1937-1938 Ford

Seldom has Detroit seen anything to compare with the extravaganza that was unleashed when the 1937 Fords were introduced! The date was November 6, 1936, and Sales Manager William C. Cowling spared no effort in getting the new models off to a good start.

Ford Image Gallery

The 1937 Ford lineup, including the Model 74, was introduced with great fanfare.
The 1937 Ford lineup, including the Model 74, was introduced
 with great fanfare. See more pictures of Fords.

Some 41 special trains had brought 8,000 dealers to participate in the event. Representing all parts of the United States and Canada, they gathered at the Detroit Coliseum, newly decorated by the famed Walter Dorwin Teague. Music was provided by Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, then at the height of their popularity.

Following brief presentations by company officials, the lights were dimmed. Then a slim, brilliant shaft of light appeared, focused at center stage. There, all eyes fell upon a huge V-8 emblem, rising slowly through the stage on a special elevator.

Presently, the light broadened as a sprite -- a 12-year-old girl with golden curls -- untwined herself from the emblem. Running gracefully to one side of the stage, she summoned her fellow sprites, elves, and gnomes, who appeared suddenly from various side entrances.

A huge, boiling cauldron then arose at center stage, and, one-by-one, giant replicas of Ford V-8 parts, each representing some feature of the 1937 models, were exposed to the glare of the spotlight -- and tossed, then, into the steaming cauldron: a front fender, an instrument panel, various engine components, a radiator grille, a seat cushion....

Then suddenly, as colored lights illuminated the stage, the fumes vanished and the elves disappeared. A shiny Club Coupe, a newcomer to the Ford line for 1937, rose up, circled the stage, and made its way down a ramp to the main floor. It was a spectacular way for an automobile company to present its new product line, and a revolutionary concept in merchandising.

The truth is, Ford needed a flashy presentation if it wanted to capture the public's attention, for 1936 had not treated the company kindly despite increased production. After beating Chevrolet handily during the 1935 model year. Ford slipped behind Chevrolet in 1936, with sales falling behind those of its arch rival by more than 23 percent.

The rear view of the 1937 Ford Model 74 shows the sharply sloping trunk lid.
The rear view of the 1937 Ford Model 74 shows the
sharply sloping trunk lid.

This, of course, seems strange to today's hobbyist, for the 1936 Fords -- particularly the open styles and the three-window coupes -- are highly prized by collectors, commanding as much as half-again the price of comparable 1936 Chevrolets on the collector market. But there it is!

In any case, several factors accounted for Ford lagging behind. For one thing, a seamless steel "Turret Top" had been featured by all 1936 Chevrolet models, save only the Standard cabriolet. For another, the Master series offered the comfort of independent front suspension -- company Hacks called it "Knee-Action" -- at no additional cost, while Ford clung to the traditional solid I-beam axle, suspended by means of a transverse leaf spring, just as it had been in the days of the Model T.

But Knee-Action wasn't new for 1936, and neither was the Turret Top, features that had already appeared, respectively, on Chevrolet's 1934 and 1935 Master models. What was new that year was the Chevy's brakes.

Thanks, in some measure, no doubt, to a highly effective advertising blitz by fast-rising Plymouth, the public had awakened to the advantages of hydraulic "juice" brakes, which by 1936 had been adopted by nearly every American automaker -- Pierce-Arrow, Willys, Lincoln, and Ford being the exceptions.

For more on the 1937 Ford lineup, continue on to the next page.

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1937 Ford Lineup

In introducing the 1937 Ford lineup, the company was determined to regain the sales lead. This time. Ford, too, had a "New all-steel top [that] sweeps back in an unbroken line," though it wasn't -- and thanks to copyright laws, presumably couldn't be -- called a "turret." Styling was completely revised, a "Brilliant new design that strikes the modern note in streamlined beauty," Ford bragged. "A wide roomy car with a low center of gravity -- curves flowing fast from front to back and from side to side."

The year's lineup included the 1937 Ford delivery sedan.
The year's lineup included a 1937 Ford delivery sedan.

Modernized in a number of respects, it sported a slanting two-piece "V-type windshield that opens in all closed body types," this in lieu of the flat single pane of earlier times. Almond-shaped headlights were neatly integrated into the front fender aprons. Chevrolet, in contrast, would employ free-standing lamps through 1940, and Plymouth wouldn't catch up until 1939.

The sharply vee'd grille was clearly copied from the sensational Lincoln Zephyr, introduced just a year earlier, and the hood was hinged at the rear, opening "alligator" style.

There were mechanical advances for 1937 as well. The steering ratio was lowered, reducing the amount of effort required -- though at the cost of some additional wheel-winding. Even the brakes were revised.

Henry Ford, approaching his 74th birthday by this time, and more stubborn than ever, insisted on "the safety of steel from pedal to wheel." In his mind, hydraulic brakes were simply out of the question. Instead, Ford offered its traditional mechanical binders, self-energizing this time: "... car momentum is used to help apply the brakes. Thorough tests show that about one-third less pedal pressure is required to stop the car."

There was a downside to the new brakes, controlled now by means of steel cables housed in flexible steel conduits. A couple of disadvantages, in fact: In the first place, the sound effects, squeaking and juddering, were unpleasant. And where weather conditions were severe, the cables sometimes tended to corrode -- which, of course, could lead to some dicey situations.

On the other hand, when properly maintained, the cable brakes were substantially more effective than the rod-controlled mechanicals with which the 1936 Ford had been equipped.

The 85-horsepower V-8 engine, a Ford exclusive in the low-priced field, had been improved in a number of respects. Water-pump capacity was increased by nearly one-third to 45 gallons per minute, and the pump was relocated to the upper front of the block where it could push the water through the jacketing instead of sucking it through. Main bearings were enlarged to 2.4 inches, and insert bearings were employed in lieu of the former poured-babbitt type.

Ford also claimed improvements in creature comforts for 1937: "Engineered and built throughout for the quiet you expect of a quality car. The newly designed springs are pressure lubricated for quiet operation. New methods of mounting body and engine, body insulation, new exhaust piping and muffler mounting, improvements in rear axle and drive shaft all contribute to a new standard of quiet. ... Comfort of the Center-Poise Ride is further increased by smoother action of the long-tapering springs. ... New instrument panel is smart and practical, with all gauges grouped for rapid reading. Starter button on instrument panel. Parking brake lever at left under instrument panel. Adjustable driver's seat rises as it slides."

With all these changes for 1937, Ford encouraged prospective buyers to "Examine it in detail -- and see how The Quality Car in the Low-Price Field is more than ever The Universal Car."

Seventeen distinct models were offered, all told, and Ford's practice of offering two trim levels was continued. The base series, which would become known as the Standard line commencing in 1938, consisted of a three-passenger coupe, Tudor and Fordor "flatback" sedans, and Tudor and Fordor Touring Sedans, the last two fitted with built-in trunks.

The DeLuxe series was comprised, in addition to these five models, of the new Club Coupe, a woody station wagon, and no less than five stylish open types: Cabriolet, Club Cabriolet, four-door Convertible Sedan, Phaeton, and a Roadster. The last-named, incidentally, would disappear after the 1937 season, and the Phaeton would exit a year later.

DeLuxe equipment included dual tail-lamps, dual wipers, walnut woodgraining on the window moldings and dash, chrome-plated grille and windshield frame, rear armrests, twin electric air horns, "banjo" steering wheel, locking glove-compartment door, and clock.

Closed models were trimmed in a choice of mohair or broadcloth, while convertible buyers could choose between Bedford cord and antique-finished leather. Leather was used in both the phaeton and the roadster, while rumble seats throughout the line were upholstered in imitation leather.

To learn more about the 1937 Ford design, continue on to the next page.

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1937 Ford Design

Credit for the 1937 Ford design has often been assigned to Ford stylist Bob Gregorie, but Gregorie himself disclaimed responsibility, noting that he was busy at that time preparing the 1938 Lincoln-Zephyr. Apparently it was the Briggs Manufacturing Company staff that did the job. Working under the leadership of John Tjaarda, the Briggs crew included Alex Tremulis, Bob Koto, and Phil Wright -- all of whom were stylists of considerable stature.

Even the 1937 Ford Model 78 station wagon carried the year's design theme.
Even the 1937 Ford Model 78 station wagon carried
on the year's design theme.

Possibly it was a case of too many cooks stirring the broth. In any case, although Ford historians David L. Lewis, Mike McCarville, and Lorin Sorensen have referred to the 1937 Ford as "one of the handsomest cars of the decade," other observers have paired it with the 1938 line, calling them "the ugliest Fords ever built."

This much we know: Henry Ford, who was never one to leave his subordinates alone, personally ordered that the car's overall length be reduced from 182.75 inches to 179.5. The difference may not sound like very much, but it was enough to spoil the proportions envisioned by the stylists, and the cars -- especially the flatback sedans -- looked stubby.

The late, great Gordon Buehrig, chief stylist at Duesenberg during that marque's golden years, once commented that "good design is largely a matter of proportion."

The badly battered American economy had made a rather substantial, though incomplete, recovery during 1936. a trend that continued well into 1937. By (calendar) year's end, Ford had built almost 57,000, or 7.2 percent, more cars than it had produced during 1936.

The difference was not to be seen on the bottom line, however, for, ironically, profits of $6.76 million were scarcely more than one-third the previous year's figure. There were a number of reasons for this. Tooling for the seamless steel top, the 60-horsepower engine, and other innovations was reflected in the high cost of bringing the 1937 Ford into production.

The 1937 Ford Model 74 station wagon also boasted interior comfort features.
The 1937 Ford Model 74 station wagon also
boasted interior comfort features.

And there were other expenses. A dynamometer room was established for the first time, an axle-testing machine was purchased, and the wind tunnel, built just the previous year, was provided with hot and cold capacities for 1937.

Meanwhile, surprisingly, Chevrolet production dropped about 11 percent for the year, with the result that Ford came within 20,000 units of matching Chevy. Parenthetically, it's interesting to note that 1937's big gainers were medium-priced cars such as Buick (up 26 percent), Pontiac (up 32 percent), Chrysler (up 51 percent), and Nash (up 62 percent).

But late that summer, shortly before the introduction of the 1938 models, the nation began to slip into a sharp recession, and automobile sales tumbled dramatically. Compounding the problem, as far as dealers were concerned, was a huge inventory of used cars, taken in trade during the spring.

Continue on to the next page to learn about the 1937 Ford DeLuxes.

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1937 Ford DeLuxes

Sales were down for Ford as 1937 Ford DeLuxes and other models suffered as a result of dealerships overcrowded with used cars. Fortunately, help was on the way.

DeLuxe models, like this 1937 Ford DeLuxe convertible sedan, offered considerable features for a reasonable price.
Deluxe models, like the 1937 Ford DeLuxe convertible
sedan, offered extra features for a reasonable price.

On December 22, 1937, Edsel Ford announced the appointment of John R. "Jack" Davis as general sales manager, replacing the retiring William Cowling. Evidently the change was a welcome one as far as the dealers were concerned, for while Cowling was an excellent public relations man, Jack Davis was a "salesman's salesman."

Aware that a surfeit of used cars crowded the lot of almost every automobile dealer in the country, not just those holding the Ford franchise, Davis approached Packard's Alvan Macauley, serving at that time as president of the Automobile Manufacturer's Association, with a plan. Thus, at Jack Davis's urging, "Used Car Week" was observed all across the country early in March.

"The result," as Ford historians Nevins and Hill have noted, "was salutary. By agreement, the poorest cars were burned, the conflagrations of these clunks' arousing the interest of many communities. The Ford organization had taught its dealers so much about used cars that it led all companies with a sale of more than 57,000 vehicles, reducing its used car stock by 22,804 units."

No doubt, the disposal of so much of the used car inventory was of some help to new-car sales, but even so, 1938 was not a good year for the dealers or automakers. Ford's production, like that of many of its competitors, was cut by more than half.

There were no major mechanical changes in the new models, but in terms of styling, Ford instituted a two-track policy that year -- probably in hopes of increasing its appeal via a broader model range.

The 1937 sheetmetal, modified by the use of a revised grille that swept the horizontal upper grille bars into the hood side-vent area, served for the Standard (nee "base") series. Up back, the 1937's free-standing taillights were replaced by neat teardrop-shaped taillights. Inside was a mahogany-look dashboard finish.

The Standard models were relatively spartan, featuring only one windshield wiper, one taillight, and, inside, just a single sun visor and armrest. Too spartan -- in January, Ford added a series of chrome bars to the grille.

The DeLuxe cars were "entirely new in appearance," said the brochure. "It looks big and is big -- with more room in the closed sedans, more comfort for passengers and much larger luggage space. The front end is refreshingly new and modern with longer hood."

Seen in profile, the 1937 Ford DeLuxe convertible sedan captures the new look of the year.
Seen in profile, the 1937 Ford DeLuxe convertible
sedan captures the new look for the year.

The softly curved "heart-shaped" grille, also featuring horizontal bars, was heavier and more impressive than that of the Standard series. On the sedans, a long, flowing curve extended down the roofline all the way to the rear bumper, relieving the stubby 1937 look. Inside were "Fine Mohair or Broadcloth upholstery. Big arm rests in rear, each with ash tray. Handsome new instrument panel, finished in walnut, with ivory plastic fittings."

In terms of sheer dollar value, the DeLuxe Ford was hard to beat. For a reasonable $60 more than its Standard counterpart, the DeLuxe Fordor was a roomier, more impressive, more completely equipped, and much better trimmed automobile, with the result that it outsold the cheaper car by a three-to-one margin.

For more on the 1938 Ford Lineup, continue on to the next page.

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1938 Ford Lineup

Also heavily redone for the 1938 Ford lineup was the station wagon, which this year came with standard sliding glass in the rear doors and rear quarters -- that had cost $20 extra in 1937. The screen-side variation with side curtains was deleted.

Previously located on the tailgate, the spare tire moved inside into a special storage area behind the driver's seat. The wood paneling was new, and Ford's Iron Mountain, Michigan, plant now produced the wood bodies and shipped them directly to the various Ford assembly plants. Previously, the Upper Peninsula facility had cut and trimmed the wood components, which were then shipped to Murray Body Company's Detroit plant for assembly.

The 1938 Ford Tudor sedan was no longer offered in a DeLuxe model.
The 1938 Ford Tudor sedan was no longer offered
in a DeLuxe model.

Two of the more interesting Ford authorized accessories for 1938 were the rear fender shields (skirts), at $9 for the pair, and rustless-steel wheel hub and spoke covers, priced at $15 for a set of four. The latter added a bright touch to the otherwise dull wheels.

Also available was a $3 Kool Kushion for summer comfort, radiator cover for $1.25, center bumper guard for $1.75, road light for $5, DeLuxe steering wheel for $7.50, oil filter for $3.25, air cleaner for $3.75, tire repair kit for only $.20, and a long list of other safety and appearance items.

The 1938 Ford DeLuxe convertible coupe was part of the reduced lineup for the year.
The 1938 Ford DeLuxe convertible coupe was
part of the reduced lineup for the year.

For 1938, the number of available body styles was reduced by three. The unpopular flatback Tudor and Fordor sedans were omitted from the 1938 Standard and DeLuxe lines, and the DeLuxe group also suffered the loss of the attractive -- but slow-selling -- Roadster. And that was only the beginning. By 1939, the Club Coupe, Club Convertible, and Phaeton would be all dropped, to be followed the next year by the Convertible Sedan.

Had Edsel Ford had his own way, the 1937 and 1938 Fords would have been much more modern automobiles than those that were offered to the public. The hapless Edsel, the Ford Motor Company's nominal president, had long advocated the adoption of hydraulic brakes, independent front suspension, Hotchkiss Drive (in lieu of the heavy, cumbersome torque tube), and a number of other improvements already featured by the competition.

How much of a difference that would have made to Ford sales may be open to debate, but there's little doubt that thanks to Henry Ford's intransigence, his company was headed for big trouble.

Even so, Ford produced its five-millionth V-8 in May 1938, and in November the 26-millionth Ford rolled off the line. And despite their anachronisms, Ford cars of this period were serviceable and long-lived machines. Powered by the 85-horsepower V-8, they were also clearly the performance champions of their day.

For vehicle specifications of these Fords, continue on to the next page.

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1937-1938 Ford Models, Price, and Production

The 1937 Ford lineup debuted with a splash, but failed to make a deep impact that could save the struggling auto giant. Still, both the 1937 and 1938 Fords make great collectible autos. Find weight, price, and production for the 1937-1938 Ford in the chart below.

1937-1938 Ford: Models, Price, and Production

1937 Model 74
Weight (lbs.)
Coupe, 5W, 2P
Tudor sedan, 5P
Tudor T/B sedan, 5P
Fordor sedan, 5P
Fordor T/B sedan, 5P
4d wagon, side curtains
4d wagon, glass windows
Total Model 74

1937 Model 78 Standard
Coupe, 5W 2P
2,496 586
Tudor sedan, 5P
Tudor T/B sedan, 5P
Fordor sedan, 5P
Fordor T/B sedan 5p
Total Model 78

1937 Model 78 DeLuxe
Roadster, 2/4P
Phaeton, 5P
Coupe, 5W, 2P
Club Coupe, 5W, 5P
Cabriolet, 2/4P
Club Cabriolet, 4P
Tudor sedan, 5P
Tudor T/B sedan, 5P
Fordor sedan, 5P
Fordor T/B sedan, 5P
Convertible Sedan, 5P
4d wagon, side curtains
4d wagon, glass windows
4d sedan, 7P
Total Model 78 DeLuxe

Total 1937 Ford

1938 Model 82A
Coupe, 5W, 2P
Tudor sedan, 5P
Fordor sedan, 5P
Total Model 82A

1938 Model 81A
Coupe, 5W, 2P
Tudor sedan, 5P
Fordor sedan, 5P
DeLuxe Phaeton, 5P
DeLuxe coupe, 5W, 2P
DeLuxe Club Coupe, 5P
DeLuxe convertible coupe, 2/4P
DeLuxe Convertible Club Coupe, 4P
DeLuxe Tudor sedan, 5P
DeLuxe Fordor sedan, 5P
DeLuxe convertible sedan, 5P
4d station wagon
DeLuxe 4d sedan, 7P
Total Model 81A

Total 1938 Ford


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