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Fords of the 30’s – 2

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Although there were more powerful engines, few cars could match the 1932 Model 18 Ford in terms of acceleration. With 15 more horsepower than the old L-4 engine, the Model 18 was also lighter and offered more usable torque. And it was cheaper. Zipping around in an original Deuce roadster was an almost intoxicating experience. The engine responded with simple elegance and unwavering obedience. Its handling was a big improvement over the Model A’s. Some of this can be attributed to fuel tank’s having been moved to the rear. Style was also upgraded so that body shared its lines with Lincoln.
Forced to keep up with the competition, Ford decided to change body style annually. In 1933 and ’34, the look was vastly different from 1932 and was influenced by Ford of Great Britain. These are among the most beautiful Fords ever put into production. Smooth contours, fashionable trim and wider fenders greatly improved the line’s image. The DeLuxe roadster was a joy to drive. Horsepower gains were negated by an increased weight, and the smaller (17-inch) wheels and tires made the car look more dynamic and improved driving feel. Ford also upgraded the chassis, beginning with a stiffer X-frame. Interior comfort was also improved, and the driver space and control angles seemed better suited to extended motoring. Also interesting is that these were the first Ford models that had dashboards designed to accommodate an optional car radio and speaker.
Notorious criminals such as Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger were big fans of the V-8 Ford’s rapid getaway power. While on the lam at the height of their criminal careers, they wrote to Henry Ford to praise his cars.
Fords were more than quick and inexpensive; they were economical to run. In the days of 12-cents-a gallon gasoline, Ford promoted that its family sedan averaged 18 to 22 miles per gallon.


The twenty-millionth Ford rolls off the assembly line in 1930. The car remains in perfect running order and is often used in company press functions (see page 50). It represents the height of the Model A’s evolution.

As stunning as the 1933 and ’34 models were, 1935 marked the beginning of the “fat fender” years. Fords had an entirely new look. Under the direction of new design czar, Bob Gregorie, the Ford looked like its Lincoln and Zephyr cousins. For the next three years, through the 1938 model run, Fords evolved: horns, radiator caps and parking lamps were all moved inboard for a sleeker exterior, and wire wheels were discontinued.
Driving one of these Fords is surpris- ingly easy; they’re far less cumbersome than their size might lead you to expect. With gear changes that were imple- mented in 1935, the five-window sedan test car was very fast, and Fords steadily became more comfortable. These cars helped the company to gain a brief sales advantage over rival Chevrolet and led to the memorable 1939 and ’40 Fords.
Perhaps the most stunning Fords of the era arrived in ’39 and stayed until ’40. With sleek, flowing, almost sensual body lines, teardrop headlights and wonderful vertical-bar grilles, these coupes, sedans and convertibles were road-going poems. Featuring the same driveline as in 1938, the ’39 and ’40 models offered quicker shifting because of the taller gearbox tunnel. The interior was far more comfortable and stylish as well. And, best of all, these were the first Fords to have hydraulic brakes. Slight exterior enhancements further improved the style and made the ’39 and ’40 models very desirable.
Motoring cross-country in a prewar Ford may not be for everyone. Compared with the common Focus, even the 1940 DeLuxe is unrefined and under-powered and offers little in the way of the creature comforts we all take for granted in modern cars, e.g., air conditioning and an audio system. Still, it’s a trip that will send the soul soaring and make us wonder why we are always in such a hurry to get somewhere that we lose sight of where we’ve been. Driving a ’30s Ford from then is like a slow-lane love affair. Roll down the windows and putt along with a smile. Hang loose and relax into a different time. When you’re at highway speed, the most strenuous part of your drive will be returning the thumbs-up from kids whose parents are speeding by.

Updated: June 30, 2011 — 11:27 AM

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