Ford’s 289 High Performance V8, introduced in the 1963 Fairlane, is something of folklore and legend. It was factory rated at 271 horsepower at 6,000 rpm with mechanical flat tappets and was a delightful mill right off the assembly line.
Yet, much has been made of “rare” 289 Hi-Po parts, with enthusiasts paying outrageous sums of money for these components. However, you don’t have to buy Hi-Po parts to get high-performance. Everything you need to build a high-performance Ford small-block can be easily found from your favorite speed shop.
The only thing “high-performance” about the 289 High Performance V8 was a hot mechanical flat tappet cam, cast iron exhaust headers, larger 3/8-inch connecting rod bolts, a slide-on counterweight, wider harmonic damper, hand-picked Brinell-tested “1M” crank, stiffer valve springs, and unique cylinder head castings designed for high-rpm operation.
The 289 High Performance cylinder heads have exactly the same valve and port sizing as your mother’s grocery getter 289 2V or 4V engine. The rest are hand-picked and prepared parts you can assemble yourself.
Starting the Performance 289/302 Build
We’re going to show you how to build an affordable 289 High Performance engine without the expense of those rare Ford Hi-Po parts.
The best cylinder head to use is the 1960s 289 head casting with 53cc or 57cc chambers for the best quench and compression. Our subject engine is a 1967 289 with ’69 302 truck heads, which have larger 64cc chambers. These heads have been milled 0.010-inch, which will put us around 10.0:1 compression. With earlier 53cc/57cc chambers you’ll be at 10.5:1. They have also been CNC-ported and fitted with larger 1.940/1.600-inch Chevrolet valves for improved flow. These heads have been machined and fitted with screw-in rocker studs with guide plates.
We’re working with a 289 with some fundamental issues stemming from a previous rebuild. (The builder was decidedly sloppy.)
Because the cylinders were over bored, with excessive piston-to-cylinder clearances, we’re going to have to take these bores to 4.040 inches, which is as large as you want to go with a small block Ford. The line bore had to align-honed again to get it square. The decks were milled, but at an improper angle rendering the block almost useless. That causes intake manifold-to-cylinder head mating issues to where coolant and vacuum leaks have been a problem. This calls for tricky machine work on the heads and intake manifold to get things plum. At best, it is a dicey process.
JGM was able to get the decks true.
Although the factory 289 High Performance engine was fitted with a flat tappet mechanical camshaft, you have the option of an aggressive Comp Cams hydraulic roller that will give you a choppy idle and come on strong with rpm. The period-correct Comp Pro Magnum 1.6:1 rocker arms deliver low friction performance and the same exciting chatter you get with a mechanical cam, which will make your 289/302 sound like a 289 High Performance V8.
Finishing Up & Dyno Testing
During final assembly, this hydraulic roller 289 was fitted with a Tony D. Branda reproduction Cobra high-rise dual-plane manifold and valve covers, and was fitted with an Autolite 4100 much as the ’66 Shelby GT350s were with automatic transmission.
On the dyno, this engine made 320 horsepower and comparable torque with a Holley 650cfm with vacuum secondaries and a stock Autolite distributor with a Pertronix retrofit and long tube headers. Not bad for what is basically a stock 289.
Check out the huge image gallery below for a visual walkthrough of the job.
Jim Smart is a veteran automotive journalist, technical editor, and historian with hundreds of how-to and feature articles to his credit. Jim's also an enthusiast, and has owned and restored many classic vehicles, including an impressive mix of vintage Ford Mustangs.