(first posted 8/27/2011)
True confession: I don’t actually like car shows very much. That may sound utterly perverse, but so be it. It’s a bit like paying $5 bucks to get into a whorehouse line-up: look, but don’t touch. Or like going to the department store. Sensory overload. And they’re terrible for shooting pictures, with all the hoods open, and other people and cars constantly in the way, never mind the mid-day sun. I’ll take my chances in the streets, or even deserted Forest Roads. I’m a hunter-gatherer by nature, and prefer to have a little fling with each one I find, but one at a time, please!
We rushed through the first Concours I’ve been to in ages, and I couldn’t wait to hit the road for the cool woods. But there were a couple of cars I stopped long enough to take in, and peel off a few shots. One of them was perhaps my favorite Ford from the golden thirties, the ’36.
That decade includes a number of true gems, thanks to “Bob” Gregoire’s deft ability to bring Edsel Ford’s ideas to fruition. The decade began with the finely designed but still very classical Model A, and ended with some rather dumpy sedans, but in between, there were a string of fine designs, the best being the 1933 and 1936.
The 1932 Ford, recently debated here, was a fine but subtle refinement of the Model A. With the 1933, things really start to change, starting with a new 112″ wb frame and the first influence of streamlining. The 1934 was a further refinement of the ’33, but one that takes it a little step closer to perfection. Along with an improved V8 now making 85 hp, the ’34 is immensely desirable to me; probably from watching Bonnie and Clyde once too often. But here is a car almost perfectly balanced, and one that so effectively conveys its better-than-average performance.
The 1935 introduced a new body, wider, and with more streamlining influences, but Ford chickened out on the front end. It’s essentially an update of the previous car. The result is still handsome, but hardly harmonious. You can’t have your feet on two side of the stream.
But for 1936, the new-for ’35 body gets the new front end it should have had all along. Now the Ford has truly entered the thirties, the most revolutionary decade for automobile design ever, although none to radically.
The 1936 Lincoln Zephyr jumped in to the new stream with both feet, and the ’36 Ford shows its influence. The 1937 Ford followed its footsteps, but the shorter bodies of the Fords meant they never quite achieved the grace that the Zephyr had. And although the 1939 and 1940 are loved by many, their sedan bodies are way to hump-backed.
That leaves the 1934 and 1936 to duke it out for top spot. Either way, under the hood they’re about the same, and the 85 hp 221 CID flat head V8 looks so happy there, nestled right in. In the 1949 through 1952 cars, the very compact engine looks utterly lost in their engine bays. And given how little additional horsepower those latter ones had, the 1934 and 1936 were probably some of the fastest Fords of the whole flat head V8 era. Flip a coin; I’d be happy either way.
For the record, I generally dislike car shows, too, but for a different reason – I absolutely HATE trailer queens. If the car runs, drive the confounded thing, for goodness’ sake! Or just but a die-cast model.
That Ford is a stunner, though. When in St. Louis last weekend, a friend of my wife and her husband recently bought a 1948 Chevy Fleetline two door sedan. Also, quite a beautiful car.
One thing I have always wondered is: Could the carmakers sell a car designed like that Ford today? If not, why? I’m not referring to the small PT Cruiser, either, I mean a full-size Impala or a Fusion?
It depends on what you mean.
The car pictured would meet none of today’s safety requirements it also would not get the gas mileage required of today’s cars.
Not to mention the period brakes, which were simply unsafe. Ford was last to adopt hydraulic brakes.
I do find these “what if” questions funny, since if one was to really want a nice 1935 Ford, it would cost a lot less than most new cars. Here is an example:
Yet, I really rarely see anyone driving this kind of car on a daily basis.
Owned at least five 1952/53 flatheads. Very little to recommend them. Probably because they were worn out when I owned them (60-61). For a real tired turkey, in 1966 I had a 53 Merc. Way too much weight for very little increased horsepower. Looking back, I would have traded all of them for a 49-51 ford. Especially a coupe. Don’t know why they never reached tri five chev status. Probably the engine but the 289/302 fits real well. Oh well, times change and so do we. Happy now with an old truck to haul hay etc around the place. Glad my old buddies can’t see me now.
I know that I’m a contrarian, but I have always preferred the ’35. Perhaps this is due to family history. When my mother was growing up on an Ohio farm, her father bought a new ’35 Standard fordor. Put 2 more doors on the pictured ’35 and it would be a twin to my grandparents’ car.
My grandfather kept that car in good running order and was the family’s only vehicle until he bought a new car in 1951 (A Kaiser, of all things). 16 years out of a car was an eternity in those years, so the car sort of took on legendary status in family lore. They had no pickup on the farm, but used the Ford to pull a trailer. And the car wasn’t used up even then – my aunt and her husband took it and replaced a Model A that they were driving. They drove the old ’35 another year until they traded it on a new ’52 Ford Victoria hardtop. With the flathead V8, of course.
The ’36 is certainly more graceful, and I can see why most people prefer it. I just like the thicker, more square-shouldered look of the ’35.
Not bad, I guess I’m just to enamored of the chromed out 50s and the barouque 70s.
Amazing the timing on these posts of yours. Just yesterday when I pulled into the local fast food joint to get lunch there was a 36 Ford in the same maroon with the grand kid in the rumble seat. The paint was faded and the chrome wasn’t very shiny, hard to tell if it was a true survivor or a older resto. Either way I was drooling.
Wow! What timing – I just this past week stumbled across the transcript of an interview with Ford designer Bob Gregorie, and have been reading through it during my lunch hours. He had a hand in most of the cars shown above.
Here’s a link to his bio, and the link to his interview transcript is at the bottom of the page – it’s long but well worth reading and gives a fascinating insight as to how many of Ford’s cars of the 30s and 40s came into being:
If you go to the home page, they have a lot of info on other auto industry insiders as well.
Thank you for that link; spent way too much time on it, but a fascinating inside look.
No problem! I really enjoy reading first-hand accounts such as this one – granted, you’re dealing with somebody’s subjective recollections, but it’s about as close to “the truth” as one can come IMO if you have multiple contributors. Probably moreso than somebody big in the industry (Iacocca, Delorean, Lutz, et al) pushing their book on the topic.
Gregorie certainly drew some pretty cars Fords coupes were some of the best the sedans do look a little awkward but hey the coupes look great
I prefer the 3-window ’36 Coupe, perhaps because I built a kit in my teens (still have it in the attic).
It’s remarkable how Ford were able to introduce new bodies and then discard them again after 12 months for new styles.
The ’34 saloon was reproduced in minature in the UK for the “Y” Type, the first British Ford model.
I guess I’m showing my age but in ’54 I bought a non-running ’36 roadster for $40.00, The first thing my friends and I did was to transfer the body to a ’40 frame to upgrade engine, brakes and transmission. Paint was original and upholstery was blanket over springs and for about two years it ran like a top. Doubled my money and with hardly a tear in my eye graduated to a ’50 ford club coupe.
I like all the V8 Fords from the thirties, but if pressed I would probably say I like the 36, 37, and 39 deluxe coupes or convertible coupes the best.
My father had a 1935 4-door sedan that came with us from Nevada to western Washington in 1942 or ’43. I remember him telling me that it had 17-inch wire wheels off a Pierce-Arrow. I wonder if it was hard to find tires for it…can’t say, I was 7 when he sold it.
My first car ( a ’46 Ford) had 17″ wheels and one of the modifications I made, along with up-rated engine and suspension, was to change it to 16″ wheels because 17″ were so off-the-scale UN-COOL !
Back when I had my Model A about 20 years ago, a wheel-swap with a ’35 Ford was popular if you wanted to drive the car much. The A had 21 inch wheels in 1928-29, and 19 inchers in ’30-31. The 17 inchers from the ’35 Ford fit easily and the fatter tires improved the car’s ride comfort dramatically.
I think of this often when I see modern cars outfited with those huge wheels and ultra-skimpy tires. I just think of it as a learning opportunity for another generation.
It’s been a while since I read the Dave Crippen interview with Bob Gregorie, but my recollection is that the 1935-1936 Fords were primarily designed by Briggs — the ’35 by Phil Wright, who had earlier done the Pierce Silver Arrow (and who also did the ’35 Chrysler Airstreams), the ’36 by Holden (Bob) Koto.
Gorgeous automobiles. I ran across this beauty at the local Cars and Coffee we have monthly on the grounds of Michelin North America here in upstate SC, thanks for hosting Michelin!
A 36? You guys tell me.
I drive by a 33 phaeton everyday that’s for sale. It looks like a barn find, as it’s kind of rough. The guy who is selling it has a reputation for being hard to do business with so I haven’t stopped to look at it. The “little Lincoln”styling is gorgeous!
Very nice car (and in a great colour), but the ’34 looks better to me. Bonny & Clyde syndrome as you said.
And I’m a sucker for the baby Zephyr / Streamline Moderne look, so make my second one a ’39.
That is a very fine ride!!! I noticed the address is from SLC UT.
However; still had to have carpet protection for the indoor presentation
While I like flathead Fords, and even feel a modicum of love for the Y-block V8’s, the 289/302’s that replaced them made all previous Ford engines in this displacement range a waste of cast iron. It is interesting, to look at some of the pictures of the first Shelby Cobra’s being screwed together. Supposedly a 260, with a factory 4bbl manifold and a Holley carb. Yet a 4bbl wasn’t available until the 289 of 1963…Hmmm… I have to wonder if some of those ahem…260’s were 289 prototypes. Can’t think of a better way to try them out before they hit mass consumption.
Once Again, Paul and I are in complete agreement.
This is my favorite pre-shoebox Ford model.
In the early 1960s, a high school friend was given a near pristine 1936 coupe by his aunt. His was from-the-factory blue but was otherwise virtually identical to the one pictured. I’ve always felt that my fond memories of that car were largely responsible for my attraction to the ’36 and it’s nice to read some more objective praise. It’s rumble seat was one of a very few I’ve ridden in and it remains the only car I’ve ever driven with mechanical brakes.
The ’36 was an attractive vehicle, certainly, but I personally prefer the ’37. Sure, it’s a near carbon copy of the Zephyr, but the look works to me, shorter frame or not. That’s not to denigrate the ’36 though–a fine piece of design in its own right, and probably more original.
’36 Ford! My dad’s first car! He turns 90 today and he’s still driving – an ’06 CTS now. He was a Ford/Mercury guy until the brief dalliance with a Chrysler Newport wagon when the kids were all small. Then he chased his dreams and started buying Cadillacs.
His ’36 Ford had a canvas top that leaked in the rain (requiring my mom and their friends to carry umbrellas on double-dates) and once broke a spring that forced him to make left turns by making 3 right ones!
“True confession: I don’t actually like car shows very much.”
My pet peeve about car shows is them music that is played – late 50’s-early 60’s rock and roll, when the car being displayed is not even from that era!