Fuel and Fire–Performance Tips for your Vintage Engine

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The internal combustion engine needs a few things to operate, and the two main ingredients are fuel and fire. The mixture of fuel and air, and the way the engine ignites it are very important aspects of getting every ounce of performance out of an engine. Modern engines can be tweaked with a computer, but old school engines, like the Ford Flathead, small block Chevy or Buick Nailhead respond to mechanical changes.


One of the easiest modifications you can make is increasing the amount of spark produced by the ignition system. While this may not give you a seat-of-the-pants horsepower increase, it certainly makes for a much happier engine. In the hot rod world, it’s better to have too much than not enough, and the same can be said for the amount of spark in an old engine. MSD makes drop-in, ready-to-run billet distributors for a bunch of applications, and they get our vote for simplicity and performance. One of the new products from MSD is a ready to run billet distributor for a Ford Flathead. We recommend it, especially if you are dealing with a Flathead with a little more umph than ol’ Henry gave it. Mallory is another good choice for electronic ignition products,


Fuel on the other hand–well, you can easily have too much fuel and cause yourself a world of trouble. We offer a lot of carburetors and fuel system products to get your hot rod running right. One of the most common tuning and performance problems with a vintage engine includes too much fuel. Sticking a Holley 750cfm double pumper on a mildly built 283ci small block Chevy is a mis-matched combo and you wouldn’t believe how often it happens. Even a modified 350ci small block Chevy would likely run a little rich with a 750 on top, unless it was jetted way down. In all reality, a mildly built 283ci small block Chevy could use a 450cfm carburetor and something in the 350ci range would benefit from a 650cfm carburetor. With that said, it gets even more confusing when you start talking multiple carburetors. We’ve seen upward of eight Stromberg 97 carburetors on an engine. Stock style Stromberg 97 carburetors are rated at 150cfm, so you’re looking at approximately 1,200cfm when eight Strombergs are in place. You’d need one serious motor to efficiently use all that cfm, but it sure looks cool, even if it’s belching soot out of the pipes at idle.


We’ve also seen three deuce setups be a little lean on the fuel side, as 450cfm may not be enough for some engines. That’s why we started carrying the new Stromberg BIG97 carburetor. It’s a carburetor that looks just like a regular 97, but it features a lot of cool internal updates to increase its flow rating to 250cfm. That means a warmed up Flathead with two of these bad boys will really scoot down the road. A healthy small block Chevy, Olds or Pontiac mill could use up to three BIG97 carburetors.

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