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Post-War Ford Flathead V-8 Engine Rebuilder Shop Tour Part I

Today’s feature is Part I of a photo essay covering the Titus Manufacturing Company, an authorized Ford engine rebuilder located in Tacoma, Washington. The business opened during World War II to rebuild Ford engines and keep cars, trucks, and other vehicles equipped with them used for military or other necessary needs in operation. At that time three workers rebuilt twenty engines a month, but in 1947 and ’48 when these images were taken sixty-five men were reconditioning 750 engines a month, and over 20,000 V-8 and four cylinder Ford engines had been rebuilt by Titus.

In this installment, we show the Titus Ford semi-trailer truck in the lead image, used for delivering engines. Below is a photo of the facility, followed by pictures of some of the first operations in the engine rebuilding process.

We will return to this feature tomorrow with more photos of the engine rebuilding process at the Company.

The photos are courtesy of the Tacoma Public Library.

  • The Titus Manufacturing Company building located in Tacoma, Washington.

  • On the left Ford V-8 engines are being dissembled by a worker, to the right of him a second man is dissembling four-cylinder engines. In front of both another employee is painting finished engines.

  • Workers on a conveyor line are inspecting cleaned blocks for cracks and other defects.

  • Cylinder heads cleaned in a caustic hot tank visible at the far-right rear of the photo are being resurfaced on the left by a worker feeding them by hand on a somewhat primitive cylinder head grinder.

26 responses to “Post-War Ford Flathead V-8 Engine Rebuilder Shop Tour Part I

  1. David,

    Great pictures !!

    In the 2nd photograph, center foreground, is a four-door 1941 OLDSMOBILE Custom Cruiser Sedan.

  2. It’s not surprising that they have a Hyster forklift, since that company was headquartered in Oregon. It is a relatively new vehicle (though I’m not sure of the exact model), since prior to 1941 Hyster didn’t use pneumatic tires and only used cable lifts.

  3. Excellent photos, thank you David!

    This was an important aspect of Ford service support for dealers and customers. It was started back in the 1930’s since the volume of Ford and Mercury cars kept on the road for many more years than most brands, gave a steady soure of income for the dealer service departments. It offered newly rebuilt engines for customers (commercial as well as individuals) who were able to get prompt engine replacement at very good value from a trusted resource. This was real customer product support! These were definitely NOT throw-away products (as with many of today’s hopelessly corroded aluminum blocks and heads) with their excellent steel castings easily and effetively rebuilt by professionals for contiuned years of service.

    Ford printed an excellent manual (1942) detailing all aspects of setting up and running an engine rebuilding facility such as we see in these photos. I have the manual in my library and it is clearly an example of the support to this valuable industry and to the public as our country found itself with no new domestic car production for the duration of WWII. Titus was just one of several Ford authorized regional engine rebuilders around the country that were totally dedicated to Ford engine rebuilding.

    By the way, the “somewhat primitive” head resurfacing grinder was a fast and super efficient tool with very good precise adjustment and an excellent stable surface for the production line technique needed for the massive task at hand. Milling machines are nice too, but terribly awkward and slow for the simple task needed for the Ford /Mercury/Lincoln heads. I have personally used this type of head resurfacer for Ford & Mercury V8 heads and the results were always excellent. This technique with guidelines was fully authorized by Ford Engineering of course. It is not to be confused with a flat belt sander or some other primitive device one might find in a local shop back in these days.

    The ’47/’48 Ford coupe parked alongside the building (maybe a shop manager’s recent purchase) looks pretty new and sharp compared to some of the relics out back including the old 3 wheel errand running service motocycle (Harley or Indian). The Ford ’47/’48 “Bonus Built” series Ford F8 truck tractor and long fully enclosed trailer with its grand advertising is terrific. Nice optional road lamps and chrome plated air horn.

    Anxiously awaiting the additional photos on this topic.

    All the best.

    • What guided the surface of the head on the grinder to make sure the surface of the head was ground flat. What kept the grit from scaring and wearing the table surface? What company made these? Being a professional automotive machinist I stand by my “somewhat primitive” description.

      • It is a Peterson head and manifold resurfacer, or a brand similar to it. My background is as a job shop machinist, not an engine shop, so I can’t speak to how it was operated exactly but what I’ve seen is that there’s a frame that fits into the slots of the table which holds the part in position. My guess is the surfacing stone is set for depth, and the head or manifold is suspended from the frame and moved across, probably until you didn’t get any sparks. The frame i suspect would also keep the machine from launching the part across the shop. It looks like these guys are just using it to clean up the heads to get rust off, and make sure there’s a decent enough surface for the gaskets to seal.

      • David – the machine (at least in Australia) was a “Plano” brand. The grinding wheel was adjustable and was set to be just abouve the cast iron bed of the grinder. Hand pressure pushed and kept the cylinder head flat to the table. The dust and grit just flew away, usually underneath the grinder. Crude machine but fairly effective.

        • The ones I’ve seen were made by Lempco. If a head was only very slightly warped you might use the Lempco, but it took a skilled operator to do a good job with it. Its primary purpose was to clean up pits or scratches in the gasket surface. After they were obsoleted by newer equipment, some shops kept them around to give a “finished” surface on gasket surfaces on parts that didn’t actually need any machining. You could clean up all three gasket surfaces of a head in less than a minute, floor to floor, and it made the customers happy.

          The stone-type finishers were eventually superceded by the belt sanders, which took almost no skill at all to run, though the operator could snag a belt with a moment’s inattention.

    • > Ford printed an excellent manual (1942)

      Rich, if you’ll post the title, I’ll check the antique book vendors for a copy.

  4. In Southern California in the late forties and fifties Meyer-Welsh was the authorized Ford engine rebuilder. They were painted Green.

    • Yes, I noticed that. Along with the guy spraying paint close to the newly rebuilt internals of the V8 engine. And no protection for the newly ground surfaces of the cylinder heads.

      I note the guys using special ‘X ray’ lights to check for cracks?

      It would be interesting to know how long these engines lasted in service in trucks. Maybe only a few tens of thousands of miles?They would have been working much, much harder than they would in cars.

  5. Great pictures, David , as always.
    And as always, I am looking for motorcycles.
    Looks like a servi-car in the facility photo….awaiting duty outside the first sliding door.
    Looking forward to the continuing story.

  6. As a former operator of various types of fork lifts, I see this Hyster man about ready to knock over some cans on his left. Hope they are empty! Took me a while to get used to back wheel steering, but then it became second nature. Interesting article.

  7. My dad told me about the Ford rebuilt engine exchange service available in the flathead V8 era. Conroy Motors in Java, N.Y. , a Ford dealer since 1911, offered one day service: drive in in the morning, leave your tired Ford V8, return later that day to drive out with a rebuilt engine installed . Conroy is still in business to this day.

    It would be interesting to see period photos and documents of other car manufacturers rebuilt engine exchange services.

  8. The truck in the lead photo appears to be a ’48-’51 Ford F8 with a 337 flathead V8 ( 145 hp) and is pulling a 26ft ( today, they are twice as long) Fruehauf trailer, known for it’s signature “wings” at the top.

    • Not a ’51, that year (and 1952) had the single horizontal bar grill instead of the ’48-’50 slat grill, though it had the same engine. I would assume the pictured vehicle is a ’48 based on when David said the photos were taken, but the differences from 1948 to 1950 are so minor that I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.

  9. I too wondered about the Eddie Haskell look-a-like painting an engine without masking machined surfaces. However, one of those Ford Authorised rebuilt engines was in a ’46 Ford pick up I owned some 40 years ago. Ran like a top.

    • Somewhere there’s a 21st century restorer trying to figure out why there was overspray on his Flathead crankshaft, and how it can be replicated to concours standard.

  10. When I worked in an engine shop I used a machine similar to that head facer. If the head wasn’t too bad to begin with, with care and a bit of experience a decent job could be produced. We only had the 221 flathead in the U.K. it was used in trucks mostly for the military until 1957. Apparently they had to be kept revving hard to do any work, unlike most truck engines of the day. They didn’t last very long. Drivers found it difficult to get used to the idea of high revs they earned the nick name “The gutless wonder”.

  11. Our 1930 Ford Model AA 1- 1/2 ton Stakebed was assembled at the Ford San Francisco Plant. It saw service as a Resort Supply Truck. In 1941, its 10 year old toughly used engine was replaced with a Ford Factory Rebuilt Engine. It saw heavy duty all during WW-2 as the resort had a new Contract for “R& R” for Military Officers. War over, It was retired to “Farm use”. in 1956. We saved it it from its “barn grave” in 1984. It ‘s with us, in W.V. , about ready for its next Parade & Festival season! Soon, it will get a valve grind with adj. tappets! & Modern – grind cam, gear, and a Bearing shims adjustment , done with TLC ! It will be its first “bearing take-up”, since 1941, and I’m going to do her rings, and ridges too! ’41 to 2018 = 67 years of service. I want her “vacation days” to be trouble free ! Edwin W. her Hibernation months are almost over!

  12. Operating a mechanical repair shop in the early 1970’s, I installed several “factory rebuilt” assemblies from Ford, including crankshafts with bearings, and carburetors. The quality was significantly better than was available from local machine shops.

  13. When I was a youngster in the 1950s living in Bedford, Quebec, there was a Ford engine rebuilder in town known as Eastern Rebuilders which no doubt served the Canadian market. I’m sure the inside of the shop looked just like the pictures posted here. The owner was a family friend with kids my age who were school mates and friends of mine. While it was a successful concern then, I don’t know how long it remained in business since we moved away in 1961. My first ride in a 2-seat T-bird was as a kid in the owner’s ’56 model, likely running one of his own rebuilt engines.

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