The cars from early in our lifetimes can be hugely influential things. The cars we learn to love at a tender age can chart our automotive course as we mature. Likewise, those we hate as youngsters can do the same. We have by now become familiar with the first car which the Niedermeyer family came to own when coming to America in 1960: A baby blue 1954 Ford Customline V8/Ford-O-Matic sedan. I have never found that car’s doppelganger, but came across this one which is close but so much better in many respects. What kind of an effect might this 2 door ’54 Mainline have had on our favorite automotive website’s founder? Let us contemplate the ways.
We have read bits and pieces about the Niedermeyer family’s 1954 Ford sedan here (and here) (and I guess here, too). The fact that the car has not merited its own chapter in our founder’s Auto Biography tells us all we need to know about the impression it made on the car-obsessed young lad from Austria. A 1960 Pontiac Bonneville it was most assuredly not.
In Paul’s telling, the ’54 was sluggish, not easy to start in the cold and dull as dishwater to a young boy who was mesmerized by the beautiful designs then in General Motors showrooms (and in his neighborhood). His first job at a Ford dealer in 1971 seemed to finish the job that the old ’54 started in making Henry’s last name synonymous with the things found on the bottom shelves of life’s cupboard. It would take many years (and an old yellow pickup truck) before Ford would finally find some forgiveness from and redemption with CC’s founder.
But what if Ernst Niedermeyer had been presented with a different 1954 Ford that fateful day in 1960. This one, for example. The possibilities are worth contemplating. We know that the ’54 in Paul’s history was a Customline – the middle line, neither high nor low. We know that Paul has demonstrated a fondness for base level, no-nonsense strippers. No, not that kind. I’m talking about the clean bottom-of-the-ladder model that shows off the car’s basic shape without the distraction of all that extra trim. Like this one.
We also know that Paul carries a torch for the 2 door sedan. The 4 door is a good utilitarian car but is also usually the most common body style offered. A 2 door sedan, though, has all the room coupled with better proportions and cleaner lines. Plus it was seen so much less frequently.
The Niedermeyer ’54 came was equipped with the sluggish second-gear-start Ford-O-Matic, Ford’s first stab at automatic shifting. How might life have been different with a 3 speed/overdrive. I am actually not sure if the subject car has the Borg-Warner overdrive that Paul has become so fond of in his F-100 (a close look at the pictures suggests that it does not) , but indulge me here. Might not the mechanical symphony of the B-W overdrive have had a significant effect on our fledgling car nut?
And then there is the elephant in the room: that cursed Ford Y block V8. The V8 engine had been synomynous with Ford for two generations by the time the aging ’54 came into the Niedermeyer family driveway. But the 1954 Y block effectively stopped Ford’s performance reputation cold, something made quite clear when the Chevrolet V8 hit the market the following year. Although the new Ford V8 gave reliable service (when properly maintained), things were different where Firestone met asphalt. It was the new Chevy 265 that became the engine with all the street cred while the Ford Y block was able to make little more than excuses when hot blooded teens raced their fathers’ cars from the stoplights. Young Paul knew that the family Ford was a slug, and there was nothing to do but shrug it off and move on.
But what if the Niedermeyer ’54 had been equipped with Ford’s most excellent 223 cid (3.7L) inline six? Introduced in 1952, the overhead valve six may have been the best new Ford engine design since the Model A. It was a design that would reliably power Ford cars and trucks until a newer, bigger six replaced it in 1965. Was the fact that the six could nearly keep up with the V8 a testament to the quality of the six’s design or a rap on that of the V8? Probably some of both given that the six was only sixteen cubic inches and fifteen (rated) horsepower short of its V8 sibling.
We cannot really say if a change in color would have made much of a difference. Baby blue vs. mint green? There is a lot of green in Oregon, but in a political sense there is a lot of blue as well. So let’s call a draw on the color.
Might we speculate a bit on what might have happened had this car been brought into our leader’s family on that fateful day instead of the one that actually came to live there? Tricky business, that. However, let me make a stab at it. Young Paul would likely have developed a respect for an old Ford, one that put on no airs and did not claim to be anything other than what it was – a good, honest car. It was not flashy or fast, but it had never pretended to be. Who would not love, or at least respect such a car?
It has certainly been beloved by the original owners and their family, as evidenced by the way it was kept. There are not many cars that intrigue me to the point of following them to see if I can catch up to them. I was leaving work one fine Miata day (a weather condition that most of you would call “warm and sunny”) when I spied this fascinating car turn left ahead of me. It was heading into a neighborhood that I knew, so perhaps it lived there? Several turns later it pulled into a driveway.
I parked and introduced myself. The driver is actually the brother of the owner, and told me a bit of this Ford’s story. His grandparents bought this Ford new in 1954 and it remained in the family until their grandfather passed away. At that time the car was given to one brother while the man I spoke to got cash roughly in proportion to the value of the old Ford. The brother who got the car has kept it ever since, while the man I spoke with has the enviable job of helping his brother keep this and several other cars exercised. I was told that other than some good cleanup and detailing this car is all original and that the miles indicated on the odo (54,303) are actual.
What might have happened if cars ordered by a dealer in Indiana and a dealer in Iowa had been switched at birth, with their first owners swapping from blue Customline automatic to green Mainline stick and vise versa? I will not go so far as to say that that Paul would be managing a hedge fund and contemplating a run for the Senate because of a simple change in the family’s first car. In my own crystal ball I can hazily make out a young Paul moving up the ladder at Towson Ford from the Pinto-abusing lot boy to general manager and eventually owner? A gated community in the suburbs of Baltimore with an F-150 King Ranch in the garage (with a Mustang GT convertible for Stephanie right next to it) is a long way from Eugene Oregon in more ways than one. Of course, my crystal ball has been acting up a little lately, so perhaps a 1960 swap of 1954 Fords might not have had quite this much of an effect. But it would surely have been beloved. As for the sorry experience with those new LTDs in 1971? Sorry, but the best 1954 Ford in the entire world couldn’t undo that.
1953 Ford Crestline Victoria (Paul Niedermeyer)
Unrestored original and in the same family since 1954? So what if it’s a bit of a slug, it’s 100% pure CC goodness. Congrats for taking the time to track down this superb automobile and sharing it with us.
My grandparents didn’t have cars, but the idea if having Grandpa’s, say, 1955 Morris Oxford would certainly be very appealing
Reverse CC effect. Just the other day I stopped at the lemon lot on the navy base on my way home.
There is a black 1954 Ford Mainline sedan for sale.
It’s a 6 cylinder with a three on the tree.
Total basket case in need of restoration.
I wish I had the time, know how,and funds to do it.
Interesting the Mainline over here is the utility or Ranchero all sedans were fordor and the Custom series with V8s still the flathead in 54 we got the Y block in 55.
Here you go Bryce, maybe you’d like this now the Minx’s done:
Very bnice but it like everything on that auction site is wildly overpriced .
No, Nate, just Australia. Not a big population, a long way from anywhere, cars of all types here often much pricier than in US. Huge growth in wealth in last 20 years also means lots of cash for toy projects for 45+ age group. If it happens to be a hotted-up local Holden/Ford/Chrysler from the late 60’s or so, the prices are indeed wild – but achieved nonetheless. Shannons are actually a very honest mob in my experience.
Thank you Justy .
I remember when lots of vintage vehicles were exported to America from Down Under in the 60’s & 70’s .
The rate has exploded in the last 10 years Nate!
Also note that is an estimated price only, on something that will be hard to value seeing as it needs a lot of work (whether you keep the patina or not), and is a no-reserve auction so it wouldn’t surprise if it goes for under the estimate. It seems the last Customline they auctioned was back in 2010.
The car sold for $9,000. There were some pretty strong sales too, top seller was a 1967 M-B 250SL for $175k followed by a 1976 Falcon GT hardtop for $137k.
The Minx still goes just fine, Shannons has two problems for me the cost to import the results and sometimes the immense cost of compliance for NZ roads, one guy recently admitted to spending 40k + rebuilding a tidy restored 57 Chev sedan delivery that was on the road legally in QLD OZ when he bought just to get it on the road here,
it cheaper and easier here to get one from the US plus more choices.
Oh, I wasn’t suggesting the Minx was done in the sense that it was of no further use. More that now you can start another project.
Don’t worry, I have been taught the superiority of the Minx, my mother bought a Series IIIa new in 1961. Later my grandmother bought a Series VI automatic which she drove to church where she prayed that nobody would be hurt on the return journey. Grandmother started driving very late in life.
A truly amazing find! It’s original condition along with its history is simply icing on the cake.
You have a compelling theory about an alternate history here. I can see Paul cruising around in a F-150 King Ranch (he was really giving them the sweet eye at the Rouge last month, lingering at the end of the assembly line where a handful were parked) although I still see him as having an automotive website. Likely named something along the lines of “Blue Oval Love”, it would be an ongoing testament to all the euphoria inducing products Ford has produced.
The 1971 chapter would be tough, but I can also see a ’71 Ford with a 3.5 liter Ecoboost parked in a garage, used for weekend excursions.
Or maybe just a weekend Excursion? 🙂
Hah, it’s funny how we’ve all come to know what gets Paul’s motor running when it comes to cars.
I could see your timeline working up until Paul started working at Towson Ford. He would have found the ’71 LTD deeply disappointing, too big and lacking in sophistication. I imagine alternate reality Paul would have still been a fan of Car & Driver and such and would have come to find Ford’s business decisions in the 70s perplexing and misguided. “Why didn’t they just Americanize the Cortina instead of bringing the Pinto?” he might have asked. “Why is the Granada using such an old platform? Shouldn’t Ford be investing money in making meaningful mechanical improvements to its cars instead of all this Brougham hoopla?”
Maybe he would have started writing a newsletter with articles entitled, “Ford’s Deadly Sins” as the company fell into dire straits in the early 1980s. The Fox Mustang might have offered a little ray of hope but he would have had some strong criticisms about the Box Birds and the Elite and the Mustang II and… well, you get the idea.
Even if Paul’s formative years had established him as a fervent Ford fan, I imagine that would have definitely passed by the 1970s.
Paul in the Baltimore suburbs with a new, loaded truck? Hmmm, that alternate timeline requires too much suspension of disbelief.
Paul in the Baltimore suburbs with a new, loaded truck? Hmmm, that alternate timeline requires too much suspension of disbelief.
Ditto. A depressing thought.
My hometown dealer here in Westchester N.Y. sold the Cortina for a while and I remember testing one I think in 1969. Attractive little car – they sold very poorly here and I don’t think many dealers sold them. Why wasn’t the Cortina a hit in the U.S.? I wound up buying a Volvo 142 for a lot more money. About that green Mainline, my high school biology teacher had one just like it. Had my eye on it too and thought it would have looked great with Olds tail lights and fender skirts.
I always thought the ’53’s-’54’s were the frumpiest of the 1950’s Fords, but this one gets better looking at closing time. Nice find!
Bravo, bravo. Full marks for the number of inside jokes packed into one post Mr. Cavanaugh.
Although I doubt Dr. Niedermeyer would have ever gone for the additional complication of a B-W overdrive. My own Grandfather who also learned to drive later in life never looked back once he got an automatic, no matter how sluggish.
A fascinating glimpse into the alternate present though. Senator Niedermeyer 🙂 🙂 🙂
I could live with a sluggish old Ford. Hey, wait . . . I already do. 0-60 mph in (best not to keep track!).
Folks who still drive a car or truck with a manual transmission are heartier souls than I. I’ve never learned to drive a car with a manual tranny; too much work for my lazy-driving hide. I just wanna put it in ‘D’ and go. Even if it’s s-l-o-w.
Wonderful to see this car. Our family had a 1953 Mainline in baby blue, three on the tree, radio, and heater. It did have the flathead V8 which was nice but it had overheating issues.
This is the car I learned to drive in. My father kept it into the early 1960s and got over 100,000 miles out of it. That was quite an accomplishment in that era. And, it was even more of an accomplishment when you consider the way I drove it!
Impeccable timing strikes again; I stumbled across a Mainline 2 door in the same light blue from the second photo just yesterday afternoon.
After several hours of staring at this car, I have to ask if there was a better looking American car all up and down the lineup in the 1952-54 era? Certainly not in its price class. The Studebaker Starliner was prettier but the Champion sedan certainly was not. These cars have a crisp, clean look to them and while the 52-54 Chevy was not an ugly car, the Ford looked more modern. The tail end with those jet-like taillights thrusting back from the forward-raked tail of the car is a really nice design feature that gives the car a look of forward motion.
Agreed. The new ’52 Ford was a very nicely done job. I think Ford realized that its ’49 version was not aging as well as the Chevy, and had to do something about it sooner rather than later.
I’m very fond of the ’49-’52 Chevy, but the ’53-’54 never did much for me. And it clearly was just a restyle of the ’49 body, unlike the ’52 Ford, which was essentially all-new.
I don’t know if its true or not, but I was once told that Henry Ford II was furious that the 49-51 Ford (a car with his last name on it) got a reputation as a bit of a tin can. The story I heard was that he demanded that its replacement be as close to Cadillac quality as could be done in its price class. Whether or not that story was true, from everything I have understood the 52-54 Ford was a much, much better car than the 49-51.
The 1949 Ford was rushed to market – at Henry Ford II’s demand. He felt that the company literally could not wait until all of the final development work was finished on the model. (Also remember that development on the 1949 Ford began late – what became the 1949 Mercury was originally supposed to be the 1949 Ford. Ernie Breech reviewed the company’s original postwar program, and determined that this car was too big and heavy to be a Ford, so he kicked it up to Mercury, and ordered a crash program for an all-new 1949 Ford).
It therefore debuted in June 1948, which was well ahead of the 1949 Chevrolet and Plymouth. Unfortunately, the new bodies were plagued with air and water leaks, and the quality of the interior upholstery, door lock hardware and exterior panel fit left something to be desired.
The 1950 model was considerably improved over the 1949 model, but the problems with dust and water leaks were never completely eliminated with that body shell. The 1952 models were developed specifically to address those concerns, and also featured suspended brake and accelerator pedals (an industry first), as well as ball-joint front suspension on the Lincoln, which spread to the Ford and Mercury for 1954.
Yes, very predictive of the same problem at Chrysler with the 1957 models. Like with those Fords from a decade earlier, the 58s and 59s were a lot better but many of the problems were never fully resolved. You just can’t rush good body engineering, or at least not in those pre-CAD days. I am not sure that the 60-64 Mopars resolved those problems as well as the 52-54 Fords did, though.
You remind me of a day trip I took once when I belonged to a local Ford Model A club. It was a rainy day so the Mrs. and I drove my daily driver 66 Fury III because it was watertight. Another member drove his freshly restored 49 Ford, probably for the same reason. He was not happy to discover that rainwater was getting in around the windshield that day.
The 1950 model was a huge leap over the 1949 model (although Ford instituted running changes in the 1949 model as soon as production began).
The upholstery was upgraded, and the door handles and locks were completely redesigned (along with the hood latches). The water leak problems were improved, but never completely licked.
You have to wonder how people who bought an early 1949 Ford felt when their shiny new cars turned out to have some innate problems. Then again, with so many people nursing worn cars through the war years, perhaps ANY new car was such a big improvement that people were willing to overlook the problems. Chrysler Corporation, unfortunately, wouldn’t catch that break with its 1957 models.
This may have been why my grandfather who had kept his 1935 Ford V8 from new and who was the happy owner of a Ford tractor ended up with a Kaiser when he was finally looking for a new car in 1951. I remember my mother saying that he had considered new Fords to be cheap after the war, and perhaps it was the 1949-51 version he was referring to. Being a longtime happy Ford owner he would have been a hard customer to turn off, but Ford evidently did it.
That explains why I only ever saw one ’49-51 back in the day, while ’52-’54s were common. Air and water leaks (and no doubt dust as well) were something Aussies hated in a closed bodystyle.
I’m impressed that this car has survived 60+ years of Indiana road salt, not to mention Indiana potholes. Fords such as this (along with the Chevrolet & Plymouth equivalents) were thick on the ground in the working class part of town where I was raised. Typically these vehicles started to show visible rust within two or three years of use. It is obvious that this example has led a pampered life.
The subject Ford almost certainly doesn’t have the overdrive; as I recall O/D equipped cars would have a switch under the left side of the dash to engage or lock out the overdrive. My maternal grandfather briefly had a ’54 Ford with the O/D option. He was an itinerant preacher and spent a lot of time on the road. Typically he would have a (well used) Buick or Chrysler but this one time he must not have been able to find one that fit his budget and was operating the Ford. The Ford didn’t last very long, it was replaced by a late fifties Imperial that he kept until he had to stop driving in the early seventies.
Joe, didn’t they also have script on the trunk to announce “Overdrive” ?
Our 53 did as well
A late fifties Imperial – what a high note to finish his driving years with!
Second. I aspire to do likewise some day. Heck, by then Enders Imps will be 110 years old or so.
Thank you Jim for this alternate take on Niedermeyer history. It’s food for thought; unfortunately not all of it very palatable.
My father’s inherent clumsiness with all things mechanical manifested itself particularly vividly in his shifting abilities, or lack thereof. Of course that didn’t come to our attention until 1965 when he bought the Opel Kadett A for his commute in Baltimore. The abuse he subjected that poor little car with his clutch-popping and rough shifting was painful to watch (or be subjected to as a passenger).
I’m trying to imagine him in this car in Iowa City in 1960. Especially with the overdrive. All sorts of images (and sounds) come to mind. And they’re not sweet and pleasant ones.
All in all, I think it was for the best that he bought that V8 automatic Ford. Because if he hadn’t, the memories of our first car would undoubtedly have been much less positive. I actually loved that big dumpy Ford; it was our first car, and it was a V8, which had a nice exhaust sound, a rather subdued burble, and it took us all sorts of places. Actually, in some respects I liked it much more than the Fairlane, as its rear seat was vastly more roomy. Given that us kids were all growing quickly, moving down to a mid-size Fairlane was a really bad idea.
I actually have a very clear and sweet memory of my dad hitting 80 or 85 while passing a car on the highway, and announcing it proudly. That was a speed not commonly attained by the little cars in Europe at the time, and he was very proud to be barreling in a V8 Ford across Nebraska to Colorado for our first vacation in the Rockies. And I was too. It hooked me on the great American West, and road trips (although preferably without him).
If I disparaged the ’54 Ford here in the past, it was only because it obviously looked a bit out of date compared to the new ’61 cars. And starting it on a January morning was not always guaranteed, but that may well have been technique. But I have very fond memories of the blue whale. They would only have been ruined by my dad manhandling a balky shifter.
I think you have just begun that long-overdue chapter in your Auto Biography on the 54 Customline! You point out something very pertinent: With all the love that the Tri-5 Chevy gets it becomes very easy to dump all over the Ford Y block V8. But in so many other respects it was a very good car, and compared to what most people were driving everywhere else in the world, it was a veritable rocket ship. I could have gone other directions on this piece but every time I saw this car I thought of you and your family’s sedan. Sometimes we just have to go where the car takes us.
OK on the blue 1954 Ford Customline, then…but what of Dr. Niedermeyer’s choice of a black 1962 Ford Fairlane, a car which Paul has belittled even more vehemently? ?
JP, this is such a lucky find! For me, everything about it just “clicks.”
I guess I’m in a minority of sorts, in my view the 52 Ford looks “frumpier” than a 53 or 54. Friends of my folks had a 52 Ford in dark blue and I always wondered how they wound up with that car as they were the kind of couple portrayed as Rob and Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Other friends of my folks would own a 53 Ford wagon, a truly boring box on wheels.
To be honest, I really don’t care all that much for any car built before 1955. Then, for some reason, 1955 is one of those years where EVERYONE builts a great looking car.
Howard, there was a 53 wagon, bottom line series parked on Kester Ave in Van Nuys/Sherman Oaks for years in original [beater original] but still mobile condition, well into the 00s.
Fascinating as it was sort of a hoarder’s paradise. And the same color as the subject car. It seemed unable to die.
My grandfather had a tan Fordor ’54, V8 with overdrive. I don’t remember the series, but it had the nicest yellow & black seat cloth, a clock and a radio. I’m guessing it was one of the higher line models. I was always fascinated by the green tinted speedo window.
Since he lived in Minnesota while my family lived in Wisconsin, I saw car infrequently. He took meticulous care of the car. It was his last car and I never remember seeing any rust on it even into the early 60s. Heck, I never even saw it dirty.
My favorite memory of that car was him letting me sit beside him and work the shift lever while he steered and worked the clutch. He also taught me to properly work the manual choke so the car would start right away when cold. He’d turn the key (on the left) and let me work the choke knob (on the right).
His teaching came in handy when our family went back to Minnesota for his funeral. One of my aunts was to drive his car in the funeral procession, but she couldn’t get it started due to not knowing how to use a manual choke.
I was worked the choke and told her when to turn the key. I was one proud 10 year old kid when the car started. Unfortunately, that was the last time I ever saw or rode in the car.
Yes, Rob: the choke. Fascinating to see that as a kid. I even pretended to have one on my bicycle !!
I remember being fascinated by my aunt starting her Austin A30 – turn the key, pull out the choke and pull the starter knob. I see to recall her doing the last two simultaneously. Always seemed ambidextrous to me. But she never used the choke knob as a handbag hook…..
The original manual choke knob on my ’64 Falcon came loose several years ago when I went to pull on it to start the car. It ended up falling on the floor and I couldn’t re-fit it. Broken due to old age. Oh, well. Couldn’t escape Father Time . . . had to get a substitute choke knob, but I did save the original with the ‘C’ in the middle. It’s in the glove compartment.
I think 1964 was the last year Ford used a manual choke (and by proxy a manual choke knob); I read Ford went to automatic choke for ’65 Falcons. I can’t be 100% certain, though, as I’ve never been close enough to a ’65 Falcon to look inside and see what is and isn’t there.
Anyway, the manual choke knob is on the left of the steering wheel and the ignition area on the right. So I pull the knob out a lil’ ways and pump the gas pedal a couple of times and endeavor to start the Falcon Compact. Usually it starts on the 1st try. It’s been good to me over the years. 😀 (One of the reasons I’ve kept it this long: The car likes me!).
My ’66 F100 with 240 six has an (original) hand choke. And I’m glad of it.
I converted my old ’70 C10 307 2bbl to a manual choke, and added an electric fuel pump as well. It could sit for months at a time, turn on ignition and let pump fill float bowel, pull out the choke knob and give the gas pedal a pump, always fired up in a second or two without fail.
My father had a ’54 Customline 2 door sedan as a new company car, white with a blue cloth and vinyl interior. The middle step up from the Mainline, it had chrome trim around the windshield and rear window, the half circle horn ring, a clock, surprisingly, but no radio, armrests, the Y-block V-8, a manual transmission, and oddly, rubber floor mats throughout. I, too, was fascinated with the little green tinted speedometer window (the Astra Dial). And that choke, I never did understand at the age of 7 what a choke was for, even with dad’s patient explanation, I just could not grasp why you would want to “choke” the engine.
As you note, too, my favorite memory of that car was sitting on my dad’s lap while he let me steer the car into our garage, which took a couple of partial turns to get it aligned properly. He would work the clutch and the transmission. I remember that gigantic steering wheel (no power steering, natch), which took all my might to wrestle it around.
Fantastic. My parents had a 53 in the same configuration, manual trans, same color, but I think with the V8.
Mom learned to drive on it. Filled the backs seat with empty boxes when we moved [again] from Texas to UT. She and a friend and their kid and I made a tour of the grocery stores to collect them.
The engine died when we got to UT. Was rebuilt and was dying again [couldn’t go up a small hill there in Tooele] and traded for a brand new 63 Dart 270 wagon with manual transmission.
What a treat to see this car, JP. Thanks.
I have a very different perspective on these, having been interested and moderately well-informed about cars when these were just old enough to be affordable to most of us. The Y-Block to us was Ford’s leap into the modern world, and the ball-joint front suspension was another. It was I think sometime in 1963 that I was given the use of a ’54 sedan, a plain-jane Fordor with 3-speed column shift, for all of a very pleasant Saturday. I was stationed at Elmendorf AFB near Anchorage, and had a girlfriend who lived in Mountain View, just outside the base’s north gate, and who loved to go on car rides with me. We had shared some more interesting vehicles than this – mine at the time was a Morris Mini 850 – but none so even-tempered and easy to drive. We took the road north through Eagle River and up towards Palmer, though I think only to the glacier at the head of Knik Arm, pulled off for a rest and a little smoochery, then back for coffee and maybe a burger near her house. But the car’s calm nature, its quiet engine and very pleasant steering and handling, were a revelation after the several 1949-’52 Fords I had driven before. I don’t think any car offered quite the same sort of experience until my first Peugeot 404, a few years later.
Excellent points, all. Can you imagine how differently the world of hot rodding and performance would have developed had these Y blocks been better breathing/performing? These always seemed to have relatively low horsepower/cubic inch compared with many other small V8s of the era (the Chevy and Studebaker come to mind). *Everyone* up to 1955 considered Ford synonymous with performance. Even with all of the flathead V8s shortcomings, it was the go-to engine for hot rodders for decades. Had this new engine put out the kind of power people expected of a Ford V8, Ford would have maintained a secure spot in the world of performance mods, something it has been struggling to get and maintain since the 50s. But then the Y block would not be the last Ford engine that had trouble keeping up with the competition. As much as I like the big FE engines, they too were slugs compared with the big block Chevys and Mopars. But just as you remember with that 54 Ford you drove, those were also wonderful low-stress torquemakers that made for an enjoyable drive.
*Everyone* up to 1955 considered Ford synonymous with performance.
I’m going to disagree with you on that somewhat. Yes, kids (and some grownups) were still running flatheads, because they were dirt cheap. But folks knew they were intrinsically inferior to the potential of an ohv engine and were long in tooth. By the early 50s, everyone knew they were obsolete.
When the new Olds and Cadillac V8s that arrived in 1949, they were quickly adopted and modified for use in dragsters, Bonneville cars, and hot rods. And don’t forget that the ohv GMC big sixes were also very popular in the late 40s and early-mid 50s.
Yes, some hard core Ford flathead lovers stuck with them, but go pick up a hot-rod/performance magazine from the early 50s, and you’ll see lots of articles about folks ditching their Ford for an Olds or such. The Buick nailhead had a strong following too. Everyone knew the Ford flathead V8 era was over.
Of course that trend accelerated the minute the sbc showed up in ’55, but it was well under way by then.
All true, but I guess I was thinking street-level performance for the average guy, of the kind that the SBC has owned for decades now. It would take something from either Chevy or Ford to reach the critical mass of numbers for something to totally overwhelm the rest based on wide availability and low price. You are right that in that 1950-55 era other stuff was gaining a following but nothing took over the way the Ford flathead had earlier or the way the SBC would in the second half of the 50s. I think of those early 50s experiments you reference like those trying to build Ford 427s or Mopar Hemis in the 60s – it could be done (and with great success) if you had the money. But if not, rebuildable 327s were all over the junkyards.
Here in Australia a lot of rods were powered by Y-blocks back in the sixties and early seventies. Since we never got Chevy V8s until 1960, and there were a lot of fifties Ford V8s around, the Y-block was what we had to work with.
Some years back I passed a ’55 Ford cruising down the freeway – just eased past slowly with the window down listening to that Y-block sound, and revelling in the memories it triggered.
Great article! When I was young in the late 1960s and early 1970s, these seemed to be the quintessential 1950s car – even more common than 1955-57 Chevrolets. There were still some in daily use around our town, along with a 1951 Ford and the 1951 Plymouth driven by a neighbor of my grandmother.
I’ve always liked them. It’s interesting that the overall taillight design aped that of contemporary Oldsmobiles to some extent, but the round shape ended up as a Ford trademark for many years.
To my 8-9 year old self in 1970, any pre ’55 seemed like a Model T with hand crank starter, 😉
In my humble opinion, these were some of the most beautiful Fords ever built, so much nicer looking than the 1953-54 Chevys.
I feel the design flowed much better and was more balanced – or just appealed to me much more than the Chevys. Of course, the advent of the 1955 Chevy changed all that instantly!
A family friend had one of these. Not certain of the year, but that body style. I loved that car, and I have loved these ever since.
I would definitely own one of these.
One thing that was not noted in the alternative Neidermeyer world was that if he had not gone the life road he did he would not have met the wonderful Miss Stephanie, and I am sure there is not a car on this planet that would make him change that!?
Most positively true!
In the early 60’s,in Ohio, one of dad’s former professors at Findlay College was moving out of state. He sold a ’53 Ford (Mainline?) 4-door with V8 automatic to dad for $50, I think. The car was green except for one BLUE back door!
I damn near took Dad’s hands off with it. He had been teaching me how to drive on the farm. After working on it one day, he let me back it out of the garage. The A/T had a tendency to jerk, which it did. He had his hands down to move blocks from behind the rear wheels, and moved them just in time! I hit the brakes and barely avoided hitting a tree behind the car.
A year or 2 later (’64 or ’65), he drove it to Chicago after becoming a Schwinn bicycle dealer and being required to attend Schwinn dealer service school. i don’t know what happened to it after that.
Found a collection of vintage commercial’s for ’54 Fords.
Beautiful car and very enjoyable commentary regarding our distinguished founder. Jim.
I don’t have to imagine my early years with a six cylinder, stick shift, 1954 Ford Mainline Tudor sedan that my father had, because that’s exactly what he drove in the late 1950’s-early 1960’s. Originally Sand White, one warm summer afternoon, my father and step-grandfather repainted it with brushes dipped in quarts of Western Auto enamel in this very color: Sea-Foam Green! Had this example black-wall tires, no trim rings, black hubcap centers, and semi-shinny finish, it would be a dead ringer for our car.
This car has the same dull-as-dirty-dishwater gray interior, little rubber gravel guard and those odd pieces of chrome C-pillar trim the River Rouge saw fit to equip these with. Ours might have had overdrive, though I was too young to notice much how my father operated our Mainline.
As far as developing taste in this car-crazed youth, we were a Ford-loyal family then but my interest was drawn to Lincolns and Mercurys but less so. Anytime we were near the Dansville or Arkport, NY Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, he would accommodate my requests to stop in for a look. Absolutely pined for a two-tone light and dark green 1955 Lincoln Capri sedan the latter dealer had on the lot. As a young working man with three kids to raise, it was out of the question.
When the 1954 Mainline was traded, it was replaced with a 1960 Fairlane four door in black with white top which had served first as the local police cruiser. It too was six cylinder, stick with overdrive, the latter feature of which I now became aware. Shortly after purchase, the black was re-sprayed with glossy, emerald green which made it so much more appealing. It still had that lousy, itchy, gray nylon interior.
Ah, the cars from our formative years…
The ’54 Ford is one of my favorite Fifties cars. The OHV Chevy engine that was showcased in the new ’55 Chevy kind of took the wind from the sails of Ford. I don’t think that the Chevy was perceived as so much better at the time, but the small block received so many performance improvements over the next few years and they could all be retrofitted to earlier cars. Performance was important to GM, and after the ’55 Corvette debuted, it was the recipient of many small block, performance enhancements. The small block continued for over twenty five years and they were plentiful in wrecking yards. They were used in all of Chevy’s model lines and were an easy replacement. Ford had the Y block, then the F series, then the small blocks. It wasn’t as easy to find a plug in replacement for an old Ford, like the flathead had been. Still the ’54 was a very nice looking car.
I happened about your interesting article while searching for an original hood ornament for our 1954 Ford Mainline. It was a delightful read…and so very similar to my story. Our 1954 Ford Mainline was purchased from the dealer in 1954 by my stepfather. In 1957 he decided he wanted a different new car, and when the dealer wouldn’t give him what he wanted for his 1954 Mainline he took it home and parked it in the shed. It is still in the same family as my husband and I purchased it ten years ago. Still stock, still original, and with less than 27,000 original miles. Although it has been repainted – it is still the stock “sea haze” green. We have other collector cars, but none of them are as special to me as this one.
Any chance of a photograph ? .
Sounds nice .