When someone pulls up to your house in one of twenty-nine 1948 Ford Sportsman convertibles ever built and offers you a ride, there’s no need to guess what the answer was. This was former-neighbor Lytton’s grandfather’s pride and joy, a car he spent a decade looking for and then lovingly restored. It’s now the beloved family heirloom, and it’s come to have its day in the sun at Curbside Classic. As did Stephanie and I, savoring a sunny little tour of the neighborhood, documented in an impromptu video (below).
Before we take off, let’s do a bit of history on the Sportsman and the woody fad of the time. I covered this more extensively at my 1946 Chrysler Town and Country CC, but the short story is that in 1941, Chrysler kicked it off with its Town and Country wagon, which was quite different than the tall and utilitarian woodie wagons that had been built for decades. These were primarily used as passenger vans are now: to haul larger groups of passengers. The 1941 T&C was something rather different, targeted to affluent buyers willing to pay a hefty premium to have a stylish fastback wagon to complement their Chris Craft speedboat or cruiser.
Although it sold in relatively small numbers, the 1941-1942 T&C was very influential. Chrysler planned a full line of them for 1946, including a convertible, sedan, two door “brougham” hardtop coupe and roadster, although rather oddly, no wagon.
Only the sedan and convertible were actually built. But other makers too saw the benefits of having an exclusive “halo” car in their post-war showrooms, to give a bit of pizazz to the warmed up line of pre-war cars.
Nash jumped into the woods with its 1946 Ambassador Suburban, a four door sedan with wood members and planking added. It was built through 1948, in very limited numbers.
And so did Ford, in this case with a convertible, dubbed the Sportsman. It was a relatively logical choice, as Ford owned vast tracts of timber and had long built its own wood-bodied station wagons. It was an easy way to get in the game: a regular convertible had its exterior steel panels replaced with the wood framing and curved wood or plywood panels. The markup: a 33% premium over the price of the steel bodied version. High fashion is rarely cheap, and of course there was the upkeep too. This is not a car you want to leave sitting out year-round.
Ford built 1,209 Sportsmen in 1946, 2,250 in 1947, and 29 in 1948, although these ’48’s were actually built in 1947 and had their serial number changed to be 1948s.
There was also a Mercury Sportsman, essentially identical, given that the two shared bodies at the time. Only 225 Mercurys were built.
These shots of the door show how the wood was attached to the steel door framing.
The trunk lid was all wood, as can be seen here.The rear fenders were from the Sedan Delivery, as their curvature better matched that of the wood trunk.
Some of these shots were taken a few weeks earlier, when Lytton dropped by with the top up.
A fine mixture of wood and steel.
The Sportsman badge has a jaunty rake.
Here’s the inside of the trunk lid.
More of that. You know how I am about documenting the insides and undersides of things otherwise not commonly seen.
And the trunk itself. Looks like a spare radiator is along for the ride. I need to point out that Lytton’s grandfather did not restore this perfectly to stock. He had owned a ’51 Mercury woodie station wagon, but eventually sold it to buy a motor home. But he had been bitten by the wood worm, and that led to a decade long search for a Ford version.
He undertook this restoration project starting in the late ’80s after his wife died, and the restoration included pragmatic choices given his means, including some different materials (vinyl seat covering instead of leather and this trunk liner. He did spend the better part of a decade scouring swap meets for missing bits of hardware and such.
He passed away in 2009, and the Sportsman was passed down to Lytton’s father, who passed away in 2019, so it now belongs to his mother and two aunts. But Lytton feels a deep connection to it, and hopes to eventually buy out one or more of the current family owners. Meanwhile, he’s taking good care of it.
Let’s take in the other end before we get inside for our ride. We need to check out what’s going to motivate that undertaking.
The 1946 front end was a mild refresh of the new 1942 front end.
The Sportsman was part of the Super Deluxe line, ranking above the plain old Deluxe. And of course the Sportsman only came with Ford’s V8, rated at 100 hp.
Here’s that venerable flathead V8, ensconced in the fairly narrow engine compartment of the times. This particular engine is in excellent health, running very smoothly and capable of a nice surge when asked for.
We have a Vintage Review of a 1947 Ford V8 (done in 1972) that documented a 0-60 time of 21 seconds, not that it’s a very relevant statistic.
No, I didn’t crawl underneath this time to document the last year for Ford’s traditional suspension of solid axles front and rear suspended by transverse leaf springs.
Continued (and video) on Page 2
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