(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.