Ford’s Formidable 427 – Auto Racing

The early 1960s saw competition between the major US automakers on the nation’s racetracks rise to a fever pitch. Driven by the need to “race on Sunday, sell on Monday”, GM, Ford and Chrysler poured millions of dollars into engine development and support of racing teams. It was NASCAR that provided the main arena for these epic contests of speed and power, and the sanctioning body’s homologation rules meant that the cars and engines that roared down the straight-aways at Daytona could also be found on your neighbor’s driveway – albeit in very limited numbers.

It was Chrysler’s legendary Hemi engine that really lit a fire under the other members of automaker’s Big 3. The exceptional power, reliability and success achieved by the Hemi were not only winning races for Chrysler; it was being translated to showroom sales as well. Ford took up the challenge by designing a big-block engine with one goal in mind: beat the Hemi. So it was that in 1963, the Ford 427 was introduced. Marketing was just important as horsepower at the time, and even though the engine’s actual displacement was 425 cubic inches, it was referred to as the 427 because that was NASCAR’s displacement limit. The 427 was a racing engine from top to bottom. Cloverleaf molds, forged pistons and a block made of high nickel content iron provided exceptional strength. Dual 4-barrel carbs and an aluminum manifold allowed awesome power: upwards of 500 horsepower though Ford never released the actual power rating.

Astonishing as the 427 was, Ford wasn’t content to merely match Chrysler’s Hemi, it wanted to clearly beat it. The company’s engineers set out in 1964 to create the ultimate racing engine for the 1965 NASCAR season. Using the ultra high performance 427 side-oiler block as a base, Ford installed new cast-iron cylinder heads with, curiously, hemispherical combustion chambers. A single overhead camshaft (SOHC) and sodium-filled exhaust valves and a transistorized ignition system were among several unique attributes of this mainly hand built engine. Power ranged upwards of 650 horsepower for the 4-barrel version! Alas, the highly anticipated confrontation between Ford’s 427 SOHC and Chrysler’s Hemi was not to be, due to NASCAR rule changes that effectively made the formidable Ford engine illegal.

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