Ford fans are a loyal lot. Like ducklings imprinting on their parents, many young Ford enthusiasts latch onto a favorite engine and stick with it for the rest of their lives. It was that way with the Flathead, the FE, the Windsor, the 5.0 HO, and now the Coyote.
It’s also been that way with some of the more obscure Ford engines. Perhaps that’s because Ford has built more than their share of odd, short-run engines. Look hard enough, and you’ll find diehard Cammer and Boss 429 fans, even a Y-block enthusiast or two.
After years of development, the new aluminum and CGI Track Boss blocks from TMeyer Inc. are now close to reaching market. (Photo Credit: Tim Meyer)
Despite being a major production engine, one Ford V8 you don’t hear much about these days is the Cleveland. Offered for a relatively short span in the U.S. — essentially just the 1970s to performance fans — the Cleveland is remembered as a happy revver. Its canted-valve heads easily out-breathe the more pedestrian, but far more plentiful Windsor brethren.
And all that deep breathing has meant loyal Clevelandites have kept the engine — or at least the cylinder heads — alive three decades after Ford stopped Cleveland engine production. Aftermarket canted-valve small-block heads remain widely available in mild-to-wild port and valve sizes. Fitted to Windsor blocks to form a Clevor, these heads have been the pushrod fan’s path to high-RPM glory since your dad made 500-plus naturally-aspirated horsepower with a Blue Oval small-block. (That was something of a feat back then.)
With total control over a block casting, it is relatively straightforward to arrive at a stronger, lighter and feature-rich block than the factory. But it’s going to cost more than the old, swap-meet iron.
There are those for whom a Clevor won’t do, however. They want a Cleveland block under their canted heads, a commodity which is neither common nor robust these days. Cleveland blocks, like many of Ford’s vaunted thin-wall castings of the Total Performance era, are prone to core shift – resulting in paper-thin cylinder walls that don’t allow much boring. And, even worse, modern hot rodding allows power figures even the best original Cleveland block can’t withstand for long.
As a result, a workable Cleveland block has been difficult to find for some time now. This is especially true if you want the smaller-main-bearing-diameter 351C block of 2.750 inches, rather than the more numerous 3.00-inch-main 351M/400 tall-deck version. The smaller main diameter lowers the bearing speed and is a good match for the revvy, canted-valve Cleveland heads.
The new Track Boss blocks appear to check every box on a Cleveland fan’s wish list.
Naturally, where there’s a vacuum, there’s an entrepreneur willing to fill it. For Cleveland blocks that’s Tim Meyer, an experienced machinist based in Fairmont, Minnesota, and specializing in Clevelands and Clevors under the Track Boss name. Tim recently bought a Cleveland block program started in 2006 by Tod Buttermore. While Tod had produced a handful of blocks over the years, Tim is continuing the block’s engineering development along with bringing it to boutique production status.
The new Track Boss blocks appear to check every box on a Cleveland fan’s wish list. For starters, it’s really a two-block effort — one aluminum and the other compacted graphite iron — and both boast specification sheets that read like a Cleveland wish list. From robust castings to the best oiling to near concours correctness, Tim’s blocks seem ready to sate a wide range of Cleveland demand.
One look at the ribs running across the valley says this casting is built for strength. Overall there’s just more mass in this block as well. Tim says the lifter bores are burnished for strength. If you like ’em thick, the Track Boss Cleveland ought to please. Machining for four-bolt mains is plainly evident here, although this early Compacted Graphite Iron block does not splay the outer bolts. All core plugs are screw-in style. Oiling mimics Windsor practice, with priority-main oiling.
Tim is dedicated to keeping all of his block production in the United States, though much of the Cleveland demand is in Australia. Ford of Australia made the Cleveland its go-to V8 for decades, ending production Down Under in 1984. Given the Aussies are a car-crazed bunch, they’re ready for a Cleveland block that not only looks the part (important to concours judges) but stands ready to support boosted power. So, if the Cleveland block market seems thin in your hometown, the combination of worldwide demand, and the increasingly favorable economics of CNC-augmented casting and machining, make such a block a going business proposition.
So, what does this market want from a new block? His calculations show a 51 percent take rate for the competitively priced CGI block at $3,750 – while he predicts 49 percent will order the $6,250 aluminum piece. Both racers and restorers want the blocks, and with a NHRA approval in hand, Tim is ready to service both markets.
Rear face of the Track Boss CGI block shows its overall mass, especially around the cylinders. Priority main oiling is used.
He began taking orders in late March and reports that to date, 60 percent of the blocks will go to U.S. customers, 20 percent to Canada and 20 percent to Australia. But as word gets out, Tim expects the Australian business to become approximately 30 percent of his production.
Tim also noted that modern manufacturing, with its ability to profitably produce niche products, has narrowed the financial gap between the ubiquitous small-block Chevy and the various Fords such as the Cleveland. And again, he says the truly fast Cleveland racers are breaking four blocks a year, so there’s a true need for something stronger.
Stronger Tim’s block is, especially in CGI form. Compacted Graphite Iron is the stuff Ford makes EcoBoost blocks out of because it’s nearly twice as strong as cast iron. It’s more expensive than cast iron, fewer foundries can produce it and it is more difficult to machine, but it is stronger and can be made in fairly thin cross sections to arrive at turbo-strong blocks approaching aluminum block weight.
His CGI Cleveland block still features beefed-up bulkheads and cylinder walls — bored to 4.200 inches there should still be a nicely robust .200-inch cylinder wall thickness — so demon-tweaking the CGI block to featherweight status remains a job for the future. For now, the CGI Cleveland’s main boast is strength, the stuff for blowers and turbos.
Tim is not shy about cutting up expensive prototypes to check casting integrity. This cross section of a CGI block shows the solid section between cylinders.
Track Boss Block Upgrades
• Solid bulkhead
• Splayed flat-bottom, four-bolt, billet main caps
• One-piece rear main seal
• 4.180 to 4.200-inch potential bore size (CGI potential is 4.230 inches)
• 9.200-, 9.350- & 9.500-inch deck heights
• With or without fuel pump provision
• Square or D casting on timing cover (option)
• 302 main size (option)
• Solid water jacket
• Stock Cleveland, 55mm cam and Windsor cam options
• 42/46 lifter angle-option
• Change casting date and codes (option)
• Lightening program for Compacted Graphite Iron
Though the Track Boss block is internally stout, it does retain stock Cleveland architecture and is designed as a direct replacement. Thus, the deck height is 9.200 inches and all engine mounts, bellhousing bolt patterns and so on are where Ford put them.
In fact, in Australia the market demands a block that’s visually indistinguishable from stock, so Tim is catering to that need. He’s not saying his block is impossible to detect once bolted in a car, but the differences are so minor as to defy easy detection.
One example of concours correctness for the Aussie crowd is a choice between “square” and “D” protrusions at the left front of the timing chain area. He’s even exploring an option to let the customer specify the date code, something made possible by 3D printing of sand casting molds. Nothing so one-off can be cheap, but it does allow concours looks with bulletproof, aftermarket block strength.
Main bearing diameter is always a consideration with Clevelands because even the revvy 351C used large, 2.75-inch main bearings and the garden-variety 351M and 400 versions (and 351W) employed bearing architecture that would have done a big-block proud at 3.00 inches. Such large mains are great for crankshaft strength, especially with regard to bending, but they result in high bearing speeds that work against high-RPM durability and power. As a result, more than one Cleveland fan moved to the 302 (302, 351W and Cleveland heads bolt to each other’s blocks) main-bearing diameter.
The new Track Boss bows to modern bearing/crankshaft design and is offered in your choice of stock Cleveland main diameter (2.75 inches) or the popular 2.248-inch 302 small-block specification.
Four-bolt main caps with splayed outer bolts are typically ordered on these blocks. As such, Tim is foregoing main-cap dowel pins, using a .532-inch shouldered stud instead. This eliminates the crack-prone dowel pin holes and locks the caps between the registers in the block and their studs.
This cutaway through the same block shows the general thickness of the cylinder walls. Maintaining .200-in. wall thickness on the cylinder’s thrust face is not an issue. Another, wide view of a cutaway CGI Track Boss just behind the timing chain area shows the Siamesed cylinder at left, along with details of the distributor bore, pan rail and cooling jacket.
Cylinders on the CGI blocks are Siamesed, so brave machinists can bore with abandon. The practical limit seems to be how little you wish to leave between the cylinders on the block deck for the head gasket (and any wire you may install) to seat on. Tim suggests a .0150-inch inter-bore limit, which means a 4.230-inch finished bore. That’s at the limit, but that’s where his customers live, he says.
The aluminum blocks are cast from a proprietary Alcoa material “used in aerospace,” according to Tim. “Ours is the first block to use it.” Also secret are the sleeve materials — he’s offering two. The first is, “stronger than normal,” and the upgrade is, so “phenomenally strong, we call it Super Sleeve.”
Before machining the raw Track Boss casting has an imposing, monolithic look. It’s the relatively low cost of CNC machining that makes such specialty blocks possible.
A touch more power from a better ring seal against a more stable cylinder is the stated benefit. All sleeves are flanged and he notes the sleeves are not off-the-shelf, but rather he’s buying the material and machining his own sleeves in-house.
Tim reports the aluminum Track Boss block will be the first available, and indeed his website and social media outlets show the latest block going through a band saw for internal checking. Mid-May is the estimated ready-for-sale date for the aluminum block, while shipments are likely in early June. The CGI block, “should follow closely behind” once the aluminum block is in production.
For more information on these blocks, you can visit the company’s official site here.