Here's What Made Ford's Flathead V8 Engine So Special

V8s are about as close as you can get to a "default" American engine. The Chevy Small Block V8 is one of the most versatile engines ever produced and it's been swapped into cars and trucks practically since time immemorial. Chrysler's "HEMI" V8 is synonymous with obscene amounts of power and Dodge used a supercharged HEMI powerplant in its Challenger SRT Hellcat right up until the model was officially discontinued. 

The debate between small-block V8s and big-block V8s even continues to this day, decades after the engines were contemporary. Almost 60 years after the model first debuted in the latter half of 1964, the Ford Mustang still uses a V8, even after most of Ford's lineup switched to more efficient V6s. 

The Small Block Chevy may be the most tunable and the Chrysler HEMI may be the most powerful out of the box, but the grandfather of every V8 you know today is none other than the venerable and sacred Ford Flathead V8, an engine that's been around for nearly a century.

Power for the average person

Contrary to popular belief, the Ford Flathead V8 was not the first V8 ever mass-produced, not by a long shot. That distinction actually belongs to the Cadillac L-Head V8 which was first produced on a large scale in 1914 (via Engine Builder Mag). The Ford Flathead was not produced until 1932. The "Flathead" descriptor comes from the flat cylinder heads on each bank of the engine because not every name has to have an exciting story attached. 

Even with only 80 or so horsepower when it first debuted, the Flathead exploded in popularity in the 1930s and has been credited with inventing the concept of modifying production cars for speed and power, per Hot Rod Magazine. The engine had a bit of a snowball effect on car culture. It was a favorite of bootleggers, who then modified their cars to escape the law. In their downtime, they would race each other. Later on, that became the little-known sport of NASCAR (via History)

In addition to giving moonshiners a little extra power under the hood to elude pursuers, the Flathead V8 gave V8 power to the average person. The engine became a staple in the hot rodding culture that started in the 1950s and to this day remains a popular engine to modify and with the advent of the Internet, parts are still plentiful and easy to find. Today, in 2023, wherever there are vintage Fords present, you will likely find a Flathead V8.