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Flathead Heaven

Flathead Heaven

The flathead Ford V-8 sitting in Wayne Lensing’s 1942 Ford X-Ray chassis is literally a brand new engine that is 70 years old! This engine isn’t operated and the chassis isn’t driven, but all the parts are there to make it work if someone wanted to disassemble it, clean up all the parts and put it back together again with new gaskets and seals.

Unfortunately, the engines in most flathead-powered Ford hot rods didn’t look that nice when the owners started building the cars. Many came from salvage yards or cars sitting out in a field. And while companies like Egge Machine are doing an admirable job of making new parts for old flatheads, you can’t get everything from a catalog – at least not yet.

That’s where focused collectors like Jack Meyer of Oshkosh, Wisconsin come in. Nicknamed "Flatjack" by his friends and customers in the flathead world, Meyer maintains a massive collection of L-head Ford parts for his specialized engine rebuilding service.

In a building that probably dates back to the flathead era, you might find Meyer – who is actually a plumber by trade – working on his 1939 Ford or a customer’s 1949 Mercury coupe. When he needs a part, he simply picks one off the wall or reaches under a workbench to pull one out. One look around his shop tells you that Jack isn’t going to run out of flathead "stuff." He has all the bits and pieces needed to make a small repair or rebuild an entire engine.

Scores of camshafts hang from beams. Assorted cylinder heads are stacked on a board going from the floor to the ceiling. Do you want a stock Ford head or one stamped "Edelbrock," or "Edmunds" or "Offenhauser?" He has collected aftermarket high-performance intake manifolds bearing legendary names like Fenton and Offenhauser. For your stock rebuild, he has scores of piston and rod assemblies organized by bore and stroke sizes.

Meyer put his collection together over many years. He started when flathead Ford parts were plentiful and a lot cheaper than they are today. He has watched components that his neighbors thought of as junk turn into almost priceless treasure. He still finds stuff at swap meets, dispersal auctions, liquidation sales and on the internet. In fact, the "Great Recession" that we’re in today has inspired some people to sell accumulations of parts that weren’t for sale just a few years ago. Don’t be fooled, however. The demand for these parts from active car builders hasn’t slackened at all. As the hobby experts say, "There’s always some willing to pay record prices for good quality cars." This is also true of flathead parts.

Storing obsolete auto parts isn’t easy, but Meyer has done a good job of sorting his out and keeping them organized. There is a nail board set up to hang head gaskets, hooks for connecting rods and cubby holes for storing carburetors. Meyer owns a Sun distributor machine that he uses to rebuild and test engine distributors and set up contact points. He even has a 400hp Clayton dynometer, although it is not currently operational.

Meyer has rebuilt Ford flathead V-8s for many years. He knows them in and out and studies "tricks of the trade." He has collected the manuals, books and service bulletins that once guided Ford’s factory technicians through the engine rebuilding process. The aged documents that luckily escaped the trash heap are now worth their weight in gold. They help Meyer identify parts and figure out the proper ways to put different parts together.

Flatjack admits that he has more flathead parts than he can ever use himself. Collecting them is part of his hobby, but he also helps other enthusiasts get the parts they need or get their engines expertly rebuilt. Most of those he helps find out about him through word of mouth. He doesn’t have a website or advertise his cell phone number, but his calling card lists a phone number where he can be reached.

Meyer continues to look for flathead parts, but admits they aren’t as common as they once were. However, a recent auction in a city not far away turned up a cache of good inventory and proved that stuff is still around. Now that Meyer has it, the stuff will be around for a good long time.

"Flatjack" Jack Meyer

Egge Machine

"Flatjack" Meyer shows a visiting group of veteran rodders some of the finer points of rebuilding a flathead V-8 engine.

A pair of rare Edlebrock cylinder heads dress up the flathead V-8 in a 1936 Ford 5-window coupe that Meyer is working on.

Piston and connecting rod assemblies, all organized by sizes, hang from one wall in Jack Meyer’s shop.

The engine in the X-Ray Ford chassis would probably need little more than some of Meyer’s gaskets to be running reliably again

Published Dec 7th, 2015

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