Non-Curbside Classic: 1952 Ford Taunus 12M (P1) – Germany’s Shoebox Ford

Here’s a car that’s yet to be properly acknowledged at CC. It’s very familiar to me, as one lived on our block, just around the corner from our house in Innsbruck. One rainy day as I was walking home from school–I was in first grade– this Taunus stopped and the driver asked if I wanted a ride home. He obviously knew our family and there was no fear about getting in a stranger’s car back then, so I hopped in and rode a few blocks in his Taunus. I remember every detail, including the rather unusual bench seat, which was uncommon in Europe at the time.

I knew what it was, and that German Fords were sort of miniature American cars. That pretty much sums it up. It had rather advanced pontoon styling for its time when it first came out in 1952, but behind that little globe on its nose sat a rather American engine too: a little flathead four, with 1.2 liters and 38 hp. So yes, it was like a shrunken “shoebox” 1949 Ford.

Ford Germany was of course in bad shape after the war, when it was forced by the regime to build only trucks. In 1948, they managed to put a slightly updated Taunus G93A back into production, which dated back to the 1935 Eiffel. Budd used to build their bodies, but their whole factory was carted off to Russia in 1948, so Ford had to beg other carmakers and coachbuilders to help it build bodies for it. Times were tough.

But by 1949, things were looking up, and Ford Germany was ready to develop a new postwar car. The primary design/styling work was done in Dearborn, not surprisingly, and the similarities to the ’49 Ford are obvious.  It was supposed to get a new OHV four too, but the budget just wasn’t there for it, so it ended up with the old 1.2 flathead four that dated back to 1935. In 1949 in Europe, flatheads were already starting to look obsolete. This little flathead four was essentially the same unit widely used in low-end UK Fords, going back to the 1932 Model Y, Ford’s first car specifically designed for Europe.

It came initially only with a three speed (column shifted), but by 1953 a four speed was optional. Back then in Germany, three speed transmissions were not uncommon, and given the generally flat terrain and low speeds, they were adequate, but not so in the mountainous areas and in places like Austria. Four speeds were sometimes referred to as “mountain gearboxes”.

In 1952, relief was available in the form of an ohv 1.5 L four, essentially an evolution of the 1.2. This was of course dubbed the Taunus 15M. The front end was face-lifted, but the globe was still there.

Both the 12M and 15M were not able to compete very effectively against Opel, which was much more profitable and could afford regular styling updates.

In 1959, a more significant styling refresh appeared, but the poor-selling 15M was dropped, effectively replaced by a larger car, the 17M. The 12M still soldiered along with its flathead four, all the way through 1962. At that time it and the UK Ford Popular 103E were probably the last Western European car still with a flathead engine, as the Simca Vedette with its Ford V8-60 engine ended in 1961.

The 12M was too close to the VW in performance, but cost some 35% more, so it continued to struggle somewhat. The Beetle made life difficult for others competing in the lower price ranges, very much like the Model T in its time in the US.

In the fall of 1962, the aged P1 was replaced by the much more ambitious FWD V4 12M, which had originally been developed in Dearborn and conceived to be built both in the US and Germany. We’ve covered that intriguing story in depth here.  The new 12M did better than the old one, given that an increasing number of buyers were ready for something a bit newer than the Beetle, which was beginning to show its age sooner in Europe than in the US. The 12M also competed against the new Opel Kadett, which quickly jumped to the #2 spot in the low price segment.