Raising The Roof: The New Kaase SR-71 Heads For 429-460 Fords

If you’re not a follower of high-performance aviation, then Jon Kaase’s cylinder head part numbers may be of only passing interest. But for the warbird faithful, Kaase’s P-38 head for a small-block Ford or his P-51 version for the 385-series big-blocks is his way of acknowledging these earlier piston-driven machines. His latest SR-71 venture is also aimed at the 429-460 family but shoots for even greater heights and certainly appears more than deserving of that high-flying moniker.

This latest cylinder head from Jon Kaase Racing Engines (JKRE) offers the latest in port manipulation aimed at improving power. The Ford faithful are well aware of his abilities, especially after successfully proving out his Boss Nine reanimation of the original Boss 429 head. Moving back into the realm of the wedge style head, Kaase’s (pronounced Kah-zee) latest SR-71 head is a serious upgrade even from his previous P-51 effort.

Kaase mills the SR-71 logo right into the end of the head. While that may take some explaining to the uninitiated, it’s a bold claim to compare something to the legendary “Blackbird.”

SR-71 – The Cylinder Head

This head benefits from some of Kaase’s recent experiences in the Engine Masters competition where his air manipulation has proved to be highly successful. The SR-71 merely improves upon the highly touted P-51 head in areas where mere flow numbers don’t begin to tell the story. Kaase says “You can have two heads with the same airflow numbers, yet one has the valves in different places and it makes 50 more horsepower.” This is why Kaase isn’t a big fan of posting airflow numbers. It’s more about the dyno numbers.

We’ll hit the critical features that distinguish this latest version from the also-rans. These figures will back up Kaase’s call, that the SR-71 should out-power any other conventional 429/460 cylinder head. We’ll start with the valve angles. The stock 429/460 Ford head took a cue from its canted-valve Cleveland cousin by tilting the valves inward toward the center of the cylinder. Unfortunately, the intake and exhaust port configurations weren’t all that conducive to high flow. The factory Super Cobra Jet heads were slightly better and the SR-71 valve angles are close but not exactly the same.

The valve angles are the same as a Super Cobra Jet head and the head bolts are obviously in the right place, but the list of what is similar to the original 429-460 385-series heads would clearly be shorter than listing the differences.

The SR-71 heads use an 8.3-degree intake valve angle canted at 4.7 degrees, followed by an exhaust valve angle of 4.7 degrees with a 4-degree tilt. But Kaase then devoted a majority of his time developing a port to improve the high-lift flow. One thing Kaase has learned in his airflow travels is that a generous short-side radius improves the chances that the air will tend to adhere to the floor as it transitions from the port into the bowl area. Raising the floor and the roof of the port in the bowl helps fool the air into thinking it has turned a far less critical corner. This is like road racers negotiating a high-speed corner by making the entry and exit as wide as possible.

Flow test of the Kaase SR-71 cylinder head performed on a SuperFlow 1020 flow bench at 28 inches of water.

Uplifting Changes

Compared to his previous head, the SR-71 has raised the intake port by a generous 0.450-inch – much of which is taken up by the raised port floor in the bowl. As often happens, the raised roof is limited by the other real estate factors, such as the position of the intake valve spring seat. Raising the seat location makes the intake valve longer, so carefully balancing these factors is one key to success. The roof height can be at least partially evaluated by the intake valve length. The SR-71 head demands a 5.700-inch intake valve while the longest stock 429/460 valve is a mere 5.296-inch. Add the roof height change and the numbers come pretty close.

This taller intake bowl area is matched with an even larger intake valve diameter of 2.350-inch, which is a solid 0.125-inch larger than the intake valve in the P-51 head. That size has been carefully balanced with the port’s maximum flow potential. This port will easily feed a 600ci or larger engine with 8,000 rpm potential and valve lift numbers of up to 0.800-inch.

While the port volume is listed as 400cc, keep in mind that the port is longer to allow mating to a Cobra Jet intake. While it bolts up, the intake does sit taller on the engine. Part of this change requires a set of 0.400-inch china-wall spacers that take up the height difference to seal the lifter valley.

Not all the work was focused on the bowl area, however. Valve angles are all about line of sight flow. This means raising the intake port. But Kaase knows that a custom intake wasn’t part of the plan so he did the next best thing and retained the Super Cobra Jet intake port flange by widening the head at the intake port flange which allowed raising the port opening. This also raises the entire intake (any intake will sit taller than a typical 385 series engine), so Kaase will supply 0.900-inch tall china-wall spacers that will take up the space underneath a typical Super Cobra Jet-style intake.

One way flow port numbers can be cheated is to tweak the area directly underneath the intake valve seat – called the throat. The generally accepted standard for street head designers is the 90-Percent Rule. This establishes the throat diameter under the valve seat at 90-percent of the valve diameter. Increasing this diameter to 92- or 93-percent will increase peak flow numbers and bragging rights. But the cost for this marketing chicanery is a significant loss in mid-lift flow numbers. If you look at the flow numbers from Kaase at 0.400 and 0.500-inch lift on the intake side (see below), you can see that these numbers are seriously improved over previous heads, including the P-51. There’s no trickery here.

Kaase will supply these heads with valve springs either for a strong hydraulic roller or for a mechanical roller application. The mechanical roller heads will come with Manley NexTek valvesprings that Kaase says have performed very well in his testing.

Exhausting Work

Of course, you can’t build an outstanding intake port and then leave the exhaust side untouched. The exhaust valve size is unchanged from Kaase’s previous effort at 1.76-inch, but the top of the port bowl was also treated to a 0.250-inch roof-raising. This was matched with a more efficient exhaust port exit, but Kaase says a Super Cobra Jet set of headers will still bolt directly to the port flange in the stock location.

The exhaust ports enjoy the Super Cobra Jet Ford bolt pattern and are still located in the stock location, so your headers will bolt right up.

On the chamber side, Kaase has also made some significant changes. The chamber is actually only 70 cc and if you look closely, you may notice the spark plug has migrated even closer to that triangle area between the intake and exhaust valves. This moves the plug closer to the middle of the chamber and a combination of just these two factors alone could positively affect ignition timing. As the space above the piston becomes more efficient, ignition timing requirements are reduced – meaning the engine needs less lead time to complete the combustion event. Less timing means the engine is doing less negative work.

This is still very much a wedge head, but while it may not appear different, this chamber has been massaged and the spark plug has been relocated closer to the center of the chamber for increased efficiency. The valve sizes are 2.375 and 1.760-inch.

All this effort has combined to create an outstanding cylinder head for the 385-series Ford engines. With this additional airflow, it would be very easy to create a 521ci stroker with a hydraulic roller valvetrain that could easily make 750 to 800 horsepower with 650 lb-ft of tire-frying torque and still be completely streetable. Push the camshaft a bit and power levels exceeding 800 hp are also achievable.

How much more power? Kaase’s first experiment with these new heads occurred with a 598ci, 15:1 compression race motor that cleared 1,224 naturally aspirated horsepower at 8,000 rpm with over 915 lb-ft of torque on race gasoline. That’s over two horsepower per cubic inch! Remember, these are wedge heads. So this just ratchets up the horsepower war to a crazy new level. There’s a reason Kaase named these heads SR-71 – they are high fliers.

As you can see, the heads are quite capable of stout power and torque numbers. This test was performed on a 598ci, 15:1 compression race engine, running race gas. That’s greater than 2.0 horsepower-per-cube.

It’s incredibly easy to build a stroker big-block Ford that can displace some serious inches. Several crank companies offer stroker crank options up to 4.50 inches that could easily produce a 557ci big Ford without breaking a sweat.

Kaase SR-71 Cylinder Head Specs

Intake port volume:                          405cc

Exhaust port volume:                      183 cc

Intake valve diameter:                     2.375-inch

Exhaust valve diameter:                 1.760-inch

Combustion chamber:                    70cc

Valve length Intake:                        5.700-inch

Valve length exhaust:                     5.320-inch

Intake valve angle:                          8.3° x 4.7°

Exhaust valve angle:                      4.0° x 3.2°

Valve spring diameter:                    1.550-inch

Valve guide diameter:                     11/32-inch (0.34375-inch)

About the author

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith, a 35-year veteran of automotive journalism, comes to Power Automedia after serving as the senior technical editor at Car Craft magazine. An Iowa native, Smith served a variety of roles at Car Craft before moving to the senior editor role at Hot Rod and Chevy High Performance, and ultimately returning to Car Craft. An accomplished engine builder and technical expert, he will focus on the tech-heavy content that is the foundation of EngineLabs.
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