Amateur Hour: Ford Windsor Build Part 1

Posted February 09, 2021

By Dean Larson

Tag along with us for the next couple months as a pair of total amateurs tackle the complete rebuild of a Ford 302 Windsor engine. Despite being obsessive gearheads and project car addicts, neither of us have ever rebuilt a car or truck engine by ourselves before. Our subject is a bare Ford 302 engine from around 1972 that we picked up from a shop for cheap. In the end, we hope to come up with a fun and reliable Windsor engine that any guy could build at home with a few helpful resources. Will we prove to be Windsor wizards, or will this thing kick out a rod immediately? There’s only one way to find out.

If we can do it, you can probably do it (better)

My coworker Jeff and I have both been dying to tackle a full engine rebuild for years now. Beyond it being a useful skill for all the sketchy project vehicles we have lying around, it's truly gratifying to go through something top to bottom and make it perfect. By going through every nut, bolt and bearing, you’re even more connected to that vehicle, and you know it better than anyone else ever could. But put plainly, it’s just cool as hell to do.

I’d definitely consider myself mechanically inclined, as I’ve rebuilt tons of old two-stroke engines and I maintain a whole fleet of old-ass daily drivers and recreational vehicles. I do my best to handle all the necessary repairs and modifications on everything I own, including wheel bearings, water pumps, clutches, brakes and the like. If I can’t figure it out, I research it until I can. But I’ve never rebuilt a whole car or truck engine, and I have a pair of Ford V8s sitting on engine stands in my garage, so it’s definitely time to take a crack at it.

Jeff’s experience level is pretty comparable, as he’s built a handful of old 4x4s and classics. He’s currently doing a ground-up rebuild on an early Ford Bronco, and he has a tunnel ram 440-powered Mopar pickup that's next in line. Jeff has a leg up, as he had a friend help him rebuild a small-block Chevy out of a C2 Corvette a few years back, but he admits that he’ll be back to square one without an experienced friend to help. Like me, Jeff has a few Ford engines on stands at home, and his Bronco is going to be ready for a fresh 351 some time soon, so he’s also champing at the bit.

So that’s where we’re starting from, but what about our victim, I mean lucky rebuild candidate. Well it’s a Ford 302 Windsor engine from 1972, but it’s more like an exploded parts diagram at this point. It was disassembled at a machine shop and they did some work to it, but we didn’t get much information with the engine. As far as we know, it’s been bored .030” over, and the block and heads have been magnafluxed. It’s clear some work was done to the rods, but the crank and everything else is untouched. What we have are some (sort of) clean parts and boxes of old junk. Obviously it’d be great to know more, but this is how we got it, and that’s why it was cheap. Don't fret though, we've done our homework and are aware that this engine will need additional machining before assembly.

We’ll be working on this project for a few hours a week, tackling a few key steps each time, and writing about the process here for you each week. Again, we’re not experts, so we’ll probably get tripped up, and may even need to redo things here and there. If we do something wrong, let us know in the comments below, but please don't grill us too bad!

That being said, it pays to have a few lifelines when you're tackling a complicated new project. So to start, we picked up a copy of George Reid’s How to Rebuild the Small-Block Ford, and the detailed photos, text and specification fields should serve as a nice quick reference. Plus, it's less than $30 on Amazon. But it's also helpful to watch someone explain things on video, so for good measure we also got an account on Jim Woods’ This site has something like 300 detailed videos explaining different processes and nuances in building Ford Windsor engines, but it also goes into detail on stroker setups and features a focused forum. (If you're interested in becoming a member on, use this link for a special discounted membership rate courtesy of Mr. Woods.)

With these tools, we're really going to do our best to do this engine right, instead of just slapping something together. Like many of you, we'll be working on a pretty tight budget though, and that's bound to be the biggest challenge after our limited skill set. But the only way to get this project moving forward and learn something is to get our hands dirty and see what we really have. Let’s get this shit show on the road.

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