The Story of Ford’s “Tame” 427 CID V-8

When we think of the 427 CID Ford “FE” V-8, we think thunder and lightening. When It was installed in the 1967 Ford Fairlane, we likely heard a distant rumble.

We’re still trying to figure out why this engine ever existed and why it ended up
in the 1967 Ford Fairlane and Fairlane GT

Last month, we were scratching our head about why Ford failed to install the existing three 2-barrel intake on the 1966 Ford (and ’67) Fairlane GT. This month we ponder the Story of Ford’s Tame 427, a stumble bumble decision to install  the engine, Code “W”, 390 HP 427 in the same cars.

In 1966, the Code “R” 425 HP twin 4-barrel 427 CID was made available in limited quantities in the Fairlane (about 50 units) ostensibly to homologate it in the shorter wheelbase car for NASCAR and also to terrorize drag strips across the country. You had to be recognized by Ford as a bonafide racer to get one, but they existed.  The same situation was in place for the 1967 Fairlane – for the same reason.

But, then suddenly, and with quite a bit of advertising, this other 427 shows up. What was it exactly? Just because it has the same displacement of the famous race and street 427, doesn’t mean it’s the same motor.  For example, Pontiac offered 11 examples of the 389 CID motor in 1961, but there was no relationship between the 215 “economy” 389 CID V-8 and the Super Duty 348 HP version – except displacement.

But the difference is that people buying a Pontiac in 1961 understood that the 389 came in multiple flavors whereas the people buying a 427 CID Ford thought “this baby’s a killer” because that’s all it ever was.  So why did Ford offer this toned down version (that we’ll talk about in a bit of detail later)? Was it a mistake in thinking that they could take the teeth out of the block and still provide adequate performance? Was it a marketing exercise gone wrong? Or was it the same thinking that denied the 39- GT the triple carb intake.  Frankly, it was all three.

Ford’s history after the distinct separation of  the street program from the race program, starting in 1963, was the result of warped thinking about who the customer was when they walked into the dealership and bought a performance car for street use. All the other manufacturers quickly learned that, except for professional preparation, that person who was a performance buyer would get the same vehicle that the racer received. Yes, there was the 1963 Chevrolet Mystery 427, the 1964-65 non-street Hemi, and the 1962-63 Super Duty 421, but anyone could still buy a 425 HP 409, a full boogie 426 wedge, and a 421 HO – all of which were awesome performers.

In the same period, at Ford, there was a tepid 390 police and a 427  410 and 425 horsepower 427s. And yes you could buy a 427, but get out your wallet, the price point making sure that few reached the street. So while I could buy a 340 HP Chevrolet 409, a 365 HP Dodge-Plymouth 426 wedge, and a 330 HP Pontiac 389 for a moderate price, there was nothing in the Ford arsenal in that affordable price range with that kind of performance. In the heads of the decision-makers at Ford, you were either a racer or a wannabe – and wannabes didn’t need a full blown, big horsepower V-8.

So when the mid-sized muscle bowed at Ford in 1966, their mindset was too closed to see what was happening. “One engine option was enough” seemed to be their mantra.  Thus, when the competition started offering multiple carbs, ram air, and a host of other performance goodies to sweeten the pot for prospective buyers, Ford was deaf to their audience.

The “W” code 390 HP 427 was the response –  but it was grudging.  First and foremost, Ford pulled out the old retired “top oiler” 427 blocks from early 1963. This was necessary because they fitted the W Code with a hydraulic camshaft and the side-bolt side oiler block did not supply enough needed oil to the lifters.  The camshaft was the same found in the 390 GT, 270/290 duration. a far cry from the 324/324 of the big boy. The heads were a compromise as well, with those being the ones fitted to the 390 GT (2.022″/1.645″), rather than any of the true performance heads available like those of the “rel” 427 (2.195″/.733″).  And a single Holley 4 barrel was chosen – only equal to that of the 390 GT – not even the 1.69″/1.69″ model fitted to the 410 HP 427.

Granted, this motor was a good deal better from a performance point of view  than the 1967 320 HP 390 GT, but it was a bit of a false flag, because buyers were expecting the race motor only to find out it hedged the bet. Worse, it was a $500 premium over the base 390 GT engine’s price tag – exorbitant when the Street Hemi was priced at $457. The AMA Specs for the tame 427 engine can be found HERE.

Performance? Well, so few were sold/released that the only test we have on file is of this motor in a 1968 Cougar (you can see it HERE). 15.1 quarter mile times were nothing to write home about – with just about any GTO or Chevelle 396 –  or even a 383 Plymouth Satellite could best.  For comparison, check out this test of a real 427 in a 1966 Fairlane HERE.

The 390 HP 427 was, once again, the 1966-68 “lipstick on a pig” era for Ford mid0-size performance. Thank goodness for Bob Tasca and Hot Rod magazine for the Cobra Jet!

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