Updated: Dec 13, 2019
"Millennials and the Y Block Ford"
As the owners of fine, vintage Fords age, so does the beloved engine family known as the Ford Y Block. In the eyes of each successive generation of youth, the Y block looks more and more like a museum curiosity than a viable power plant. These days we often see turbo-charged 4 cylinder “ricers” or other later model vehicles that sound more like a swarm of bees or Uncle Buck’s rear end after eating a bowl of pinto beans! Not too many millennials share our passion for the Ford Y Block, much less the deep rumble of a V-8 from Detroit history. Of course, issues like this are not solely the problem of the automotive world. Businesses seem to rise and fall in proportion to whether or not they cater to the ever-changing desires of the youth of America. Churches schedule conferences and meetings to train faithful adherents in reaching the next generation. Outdoorsmen continue to look for ways to pass down the love of hunting, fishing, and the pursuit of wild game to young people. The US military spends millions on recruiting each year, seeking to entice teenagers and young adults to sign up for service. On a grass roots level, the hard-working, blue-collar tradesmen across the country do what they can to help millennials learn the value of what can be done with just a set of willing hands. How is any of this applicable to the Y block Ford?
I was born in 1973 – long after the Y block was no longer manufactured. The love of mid-50s Fords was passed down to me from my dad, my grandpa, and my dad’s uncle. I often wonder what place the Y block will have when my dad’s generation no longer walks this earth. If you know me personally, you know that I am an ordained preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ – I faithfully give the Bible message of God’s saving grace to thousands each year. Many do not receive it. Also if you know me personally, then you know that I also tout the Y block Ford as the engine of choice for the classic car enthusiast, hot rodder, gear head, and race car owner. Many people, especially the youth, just do not get it.
I must say that it has been my privilege over the past few years to come across young men who show interest in the Y Block. An opportunity to make another connection with a millennial came to me unexpectedly through social media recently. Lane Marvin, a college student at the University of Cincinnati, is the proud owner of a 1959 Edsel Ranger (292, 2 speed Fordomatic) that he purchased when he was 16… just a few years ago! Today he is in his early 20’s and is studying for an associate's degree in business management. Lane was having trouble with his 292 and through means of social media and the internet he found my cell phone number to give me a call. When I learned that a Y block owner this young had great interest in keeping his Ford moving under 292 power, I just knew I had to set aside time to help. Lane actually called me a few times over a three week period as we both struggled to find a time when I could personally visit to take a look-see at his car and help him with the issues he was experiencing. The night before Thanksgiving he left a voicemail on my cell phone – he was going to replace the starter on Thanksgiving day, but Lane was also having trouble with getting the engine to fire. After calling him back on Friday evening, I arranged a time to pay him a personal visit on Saturday to see what the trouble might be. From the conversation we had on the phone I surmised it was an ignition issue, so I brought a distributor, an ACCEL 2020 points eliminator kit, a feeler gauge, and an ohmmeter. (I had no idea what tools Lane or his dad might have had in their garage but figured I might as well bring these things along.)
When I arrived at Lane’s house on Saturday morning, a few hours of rain had already made things pretty messy. The plan was to push the car into the garage when I arrived. Sure enough, as I pulled into the driveway there were a few late model cars and one very nice, original 1959 Edsel four door Ranger underneath a car cover. Lane and his father, Dave, opened the garage door before I parked and came out to shake my hand. After exchanging greetings and some small talk Lane tried to start the 292. A fully charged battery and the starter sure sounded good. The Y block spun over like a new one, and with the air cleaner off I could see the choke closed, hear what I thought to be good compression, and could even sense the distinct smell of fuel. After three or four turns of the key, it was obvious the 292 was not going to start. Before we rolled the car into the garage, I took a flashlight, held the choke plate open, and re-confirmed that we were getting fresh fuel into the throttle bores each time the accelerator pump actuated.
When Lane, Dave, and I got the Edsel into the garage, I was able to learn a few more things about the car. Lane had purchased the car several years ago out west when the family lived in Arizona (and the body on this Edsel was one of the best originals I have ever seen!). Most of what was under the hood was all-original. Power brakes, power steering, and a windshield washer pump were all under the hood (see photo – there was a vintage 70s reservoir in place of the bag). The late 50s 2 barrel carburetor had gone through some R&R, as had the distributor, according to Lane. Evidently an older mechanic out west had helped them with both fuel and ignition issues before they had moved to the Cincinnati area. The car had a little over 70,000 miles on it, and Lane reported that they had put 13,000 miles on it since they took ownership. Over the summer he had driven the car to several cruise-in’s and other venues, with plenty of time on residential, business, and interstate lanes. Only recently had this issue popped up where the car was very hard to start and it seemed to have some trouble at times under load. Now, it would not start at all.
There were some things that impressed me about Lane – not only was he a proud, motivated owner of a classic Ford, but he wanted to keep it under Y block power. (Lane and Dave told me about a used 292/Fordomatic they had just purchased from which they planned to borrow parts.) He seemed eager to learn and asked good questions. There was a willingness to tackle problems on his own and to work through things himself, taking responsibility for the outcome. Lane talked about how over the last few months he had adjusted the valves (twice), once had an issue with a brake switch (that he resolved on his own), and how during the last month or two he had tried to work on a few other things to make the engine run as well as it should.I happened to notice that he had an Edsel shop manual, open to a page concerning the Y block, lying on a storage bin with some other small tools scattered about. This all may not sound like a very big deal to many of us, but I have often found that people are lazy, refusing to read or look up answers on their own. Even my generation is quick to jump on social media, asking the same questions that are repeated each month – many of them with full, conspicuous answers in plain sight: such as the firing order for the Y block, torque specifications, intake manifold information, etc. A simple visit to the Y block forums, Ted Eaton’s website, Tim McMaster’s website, or purchasing books by Charlie Morris, Bruce Young, Jim Eickman, and others would certainly be in order.
At any rate, it impressed me that this millennial was willing to make an effort on his own!
After looking over the Edsel’s ignition wiring, spark plug wires, coil (Lane had just installed a new coil a short time ago), and some other standard items, I suggested he pull a spark plug for a look-see. The routing of the spark plug wires looked good, but the timing was of course unknown. However, since the engine had run fine and the timing not adjusted since this new problem, we left the idea of too much advance/retard alone. He pulled cylinder number 5’s spark plug rather quickly and it was easy to see that the spark he had been getting while the engine was running was very weak – half the porcelain was carbon fouled. Lane re-installed the spark plug and I said, “Let’s examine that distributor.”
The cap was otherwise new, with very little corrosion on the contact points. The rotor looked good as well so we set that aside.
“Alright, I announced, let’s check the gap on this set of points… get out your breaker bar.” I fetched my set of feeler gauges while Lane turned the crankshaft dampener to open the points… err, open the points, ummmmm…
“No gap!” I said loudly as if to shout the “aha” moment of this Y block exercise. I motioned for Lane to come over to squeeze under the hood so that I could show him the issue. A simple fix for sure. The millennial impressed me once again as he followed my instructions by grabbing a couple of screwdrivers to adjust the points on the old Ford. Lane dove right in, got the gap set, popped the rotor and cap back on the distributor and walked around the car to sit in the driver’s seat to turn the key.
“Hold it,” I said. “Let’s remove that breaker bar,” and I chuckled along with Dave knowing what would happen should Lane have turned that key.
Lane turned the key in the ignition and the old 292 fired right up, idling nicely under full choke in the cold weather. A smile crossed his face as Dave and I looked at each other and nodded. Problem solved. The Edsel sat there and ran like a top as it warmed up to operating temperature and the choke opened completely. The valves that Lane had set were a tick noisy but nothing odd for an original engine like that with the mileage. I left an issue of the Y Block Magazine with Lane and his dad. I also gave them a few things such as the CD I have put together that has the 1949-59 Ford Parts Manuals (one for illustrations, one for parts nomenclature), the Ford engine manual from the late 50’s, the VS57 Paxton McCulloch manuals, and several other digital files that make it easy to research.
I was blessed to make Lane’s acquaintance and have every reason to believe I have made a new friend. Millennials that will stay with the Y block do exist. For those of us who are able, let’s make plans to spend time with these guys and invest all that we can. Visit my page on this site entitled "Remember" and let me know your thoughts. As much as I enjoy passing on the knowledge of Y Block Fords to the next generation, there is no greater work I have nor effort I must make than to give the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Keeping the FaYth,
The Hot Rod Reverend
aka Daniel Jessup
correction: 12/9/2019 - I had mistakenly spelled Lane's last name as "Martin" but it is indeed "Marvin" - thanks for the heads up Lane!