Re-Engineering The Ford Model A Engine

Over the nearly a quarter century since the Web has been in existence, there have been various websites and projects in the field covered by Hackaday that have done the rounds and captured our attention for a while. Some have turned into major projects and products, others have collapsed spectacularly, while many have faded away and been forgotten.

It was one of those “I wonder what happened to… ” moments that prompted a search for just such a project that did the rounds a little at the start of this decade. Re-Engineering the Model A Engine is [Terry Burtz]’s project to take the Ford Model A engine from the 1920s and re-engineer it with the benefit of some upgrades to increase its longevity and reliability. The new engine would look identical to the original unit, but would feature modern metallurgy, a re-engineered crankshaft with up-to-date bearings, a pressurised lubrication system, and some cooling system modifications.

The web site has a fascinating technical description and history of the Model A engine, along with a detailed examination of the proposed upgrades. There is a long list of project updates, but sadly work stalled in 2015 due to difficulties finding an iron foundry that could cast the blocks at an affordable price. It’s a shame to see a promising project get so far and fall at this late hurdle, is it too much to hope that among the Hackaday readership there might be people in the foundry business who could advise? It’s quite likely that there would be a queue of Model A owners who would be extremely grateful.

If you think you’ve seen some veteran Ford action here before, you’d be right, but only to a point. Meanwhile where this is being written a similar project for a 1950s Standard Triumph engine would be most welcome.

45 thoughts on “Re-Engineering The Ford Model A Engine

      1. According to the latest update the project has stalled do to the cost of casting. They were trying to get a price point of $3000 USD, but the casting alone was $2400. They definitely need to find a east coast foundry

  1. I just emailed my father. He got some bronze castings made of a fence-top piece (has to do with a historical documentation project of his) recently from an artists’ foundry in Durham, NC… I don’t know that they can do anything to help here, but they call themselves the Liberty Arts Sculpture Studio and Foundry — http://www.libertyartsnc.org/ — while I won’t disclose numbers, they did what Dad needed (admittedly quite small work) for a very good price. I’ve asked him to reach out to them about this, but he’ll probably blow it off, because he’s like that… so if anyone else wants to poke ’em… ;) contact info is easily located on their site. If anyone for some reason wants me specifically to reach out to them, I’ll do it. PM me on the [dot]io side, I’ve got the same username there.

    1. Foundries vary widely in capabilities. A bronze art foundry is likely not going to have the equipment to precisely assemble and position 17 shell cores. They may not have a cupola large enough to pour 400 pounds of iron in a single mold. And they may not have the capacity to produce 500 or 1000 engine blocks in a run.

      A ductile iron foundry I was once familiar with did large runs with floors full of large machine parts, but they didn’t have the ability to precisely assemble and insert that many cores in a single mold. If a company could sign a purchase order guaranteeing 100,000 blocks perhaps it would be worth it to buy the needed equipment, but that’s obviously beyond the means of this hobby-level effort.

      Engine block casting is simply at a different level of complexity. The foundries that can cast them are certainly going to charge for their services.

    1. you’re looking about $7K for a raw block, if they are willing to cast one now days (last update 2015). and if it will cast correctly too. as for a queue, not sure, maybe for the $4k blocks (if they find a cheaper iron works), but not the cost of what they are now.

    1. I used to get pissed a people who used to say that about Ford. My dad owned a 70’s 2×4 F150 that could do anything asked of it and never had any real problems besides a blown transmission thanks to my older brother.

      In ’92 or so, Dad gave that truck to my brother and bought a new F150. For the next ten years, that truck caused nothing but headaches. Rebuilt the engine twice. Transmission once. Seized auto locking hubs. And numerous other things I can’t be bothered to remember. Most of it related to the engine.

      In 2002, Dad junked the ’92 Ford and bought a Tacoma. He was in his 80’s by then and didn’t want a bigger truck, much less a Ford. I ended up with he Toyota in 2006 after he passed and still have it.

      Meanwhile that first Ford kept running and eventually the frame finally rusted through and it fell apart sometime around 2004 or so. My brother took the engine out and transplanted it into a Jeep. It’s still running.

      One day, my brother made that same comment about Ford. I asked him why say such a thing? He still had Dads old engine in the Jeep. Bro’ looks at me funny. You don’t know?

      Know what?

      Dad sold the crappy original F150 engine a couple of years after he bought it because it kept getting stuck in the snow. The two of them dropped a Dodge engine in it.

      Go figure.

  2. Interesting bench racing. Most likely that’s what it will ever be. I can’t see enough demand for the economics of scale to come into play. The old farts that would have the interest and possibly have the money to spend, are on a steady march to the graveyards. and very few middle aged and youngsters are too fat removed from the model A era to have an interest. Unless its a repro body on a repro frame with modern suspension powered by modern OHV V8s.

  3. There are foundries who could cast it in Aluminum or even Silicon bronze. Don’t know any small foundry that does that sort of Iron casting. Because it iron casting is quite a step up from casting parts in Aluminum or Bronze.

    And a engine at that. That really narrows down who can do it to a commercial outfit and for a one off they will charge a arm and a leg.to do it if you include all the prep work.

    Now if Burtz has people who can set up the mold, cores, venting, etc. It will drop the price. Of course you’ll have to factor in that not every pour will result in a good casting. You may as well prep for a dozen just in case.

  4. I’m finding nothing about this on the web, but I could swear that in the late 1980’s a company was casting blocks with shell bearings and pressurized oil systems for either the model T or A. I recalled it being referred to as a type four engine, but of course all searches for that lead straight to VW engine discussions.
    I’m with an above commenter: looking at art/sculptural casters might be more rewarding than trying for commercial foundries. This adds more trouble to the mix, but casting it in aluminum with sleeved cylinders (or pressing sleeves in afterwards) might help in finding foundries willing to cast it, as small-batch aluminum seems more common.
    I was tangentially involved in an effort to get a foundry to cast a very rare race-specification overhead cam engine, which was not successful, largely because finding foundries willing to bid on the job was hard, finding foundries that were actually willing to go ahead and try it was much, much harder, and finding foundries capable of guaranteeing production of high-quality cored castings was not possible, at least for that effort. Foundries were willing to take money and produce unusable material, but nobody was willing to even go as far as taking a one-time setup fee and then refunding actual casting time/materials when they didn’t succeed.

      1. And the probable reason the above article exists: the Donovan block alone costs $5K, and a completed block/head, built with some performance parts, is just shy of $17,000USD. http://www.modelaparts.net/engine%20options.htm/donovan.html
        It’s easy to convince yourself “hey I can do this for a quarter of that price!”
        I have watched companies go bankrupt as they realize that custom complex castings are ruinously expensive to get right.

  5. Why in gods name would you want to waste time and money building something you know is obsolete to begin with? If you are going to build a mousetrap try and build something better than what is out there, or at least copy something that is worth copying.

  6. I bet Knight Foundry in Sutter Creek, California could do it. It’s run on an on and off basis, mostly for historical tours but they do some castings once in a while. If the molds and cores could be put together, the foundry should easily be able to make the large pours since it did mostly large castings for mine equipment.

  7. Perhaps checking in with a historical railroad group is advised. They work with old and massive iron and occasionally need low-volume castings. Maybe they he can piggyback on a pour they are doing.

  8. If there is a market for it, Indigogo or Kick-starter, etc. targeted to the curators and collectors of brass era cars, might get the funds and volume needed for a proper production run.

  9. I would suggest on areas where dimensions aren’t so strict and can be machined to final dimension then allow more gaps in the casting for more material to get in. Is will thicken up walls, and generally make it more castable and hopefully bring the price down. Also having realistic expectations on cost does help. If you are rebuilding a Model A and want to have a better performing, more reliable, stock-a-like engine then you would be happy to drop a bit more than $3K on the kit.

  10. I’m having some custom cast iron machine tool parts cast right now at Cattail Foundry in Pennsylvania. It’s run by a multi-generational Amish family. They have a really good reputation among machine restorers and steam train/tractor aficionados for making high quality parts from questionable patterns.

    I don’t know if they’d be interested in long production runs, but I can’t imagine the demand for restomodded Model A Ford engines would drive demand beyond the low hundreds so this might be a fit for them. I know they cast iron, silicon bronze, and aluminum, and that “core” work is not a problem for them. They can work from original parts as patterns if you can live with the shrinkage.

    My experience has been that they charge a very reasonable flat mold setup fee, then a price/lb for the material being poured. The standard process is you send them your pattern with any special instructions, they cast the part(s), then you receive the parts and an invoice a few weeks later on the honor system to pay by check or money order. So far the system has worked out for them and they are a valued resource to the restoration community.

    You can write to them the old school way (yes, a letter in the mail) or you may leave a voicemail at the following number: (717) 768-7323. Emmanuel King is the owner. He’s never answered my phone calls in person, but always calls back within a couple of days so be patient.

    One of these days if I’m ever in the area I hope to get a tour of the place. It looks amazing from what little is available online about their operation.

    Cattail Foundry
    167 W Cattail Rd.
    Gordonville, PA 17529

  11. I’m having some tradition cast of characters iron political machine peter parts cast of characters right hand now at Cattail Foundry in Pennsylvania.
    I assume’t recognize if they’d be interested in long output runs, but I can’t opine the requirement for restomodded Model A Ford engines would driving force requirement beyond the low-down hundreds so this might be a conniption for them.

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