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Engine Development Background
Today, most racing dreams of great speed records rely on adapting emerging technologies into innovative, forward thinking applications. Few start with parts more than a half-century old and devote a dozen plus years of their life proving a point. More than "vision," something like that takes overwhelming tenacity.
Ron Main, owner and driver of the Flatfire Streamliner, is as tenacious as they come. Making his living in the building trade manufacturing reinforced steel and wire mesh for major concrete construction projects, he has metaphorically sound concept of foundations.
Because everything is based on a 1946 cast-iron block, Main knew his dream would require serious brain power from a variety of high-performance pros to help build his impossible dream -- a 700 horsepower Ford Flathead engine capable of 300 plus miles-per-hour.
The core group included:
"Dandy" Dick Landy, one of drag racing's luminaries known for white pants, giant cigars and blistering fast cars. Landy retired from driving in 1980 to focus on Dick Landy Industries (Dli), a engine development and high-performance parts manufacturing business that he operates with his brother, Mike, in Northridge, California.
Bruce Crower, of Crower Motorsports, another powerful figure in motorsports, came aboard and developed a one-off, specially designed camshaft. Crower refers to Flatfire's power plant as "an inverted overhead cam engine."
Jim Middlebrook's Vortech Engineering crew added a final high-performance touch by signing on to provide the superchargers and critical technical support.
Even the nontechnical recognize Flatfire's engine as something special. An impressive array of polished metal pairs, the most striking feature is the pair of beefy exhaust pipes rising out of the top of the intake manifold. Looking closer reveal that the ports have been swapped, the intake and exhaust valves now occupy opposite locations. Using titanium valves, a one-off head gasket and O-ringing the block and head at the cylinders to withstand the tremendous cylinder pressures.
Shuffling the valves meant an entirely new "inverted radius" camshaft and associated profile was developed. The unique billet shaft came from Bruce Crower and Dh built the special roller lifters. The dual-plug heads depend on the Motec Digital M48 ignition to work in conceit with the individual coil-per-cylinder Ford Cobra R coil packs.
The deeper you go into Flatfire's engine, the more modifications are exposed. A distinctive girdle ensures the crankshaft stays put in the three-main bearing configuration. Reinforced front and rear main caps, as well as a custom, four-bolt center cap support the 4 3/8-inch stroke billet Moldex crankshaft. Aviaid's dry sump system takes care of the lubrication duties. The Landy brothers' handiwork is further evident in the billet rods and extensively machined forged pistons.
"If what you lose in compression gains air flow, go with the air flow," observed Mike Landy and so DLi put in a major effort to improve the engine's breathing ability. Nothing inside this engine was overlooked, wherever an erg of energy might be hiding, the Landy boys teased it out.
The dynamometer numbers validated the ideas and the work -- Flatfire boasts nearly 700 horsepower and set a 287mph land speed record during the 2001 Speedweek held annually on the famed Bonneville Salt Flats. Further, the glimmering pearlescent orange streamliner was clocked still accelerating through the last timing trap at a speed of 295mph indicating that greater speed deeds are in store. The sleek bodywork is the result of a NASA developed 3D computational fluid dynamic software program -- the first such race vehicle to benefit from the technology.
Part of the staggering numbers is due to the crank-driven centrifugal supercharger built by Vortech engineering. Main reasoned that the low demand on the powerplant to drive the supercharger combined with the inherent top-end boost was the right approach.
"We overdrive the T-trim unit to produce 18-psi boost at 6,000rpm, which is about as tight as you ever want to turn a side-valve flat motor," revealed Main.
Termed "flathead" because unlike modem engines, the valves are located in the block, Henry Ford's boiler is a sentimental favorite of the hot rodders. Virtually unchanged from its original 1932 design, the flathead enjoyed a 22-year production run putting more than 12 million on the streets. Because Henry's V8 powered cars only cost $500, when other V8's exceeded $2,000, it is easy to see how the flathead spawned the performance aftermarket. It was only in the mid-1950's, when new overhead valve technology arrived as Chevrolet's small block and Chrysler's "Hemi," that the flathead popularity waned.
Nevertheless, the Flatfire project remains an outstanding achievement. Starting with an iron block designed for a meager 85 horsepower and then pile driving a staggering 600 more into the design, the engine coalesces Main's dream of a lifetime. An avowed 50's devotee, Main, 59, pokes fun by calling himself a "recycled teenager." However, the moniker is point-on. Flatfire is no casual dabble in a speed experiment, it is fidelity of purpose, spawning one of land speed racing's most ingenious and innovative approaches to the straight line in many years.