Funky flathead powers hotrod Ford tractor

BRANDON — Bob Mazer is proud of his souped-up Ford 8N with the infamous 100 horsepower flathead V8 transplant. Farmers attending Manitoba Ag Days in Brandon had a lot of happy grins inspecting the old tractor.

The farm equipment dealer bought the tractor three years ago. It displays well in the authentic grey and red Ford colors.

The machine is fully functional and has not been modified beyond the addition of the V8, according to Mazer’s technician, Malcolm Mcharg, who has been working on the restoration of the 1948 model tractor. Mcharg has researched the flathead conversions, and the first ones began a long time ago.

“The first Ford V8 flathead kits came from the Funk airplane company in Kansas,” said Mcharg.

A number of modern companies now make the conversion kits, he added.

Howard and Joe Funk were well acquainted with Ford engineers because they were buying Series E four-cylinder engines to install in their airplanes.

In the early 1940s, the market for small recreational two-person airplanes crashed because of the war, so Funks closed their airplane factory after building only 380 aircraft.

However, they had equipment, employees and the skill, so they turned to other areas of endeavour, and farm equipment seemed a logical move.

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Through the 1940s and part of the 1950s, until their factory in Coffeyville, Kansas, burned down, the Funks adapted the lighter duty tractors to bigger and bigger engines to meet the needs of the seemingly ever-expanding farms at the time.

Mcharg said the Mazer tractor does not have the cast iron oil pan that some of the V8 conversions had, but it does have the Sherman transmission, which is a major improvement over the original unit.

Only about 140 of the Funks’ V8s were built and approximately 200 Ford dealer conversions, so Mazer’s tractor is a rare find.

“The Sherman has a high-low range, which the original transmission didn’t have. So you had twice as many gears to choose from.

“We call it a Ford flathead, but the heads are built in Canada, so that means it could be a Mercury flathead, which isn’t quite the same. I don’t think it’s an 8BA stamping, so I don’t think it’s a later model engine.”

The Ford version of the flathead had a shorter stroke and slightly less power than the Mercury.

The longer stroke Mercury engine was thought to be more suited for a tractor because it had better low-end lugging power. Farmers with 8N tractors could pull only a two-bottom plow.

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With twice the number of pistons pounding away, they could easily pull a three-bottom.

“I think the original four cylinder was only 40 h.p.,” Mcharg said.

“So when they installed those big V8s, it would have been quite a surprise for the operator. If we could find a tri-power setup with the three single-barrel carbs and the triple manifold, that would really make it hop.

“As it is, it makes quite some noise when we rev it up. It’s got those twin straight pipes at the front. Can you imagine how deaf those old guys would get with those pipes roaring out in front of you all day?”

The Funk brothers did not develop the conversion kits.

Glover Equipment of Illinois had already installed some 95 h.p. Ford six-cylinder engines in 8N tractors, and Delbert Heusinkveld of Iowa had started putting the 100 h.p. flatheads into 8N tractors.

Both companies asked the Funks to take on the job of manufacturing the six-cylinder and eight-cylinder conversion kits.

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Most of these kits were sold and installed right at the Ford dealerships. Funk tractors can be identified by the extended raised hood, which accommodates the bigger radiator that was needed to keep the machines cool.