O2 sensor in the exhaust might be the most difficult aspect of the installation.

A complement of components from Trans-Dapt as well as a few period-correct decals from National Parts Depot (NPD) and our Ford motor went from low-brow longblock to T-Bird transformation. CC

Blueprint Engines
(800) 483-4263
Eddie Motorsports (EMS)
(888) 813-1293
(866) 464-6553
(888) 258-3835
National Parts Depot (NPD)
(800) 874-7595
Patriot Exhaust Products
(909) 599-5955
Summit Racing
(800) 230-3030
Trans-Dapt Performance Products
(562) 921-0404
(866) 464-6553