1When we gear heads stroll up to an open engine bay we generally take what we see a face value. Technically savvy people generally take stock of what their senses tell them and pass judgement, rarely do engine bays have the aptitude to cleverly pull the wool over our eyes.
Let’s be honest, across car culture, judging a book by it’s cover is the first way we size up the competition. Looks are half the battle. The car hobby falls somewhere in a fantasy realm, where anything beyond utility is a luxury and we all fall into the trap like moths to a flame.
When we came across images of Chris Webb’s flat head engines we were aghast, the spell worked on us too. For these engines are not as they appear, instead some handy craftsmanship and devious packaging brings retro looks to modern power.
“Originally I wanted to put a V12 in my 1936 Mack Truck, so I started looking around trying to find one but they’re really hard to come by. I saw an article where Chip Foose put a Lincoln V12 in a ’32 Ford, and I thought that’s really cool. So I started trying to find a V12, number one you can’t find them – I wanted an old flat head, number two they only make around 100 horsepower, they overheat, they run crappy and so I thought, I’ll just make one,” began Chris Webb of Webb Flat Heads.
“I love the old flat head V8s so I thought maybe I could make a small block Chevy look like one. I did a proper shroud, the water pumps are tied into where the sbc water pump used to be and it’s sort of like a cocoon that goes over the engine. To the untrained eye it looks like a flat head. You’ve got the functionality of a small block chevy but the look of a flat head.”
So in a roll reversal of the adage ‘judging a book by its cover,’ Webb has taken the wrapper off something old and obsolete to hide something modern and practical. Call it what you will, a trick, gimmick, or other put down, but we think it’s pretty cool, after all we fell for it.
As Webb got further into describing the conception of his kits, the story became more endearing and intriguing. For most hot roders, aesthetics and the culture of the car outweigh race-spec performance.
“I did all the molds myself, I went on the internet, I talked to the casting guys and when I first went to talk to them they were secretive and poo-pood me. I did one head and took it to them, then another, then a manifold etc. I took me three years of my spare time to perfect it,” Webb explained.
The means to teach himself mold making and casting principles was a long road, but Webb persevered. He had a vision for his own custom rides, and found a shared interest in the hot rod community.
We originally discovered Webb at SEMA in 2015, getting there was no small feat as Webb relayed. “I signed up for SEMA and the rush was on, we took my Mack Truck with the V8, and the MG with the V12. They held us at the border for 42 hours so we missed the first day and a half.” Since then he has been expanding on his design, including a V16 to the V8 and V12.
“Both the V12 and the V16 just use a 350, the same small block. Probably 90 percent of hot rods have these small block Chevys in them, they’re wonderful engines, 75 million sbc engines were made, only 25 million flat head V8s were made. If you’ve got a ’32 Ford with a small block Chevy engine, at least you can make it look like it’s got a flat head,” he described.
“We had the v12 in the MG and everybody loved it, but I always wanted to do a V16. We have a show up here in Victoria called Deuce Days, it’s the largest gathering of ’32 Fords in the world. We rushed to get the V16 ready for Deuce Days, and at the show you couldn’t even see the car, it was ten deep in people.”
The actual architecture of Webb Flatty kits is a little more involved than you would think, they are not as simple as a shell. Cooling is integrated, along with routing ignition and induction systems.
“In the case of the V8 it’s essentially a shroud that goes over top, it’s seven pieces. The front is cast aluminum, you pull the sbc water pump off and you add the two water pumps from a ’49 Ford and they’re tied into the existing water jackets. I use an Edelbrock manifold, and then I have another manifold that goes on top of it, so it’s almost like a one-inch spacer, and then the three Stomberg carburetors go on top of that. You have to hide the spark plugs so I have these cast iron panels and custom-made spark plugs that are hidden behind. A set of aluminum flat head heads cover the top of the valve covers. I have a distributorless ignition system that’s tied into coil packs under the dash,” Webb explained.
We asked Webb what’s in store for the future of his kits, and he answered simply; “SoCal Speedshop had a look at it at SEMA and said; we’ll take every engine you’ve got! My wife and I are getting close to retirement, and we don’t want to go into the business of manufacturing engines, in the mean time I’m fine tuning things and having fun with it.”
Hopefully someone out there sees the same intrigue and value Webb has cultivated with his Flatty kits and decides to carry on his production. For now we think he has a very interesting venture, that will gain attention, whether they know or not what they are looking at is not what it seems.