Updated: Dec 27, 2019
"Y Block Ministries"
Throughout this month I plan to post a few articles that I have written for the Y Block Magazine. Over the past several years, helpful technical information I have submitted has been published by Bruce Young the editor. If you are interested in subscribing, you can find out more by visiting this link: http://www.y-blocksforever.com/Links.html. Towards the bottom of that page there is a link with which you can contact the magazine.
[Over the past decade I have had a good number of people ask me about Y Block Ministries. While many of my friends and acquaintances know that I am a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, maybe you are unfamiliar with my story. Please take the time to read the page on the website here entitled Remember. Psalm 34:18 says, "The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit." As much as I love the hobby and the classic car scene, once I pass away and leave this earth it will all be gone. What will I take with me? ...nothing. Are you ready?]
Most of us go to car shows to see vehicles – the cars or trucks powered by our beloved Ford Y block. How many of us ever go to shows where our engine is on display, stripped of fenders, hood, car frame, and most accessories? Only at an occasional swap meet have I ever found a bare bones y block, but all of those engines were for sale, looked in need of a rebuild, and certainly were not set up to run on site. I have often thought, why not put a Y block on display? We always go to car shows, cruise-ins, and the like, but how about an engine show? I know, I know. Why would we need engines if we didn’t have the vehicles? After thinking it through a little, I just decided to put one on an portable test stand for display on a regular flatbed car trailer, using a couple of aesthetic accessories like a couple of US flags at 45 degree angles and a large 4x9 ft Y block banner.
David Martin, my father-in-law, with the 292 Y block at the 2009 Crown Victoria Association Convention
The story behind getting a Y block ready for display in a short amount of time is a lesson in patience, determination, and, quite frankly, miracles. I had toyed with the idea late in 2008, and sure, I had several blocks in the garage – 8 to be exact, but any one of them would need extensive work if it was to be prepped for running condition on a test stand. (Who wants to see a Y block blowing enough smoke to kill all nearby mosquitoes while making enough knocking noise to set off all the car alarms in the parking lot?) I got motivated a little bit more when in December of 2008, I drove 1900 miles round trip to buy a dream car – a 1955 Ford Sunliner convertible. Albeit the car is a project on wheels, but I have a clear vision of a tutone mid-50’s Ford with shiny chrome and stainless, powered by a Paxton McCulloch blown 292 or 312 hooked to an original 3 speed/overdrive transmission. The idea of a test stand Y block moved even closer to reality when about a month later I found a decent parts car. The 55 Fairlane Town Sedan was originally acquired for just the front end sheet metal (super straight hood, nice fenders, etc). A “running” Y block was under the hood, but I had no idea what kind of shape it was in – the car’s inspection sticker read “1985”. When I showed up at the owner’s door, snow was on the ground and the weather man was forecasting more for the region later on that day. I was running out of time trying to beat the weather, so I really did not go over the engine too well – that wasn’t the reason that I was up there to buy the car anyway. The Y block did run, but it looked rough. Quite a bit of rust, grease, a mix of 6 volt and 12 volt ignition parts, all of us know the usual drill. But, the car did seem to have good torque and power when I drove her up on the trailer and moved her around a bit 2 hours later when I got home. I did some minor tinkering on the car while she sat in my driveway for a little while. At first, my dad wanted to see the car because he was interested in buying it, so out of respect to his wishes, I waited to do anything until he could make the 300 mile trip from North Carolina up to the Winchester, Virginia, area where I live. He arrived sometime in March or early April, but decided that the car was a little too much for him to take on.
The parts car Y block looked rough, but it did run with no smoke, no leaks, and no noises…
The parts car sat in my driveway for another month while I removed the entire front clip, exposing the Y block. Along the way, I would periodically crank it up to check out the running condition, etc. I was pleased to find that although there were an undisclosed number of miles on the motor, it did not smoke out the tailpipes, made no obscene noises, maintained good oil pressure, and had a radiator that did not leak. The previous owner had told me that the engine was a 272. I took that to be true because of the giveaway of the early heads with the core plugs at the ends. But, after further investigation by chipping away some grime, the block read “ECZ 6015 A”. Automatically thoughts of a 312 started to formulate! I disavowed myself of that notion and knew that the odds were very slim. (Although I have not even dropped the pan yet, there is no raised dot on the crank, and when I turned the crank a full rotation while watching through the crankcase breathing hole on the side of the block, there was only an “EC” on the crank) At least the engine was a 292. The heads were close in production, but still a mismatch. One was an ECL-A, and the other an ECG-D. Even the rockers were mismatched – the ECG-D had the low ratio and the ECL-A was high ratio. The motor still ran well though – nice and smooth.
The engine required quite a bit of cosmetic attention to attain “display” status.
About this time, it was the beginning of June, and school was going to let out soon. I work as an administrator of a church school, managing K5-12th grades (believe me, they all know about the Y block – the chrome valve covers and decals were a gift to me during their teacher appreciation week!) Anyway, that is a busy time of year for me – pushing 50-60 hours a week at times. After school let out, time was taken up with things like a family vacation to Disney world for a full week, running our church’s Vacation Bible School, and a summer trip with the in-laws. Not complaining, but finding time to get this project even halfway viable and ready for a show where scrutiny by Y block owners would be standard fare was quite difficult. I finally had the chance to pull the car into the garage and begin disassembly. Meanwhile, I had done some work on designing a large banner, locating a completely portable engine test stand, and making a list of what I thought I would need to make this thing attract some attention while still run well enough to sound like a well-tuned Y block, representative of Ford’s Finest. The engine test/run stand was found at the Eastwood Company. I did not have the time to fab up my own, and probably would have made enough mistakes to put myself behind. So, I bought a “universal” job that was a Larin brand from Canada – mostly used for scrub motors. After calling up Kurt Stumpf, from Waterloo, Illinois, who sells Y block engine cradles on ebay, he agreed to make me two uprights that would replace the scrub mounts on the stand. They worked perfectly. The stand has its own gas tank, battery tray, oil & temperature gauge, tachometer, and ignition. With the heavy casters that came with the kit, it fit the bill for what I needed.The engine came out of the car easily enough – nothing like pulling an engine when the front clip is off the car! Quite a bit to do cosmetically though – after removing most of the bolt on’s, I left the valley pan, heads, timing cover, and water pump on the motor. All of the holes were taped off, and I went to town with degreaser, a drill-powered wire wheel, and a can of wifey’s acetone. The motor did not show signs of oil leakage anywhere, but it did show signs of corrosion at two of the block core plugs. I replaced all four and checked out the corrosion on the exterior cylinder walls inside the block – not too bad, but I did make a mental note that it would be a good idea to run some hi-powered flush through the coolant system later on. The cleanup was tedious and messy, but well worth the cosmetic improvements (that really made a difference at the show). Along the way, the points went out on the loadamatic distributor, and I could not find another set in town – but I did find an updated distributor. Go figure. Since time was short now (down to less than a week), I decided to just use the intake and little 2 barrel carb (no rebuild, just ran it as it was when I bought the parts car). During the last days, it was like one of those crazy car shows you see on TV where the shop is struggling to meet some deadline.
Due to my work schedule, I would only be able to attend the Crown Victoria Association’s show on July 30 and 31, the Thursday and Friday (last day) of the convention. On Wednesday of that week, I had finally got the motor back together just about ready to rumble. With a passenger car manual transmission bellhousing, an angle iron radiator mount, a good looking VS57 McCulloch setup for display (just mocked up, not yet ready to run through the motor), a 12 volt alternator kit, and a few nice chrome goodies, I felt pretty good about making the show in Somerset, PA, the next day – a 2 and a half hour trip. I wired everything up and double checked all connections and that the new distributor was ready to fire on #1 at TDC. “All ok, let’s refire this baby.” Very few moments in life are as satisfying as cranking up a Y block after you have done a little work to it, cleaned up a few accessories, and wired up a new ignition system. It didn’t take but a few turns of the flywheel and “VROOOOOOOMMMMM” the Y came back to life again. I sort of shocked myself at the quick success, and needless to say, the exhaust sounded real nice as the motor idled on the engine stand. My idea to just cut the original 55 Ford exhaust manifolds and down pipes off the car just before the mufflers was a good one. They fit on the test stand well, and you just have to love that open header sound.
“Good,” I said to myself. “Now I can fill the radiator, check for leaks, set the timing, and we’ll be good to go!” Murphy’s Law has a tendency to follow me around like my long lost buddy, but I was sure that this time I had given him the slip. On to the radiator – which had worked quite well in the parts car, by the way. I mounted the original style 55 Ford car radiator in the angle iron mount that I had made, and connected the hoses. Out came the water and antifreeze jugs and wouldn’t you know it? We had a hole so large in one of the cores that it looked like I was just pouring out coolant straight on the ground – it was coming out just as fast as I could put it in. “What in the world???” I am not a cussin’ kind of fella, but if someone would have wrote down some words on a piece of paper, I would have signed my name to them! Less than 24 hours from the time to be at the show, and I am in a real pickle. I need that Y to run on the test stand without having to shut it down quickly because of overheating. No extra radiators were lying around the garage, and there was no time to take this one to the radiator shop to have it repaired. Now, I normally don’t advise the kind of repair that I am about to tell you about, but it will do in emergency situations. Yep – out came the good old JB Weld! I filled the hole, but not too much, and prayed for the wonder-working epoxy to hold. The next morning (Thursday at 5:30 am), the radiator was tested. It held water, but could it hold coolant under heat and pressure? We would have to find out. The trailer had to be loaded with the rolling test stand and Y, my supplies, a tool cart, and a bunch of parts to be sold that would pay for the expenses of the trip. My father-in-law, David Martin, had already decided that he was going with me - he showed up around 9:00 am to help. After another hour or two, we got in my 2001 Ford Expedition tow vehicle and made way for Somerset, Pennsylvania.
Simple chrome decaled valve covers and recoated exhaust manifolds helped the “image”
Ahead of time, we had made reservations for one night’s stay at the hotel, and had also pre-purchased 2 swap meet spaces to display our Y block and also sell parts. Our arrival created a small stir. Seconds after I parked my Expedition and trailer near the check-in drive thru, a couple of members had sauntered over checking out the Y that was under the tarp. When a new guy shows up to a car show as internationally known as the Crown Victoria Association, people want to see what’s going on. One of their board members, historian Bob Haas, rolled out the red carpet and led us to our set up site for the trailer. A bunch of members came over even before we were parked. As we unloaded the parts, more and more people became aware that there was an engine on a test stand underneath that big blue tarp. Bob and a few other members like Wayne Haines began passing out our Y block brochures. These are the ones from our church that use the Y block as an illustration to teach people an eternal, spiritual truth about a personal relationship with God. Of course, I was literally bombarded with questions from the crowd watching the whole scene as we unloaded, hung the flags and the banner, and uncovered the 292.
The author and Bob Haas (behind the wheel) in his 1954 Ford golf cart – just a wee bit small for a Y!
One fella quipped, “Hey, will that motor run?”
“Watch this,” I replied, as I prayed it would start and not embarrass us. I turned the key and “VROOOOOOOMMMMM” she fired up right on command, and I kicked myself for any sense of doubt. This is a Y block, after all. Where was my “fayth”? I looked over at the guy and just smiled like I knew exactly what I was doing. The motor looked good, sounded good, and even smelled good! Most of us would even say that it felt good – especially when that rumble of the open exhaust hit you. Of course, it helped to have the whole stand up on the trailer like it was.During the course of the afternoon and into the evening, we spent all of our time talking to people about the Y block. I felt sorry for the folks who wanted parts from me. Sometimes they just had to wait in line. At one point towards dark, after filling the ECZ 292 with coolant (which stayed in the radiator under pressure by the way) and letting the engine just idle on the stand for a while, we had a few guys just standing there watching the motor run, sort of mesmerized by the whole scene. Several members just kept coming back to our swap spaces to look at the engine again. The only real issue that we had was that the crankcase breather on the side of the block leaked oil drops from the inside of the downdraft tube. Because we were so busy on Thursday until about 10 pm, and because of the bad rain fall on Friday, I never even had the chance to install the blower on the engine (you can see the aluminum McCulloch T-bird style bracket in the first photo). I had decided not to go up the road with the supercharger installed just in case something was to happen, so the supercharger stayed locked up in my Expedition during the show. We never expected all of the excitement generated by a “parts car” Y Block on display, but it really drew a crowd.
The tool cart was never needed for the 292, but it was needed for a fellow Y blocker. Seems that one of the CVA members that was driving around a 1956 Sunliner on Thursday evening broke down a few miles from the hotel with a starter problem. We loaned him our shop jack, jackstands, ratchet, and sockets. He was very grateful, but for us we saw this as a part of Y Block Ministries. The repair was made shortly, and the car was back on the road in no time. It is always good to see people driving their cars. Nothing wrong with a museum piece, but Y blocks were made to drive and enjoy – of course a bonus would be that their overall design is appealing to the eye.What does the future hold? I would like to continue working on the blower setup, gathering other parts to put on display for a traveling Y block show. All of us can imagine what kind of interest would be generated by a full McCulloch supercharger mounted on a Y block and running with open headers. A purchase of a quality, portable sound system with a cordless microphone is also in the works so that when giving demonstrations or talking about the engine I could be more easily heard. Granted, I am no expert, but I love the Y block Ford motor and full well believe that this type of “show” at swap meets, cruise-ins, local car shows, and the like will only serve to have more people decide to keep a Y block in their ride. Who knows? The potential may be there to see more parts availability as a by-product of exposure. And all along the way I get to tinker on this great engine, learning valuable insight every time I test an intake, rebuild a carburetor, or want to try some modification.
There are plenty of helpful tips in the Y Block Magazine from issue to issue. Some are as simple as the procedure I just described, yet others dive deeper into such aspects as rocker arm geometry, connecting rod length, parts identification, etc. From to time I do list back issues on eBay or in a classified forum on one of the websites. Contact me at email@example.com if you are interested.