And then there was the FF 40th Anniversary event at Road America promoted by Steve Beeler and Mike Rand and hosted by the Milwaukee Region SCCA — an eye-opener, as it turns out, for the Ford Motor Company. It was the largest FF field in the U.S. ever, but all at the July 2009 gathering were shocked by Honda crashing the event, as the SCCA introduced the 1500cc Fit engine into the re-titled “Formula F”.
The modern Fit engine, it was hoped, would stimulate interest in FF which had been slowly fading away. Once the largest SCCA class by far, field average size had dropped to the single digits.
Among those surprised by the Honda introduction were key executives from Ford. In August, Ivey got a phone call from Mose Nolan, one of the most storied “engine men” in Ford history, asking: “What do FF people need?”
“Right now, a block,” said Ivey. By then out of production for more than 20 years, the wrecking-yard supply of Cortina, Pinto and Fiesta engine blocks had all but dried up. “I’d say 4-5 out of every 10 blocks were no good,” Jay explained. “High mileage, age deterioration.”
“A block? We can do that,” Ivey remembers Nolan saying.
Nolan was the man responsible for the Ford four-cam engine that showed up at Indianapolis in 1963 and won in 1965; and for the V8 engines in Ford’s 1966 Le Mans-winning GT40s.
On Sept. 25, 2009, Nolan had the go-ahead internally and sent an e-mail to Ivey detailing an ambitious 40-week program which would culminate in delivery of the first machined and pressure-tested new production block by July 2010 — and not just a copy, but a block improved in several key areas and made of a new alloy.
Interestingly, only after the decision to proceed was made did Nolan make the connection that the retired dyno operator he had worked with for many years at Ford, Bill Ivey, was Jay’s uncle.
The sweet 3D-printed sample block was shipped to Ivey in March 2010 — right on schedule. Next came tooling, final casting sign-off and final machining by Roush in Dearborn.
The first two new blocks were shipped to Ivey Engines in July 2010, one for the dyno, one for display at the Portland Historics — the fastest turnaround from drawing to production of any block in Ford history, Ivey says.
Several factors combined to herald the renaissance of Formula Ford over the last decade, but no one thing stands out as more vital to this resurgence than the Kent engine block reappearing in the Ford Motorsports parts catalog. And it’s no straight-up return of the nearly six decade old original: The new Kent block (P/N M-6010-16K) has been modified and strengthened in several key areas, and is made of a new alloy — not a weight or performance advantage (at 95 lbs, it’s slightly heavier), but significantly more reliable.
To date, more than 700 have been sold, manufactured in Wisconsin (soon to be Illinois) and final machined at Roush in Michigan — many for Lotus and FB/Atlantic applications, but Ivey alone has purchased 200 for Formula Ford. Ivey says the new Kent block is, over the last 10 years, in the top five of Ford Motorsports part sales.
Unfortunately, even as a supply of new blocks began fueling interest in Formula Ford as the class took on new life in vintage racing, the Iveys faced a new crisis: Over the winter of 2009-2010, wife Susan was diagnosed with cancer, and, by summer, she was forced to undergo major surgery to remove multiple tumors and faced a lengthy recovery period.
Jay knew he couldn’t keep the business going and care for his wife, and gave serious consideration to shutting it down. That was when their two youngest sons, Cameron and Colin, entered the business publicly: Middle son Cameron had been working alongside Susan in the front office for several years, even as he prepared for college with an interest in pediatrics; and he stepped in full time when his mom was unable to continue.
Youngest son Colin, meanwhile, had been shadowing Jay for a similarly long time and, in his early 20s, had already become an adept FF engine builder.
Like their dad, both boys share a ferocious work ethic and in 2010 they stepped up: As Jay left to care for Susan for several months, the boys stepped in with huge help from their dad’s long-time friend and employee Mark Viskov. And, over a six-month period, the business missed nary a beat.
Happily, nearly 10 years later, Susan is doing well, although because of her illness, much in all of their lives has changed: Ivey Engines today is a thriving family business, with Cameron handling all the orders and customer service; Colin building and rebuilding most of the engines; and Jay settling into an overseer and at-track guru that his customers (and a surprising number with engines from other tuners) have come to depend on.
“What keeps me going is always the challenge,” says Jay. “Success to me means security for my family, but it’s more than a number; it’s building a business on honesty and integrity.”
Jay has time now, thanks to his son’s abilities, to dabble in other projects (like a rare Datsun motor that found its way to the shop) and ongoing Lotus Twin Cam rebuilds.
But his heart beats for the Kent Ford Crossflow, and, while Ivey Engines will continue to thrive no matter what, to Jay Ivey, the revival of interest in Formula Ford via its newfound popularity in vintage racing around the world truly means survival.