Ford’s MEL V8 might not have a famous racing record, but it’s worthy of a closer look.
The Ford Motor Company had a plenty on its plate for the 1958 model year. First, there was the rollout of an entire new car division, the ambitious but unfortunate Edsel. Next, there were two distinct new big-block V8 engine families heading into production, the FE series and the MEL series. The FE (short for Ford-Edsel) went on to glory at Daytona, Le Mans, and elsewhere, while the MEL V8 (Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln) is largely forgotten today. But that doesn’t mean the MEL isn’t an interesting engine and worthy of a closer look.
Between 1958 and 1968, the MEL V8 was produced in four displacements: 383, 410, 430, and 462 cubic inches. All were built on the same basic architecture with 4.90-inch bore spacing, and they all shared the unusual design feature shown above. There were no combustion chambers in the cylinder head. Instead, the block deck was machined at a 10-degree angle, forming a wedge-shaped combustion space in the top of the cylinder bore. This unusual construction, engineered in part to provide manufacturing flexibility, was a Motor City fad of the late ’50s that was also found in the Chevrolet 348/409 V8 (read our feature on the 409 here) and Ford’s SD series large-displacement gasoline truck engines. While the MEL V8 resembles the big SD V8 in some aspects, it shares no major components with the SD, the FE, or any other FoMoCo engines—it’s a lone ranger. Applications for the MEL V8s break down as follows:
+ 383 CID: 4.30-in x 3.30-in bore and stroke, used by Mercury in 1958-60
+ 410 CID: 4.20-in x 3.70 bore and stroke, used in 1958 Edsel Corsair and Citation. Marketed as the E-475 V8 in accordance with its 475 lb-ft torque rating.
+ 430 CID: 4.30-in x 3.70-in bore and stroke, used in 1958-60 Mercury, 1959-60 Ford Thunderbird, and 1958-65 Lincoln.
+ 462 CID: 4.38-in x 3.83-in bore and stroke, used by Lincoln from 1966 to 1968, when it was replaced by the 460 CID V8 from the Ford 385 engine family and the MEL series was discontinued for good. The MEL and 385 engine families share 4.90-inch bore centers, suggesting that the 385 was designed to run on the MEL’s tooling.
As we’ve seen, Ford wasn’t afraid to try new things in this period. For example, check out the elaborate engine shroud with thermostatic air intake shown above left on an Edsel E-400 V8 (361 CID, FE series). While a press photo was released, it doesn’t seem the remarkably modern-looking engine cover ever made it into production. (We haven’t seen one, anyway.) However, we can see that the production Edsel engines (410 CID E-475, above right) did use thermostatic air control, ducting exhaust heat into the air cleaner housing.
Despite its multiple virtues, the MEL V8 never gained a foothold in the high-performance world. Its exploits in racing were few but noteworthy: Johnny Beauchamp’s 430-powered ’59 Thunderbird nearly won the 1959 Daytona 500 in the famous photo finish with Lee Petty, while the team of Rodney Singer and Karol Miller took Top Eliminator honors at the NHRA Nationals in Detroit in 1959 with their Lincoln-powered dragster.
Among production MEL V8s, the ultimate in looks and muscle might well be the 1958 Mercury Super Marauder, a special package with three two-barrel Holley carburetors and a fabulously styled cast-aluminum air cleaner assembly (below). With 400 hp at 5200 rpm and 480 lb-ft of torque at 3200 rpm, the 430 CID beast is easily among the most powerful engines offered by the Motor City in the ’50s.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
In the 1950s, dream cars from the Motor City usually looked into the future, but the Packard Request looked into the company’s glorious past.
According to Packard designer Richard A. Teague, the 1955 Request show car came to be when company president James Nance asked him to create a modern vehicle that incorporated the vertical Packard radiator shell. “Just hundreds of people asked for a return to the classic Packard grille,” Teague told author George Hamlin for Special Interest Autos magazine decades later. “Dealers, people on the outside. They would write in. These people just felt that the wide horizontal grille (which was by then industry vogue) didn’t carry the same impression, the Packard feeling, that the old grille did.”
Hence the show car’s name, which Teague selected himself: Packard Request. So while most factory dream cars of the ’50s were attempts to reach into the future, the Request was an effort to revisit the grand old company’s past glories.
Initial drawings and clay studies were based on the production 1954 Packard, then transferred to the updated ’55 sheet metal package (the illustrations above are from Popular Mechanics, February 1955). As Teague noted, the job was far more complex than simply pasting a traditional stand-up grille shell onto a modern front end. Considerable finesse was required to make it look right. Teague credited fellow Packard stylist Dick Collier for establishing the essential look.
Construction of the Request was assigned to Creative Industries of Detroit, the Motor City’s leading specialist in prototypes and special projects for the automakers. A not-quite complete 400 two-door hardtop was plucked off the assembly line at Conner Avenue and sent to Creative, where the unique front end and other features were fabricated and installed. While the hood was fiberglass, the massive split front bumpers and grille assembly were formed from heavy-gauge steel and reportedly weighed more than 400 lbs. Other touches included custom-built tail lamps and Caribbean-style interior and exterior trim pieces.
Once completed, the Request was sent out to tour the 1955 car show circuit, where by all accounts it was a popular attraction. But by then, of course, Packard styling was already headed off in an entirely different direction, the one represented by the Ghia-built 1956 Predictor dream car. And as we know now, unfortunately, the company didn’t have long to live anyway. Somehow, in the disorder and confusion as the company shut down its Detroit operations in 1956 and production was moved to Indiana, the car simply disappeared, as the story goes.
The one-off show car wasn’t seen again until decades later in Oregon, where it was recovered and restored. Today the Request resides in the collection of Packard mega-enthusiast Ralph Marano. Below is one more look at the Request with designer Richard Teague, left, and William T. Graves, Packard’s vice president of engineering.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
Most gearheads will instantly recognize the familiar GMC 6-71 blower, but its original application and backstory remain relatively unknown. Let’s explore.
The GMC blower of history and legend is, of course, a type of pump known as a Roots blower. Two brothers, Philander and Francis Roots of Connersville, Indiana (no relation to Rootes of Great Britain; note the spelling) initially devised their machine in the 1850s to pump water, but it has countless applications for moving fluids and gasses, from underground mines to blast furnaces. In common use, a Roots blower can be as small as a matchbox or as big as a house.
One interesting aspect of the Roots blower is that its internal flow is the opposite of what we may imagine: around the outside of the rotors or impellers (above right). In automotive applications, a Roots blower typically has two, three, or four lobes per rotor (the GMC uses three in its original form). The Roots is a positive-displacement pump. That is, with each rotation it will pump its approximate displacement. When pumping air, it’s one atmosphere in and one atmosphere out with each turn of the rotors. There is no net internal pressurization in the blower itself.
The concept of supercharging is essentially as old as the automobile. Obviously, if we can pump more air through an engine at a given speed, we can burn more fuel and make more power. Numerous types of pumps are suitable for the job, including the Roots blower, and Mercedes was the first to offer a Roots blower on a volume production vehicle with its Kompressor models in 1921. But there were many others to follow, including Bugatti, Bentley, and Maserati.
A small but noteworthy point: Since the Roots is a positive-displacement device without internal pressure, supercharging is achieved by using the blower to pump more air than the engine can, thereby raising the air pressure in the intake manifold above atmospheric. For this reason, some insist that the Roots blower, unlike most other types, is technically not a supercharger—even though supercharging is the ultimate result. If we call the machine a Roots blower, everyone can be happy.
Above is the GMC 6-71 blower in its original habitat: mounted on the side of a GMC Detroit Diesel 6-71 engine. Introduced in 1938 and produced well into the 1990s, the 6-71 is a two-stroke, six-cylinder diesel. In GMC diesel nomenclature, 6 represents the number of cylinders, while 71 represents the cubic-inch displacement per cylinder. So the displacement here is 426 cubic inches, and that is the approximate displacement of the blower as well. The 71-series has been produced in versions of one to 24 cylinders, and each one has a blower (or blowers) of appropriate size. Here the blower does not serve as a supercharger but simply as an air pump. Since the 71 series is a two-stroke, the blower is used to pull in fresh air and push out the spent exhaust gas.
As we saw earlier, Roots blowers were originally found only on the most exotic and expensive cars—beyond the reach of the backyard mechanic. But that changed in 1948 when pioneer hot rodder Barney Navarro mounted a war surplus GMC 3-71 blower on the flathead V8 roadster he raced on the California dry lakes. Others followed, and now thanks to General Motors, hot rodders had an affordable and plentiful supply of Roots blowers in a number of sizes, including 3-71, 4-71, and the 6-71, the latter being perfect for the new overhead-valve Detroit V8s. Regardless of size, all the GMC blowers have the same authoritative sound, somewhere between a growl and an angry whine.
Soon enough, the ever-inventive hot rod industry developed a number of adapters and drive systems, including gears, chains, multiple v-belts, and the most popular setup, the toothed Gilmer belt. Aftermarket cases, rotors, end plates with sealed bearings, and other parts also appeared, and complete turn-key kits as well. (Above, Weiand kit at left and Dyers kit at right.) There were also front-mount kits from Potvin, Cragar, and others (see below) that echo the original Blower Bentley setup, though the conventional top-mount system with Gilmer belt proved to be more practical.
In ’70s drag racing, the 6-71 size gave way to 8-71 and larger blower displacements and today, NHRA racers in Top Fuel and Funny Car use blowers of extrapolated 14-71 dimensions as defined by the current rules. On a 6-71, the impellers are not quite 15 inches long while the 14-71’s are a full 19 inches in length. But the design itself is based on the original GMC two-stroke blower.
To tell the truth, these days the GMC 6-71 blower is increasingly obsolete as a performance booster. There are newer and better alternatives including the turbocharger and the Lysholm twin-screw supercharger (which resembles a Roots blower but isn’t). Still, hot rodders continue to embrace the venerable 6-71. For looks and sound, it’s difficult to top.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
In 1968, American Motors entered the rapidly expanding U.S. pony car market with a worthy competitor to the Ford Mustang: the Javelin.
As we’ve often noted here at Mac’s Motor City Garage, in the mid-1960s American Motors was hard at work reinventing itself—from a maker of small, plain economy cars to a full-line automobile manufacturer with a complete range of vehicles. Products like the Marlin and the Rogue signaled that the company was catching up with American car buyers of the ’60s. But with the introduction of the AMC Javelin in September of 1967, the automotive press truly sat up and took notice. Car Life magazine, for one, called the new Mustang fighter an “all-American image buster.”
This American Motors ad (above) draws the obvious parallels between the Javelin and the Mustang. Obviously, the Javelin was aimed squarely at the hot-selling Ford product and its pony car competitors. In features and pricing the two cars were quite similar, but AMC, true to form, claimed the Javelin had the edge in practical details like trunk space and legroom. It’s interesting to note that the Mustang and the Javelin were created pretty much the same way. Just as the Mustang shared its basic platform and components with the compact Ford Falcon, the Javelin owed much to the Rambler American underneath.
The Javelin rode on a unit-construction chassis with a 109-inch wheelbase, three inches longer than the American, while sharing the American’s coil-tower front suspension and Hotchkiss drive at the rear with open driveshaft and parallel leaf springs. Exterior sheet metal was based on two AMC Project IV show cars of 1966, the two-seat AMX and four-seat AMX II, with the concept originating as a two-place coupe by AMC designer Charles Mashigan.
The Javelin was offered in but a single body style, a coupe with a sloping roofline that split the difference between a fastback and a traditional two-door notchback. There was no convertible. At midyear in ’68 AMC brought out its two-seat variant of the Javelin, the AMX. (See our feature on the AMX here.) That’s the reverse of the original product lineage, interestingly enough. In the AMC styling studios, the two-seater came first. Naturally, the four-seater offered far more potential sales volume.
Two key elements of the pony car theme, as pioneered in the Mustang, were upscale interior appointments and a wide variety of drivetrain choices. Following that template, the Javelin’s cockpit was fairly luxurious, for a Rambler anyway, with bucket seats, embossed vinyl, and full-pile carpeting. For $105, the optional SST package included upgraded cabin materials and twin beltline stripes on the exterior.
Powertrain options included a 232 CID inline six with your choice of three-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission, while the eight-cylinder options included a pair of 290 CID V8s engines (with two or four-barrel carburetors) and the 343 CID mill with 280 horsepower. The V8s could be matched to a Borg-Warner T10 four-speed manual gearbox or the Shift-Command three-speed automatic with console or column shifter. The big 390 CID V8 from the Ambassador with 315 hp became available at midyear. But meanwhile, check this out: When Car Life road-tested a 343-powered Javelin SST for its December 1967 issue, it reported a quarter-mile time of 15.4 seconds at 93 mph. That’s impressive performance for the smaller V8, aided no doubt by the four-speed gearbox and sporty 3.54:1 final drive ratio. This was no granny car.
Javelin production for the inaugural 1968 model year totaled a little more than 55,000 cars, barely a drop in the bucket compared to the Ford Mustang and its 317,000-plus sales that season. But for tiny American Motors and its total model-year production of not quite 273,000 cars in ’68, the Javelin was a solid hit, and the company began planning a second-generation pony car for 1971-74.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.