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Pistons & Compression Ratios

Consider Compression Ratio When Rebuilding an Engine


In the old days of 100+ octane gasoline, high compression ratios meant high performance. Since higher was better, the advertisements declaring high compression ratios were what marketing and sales personnel liked for promotional purposes. Although the compression ratios were stated without explanation, on occasion there was a note mentioning that the ratio was a nominal compression ratio. For the sake of convention, I will use the word advertised compression ratio. In the course of writing the book Mustang & Ford Small Block V-8, I calculated the compression ratios of all combinations of original pistons, heads, and head gaskets. This involved measuring actual combustion chamber volumes (using vegetable oil to ll the chamber), head gasket thicknesses, and pistons. What I found was that calculated compression ratios were considerably lower that advertised ratios. The advantage of using calculated compression ratios was that it allowed comparing combinations against each other. However, calculated ratios were only accurate on initial start-up of a new or rebuilt engine. Cylinder wear and carbon buildup caused increases in compression ratio. So, although the advertised compression ratio more realistically described actual compression ratio over the life of the engine, the method used in determining this value was never explained to the publicit was simply presented as factual. Many advertised ratios were used for Fords small block V8s, but were not consistent with the facts of calculated ratios. For example, in my research I determined that all 1963-67 289 2V engines had a calculated compression ratio that was 8.6:1. Ford advertised the ratio as 9.0:1 in 1964 and 9.3:1 for 1965-67; however, all should have been the same. Since the 1964 289 4V (used in the K-code 64 Comet and D-code 64 Mustang) used the same heads, pistons, and head gaskets as the 1964 289 2V, these engines must be included in the group having the same compression ratio. All these engines used a piston with a 6 cc (cubic centimeter) volume dish. In 1963 through mid-65 production, the dish was circular. In mid-65 through 67, the piston incorporated valve reliefs and the dish depth was decreased accordingly. This allowed pistons with and without valve reliefs to be mixed in the same engine. All these engines used heads with the same combustion chamber volume, although the shapes varied. All used the same head gasket. Another piston was used on the 65 A-code 289 4V. Initially this piston was a true at-topno dish or valve reliefs. Calculated compression ratio for this engine was 9.2:1. Advertised compression ratio was 10.0:1. In mid-65, the pistons incorporated valve reliefs. Ford continued to advertise this engine as having a 10.0:1 compression ratio, but my calculated ratio showed a drop to 9.8:1 due to the 2 cc size of the valve reliefs. A drop in reported compression ratio nally showed up in 1966 via a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) when Ford revised the A-code advertised compression ratio to 9.8:1. The 63 Fairlane K-code 289 HiPo saw a highly inated advertised compression ratio of 11:1 in its sales literature. Even with the 1 cc volume for the valve reliefs (the reliefs were smaller than those used on the A-code engine), my calculations put the compression ratio at 9.5:1. Ford later revised the 289 HiPo advertised compression ratio via a TSB to 10.5:1. Even as Ford revised the ratio, it released the 289 HiPo with larger combustion chamber 12 September-October 2004 j by Bob Mannel heads which signicantly reduced the compression ratio. In addition, the new HiPo pistons incorporated larger valve reliefs which increased their volume to 3 cc. My calculations showed the ratio dropped to 8.9:1. In 1966, Ford revised the advertised ratio of this engine to 10.0:1, although my calculated ratio showed it to be the same as the A-code 289 4Vs, which was revised by Ford to a ratio of 9.8:1. There was a trend I began to see between my calculated ratios and Fords revised advertised ratios. Advertised ratios around 9:1 were about .7 higher than calculated. Those about 10:1 were .8 higher. At 10.5:1 the difference was 1.0. The difference was increasing expontentially as advertised ratios increased. This was to be expected because carbon buildup would have greater impact on reducing compressed volume in smaller volumes than in larger ones. So, remember that calculated ratio of 8.6:1 for the 1963-67 289 2V and 1964 289 4V? Adding .7 to this number would give 9.3:1, the advertised compression ratio for all these engines. With this foundation, we can now turn our attention to the effect modern gasolines are having on our older engines. Premium fuel octanes are around 93. Octane is a measurement of how resistant the gasoline is to pre-detonation. Octane 100 or above will resistant all tendency to pre-ignite. At 93 octane, pre-detonation in our older engines will occur. It is just a question of when. There are a few factors in pre-detonation. One is combustion chamber pressure and another is temperature. Higher pressures and temperatures tend to initiate detonation. Since high performance cams tend to lower pressure at the lower end of the rpm operating range (due to intake and exhaust valve opening overlap), a late 64-67 289 HiPo (with the larger-chamber heads) will be more resistant to pre-detonation at low rpm than its non-HiPo 2V counterpart. However, as rpm increases, pressure increases. If coupled with high compression (such as in the 63/early 64 289 HiPo with the smaller-chamber heads), pre-detonation becomes a signicant problem. Since cars with these engines tend to have noisy exhaust systems, pre-detonation can be masked by engine and exhaust noises at high rpm. So just because you cant hear it, doesnt mean it is not happening.) Engines with lower performance cams produce high pressures at low rpm. These engines will generally start pre-detonating sooner than high performance engines. It is really a matter of combustion chamber pressures and temperatures. High performance engines have higher compression (high pressure potential) and larger overlap cams (which lowers pressure at low rpm). Non-performance engines have lower compression, but the cam usually allows near maximum pressure throughout the rpm operating range. (Because the pre-detonation is occurring at lower rpm, the knocking or pinging can often be heard over other engine and exhaust noises.) In having run a variety of engines throughout the years of 93-octane gasoline, I can say that with standard camming, advertised compression ratios over 9.5:1 may cause pinging. The initial correction for pre-detonation is to reduce the initial timing by a couple of degrees. Ford specied 6 BTDC (before top dead center) for initial advance. (Some sources might show 10 or 12 for engines with automatics, but use 6 instead.) This can be reduced to not lower than 2 BTDC, if pinging is encountered.

One engine I ran was a 289 stroked to a 302. Camming was standard and the heads were stock 289. This setup was identical to the 1968 302 4V (which used pistons with a 6 cc dish and heads with chamber volumes identical to the 289) which had an advertised compression ratio of 10.0:1 (9.2:1 calculated). My engine was overbored .030" which increased compression to about 10.3:1. Even with timing retarded to 2 BTDC, running a 20" width, 3-row radiator, and using a 160 thermostat, this engine continued to experience pinging problems on premium fuel. The compression ratio was just too high. Pictured at right are the pistons used in the 1960s for the 289/302 V8s. Considering the present state of gasoline, using at-top pistons like those in the top four pictures is out of the question unless using racing fuel or some kind of mixing for octane boost. The most common piston was the one with a 6 cc dish/four valve reliefs. Similar pistons are available today in cast, hypereutectic, and forged aluminum. However, all these original pistons used a 1.600" compression height, so selections today must consider this factor as it affects deck height clearance and compression ratio. Also, the use of forged pistons requires increased cylinder wall clearance to account for the increased thermal expansion rate of forged aluminum over cast or hypereutectic aluminum (see chart on next page). All 289/302 pistons made today are 302 pistons. In the pictures below, notice that the tops were the same, but the side skirts differed between the 289 and 302. After 1968, Ford stopped producing 289 pistons, preferring to use the 302 piston in the 289. This helped prevent the installation of the 289 piston in a 302, where the piston skirt could strike the 302 crankshaft. When octane dropped in gasoline, the general aftermarket replacement piston became the 12 cc dish, destroked piston. These were sometimes referred to as deep dish pistons or 8:1 CR pistons, because they produced an 8.0:1 compression ratio. These are excellent pistons for use on a 302 V8, as will be shown in my compression ratio calculation example.

Original piston used on 63/early 64 289 HiPo (left), and original piston used on late 64-67 289 HiPo (right).

Original piston used on early 65 289 4V (left), and original piston used on late 65-67 289 4V (right).

Original piston used on 63 289 2V, 64 289 2V, 64 289 4V, and early 65 289 2V (left), and original piston used on late 65-68 289 2V (right).

302 302 289

289

Original piston used on 68 302 2V/4V (left, both photos), and original on 68 289 2V (right). Note that the tops are the same, but side skirts differ. j September-October 2004 13

I spent some time on the internet looking for what is currently available for piston selection. I tried to nd pistons close to the original Ford designs. Consolidation of some companies made it difcult to sort out all the brands. I settled on three. Silv-o-lite pistons are currently manufactured by United Engine & Machine (UEM) Company. They also produce the KB (Keith-Black) Performance Pistons and the Claimer Performance Piston Series. Sterling and TRW pistons were more difcult to trace. Sterling was the name for Sterling Aluminum Products, Inc., makers of aluminum pistons in the early 1960s. Federal Mogul acquired the company in 1965, liquidating and dissolving the company in 1968. Pistons continued to be marketed under the Sterling name. Sterling is the product line associated with cast aluminum pistons. They might also be under the Speed-Pro brand name of Federal Mogul. Speed-Pro was also associated with hypereutectic aluminum pistons made by Federal Mogul. These pistons carried the Sealed Power logo on the coated skirt. (Sealed Power ReMake* Application Part # CH** cc*** Top Description

placement & Sealed Power of Canada. Ltd., was another maker of pistons acquired by Federal-Mogul in 1993. The name is used by Federal Mogul for engine kits and components). TRWs independent Automotive Aftermarket Business (AAB) was acquired by Federal Mogul in 1992. This acquisition brought the TRW piston name under Federal Mogul and is why these pistons are called Speed Pro Powerforged, but still carry TRW markings. (TRW, Inc. was merged with Northrop Grumman in 2004 which spun TRWs automotive division off to an investment company called The Blackstone Group LP. However, the TRW piston business had already gone to Federal Mogul back in 1992.) In the chart below I have listed the pistons I found, including some for the 221 and 260. Two pistons with 12 cc dishes were of interest for me for use with a 289 stroked to 302 cubic inchesthe Silv-o-lite 1157 and Sterling 272AP (272AP30 for .030" oversized). All the pistons in the chart are available in .020". ,030", 040", and .060" oversizes. Rings**** Type***** Notes

Silv-o-lite ......221 ........ 1119 ........1.580 ............0 ......at-top........................................................................ standard .....cast ......................... 1 Silv-o-lite ......221 ........ 3187 ........1.580 ............0 ......at-top........................................................................ standard .....cast ......................... 1 Silv-o-lite ......260 ........ 1106 ........1.580 ............0 ......at-top........................................................................ standard .....cast Silv-o-lite .. 289/302..... 1157 ........1.585 ...+12 cc ......2.45" x .140" dish, w/4 valve reliefs.......................... standard .....cast ......................... 2 Silv-o-lite .. 289/302..... 1195 ........1.608 .....+7 cc ......2.50" x .030" dish, w/4 valve reliefs.......................... metric ........cast ......................... 3 Silv-o-lite .. 289/302..... 1177 ........1.585 .....+3 cc ......at-top, with 4 valve reliefs ....................................... standard .....cast ......................... 4 Silv-o-lite .. 289/302..... 3101H .....1.605 .....+3 cc ......at-top, with 4 valve reliefs ....................................... standard .....hypereutectic .......... 4 Silv-o-lite .. 289/302..... 3133H .....1.600 .....+5 cc ......2.45" x .029" dish, w/4 valve reliefs, high output ..... metric ........hypereutectic .......... 5 Silv-o-lite .. 289/302..... 3165H .....1.600 .....+5 cc ......2.45" x .029" dish, w/4 valve reliefs, high output ..... standard .....hypereutectic .......... 5 Silv-o-lite .. 289/302..... 3169 ........1.600 .....+Unk ...... 2.50" x .050" dish ...................................................... metric ........cast ......................... 6 Sterling ...... 289/302..... 272AP.....1.585 ...+12 cc ......2.910" x .110" dish .................................................... standard .....cast ......................... 7 Sterling ...... 289/302..... 273AP.....1.585 .....+3 cc ......at-top, w/4 valve reliefs ........................................... standard .....cast ......................... 8 Sterling ...... 289/302..... H273CP ..1.605 .....+3 cc ......at-top, w/4 valve reliefs ........................................... standard .....hypereutectic .......... 9 TRW .......... 289/302..... L2305F ...1.605 ..+7.4 cc .......068" dish, w/4 valve reliefs ...................................... standard .....forged .................... 10 TRW .......... 289/302..... L2482F ...1.605 ..+2.7 cc ......at-top, w/4 valve reliefs ........................................... standard .....forged .................... 11 * Silv-o-lite is a brand of United Engine & Machine Company. Sterling is a brand of Federal Mogul (may also use the Speed-Pro name). TRW is a brand of Federal Mogul, but uses the Speed-Pro Powerforged name. (Sealed Power is also a Federal Mogul brand.) ** Compression Height. Normal compression height for 1960s 221/260/289/302 V-8s is 1.600" with a deck height of 8.206" and .016" deck height clearance (top of piston to block head surface). Replacement pistons with a 1.580" compression height for the 221/260 and 1.585" height for the 289/302 are considered destroked. This means that the block head surface can be milled up to .020" for 221/260 and .015" for the 289/302 while still maintaining .016" deck height clearance. A piston with a 1.608" compression height gives only .007" deck height clearance, while a 1.605" height gives .010" clearance. Pistons with a 1.600" compression height give the stock .016" deck height clearance. (The 1973-76 302 blocks had a 8.229" deck height and can use these taller pistons without difculty.) *** Cubic Centimeter. Only at-top pistons have a zero volume to add to the compressed volume. Valve reliefs in at-top pistons add about 3 cc to the compressed volume. Dishes for above pistons include dish diameter and the depth. **** Ring set. Standard ring sets have (2) 5/64" compression ring grooves and (1) 3/16" oil ring groove. Metric pistons use (2) 1.5 mm (millimeter) compression ring grooves and (1) 4.0 mm oil ring groove. ***** Piston Material. Cast aluminum (cast), forged aluminum (forged), or hypereutectic aluminum (hypereutectic). Hypereutectic aluminum has a high silicon content (~12% or more) fused into the base metal for additional strength. For cast or hypereutectic pistons, set cylinder wall clearance at .015"-.020". For forged pistons, set clearance at .0035"-.0045" (due to inherent higher expansion rate of forged aluminum). Note 1. The 1119 piston is listed for the 170 6-cylinder, which used the same piston as the 221. Silv-o-lite now lists 3187 for the 221, but it looks identical to the 1119 piston. Note 2. This is an ideal piston for todays gasoline. It is destroked, so the block head surface can be milled up to .015". Note 3. This piston is close to the original stock 1969 289/302 piston and can be used for replacement. However, compression height is .008" more than stock. Note that it uses the metric ring set. Note 4. This piston is close to the 289 HiPo. The cast piston is destroked, allowing block head surface milling. The hypereutectic piston has a deck height clearance of .010" without block head surface milling. 14 September-October 2004 j Note 5. These pistons are identical except for ring sets. They are very close to the original stock 1969 289/302 piston and will produce the production compression ratio. Note 6. Piston volume unknown. Nothing mentioned about valve reliefs. Application was for a 1986-91 302 V-8. Note 7. A good alternative to the Silv-o-lite 1157. Destroked. Note 8. A good alternative to the Silv-o-lite 1177. Destroked. Note 9. A good alternative to the Silv-o-lite 3101H. Note 10. This is close to the conguration of the original 289/302 piston except it is forged. Note 11. This is close to the conguration of the original 289 HiPo piston except it is forged.

Silv-o-lite 1119

Silv-o-lite 1106

Sterling 272AP

Silv-o-lite 1157

Silv-o-lite 1177

Sterling 273AP

TRW L2305F

TRW L2482F

Sterling H273CP

Note: Sterling, Speed-Pro, Sealed Power and TRW are all brand names under Federal Mogul. (Pictures all enlarged from the internet, so quality of image is somewhat degraded.) j September-October 2004 15

Example of determining compression ratio. This example of calculating a compression ratio is rather involved, but I will go through the process once. You can change the numbers to determine your own compression ratio for your application. Determining the compression ratio is important to insure the engine will run on todays premium fuel without pinging. Pinging is pre-detonation, the effect of which is like little hammers hitting the top of the piston. Severe detonation produces a knocking sound when the whole chamber mixture explodes instantly rather than burning from the spark plug outward. This is like a sledgehammer hitting the top of the piston and very destructive if allowed to continue. (This occurs in diesel engines, but they are specially designed to handle the pounding.) I mentioned premium fuel because this is the only fuel I recommend using in the older engines. Pinging is just one of the problems associated with using regular fuel. I have encountered two other problems with regular fuel that premium fuel seems to avoid. First is vapor lock in the fuel pump. This is particularly a problem when you turn off a very hot engine on a hot day. The fuel pump can vapor lock and remain so until the engine cools. If restarting during this time, the engine may quit within one-quarter mile. This has happened to me on two occasions. The second problem is fuel boiling in the carburetor bowl after hot soaking (such as when you have stopped at a rest stop along the interstate). The boiling in the Autolite 2100 or 4100 begins in the power valve cavity and the bubbles will pass right by the primary fuel metering jets. When resuming high speed driving (above about 55 mph), these bubbles can get sucked into the jets and cause surging for a few minutes until cooler fuel enters the carburetor bowl and stops the boiling. So, here we go. The engine I am currently building has the following specs: Engine - 1963 289 V8, bored. 030" oversize. Heads - 1964 289 V8. Milled .010" for trueness. Head gasket - FelPro. Pistons - Silv-o-lite 1157 pistons in .030 O/S (4.030" diameter). Crankshaft & rods - 302 V-8 (3.0" stroke). Cylinder wall clearance - .0015" To determine the compression ratio (CR), the total cylinder sweep volume (SW) and compressed volume (CV) must be divided by the compressed volume (CV). The formula looks like this: CR = (SW + CV) / CV Determining the sweep volume (SW) is straightforward. I need to determine the cross-sectional area and multiply it by the pistons 3.0" stroke. Here is how the cross-sectional area is determined: Piston diameter + cylinder wall clearance = cylinder diameter. Substituting the numbers, 4.03" + .0015" = 4.0315". The cross-sectional area is radius squared times pi (3.1416). So: r = 4.0315"/2 = 2.01575" r2 = 4.06325 square inches 3.1416 x r2 = 12.765 (cross-section in square inches) Cross-sectional area is now multiplied by the stroke. 12.765 x 3.0" = 38.2953 cubic inches (Engine displacement = 8 x 38.2953, or 306 cubic inches) To convert cubic inches to cubic centimeters (cc), cubic inches are multiplied by 2.543 (2.54 x 2.54 x 2.54 = 16.387). Therefore: SW = 38.2953 x 2.543 = 627.55 cc 16 September-October 2004 j

Determining compressed volume (CV) is much more involved. It is made up of: Piston volume (PV) Volume between piston and cylinder above upper ring (RV) Volume above piston below block head surface (DV) Head gasket volume (GV) Combustion chamber volume (HV). HV GV

DV RV RV PV

Piston volume for the 1157 piston was given by Silv-o-lite: PV = 12 cc The volume between piston and cylinder above upper ring (RV) is more complicated. To nd cross-sectional area, I have to subtract the piston top area from the cylinder cross-sectional area. The piston top diameter is 3.992" (measured). So: r = 3.992"/2 = 1.996" r2 = 3.984 square inches 3.1416 x r2 = 12.5162 square inches The cylinder cross-sectional area was already calculated at 12.765 square inches. Therefore: 12.765 - 12.5162 = .2488 square inch The distance between the top compression ring and the top of the piston is .242" (measured). So the volume is: .2488 x .242" = .06021 (cubic inch) Converting to cubic centimeters: RV = .06021 x 2.543 = 1 cc The volume above the piston that is below the block head surface (DV) can be determined by multiplying the cylinder cross-sectional area by the distance the top of the piston is away from the block head surface at top dead center. The cylinder cross-sectional area has already been calculated at 12.765 square inches. The stock piston had a compression height of 1.60" which gave a deck height clearance of .016". The Silv-o-lite 1157 piston has a compression height of 1.585". This means the Silv-o-lite piston top is .015" further away from the block head surface. Adding

that to the deck height clearance means the Silv-o-lite piston top is .031" from the block head surface. Multiplying this by the cylinder cross-sectional area gives: 12.765 x .031" = .395715 cubic inch Converting to cubic centimeters: DV = .395715 x 2.543 = 6.5 cc The head gasket volume (GV) was given by FelPro as 8.5 cc. However, it can also be calculated if the compressed thickness and hole diameter are known. Using 4.07" for the hole diameter, the cross-sectional area is: r = 4.07"/2 = 2.035" r2 = 4.141 3.1416 x r2 = 13.0 square inches Multiplying the cross-sectional area by the compressed thickness will give the volume. Using .039" thickness: 13.0 x .039 = .507 cubic inch Converting to cubic centimeters: .507 x 2.543 = 8.3 cubic centimeters Note that this is very close to FelPros 8.5 cc Combustion chamber volume (HV) is measured using a piece of plexi-glass sealed against the head. With valves installed, vegetable oil was poured through a small hole in the plexi-glass until the chamber was lled. The volume of oil used to ll the chamber is the combustion chamber volume. I had previously done this on 64 289 heads and the volume was 55 cc. However, the heads will be milled .010" to true them up. The milling operation will remove volume from the combustion chamber. To determine how much, I sketched the actual size of the chamber shape (below). Then I overlaid a .1" square grid. All the squares in each row were counted. The ones along the perimeter were estimated as to the percentage of the square inside the perimeter. These numbers were placed on the right side of my sketch. Once the numbers for all the rows were listed, the row numbers were added and the total was noted at the bottom. In this case, there were 796.5 squares. Since there are 100 squares per square inch, the cross-sectional area is 7.97, or about 8.0 square inches for the combustion chamber cross-sectional area.

Next, the cross-sectional area was multiplied by the milling: 8.0 x .010" = .080 cubic inch Converting to cubic centimeters: .080 x 2.543 = 1.3 cc Subtracting this volume from the chamber volume: HV = 55 - 1.3 = 53.7 cc Compressed volume (CV) = PV + RV + DV + GV + HV, so: CV = 12 + 1 + 6.5 + 8.5 + 53.7 = 81.7 cc Now I can at last calculate the compression ratio using the formula: Compression Ratio (CR) = (SW + CV) / CV CR = (627.55 + 81.7) / 81.7 CR = 709.25 / 81.7 CR = 8.68 or about 8.7 (calculated compression ratio). As mentioned earlier, calculated ratios are about .7 below advertised ratios. So, the advertised ratio would be 9.4:1. This is just about what the stock ratio was, and the engine should run well on premium fuel. Shown at right are three additional pictures of the Silv-o-lite 1157 piston in .030 " oversize. You can see that it compares favorably with the original Ford 289/302 piston, except for the deeper center dish. This makes it an ideal piston for use with today's low octane fuels. The top is clearly marked as to the oversize and the arrow should always point to the front of the engine. The piston ring groove conguration is stock.

Actual size 1964 289 V8 (.1" square grid)

2.0 6.4 14.2 20.8 23.5 26.8 30.2 33.2 35.1 36.4 37.4 37.9 38.4 39.0 39.2 39.6 38.8 38.6 38.1 37.5 36.3 35.2 33.5 31.3 28.4 17.6 1.1 796.5

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