Riley Head Conversions For Ford Model A Engines

I recently posted a report on Riley Imp cars.  While putting that report together with Riley expert David Evans, I was reminded of a rally car that frequently takes part in Time-Speed rallies in the northeast USA and recently won the Sportsman Class in the 2018 Great Race.  However this car is not a Riley, it is a 1930 Ford Model A speedster.  The car is shown below at the 2018 Great Race.

1930 Ford Speedster Of Keith Wallace/Rick McIntosh In The 2018 Great Race

During the Great Race there was a number of rally participants thought that the car was a Riley due to the badging/name on the car and the general knowledge that many Riley cars were raced.

There were two types of four-cylinder engines that were used in the Ford Model A cars and in other Ford cars of the early 1930s.  These engines have their valves in the engine block which are generally referred to as a L-Head design.

Model A engines are four-cylinder 201 cubic inch engines rated at 40 hp stock. They use a smaller crank than their B and C counterparts, and use a gravity-feed or “splash-n-drip” oil system—not a pressurized oil system.

Ford Model A Four Cylinder Engine

Model B engines introduced in 1932 were rated at 50 hp in stock configuration.  They were the same size engine as the Model A engines. These engines feature a larger crank with no counterweights and a four-bolt water pump. They feature a pressurized oil system with direct lubrication to the mains. The oil galleys can be tapped to provide better lubrication for the crank, cam, and timing gears.

Model C engines result from a the confusing use of cylinder heads.  Ford chose to distinguish a 5.2:1 compression “Police” head offered for the Model A engine with a cast-in “B.” When it was time to distinguish the Model B head, Ford used a cast-in “C” for the Model B’s 4.6:1 compression head. This, coupled with the change in counterweights and a shorter water pump used to clear the angled radiator introduced in 1933, has led to some labeling the ’33-’34 engines as Model C.

The picture below that I took in Holliston, Massachusetts in 2015 ,shows a Ford Model A with its standard four-cylinder engine.

Ford Model A Engine

For the Great Race car shown at the beginning of this post, the confusion comes from after-market overhead valve conversions that were available for the Model A and B engines.  One of the best was the Riley overhead valve conversions.  The Riley two- and four-port overhead conversions were the brainchild of George Riley, an inventor who also raced cars, planes, and boats. Among other creations, he came up with the inboard/outboard boat engine configuration.  He opened his shop in 1919 to produce speed equipment for Ford Model Ts and continued to build new Ford speed equipment for years.

Advertisement For The Riley Heads

The advertisement above shows that Riley had several versions of the overhead valve conversions.  The photo below shows the Riley head on the Great Race car.  The head on the Great Race car apparently is a high performance version of the Riley head.  If you look carefully at the head in the Great Race car, it can be seen that the intake manifold and carburetors are on the driver’s side of the engine, while the exhaust system is on the passenger’s or navigator’s side of the car.  This cross-flow head layout is much better for engine performance than the same-side intake/exhaust arrangement shown in the photo on the Riley advertisement.  The Riley advertisement notes that there is “Model C” version for high-speed use.  The Riley head in the Great Race car might be the Model C version of the Riley overhead valve conversion.


Note That Intake And Exhaust Systems Are On Opposite Sides Of the Engine

The source of confusion was exacerbated by a previous owner of the Great Race car who placed a Riley badge taken from a true Riley car on the front grille.

Riley Car Badge

During the 2018 Great Race Harald von Langsdorff and I often found ourselves running on the road close to the 1930 Riley-Ford Racer and we became acquainted with the crew of this car – Keith Wallace and Rick McIntosh.  These are very pleasant fellows and we congratulate them publicly for their Sportsman Class win!

The 1930 Riley-Ford Racer At The Glenn Curtiss Museum In New York

If you have any comments or questions about this post, then please leave a comment below or you can send me a private email message at the following address: shanna12 at comcast dot net

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