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Build my own motor. How audacious a plan!

I figured that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, a software engineer, to build a motor. I certainly hope that this is a once-in-a-lifetime shot for this particular motor, anyway. :)

I ordered a 351W short block kit from Performance Automotive Warehouse (PAW) out in California. I was fairly nervous about ordering something this big from across the country. What if there were problems with the block? It would be expensive to send back... But, I was having a hard time sourcing parts locally, and they were more expensive than PAW to boot. I decided to risk it and go with PAW.

I ordered a bunch of other performance stuff, including:

  • Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum heads (2.02 intake/1.60 exhaust)
  • Comp Cams 282S solid lifter cam
  • Edelbrock Torker II aluminum intake
  • McLeod billet steel flywheel
  • Mallory HyFire IV electronic ignition (with build in rev-limiter)
  • Milodon 8 qt. oil pan

Here's the complete parts list. I got most of the stuff from Summit, with the remaining parts coming from PAW or Jegs.

All that stuff arrived at various times and held us up in spots. But, most of the time we just went slowly anyway. I hadn't done this before, so I didn't want to rush anything. We started by blueprinting the block.

The Block Arrives

My fears about ordering from a remote mail-order house seemed to be borne out when the shipping company lost my motor! The couldn't find it for 2 weeks, and I thought that I'd have to go through this big hassle with the shippers and PAW to get a new motor. Much to my relief, the shippers found it lying in Houston somewhere and shipped it to Austin. Even though the packaging had seen the worse for wear, we found out that PAW did a fine job with the block.

We put the block on Bill's homebuilt engine stand and started inspecting it. It is nicely painted in Ford blue, but there were some burrs in the original casting that we removed with a grinder. We repainted the outside with Ford Blue to match.


The inside is painted with Rustoleum, the cam bearings are installed, and according to the specs from PAW, it is bored to 4.0305. We measured the bores with a micrometer, dang if they weren't right on for 6 of the 8 bores. Cylinder \#4 looks about .002" smaller in diameter, and cylinder \#7 looks .002" larger in diameter. We had thought about measuring the pistons and putting the largest diameter piston in the largest bore, and smallest in the smallest bore, but then we realized that the pistons were balanced with the crank in a particular order. So, the pistons must be installed in the order labeled.

We put the main bearings in, and with some oil on the bearings set the crank in the block. We used a dial gauge to check the crank straightness. I was expecting some bad results because of the abuse the crank's shipping box had appeared to have taken, but to the limits of our dial guage, the crank was perfectly straight! Good news!

An interesting note: The casting mark on the motor is "C90E", which tells quite a bit about the motor. The most interesting is that "C9" indicates it is a 1969 block (!). The casting marks on the crank also indicate that it is a 1969 part!

We then cleaned the bearing of oil and used plastigage to determine clearances between the crank and the crank bearings. On to short block.

Building the Shortblock

Assembling the block starts with the block upside-down on the engine stand so that you can put the crank bearings in place. This (and most) 351W motors have two bolt mains, which means that each main bearing cap has two bolts securing it to the block. For more powerful motors, you can go to 4 bolt mains, but I didn't go to that expense for this motor. I'm not going to be running enough power through it for 4 bolt mains to become mandatory.

There is a bearing between each main cap and the crank, and on Ford motors, the third bearing is the thrust bearing. The thrust bearing prevents the crank from moving along the axis of the crank; that is, it prevents the crank from moving forward toward the belts or backward into the transmission. The last thing to do before installing the crank for good is to deal with the rear main seal. This is a rubber gasket behind the 5th main cap that prevents oil from leaking out the back of the motor.


Once the crank was placed on the bearings, the main caps (with their bearing halves) were installed, and the mains were tightened down.

The pistons are next, and fortunately, my kit from PAW had the pistons already fitted to the rods. Each rod is secured to the crank with a rod bearing as a buffer between the rod and the rod journal on the crank. It is actually not all that fun to install the pistons, because each piston has three rings, and the rings are actually a little bigger than the piston bores in the block. This is a good idea, because after you install the piston, this pressure on the rings keeps the oil below the rings and the fuel/air mixture above the rings.

This is how the shortblock appeared the (foreshadowing) first time we assemled it. But it didn't go that quickly because it takes some effort to install the pistons. You have to use a ring compressor and pound the pistons in. The alignment of the crank is important, too, because you have to make sure that the adjacent rod cap isn't in the way of the torque wrench so you can properly tighten the rod bolts.


Something looked kinda funny after we assembled all 8 pistons. We realized that the pistons had positive deck height, meaning that at the top of the stroke, the top of the piston stuck out of the bore by .018 inches. Researching the info on the Keith Black 151 pistons that I have, they were designed for '72 and later blocks, which had a 9.500" deck height. Wouldn't ya know it, I have a pre '72 block, which has 9.480" deck height. I called PAW and they apologized for not checking that out. So, we had a merry fun time pulling the pistons out.

I sent the pistons back, they milled .020" off the top, and they returned them. Well travelled pistons, those. Merry fun time \#2, we re-installed all the pistons. The cam went in next, followed by the timing chain and fuel pump eccentric. Unfortunately, my camera was absent for that installation (probably out of self defense from my tendency of shooting into the light source, creating many dark shadows).

Completed shortblock! An exasperated me says "Time for a beer" after the most frustrating part of the engine building. Next: the oiling system and buttoning up the bottom end.

The Oiling System


Because we had spec'd the motor to run up to 7000 RPM, I wanted to make sure that I had a good oiling system. No small consideration in moving to a Windsor block was that the Clevelands do have oiling problems (correctable, admittedly), but because my last motor toasted itself as a result of the lack of oil, I didn't want this one to do that as well.

So, I got a high volume oil pump and an 8 quart oilpan. Now, this is just a tip, but you should always test an oil pump before you install it. I wouldn't recommend this particular test setup, though. I had no idea just how much velocity at which the oil would spray out of the oil pump when Bill turned on the drill...

The quick version of the story is that the pump works well; the longer version involves several shop towels and us cleaning up the floor of Bill's garage. It thankfully doesn't include me snorting oil, but it didn't miss by much. I guess you would only make that mistake once.


The pan is a Milodon 8 qt. front sump pan. Milodon makes a 7 qt. rear sump pan, but I don't think that it would have cleared the crossmember in the frame of the engine bay. There are no baffles in this pan (the deep pan keeps the oil from moving too far away from the sump), and from measurements it will be just narrow enough to fit in between the two main beams in the frame that run the length of the car. It has about a half inch clearance on either side. Whew, didn't realize it would be so close when I ordered the pan.


The front cover must be installed before the pan, because the front 4 bolts on the pan bolt to it. There is a gasket for the front cover, and plenty of RTV is used as well.

The pan gasket comes in 4 pieces, two cork pieces for the sides and two rubber gaskets for the front and back. Loads o' laughs getting that correct; just have to take your time. Once all the bolts are torqued, we flipped the motor over and for grins set the intake on the shortblock.

The longblock wasn't far behind...

Assembling the Longblock


The next stage of the motor building was turning the motor into a longblock. This includes the heads, intake, pushrods, lifters, rocker arms and all of the miscellaneous gaskets that go between everything.

We almost installed the head gaskets incorrectly, because I had thought that I read that some water passages had to be cut into the gasket. The head gasket has holes that match up to most of the water passages, but not all of them. I had thought that we needed to cut holes to match the two large water passage holes near the front cylinters (cylinder \#1 on the passenger's side and cylinder \#5 on the driver's side). We actually got as far as trying to cut one before I got confirmation that those front water passages were indeed supposed to be blocked.


The flow of water through the block is then forced to go to the back of the block because it can't go through those blocked passages at the front of the head. So, water comes into the head at the back of the motor, circulates through the head, then exits the head at the front into the intake manifold. The intake manifold on small block Ford motors contains the water outlet.

After figuring out the gaskets, we bolted the heads to the block. The aluminum in the heads is soft enough that the small diameter ARP washers would have made dents in the aluminum, so I bought some large grade 8 washers to spread the load out over a bigger area. Bruce and Bill are here, with Bruce holding the intake that has been prepped with RTV. Those two long, thin cork gaskets at the front and the back of the intake are apparently where most small block Fords leak oil.


Here is another look at the longblock, where we have almost completed setting the valve lash. I decided to go with a solid lifter cam, so since the lifters do not compress themselves, you have to give them a little room for thermal expansion by setting some clearance between the rocker arm and the valve stem. We set the lash at .022 on both intake and exhaust, and we'll go through them all again after we start the motor.

Those familiar with Panteras might notice that we reused the dipstick from the original Cleveland motor. With some persuasion, it fit in the hole in the timing chain cover. We test-fit it before installing the oil pan in order to calibrate it to read correctly with the 8 quart pan.

Once the longblock was complete, we had to prep the car and other systems before we could install the motor.

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