The Flathead engine, Ford’s V8 engine with the valve-in-the-block design, designed by Ford but manufactured by Ford and various licensees, officially hit the five million production number on May 5, 1938.
While Ford did not invent the V8 engine, the company certainly brought the V8 into everyday use with mass production. The first of the Flathead Ford (L-head) V8 engines left the factory on March 9, 1932. They were instantly popular with car buyers looking for extra power, but it wasn’t until 1934 when Ford added the two-barrel Stromberg carburetor and a steel crankshaft that high-performance enthusiasts took notice.
Racing experts were not the only ones to take notice. Bank robber Cylde Barrow sent a letter to Henry Ford explaining why he only stole Ford V8s to use as get-away cars.
The pint-sized V8-60 engines became popular with the midget auto racing crowd, which helped to boost the popularity of the first-generation Flathead engines.
The engine design, with various changes but no major ones, was installed in Ford passenger cars and trucks until 1953, making the engine’s 21-year production run for the U.S. consumer market longer than the 19-year run of the Ford Model T engine for that market.
The Ford flathead V8 engine continued in production for world markets until 1973, giving it a 50-year production run with well over 10 million units produced. There are still millions of unrestored flathead V8 engines out there in the world, sitting the back corners of barns and garages across America. The engine was on Ward’s list of the 10 best engines of the 20th century.