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1955 Ford Part 110: Camshaft Upgrade... in car! (Part 1)

Updated: Apr 5

If you have owned a Y Block-powered vehicle for very long then you have heard the admonition, "If you have to replace the camshaft you might as well pull the engine!" Last month when I told some friends that I was going to remove the current camshaft in my 292 and replace it with a modest performance came from Isky while keeping the block in the car, they told me I was crazy. No, not for using an Isky camshaft, but that I was asking for trouble by not removing the entire engine. Of course, anyone who has rebuilt a Y Block Ford V8 certainly knows that the lifters are a mushroom style - meaning the foot that rubs the camshaft lobe is much wider than the shaft that slides and rotates in the bore. This design means that the lifters have to be installed from underneath the valley of block (unlike most small block and big block V8s). Lifter, or tappet, installation is not a problem when the engine is out of the vehicle and secured to a stand. Just flip the block upside down, slide out the camshaft, remove the old lifters, drop in the new ones, and then install your new camshaft. I have done this operation before and it is quite simple; however, I must admit that I have never removed and installed a camshaft in Y Block "right side up" while the engine was in the car. My lack of space in the small garage demanded that I keep the block in the car for this operation.

EAA-6500 FoMoCo steel lifter - the foot is much wider than the shank

Speaking of lifters, it would probably be wise to mention just a few things. For starters, any time that a mechanical camshaft and lifters are installed you must break-in the lobes/lifter feet by running the engine at about 2000 rpm for the first 15 minutes or so. Of course, correct oil with the proper amount of zinc, or zddp, is a must. Secondly, when installing a new cam, never use the old lifters with a new camshaft. Take a look at the following picture:

An unused Y Block lifter will look flat, but actually it has a distinct crown.

Just as each camshaft lobe has a taper, each new lifter has a crown on its face. These characteristics promote lifter and lobe rotation, and therefore longer life. As a camshaft and lifter set are run in an engine like a Y Block, each lifter face and camshaft lobe mate together with their own wear characteristics. (Note: In the first video below you can tell that I kept the old camshaft lobes/lifter positions organized in order to be able to use the set together again in another stock engine.) If you end up installing a new cam with used lifters then expect problems with accelerated wear on your cam lobes.

Every Ford or Mercury shop manual that includes the Y Block engine will have a section on camshaft and/or tappet replacement. All of the manuals I have ever seen mention using clothespins or door handle clips to keep the lifters suspended above the cam lobes so that you can remove the camshaft. These manuals state that the oil pan needs to be removed as well. To keep the lifters up in my 292 I went the following route:

I borrowed 16 of these clips from the office in one of the drawers in the copy room!

Yep, the clips worked like a charm! (more in the video series)

While many subscribers will want to jump ahead to the video series (warning: each video lasts close to 30 minutes or so) let me say that a homemade tool was a real help to me in the process of removing and installing the camshaft. I actually made a handle for the cam by using two short links of 3/4" PVC and one T fitting with a hole drilled in the middle. This was perfect for leverage and balance during the work.

The homemade camshaft handle really made the process much easier.

In addition to the handle, my friend Ted Eaton shipped me a very rare tool that Ford mechanics used back in the 50's and 60's. KR Wilson had a specially designed 3-piece set of tools that allowed the mechanic to remove/install the lifters from the bores by entering the camshaft tunnel. The video series does show the tool pieces and some of its use (and success!), but I do plan to make a separate demonstration video. I believe if use my bare block (with the crankshaft removed) the tools will be much more readily seen and explained.

The KR Wilson tappet tool will be highlighted in a separate video very soon.

For the video series it does look like there will be four total videos produced. There is just too much involved and my limitations are many. But, I do believe the videos do a fair job in showing the work and the nuances of the Y Block Ford engine. Most of the details concerning removing the intake, the radiator, brackets, etc, I do leave out because I wanted to concentrate on just the camshaft, lifters, timing gears, and valve train. So, Part 1 covers the removal of the cam and lifters, Part 2 reviews the installation of the lifters and camshaft preparation. In Parts 3 and 4, I will give an overview of the camshaft install, the timing gears, end play, degreeing the cam, and buttoning it all back up. I must say, it is quite the challenge doing the work when you have to consider viewing angle, sound, lighting, etc. Your patience is appreciated!

Camshaft Upgrade Part 1

Camshaft Upgrade Part 2

Note: the video series is also being archived on my YouTube channel.

UPDATE on Y Block Nationals and Fast Fords!

On Saturday, April 24, I was able to visit Dragway 42 and spend a few minutes with one of the owners - MaryAnne Matcham. This dear lady took time out of her busy schedule of administrating the drag racing that day to coordinate a few details about Fast Fords. The location and setup of the Victory Tent were discussed and approved, she made helpful suggestions about serving up coffee and donuts, and offered to make sure that everyone received a copy of the printed programs when they arrived that weekend. If you have never been to Dragway 42, you will find that MaryAnne is a terrific host! We certainly appreciate her efforts to get everything squared away. If you do plan to attend Fast Fords, you can either stay in your RV on site in the pit area or you can book a room at a hotel in a neighboring town. Some hotels are already full, so make your reservations now!

The Hot Rod Reverend with MaryAnne Matcham at Dragway 42

It will be my privilege to serve as chaplain of the race on Father's Day weekend, and I sure hope you can join us on Sunday morning when I preach a sermon entitled "Victory at the Finish Line!" We will have a "Drag Racer's New Testament" for anyone who desires to have a copy. The race programs and New Testaments are being printed by, a partner ministry in the church in which I serve. Hope to see you there!

The Hot Rod Reverend

aka Daniel Jessup


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