By Roy Berndt
Attempting to make sense of what does not make sense, and explaining or defining the impossible was the theme of a show long before Tom Cruise made Mission: Impossible famous. In the original, the same team kept pulling off impossible missions put before them, hence the title. Well, we are going to try and do something pretty close to that – we are going to attempt to make sense of Ford part numbers and how they can help identify casting numbers.
If you’re ever going to understand Ford’s numbering system you have to realize that there are three unique and separate components: the PREFIX, the IDENTIFIER NUMBER and the SUFFIX. Sounds simple but what would a Mission: Impossible be without some confusion? Guess what? There are two distinctly unique yet similar identification numbering systems: first, 1950 thru 1998 and second, 1999 thru 2028.
Ford Production Part Identification Coding
The PREFIX will tell us when the part was originally released by engineering production, what car line it was released for (but not always exclusive to), and by what engineering group. The earlier 1950 through 1998 prefix breaks down like this: First position is the decade; the second position is the year of that decade; the third is that vehicle application; and lastly, the fourth position indicates the engineering group (see example 1, F6AE in the chart on page 21). So "F" tells us that it is in the 1990-’99 decade, "6" tells us that it is 1996, "A" says that it is a Ford but does not narrow it down to any specific vehicle application and, lastly, the "E" tells us that it is from the Engine Engineering group.
The number system adopted in 1999 works out a little differently. The first position provides the actual year definition. The next two digits provide the vehicle application and the fourth digit the engineering group. Again, see example 2, XR3E in the chart. The letter "X" tells us that it is 1999; "R3" that it is a Mustang (once again not always exclusive to); and the "E" Engine Engineering, Dearborn.
The IDENTIFIER NUMBER, which is composed of the four digits in the middle, identifies the part, component or assembly. For example, 6049 indicates a cylinder head, 6250 would be a camshaft and 6009 would be a short block assembly. Unfortunately, I have not seen or found a directory of those numbers so they are something that you learn as you go along. These numbers are the same for all years so there is no difference between the earlier and later designators.
The SUFFIX is designed to tell us the engineering change level. Typically, "A" would mean the original status of the part, then going through the alphabet except for the letter "I" (so as not to be confused with one) as engineering changes occur. If more are required they will run the alphabet a second time AA, AB, AC and so on.
So how does that help with anything that has to do with casting numbers? Nearly all the time the prefix digit will be used in the casting number. However, it rarely, if ever, changes as often as a part number. So you could have an XL3E casting number, 4.6L Ford, PI cylinder head used in both light truck and Mustang; the part numbers may reflect differently but the head castings are the same. What these charts will do is give you a good foundation identifier that you can build upon with other resources. This chart is just one of many tools that help you in the identification process. Is it all the answers? Not at all, but it is a great help in sorting out what seems to be an impossible numbering system to understand. Now that you know how it works you should have much better insight into looking at Ford casting numbers as well part numbers.
Special thanks to David Struck from Baseline Automotive and to Bob Hansen from Industrial Irrigation for insights and assistance.