Through The Window Classic: 1950 Ford – Tombstone Pass Patrol Car

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Nothing on the street of Eugene surprises me anymore, including a 1950 Ford “cop car” carrying the markings of Tombstone Pass. Times have been tough for the little mountain hamlets of Oregon, so why not keep the old Ford in service for a while longer, especially now that Crown Vics aren’t available anymore. It is a bit hard to imagine an Australian-built Chevy or a Taurus sporting that logo.

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OK; it’s not really Tombstone Pass’ patrol car. For that matter, Tombstone Pass is just a high point a near Hwy 20 on the way to Santiam Pass, a bit further up the road from this shot taken through the windshield of a vintage Kenworth V12 semi-tractor, on the “Tombstone Pass Run” for big toy trucks. Ooohh; wish there was video and audio from that; nothing like a Jimmy V12 at work.

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The pass got its name in 1871, when 18 year old James McKnight accidentally shot himself while retrieving his gun from his bedroll. His mother placed a tombstone on the spot, and history was made. Including this 1950 Ford that for some reason is spending its life commemorating that place in the woods. Oregon….

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Fords were popular as police cars in this era, for obvious reasons. A stock Ford V8 was already the fastest of the Big Three low-end sedans. But Ford also offered the bigger 255 CID Mercury V8 flathead, modestly rated at 110 hp for police work only. Add dual exhausts, and 125 hp was readily on tap, as the NJ Turnpike Fords had; hard to beat in 1950.

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Is that a cold-war era nuclear-war alert siren on the fender? Wow; that is impressive. Or maybe a very early experimental radar speed device? Or a little turbo-jet for extra boost to catch modern cars?

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One of these days, we’ll have to do a proper CC on the 1949 Ford, a very important car in Ford’s critical bid to step out of the Model-T/A/V8 era and into the second half of the 20th Century with a truly modern new car (except the flathead V8 engine, of course). It had the most advanced styling of the Big Three, with very clean lines in the latest “pontoon” look.

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There were several design teams competing for this critical job, and Richard Caleal was hired by an outside team headed by George Walker, and including Joe Oros and Elwood Engel. But Caleal wasn’t happy with the team’s direction, and was given permission to keep working on his ideas at home. Caleal’s design was the one chosen, and went into production with only minimal changes..

But getting into production was a rush job, as the originally planned ’49 Ford was deemed to be to big, and became the Mercury. And haste makes waste, meaning the ’49 Ford was plagued with a number of shortcomings and glitches, including complaints about handling, noise, and workmanship.

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Which explains the 1950 Ford ad copy “50 Ways New”, even though it looked virtually identical to the 1949. Given the seller’s market at the time, the 1950 did not suffer any lingering effects of the ’49’s shortcomings. And within two more years, Ford would finally overtake Chrysler for the number two place, having lost it back in the thirties. A very pivotal car for Ford.

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Ironically, the 226 CID 95 hp six was actually considered by some the better choice for every day driving, as it had a fatter torque curve, which made it as fast or faster than the V8 in typical driving situations, was more economical and less challenged keeping a cool head(s), literally.

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But Henry’s nemesis (he hated sixes) is clearly not at work here. The Tombstone Pass Patrol car got a green left-turn arrow, and the very distinctive muted bark of a Ford flathead V8 working through dual exhausts ensued. Because of its siamesed exhaust ports or for some other reason, a Ford Flathead V8 has one of the most unmistakable exhaust sounds ever. Let’s listen…