Last Updated on September 10, 2022 by John K. Clifford
The Ford Motor Co. is renowned for its production of excellent cars and trucks. Most of their engines have exceptional towing capabilities. Generally, the Ford company introduced the V8 engine in the 1950s, but have they ever produced a Hemi engine?
In 1958, Ford Motor Company produced their first-ever V8 engine equipped with hemispherical combustion chambers. The Hemi name was taken from the design of these individual cylinders, which resembled a hemisphere of the Earth with its oceans and continents clearly defined.
This distinctive engine has since become an icon of American automotive performance, famously used by companies like Dodge and Chrysler in muscle cars like the Charger and Challenger Hellcat and iconic race cars like the Daytona and the GT40.
The Background of the Hemi Engines
In 1958, Dodge released its new engine, The Wedge, which featured hemispherical combustion chambers. This was a notable advancement at the time in terms of engine design and capability.
In 1959, Ford developed its version of a hemispherical chamber engine by using four valves per cylinder, which improved on The Wedge in several ways. It is interesting to note that, although Dodge had access to Ford’s design as it was made public in a technical journal published by SAE International (known as an SAE paper), they did not incorporate it into their engines.
It was not until 1960 that they produced their A-990 or Hemi engine and put it into production later in 1961. Ford’s first use of a hemispherical chamber in an engine was used in 1960 for their V8 FE engine.
This model can be identified by its two-bolt valve covers and 10.5:1 compression ratio. However, it wasn’t until 1962 that Ford began using hemispherical chambers in their V8s with single bolt valve covers.
These were referred to as Cleveland engines due to their high-performance capabilities and are used primarily in Mustangs.
What is a Hemi Engine?
A hemispherical engine is an internal combustion engine that displaces air instead of a piston to compress it. The first recorded use of hemispherical combustion chambers appeared in 1879 when German engineer Karl Benz patented his design for what he called his Reitwagen.
It was much like modern designs, with one significant difference: it had compression ignition. This was not only much quieter than modern gasoline engines but also produced less vibration and required very little maintenance to keep working.
The problem lay in how to spark it since high pressure at low RPMs caused direct injection into cylinders. A second cylinder was added to ignite compressed gas as it entered each cylinder to solve the direct injection issues.
By doing so, a two-stroke operation became possible. Two years later, Gottlieb Daimler patented a similar design with a single-cylinder. However, he decided against using it on his motorcycles because of poor performance at higher speeds.
Both men continued development separately until they met in Paris in 1885, where they agreed to work together on their projects. Daimler died before production began on their first car model.
Untold Facts about the Hemi Engine
The term Hemi was derived from Hercules, who in Greek mythology symbolized strength. It was an appropriate name for Chrysler’s 426 cubic-inch (7-liter) Hemi engine used in its 1956 and 1957 luxury cars and some of its sedans.
Here are some facts about that famous Chrysler Hemi engine: To make it run better, Chrysler replaced one pair of connecting rods with lighter single-pin crankshafts; had special aluminum pistons cast with thinner walls; and removed excess weight from various parts like fan blades, brackets, and pulleys.
The first production car to feature Chrysler introduced a Hemi engine in 1951. The new 1956 Dodge began using Hemis in its engine lineup, making it one of just two American cars to use Hemis.
Over its lifetime, Ford never used Hemis in any of its models, though not for lack of trying. In 1952, they created an all-new six-cylinder Hemi engine that produced almost as much power as Chrysler’s V8 models. It had more power than many other engines on the market, but it also cost less to manufacture, helping drive down costs for consumers.
Why Was the Hemi Engine Made by Ford so Special?
Ford wanted to test out whether or not there was anything special about hemispherical chambers in automobile engines. In 1967, they offered their 289 Cobra Jet engine as a crate engine for local hot rod enthusiasts. While it’s interesting to note that most of these were never actually installed in vehicles, you can still find them today in many cars and trucks.
Ford continued offering these engines through 1987, when production of Mustang GT350R models ceased.
More than 11,000 of these engines were produced between ’67 and ’87. However, we don’t know how many (if any) remain unused!
The Small-Block Ford Hemi
While you might be most familiar with Chrysler’s infamous V8 engine, known as The Hemi, it turns out that Ford had its version. So, did you know that back in 1954, Ford created its own hemispherical-head engine?
The FE was a compact V8 design with all four heads at each end of one cylinder bore. However, since it wasn’t built to withstand high torque levels, making it ideal for racing applications and low-rpm power, it didn’t last long in production. Only about 1,000 engines were ever made before it was discontinued in 1957.
The A-990 Hemi Engine
The A-990 wasn’t made by Ford Motor Company but rather by its High-Performance Special Products group. Built in 1966 and 1967, it was essentially an A-902 with a unique block designed to accommodate both aluminum heads and a hemispherical cylinder head.
The modified crankshaft was balanced to run with either flat-top or hemispherical heads, though you couldn’t change from one style to another without rebalancing. The extra cost for that feature must have been pretty high. The A-990 sold at $5,000, more than three times as much as an A-902, and only nine engines were built.
Was the Ford 427 a Hemi?
The story goes that Henry Ford asked Carroll Shelby to create an engine as powerful as Dodge’s 426-cubic-inch, 7.0-liter Hemi V8. The result was a 427-cubic-inch V8 based on Ford’s Windsor small block and packing 425 horsepower. It did have hemispherical combustion chambers, but it wasn’t technically a Hemi.
The Ford 427 didn’t use true hemispherical heads; instead, its combustion chambers were formed by machining flat surfaces into wedge-shaped aluminum alloy blocks. This created chambers with rounded tops and bottoms but sides with sharp angles, not precisely ideal for efficient combustion.
The Pros and Cons of a Hemi Engine
The hemispherical combustion chamber is a design common to many high-performance engines. Chrysler first introduced the hemispherical chamber in 1951 with its FirePower engine. Other manufacturers quickly caught on, including GM and Ford. They used it on their race engines.
The hemispherical chamber has proven reliable, durable, and robust and became an iconic feature in American automobiles during the 1950s and 60s. However, that same characteristic that makes it great for performance engines also has some glaring disadvantages.
For one thing, it’s expensive to manufacture. It’s also heavy and hard to cool efficiently. That made it impractical to use in passenger cars where size, weight, and fuel efficiency are concerns. So while you can still find old cars with a Hemi engine today, don’t expect any new ones anytime soon!
Final Thoughts on the Question, Did Ford Ever Make a Hemi Engine?
While there’s no conclusive evidence that Ford ever produced a Hemi-powered vehicle, we’ve plenty of reasons to believe it did. First, there’s no denying that Ford experimented with hemispherical combustion chambers when designing its legendary FE V8 engine. There were even prototypes made with Hemi heads, which we’re guessing is where our rumor began.
Second, we have to remember how seriously engineers took their work back in those days. They weren’t out of line trying something like a hemispherical combustion chamber and then scraping it if they couldn’t make it work.