15 Reasons the Ford 390 FE Remains a Muscle Car Legend

Stephen Foskett/Wikipedia

Today, we explore the world of American muscle with a true legend — the Ford 390 FE engine. This wasn’t just any V8; it was a powerhouse that roared under the hood of iconic Fords, dominated police pursuits, and even left its mark on early NASCAR races. Today, we’ll peel back the hood and unveil 15 fascinating facts that solidify the Ford 390 FE’s place as an automotive icon.

FE Stands For… Edsel


It might seem like a natural fit, but FE doesn’t stand for “Ford Engine.” Instead, it refers to “Ford Edsel,” the short-lived car brand for which the 390 was initially designed. Though the Edsel flopped, the 390 FE proved to be a versatile performer, finding a home in various Ford vehicles for years.

Mid-Sized Muscle

Bill Pugliano / Stringer/Getty

The 1950s saw an explosion of muscle car development. Ford offered a range of engines, from the peppy but more petite displacement options to the monstrous 427 FE. The 390 FE occupied a sweet spot in the middle. It wasn’t the absolute pinnacle of power, but it delivered a healthy dose of muscle without being overkill for everyday driving. 

Horsepower Hero


Depending on the specific year and configuration, the 390 FE could unleash anywhere between 255 to 401 horsepower. This range catered to a variety of performance needs. Early versions might have been geared more towards comfortable cruising, while later iterations with higher horsepower ratings leaned into the muscle car spirit.

Police Interceptor


Police departments in the 1960s and 1970s needed vehicles to keep up with and outrun criminals on the road. The 390 FE’s combination of power and durability made it a perfect fit for interceptor cars. These specially equipped Fords with the 390 engine were well-suited for high-speed chases and demanding situations.

NASCAR Aspirations

FordFE com/Wikipedia

NASCAR’s early days saw a fair share of 390 FEs hitting the track. These engines offered competitive performance, but as the sport evolved, larger displacement engines like the 427 FE came to dominate. While the engine’s NASCAR tenure wasn’t as long-lasting as some of its bigger siblings, it still played a role in the sport’s history.

Trucking Power


The 390 FE wasn’t just about muscle cars and cop wheels. Ford trucks also benefited from this engine’s capabilities. The 390 FE provided reliable power for hauling cargo, making it a valuable asset for work trucks that needed to handle significant loads.

Export Muscle


Car lovers around the world appreciated the 390 FE. Ford exported these engines to various countries, equipping their international lineup of cars with American muscle car spirit. This export helped solidify the 390 FE’s reputation as a powerful and versatile engine on a global scale.

Long Production Run


The 390 FE enjoyed a production life that spanned over a decade and a half. Introduced in 1961 and produced ten years later, it continued to be manufactured until 1976. This extended production run shows the engine’s reliability, performance, and adaptability to various vehicle applications.

Sound of Power


Car enthusiasts appreciate an engine’s power and sound. The 390 FE is known for its distinctive throaty exhaust note. This deep, aggressive rumble is a beloved characteristic among muscle car fans. It’s a visceral reminder of the raw power simmering beneath the hood.

Tuner Favorite

Kata Sinay/Getty

The 390 FE’s robustness and the abundance of aftermarket parts made it a popular choice among performance enthusiasts. The strong base provided by the 390 FE engine allowed tuners to build upon its potential. Swapping in high-performance camshafts, forged internals, and other modifications could unlock even more power, making the 390 FE an excellent starting point for creating a real muscle car monster.

Block Party


The 390 FE wasn’t an isolated island in Ford’s engine lineup. It shared its core block design with other FE family engines, like the 406 FE and the 427 FE. This meant that parts between these engines were often interchangeable, allowing for easier modifications and repairs when needed.

Heavy Duty Potential


While the 390 FE was a capable performer in stock form, it had the potential to be transformed into a serious powerhouse. Upgrading internals with forged components designed to handle increased stress, bolting on a high-performance camshaft for more aggressive valve timing, and other modifications could significantly boost the 390 FE’s output.

Classic Collectible


Today, the 390 FE is a prized possession for first-rate car enthusiasts. For restorations, a 390 FE can help bring a vintage Ford back to its original glory, ensuring that the classic muscle car continues to perform as intended. Regarding hot rod projects, the 390 FE’s modifiable nature makes it a popular platform. Gearheads can leverage the existing strong base and plentiful aftermarket parts to create a customized hot rod with impressive power and performance.

Simple Design


Compared to modern engines packed with complex computer-controlled components, the 390 FE is a relatively simple machine. This mechanical simplicity makes it appealing to car enthusiasts who love the challenge and fulfillment of working on their vehicles. The 390 FE’s accessible design allows gearheads to diagnose issues, perform maintenance, and even make tweaks without needing specialized tools or computer software.

Enduring Legacy


The Ford 390 FE engine made a huge impact on the automotive world during the muscle car era. Its impressive power output, versatility, and tuner-friendly features solidified its place in history. Today, it continues to be admired by collectors, used to power classic Fords, and modified to create unique hot rods. It is a testament to American muscle car engineering and a reminder of its thrilling era.

Written by Devin J