Small Block Ford Oiling Problem


I have a 1965 Mustang with a 289 engine, bored 30 over, and was wanting to know how to modify the oil supplied to mostly numbers 1, 2, 5, and 6 valves. I’ve heard that there is a modification that can improve the oil to the front of the engine.


Let me start by apologizing for the delay in my response, as we felt the need to check our reply with several professional engine builders first. Your request caught us a little off guard, as the Small Block (221/260/289/302/351 Windsor) Ford is actually known for its robust Main Bearing Priority oiling system. So we felt compelled to check with a few associates who regularly work on these engines. We contacted Clay Witt at Cottrell Racing engines, Jim Hall at TPIS, and Bob Wilson at RJ Restorations, just to see if there was something we were missing here. All agreed the Small Block Ford is a solid engine with excellent oiling characteristics for most street and performance driving. Most agreed the only weak link was the oil pump drive rod, and recommended using an ARP drive rod to replace the stock unit. They all also recommended using a stock style oil pump for street use and to avoid using high-volume or high-pressure pumps. It is true that the front cylinder rocker assemblies are the last in line in the oil system, but all agreed something has to be last, and under most street and performance driving, there is still ample oil delivered to the top end to do the job. Our collective next thought was: who published something contrary to this that made enthusiasts believe modifications were needed? Soon we discovered—a popular automotive TV show ran a segment on how to improve top end oiling by tapping into the main oil galley and running a copper line beneath the intake and up to the top end. To this, all I can say is, don’t believe everything you see on TV. While you may gain improved oiling to the front rockers, keep in mind that means something else is getting less oil, and I would rather sacrifice rocker oiling than lose any Main Bearing oiling. Modifications like this have been around forever. Older Ford Y-Blocks were notorious for top end oiling problems and often remedied in the same manner, although the real problem was a narrow oil passage groove in the center of the camshaft. Jim Hall acknowledged that it would be a modification to consider if an engine was to be driven at high RPMs for extended periods of time, but he felt strongly that no modification was needed for street-driven performance cars. Bottom line: Use a high-quality, USA-made ARP drive rod, and don’t mess with anything else, and expect thousands of miles of trouble-free driving.
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27 Responses to “Small Block Ford Oiling Problem”

  1. Sam

    I built up a 1963 260 V8 to put in a early ’66 Ranchero. I went with 10:1 CR, slightly massaged heads, Edle brock intake,Holley carb and long tube headers. It all worked except the hydraulic lifers wouldn’t pump up. Had a mechanic at the Ford dealership look it over and didn’t have a solution. I finally ended up installing a 3/4 solid cam/lifters and it ran like a scalded cat! Years later I found out that the original camshaft had a slot in the rear provided an oil passage with each rotation. The 302 camshaft(s) I was playing with did not have that slot. I already knew to repace the oil pump drive with a heavy duty one. I think the old Ford small block is one of automotive’s great engines.


    The small blocks are nithiong like the old cammers,when you rebuilt one of them there was an oil galley at the rear of the block.if yu did not plug it the lower end would starve for oil and eventally there would go your rods and bang that meant your bearings would be spung and there went you motor. my buddy had 3 of thm in his racing craft boat and each engine was rebuilt at a Ford shop who did not know when you rebult them on those dual over haed cammers that plug needed to be put in the rear to keep oil in the lower end

  3. Christopher Stokes

    In 1965 & 1966 drag raced a Mustang with said 289 hipo and never saw any oiling problems and that was shifting at 7500 .

  4. frank

    I have a small block ford 351 bore out 30 over 356 it’s been setting for a while what can I do to clean up the cylinders and I read about they oil problem can I use they ARP drive rod in my case? what is a good set of heads to use i’ll be on the street lol.

    • Customer Service

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  5. Alex Forrest

    good question that was but why do the push rods in the 1976 Ford 360 engine not have holes up through the push rods? the ones I took out were very pointed. I bought a new set and they also have no holes in them. is that also lack of oil to the rocker rail? thanks Alex

    • Customer Service

      Hi Alex,
      Thank you for your patience, here is the expert response:

      The Ford 360/390 FE engines don’t get oil to the top end via the push rods.
      Rather there is an oil galley through one of the rocker stands that holds the rocker rail.
      Oil fills the rocker rail that is fed to holes in the rail at each rocker.
      The rocker stand bolt in the oil galley passage has a necked down (thinner) portion of the bolt.
      Always make sure when rebuilding an FE motor that these bolts end up in the right place, otherwise there will be restricted oil flow to the top end.
      I have attached a diagram of the Ford FE oiling system, it also shows the location of the necked down oil passage bolt.
      Wrench Safe,
      Classic Car Restoration Club

  6. Donald Mann

    I have heard that the Cleveland and 351M/400 engines had oiling problems. would like to here back.

    • Jim Darrach

      on the 351m and 400 engines low oil pressure was a problem but if you put new cam bearings in and turned them slightly to close a portion of the oil hole going up through the bearings it boosted the pressure and lasted for years

  7. Jim

    I have been working on SBFs since the mid sixties and still do in my restoration shop. The editor is correct, the SBF’s priority main bearing oil system is one of the best, and the weakest link in the oil system if the oil pump drive rod which should be replaced with one from ARP if you have the motor open.

  8. harley martinez

    i have an original 1965 289 2+2 mustang it has 85 thousand original miles or so. and you are so correct do not mess with what works.street driven and maintenance regularly.c code car not k code.good information thank you

  9. Frank

    If you want to make sure the engine is well lubricated before starting it convert the oil system to a “dry sump” system. This system will circulate the oil throughout the engine before starting it. I have never installed this system on a engine but have read articles on this.

  10. Randell Barnette

    I do agree with your assessment of the Windsor oiling system. I also experienced first hand the oiling problem with the Y block in my 1957 Fairlane wagon many years back. As a side note: I see pictured on the beauty of an engine pictured in this article, it has a Fram oil filter installed. In my opinion there is only one “good” thing about a Fram oil filter and that is the “grip” paint on the base. Disect one of them and I think you will agree with me. A good Ford motor deserves at least a proper Motorcraft oil filter !

    • Jim

      Agree. There have been several oil filter tests over the last 10 or 12 years, and the results have always been the same..Motorcraft and Wix are the best.

  11. NEEL

    I worked in a big Ford Dealership when the small block Fords were still under warranty.. I don’t recall any oil related failures of reasonably maintained engines.. Occasionally we’d see a twisted off oil pump drive rod, which was caused by a piece of trash jamming the oil pump gears. The suspected culprit was a piece of a hardened valve seal that had broken off and found its way to the oil pump.. The Quaker State ‘myth’ was associated with using the wrong (non detergent) oils and/or too long service (oil change) intervals..

  12. John Krag

    SBF’S have got one of the best oiling systems. Like previous comment replace the oil pump shaft with a heavy duty one. Also for street use the stock oil pump is more than enough.

  13. Ken turner

    Had a 1962 6cl fairlane that I had to put on a cheater kit low oil pressure on the rocker arms was a copper line that ran to the end of the assembly

    • rick

      Yes a remember I had a 1959 ford with a 292 V8.Oil stopped going through rocker tubes in head.Remember they made an top end oil kit to remedy this problem.

  14. Jeff Cochran

    I bought a small block Ford 289hipo to put in a 1951 f1 to wake it up. I find any articles like this one very interesting. Any stories that I can read are much appreciated. Keep them comming

  15. mike

    Have 69 Mustang 390 FE 86,000 miles , 7&8 lifters do not move sitting running, last to get oil, original female owner changed oil faithfully

  16. JIM


  17. timothy smith

    Back in the day when these engines were popular on the road in the mid-60’s and early 70’s a lot of owner fell prey to bad motor oil, namely Quaker State, along with a few others, that had so much paraffin in them (a waxy hyrocarbon) that a build-up would occur in the heads and lifter area and block oil passages. If oil changes were neglected it would really get deep. I can recall telling people what kind of motor oil a person used when pulling the intake. “Quaker State motor oil used?” ‘Yep,.how did you know that?”

    • Dan

      I have found the same problem several times. Bought a 78 F150 with 351M that my father in law bought new and used Quaker State only. It took a good cleaning of the engine to get rid of the deposits and some new lifters and a fill of today’s oil and all is fine.