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Mose Nowland Tells the History of the Flathead V-8 on its 86th Anniversary

Henry Ford with the Flathead V8

DEARBORN - Ford Performance had the privilege of chatting with one of Ford’s longest tenured employees, Mose Nowland.

Nowland was an engineer with the company for 57 years and worked on some of Ford Performance’s highest visibility programs over the past half-century. With this week being the 86th anniversary of the public unveiling of the Flathead V-8, Nowland offered unique and interesting stories about one of the main engineers to work on the Flathead program, Don Sullivan.

One of five engineers picked personally by Henry Ford to design and develop Ford’s Flathead V-8, Sullivan began his long and rewarding career with Ford on April 12th, 1928. Sullivan first worked directly with Henry Ford, who called him "my wild Irishman," in 1930 when he was involved in the highly secretive V-8 project. Henry Ford, a hands-on CEO, visited the engineer center two or three times a week. And Mr. Ford knew who the sharp engineers were. So Sully caught his eye.

Mose mentioned that many of his co-workers were skeptical of this new technology, worrying that the pistons lying on their side causing wear was a real issue. True to his form and always wishing to push the envelope, Mr. Ford brushed off the concerns.

One main aspect of the Flathead program was the devotion to secrecy. In case of success or failure, Ford did not want anyone to know about what he was up to.

He went to the Ford design center and told Sullivan's supervisor, “I want that guy out of here by Friday.” Fired without reason and a young college graduate with a newborn boy and wife, Sullivan sat at home wondering what had happened.

After a day or two, while Sullivan was outside picking up his daily coal shipment to bring back to his house, a big burley man pulled up in a black Model T and said, “Are you Sully? Get in.”

Sullivan was taken to the back entrance of Greenfield Village to the Thomas Edison workshop. There was a team of five, including Sullivan and a supervisor. Mr. Ford said, "I want you help develop this new Flathead V8, but you cannot under any circumstances tell your wife, family, or friends."

The design team worked in secrecy in a small shack. Henry Ford would stop in three times a week to give his oversight and input. One day, Mr. Ford came by as Sullivan started making a connecting rod. At the time there were big, crude vertical steam engines right outside. "For what," Ford asked, "one of those things out there?" Then he just walked away.

Sullivan knew the kind of man Henry Ford was and what he was implying, so he went back to the drawing board and made a thin connecting rod. Fellow engineers thought it would never work, but that is what Ford was hinting at. He was not concerned about weight; he was thinking about the amount of steel that would be needed to make an engine. He knew he'd be building millions of them.  

Sullivan had to develop a special kind of steel, stronger and lighter than the previous steel he had been using. Providing this essential component in the Flathead V-8 made the engine one of the greatest and allowed it to stay in production for more than 21 years.

Never wanting to settle, Henry Ford was always questioning tradition and constantly pushing his products, cars, and employees to the limit. This allowed Ford to become the greatest car company in the world and set a standard for future Ford employees to follow, with performance the driving force behind innovation.

Ford Performance would like to thank Nowland for telling his story and sharing insight into one of the projects upon which our foundation is built. 

March 31st 1932 – Ford publicly unveiled the Flathead V8 engine; the first affordable eight cylinder engine to the general public. (Important because it was the first “racing” engine easily accessible) “Everyman’s power for the road, and Everyman’s power for racing”

Henry Ford with vehicle at the unveiling of the Flathead V8 engine in 1932

Henry Ford in Ford vehicle

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison sitting outside

Men are pictured around a Ford car

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