Anybody like a flathead?

There are times I resemble one greatly.

Do you mean DOES, IS or WOULD?



Same people who like “all American” five tube AM radios.

Assuming you’re referring to the engine style, I love flatheads. While outdated, not having the ability to breathe as easily as an overhead valve motor, etc. they’re pure simplicity to service, have a ton of torque, will loaf right along at low RPM cruising speeds all day long.

One of my antique motorcyles is a flathead (1944 80 inch sidevalve) and I’ve owned that one since 1974. Nobody can separate that one from me; and several have tried for triple what I paid for it.
Five to 1 compression ratio and I can “kick start” it by using my hand while sitting on the seat, pulls with no bogging from a dead stop in 3rd gear, will continue to run well with burnt valves and a blown head gasket, etc. What’s not to like.

Gas Gas appearently likes the L-head, their latest 4-stoke trials bike has a 350 cc L-head engine in it. Appearntly, they feel that the compactness and lower weight offsets the power disadvantage.

Their web site: http://www.gasgas.com/trials_home.htm

Having sold industrial engines in the past, I did get to like the Continental Red Seal, a heavy duty sidevalve (L Head) gas engine. This engine was also used in the 50s Kaiser automobiles, and some models even had a McCulloch supercharger attached to boost performance. The engine apparently could easily handle it.

I did not have much use for the L head engine in my dad’s Plymouth and Dodge cars, although they were quieter than overhead valve engines.

Through the 1940’s and into the mid-1950’s, the flathead engine was the most popular engine. Only the Chevrolet 6, Buick inline 8, and Nash Ambassador were overhead valve engines on the U.S. cars. Pontiac continued its flathead 6 and 8 inline engines through 1954. Oldmsobile introduced its “rocket” overhead valve V-8 in 1949, but the flathead 6 remained through 1950 as the Oldsmobile 76. Cadillac had a flathead V-8 until 1949, when a new overhead valve V-8 was inrroduced.

Chrysler corporation offered a flathead 6 through 1959, although the Chrysler flathead 8 was replaced by the hemispherical combustion chamber V-8 engine in 1951. By the mid 1950’s, all Chrysler products offered a V-8, though it was an option on the lower lines.

Ford introduced an flathead inline 6 engine in 1941. In 1952, the engine was replaced by an overhead valve 6. However, the flathead V-8 wasn’t replaced in the Ford and Mercury until an overhead vavle engine became available in 1954. The Lincoln used a flathead V-12 engine until 1949 when a flathead V-8 became its engine. In 1952, the Lincoln retired this flathead engine in favor of a V-8 with overhead valves.

Studebaker used a flathead 6 engine through the 1960 model. A V-8 was introduced by Studebaker in 1951, but the flathead 6 remined in production. As late as 1965, American Motors Corporation offered the flathead 6 in the Rambler American.

In stock car racing, the Hudson Hornet flathead 6 was a winner. Part of this was due to the superior handling of the Hudson over other competitors, but the engine was tweaked by Richard Teague and gave good performance. The senior Petty in the early 1950’s raced a Plymouth coupe with a flathead 6 engine and won races. One thing that contributed to Petty’s success was that the lightweight Plymouth didn’t have to come in for tires as often, but the engine did perform well.

There is no doubt the the overhead valve engine allows better breathing. The 1959 Studebaker Lark overhead valve V-8 would get as good mileage as the Lark flathead 6. WHen I received my driver’s license in 1957, my parents owned a 1952 Dodge flathead 6 with the “lift and clunk” Gyromatic semi-automatic transmission and a 1954 Buick with an overhead valve V-8 engine and standard transmission. The Buick certainly would out-accelerate the Dodge, and was much quieter on the highway, but got better gasoline mileage both in town and on the highway. However, the Dodge engine was much easier to work on. The Buick hid the spark plugs under covers and the distributor was way back against the firewall. The flathead Dodge engine had the spark plugs right on top and the distributor was on the side of the block and very easy to service.

One popular accessory back in the 1940’s and 1950’s was the Borg-Warner automatic overdrive. With the torque coming on at lower rpm in the flathead 6 as opposed to the overhead valve engines, the engine ran much quieter in overdrive at highway speeds than it would otherwise and this let the engine pull well in a higher gear with its lower rpm torque.

A compromise between the flathead engines and the overhead valve engines was the Willy’s F head engine. This had the intake valves in the head, but the exhaust valves were in the block where they ran cooler.

I, too, liked the flathead engines, particularly the 6 cyliner engines. They were easier to service than the V-8 engines. Even lawnmower engines are going to the overhead valve design. When the engine wore out on the push lawnmower, I bought back in 1992, I couldn’t find an equivalent mower with the flathead engine and an aluminum deck. I put a new shortblock in the old mower. I like the simplicity of the design.


Let’s don’t forget all those Checker cabs that ran the streets of major cities with the Continental Red Seal L-head engines. I think this engine was used by Checker through 1963.

I would imagine due to nature of this forum ,I meant an engine type-Kevin

Paxton McCulloch.the Chainsaw guy,made these blowers right?-Kevin

I really liked the flathead 6 in my 39 Dodge. It was so smooth the only way to tell if it was running was to let out the clutch. The torque was amazing, it would accelerate up a bridge from 15 mph in 3rd gear. The same engine was supplied in Chris Craft boats up into the 60’s.

Yes I liked these old engines too,didnt you just love the motorboat sound? My V-6 dakota sounds something like that ,before it has warmed up ,with a superturbo muffler on it-Kevin

I cut my mechanic teeth on a 1951 Plymouth Suburban station wagon and a 1954 Plymouth 4 door Savoy sedan both with the L head 6 cylinder engine and manual 3 speeds. I learned tune ups on the 1954 and valve jobs, head gasket replacements, and overhaul on the 1951. Later I maintained a 1957 Plymouth 4 door sedan with a flat head 6. That thing drank oil to the tune of 50 miles to a quart. I replaced a blown head gasket in addition to multiple tuneups. But, it would always stay running – never failed on the road.

The most interesting use of Continental 6 cylinder L head industrial engines was the use of 5 of them arranged in a circle to a master gear to drive a Sherman tank. I don’t know how successful the application was but I bet it was a fire hazard when hit by a armor piercing shell.

I still love the sound of a good running I6 or V8 flathead engine.

Thank you for this link. I repaired a lot of these old 5 tube sets. Maybe they were the radio equivalent of the L-head engine. Both the 5 tube radios and the flat head engines worked and were easy to repair.

One of the most interesting applications of a 6 cylinder engine that I remember was in a Jaeger air compressor. I was sitting in my office and an air compressor was running at a construction site next door. I didn’t think that the air compressor engine was running on all its cylinders. When I took a break, I examined the air compressor. The engine appeared to be an L-head 6 cylinder Dodge engine. The cylinder head was split into two parts. The front 3 cylinders had spark plugs and provided the power. The rear three cylinders compressed the air. There was a special intake manifold for the engine part and it had attached to it an updraft carburetor. The engine obviously sounded as though it wasn’t running on all 6 cylinders, and it wasn’t. This was back in 1965 and I haven’t seen one of these compressors since that time. However, it must have been a reasonably efficient design for the times.

I think they did the same thing with Ford industral engines too-Kevin

Never had one, never will, but I love the way it looks in an old school street rod or a rat rod.

My father owned a 1952 Pontiac straight 8 with a flathead engine. It was not an easy starter in extremely cold weather but was very quiet at idle. It was so quiet at idle that I, a 10 year old kid with almost brand new ears had to get very close to the car to hear the engine running.

Now, even expensive luxury car engines are comparatively loud at idle.

Our Pontiac straight 8 was a very tough engine; took a lot of punishment from me when I got my driver license at age 16.

Chevrolet 6 OHV engines of that era were very good at starting in extremely cold weather.