The 1941-1948 Ford Super DeLuxes were forged out of a bewildering and nearly cataclysmic period in Ford history. With Harry Bennett holding absolute dictatorial control over employee relations in the late 1930s, the human side of the company entered the dark ages.
Meanwhile, the tough-fisted Ford production czar, Charlie Sorensen, turned more and more of his attention to defense business. And Edsel Ford spent an increasing amount of time abroad, resigned to his father's hard nose and closed mind regarding mechanical improvements and company management.
After his 75th birthday in 1938, Henry retreated further into his putterings at his Fair Lane estate and the Henry Ford Museum. He had suffered a slight stroke that year, but he recovered quickly and still ran the show. However, after the 1932 debut of the V-8 -- Henry's last significant contribution -- he devoted little attention to shaping the Fords of the future.
From 1932-1948, all Fords were basically the same at heart: beam front axle, transverse springs, torque-tube drive, flathead V-8. Only under great pressure did Henry concede to hydraulic brakes for 1939 and the option of a six-cylinder engine for 1941.
From a styling standpoint, however, Edsel and his crew had free reign. Beginning with the 1936 Lincoln-Zephyr, Ford was the industry's undisputed design leader. A new styling section, headed by E.T. "Bob" Gregorie, turned out increasingly handsome aerodynamic automobiles, which had their finest hour in the 1939-1940 Mercury, 1940 Ford, and 1940 Lincoln Continental.
But the winds of change were blowing along with the winds of war. Thus, while retaining traditional Ford underpinnings, the 1941 model would appear far different than its air-cheating predecessors.
The marketplace had forced Ford to change; 1937 was the last year Ford had outsold Chevrolet (until 1946). From then on, General Motors' darling reigned as the industry's sales champ, with Plymouth rapidly closing in on Ford. And not only was Ford lacking in product innovation, its marketing efforts and dealer organization needed modernizing as well. Indeed, when Edsel's superb sales manager. Jack Davis, confronted Bennett crony Harry Mack in 1939, Davis was exiled to California. Edsel thus suffered his final defeat in his tragic fight against the ruthless Bennett.
Such counterproductive moves all came back to haunt the sales charts. The company went into a period of unbelievable corporate losses through management practices that were about as businesslike as those of some mythical accounting firm in a Charles Dickens novel. Henry Ford had more money than God, so he could afford his own nonsense -- but not forever.
In fact, were it not for Sorensen and Edsel's role in playing up to the U.S. government and building the huge Willow Run plant to accommodate war production, Ford might have gone down soon after Pearl Harbor. Remember, old Henry was a renowned pacifist who had a particular scorn for President Roosevelt and the war effort. But he did slyly sidestep the issue after December 7,1941.
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1941 Ford Models
In mid-September 1940, Henry Ford -- in his last appearance at a new car introduction -- received 500 reporters to see the new 1941 Ford models. True to form, he said little, but the car said a lot about the company's willingness to go with the flow.
The 1941s were the first of the "fat" Fords, with a clean contemporary look that was right in tune with the era. Further, Ford now even offered a flathead six, a clear concession to the competition.
In late September, the new models were introduced at 6,000 Ford dealers. While the public response was quite positive, sales weren't altogether encouraging. Ford finished the model year with 691,455 cars produced against slightly over a million Chevrolets. Ford sales were up 150,000 from 1940 because of an improving economy -- and because some people sensed that the 1941s might be the last Fords available for a long time.
But Chevrolet was up well over 200,000 in a banner year for the industry. Despite more models, an additional series, and the new six, Ford wasn't penetrating the market place. In fact, the six was a sales disappointment.
Ford's 1941 wheelbase grew from 112 to 114 inches, overall length from 188.25 to 194.3 inches, and weight increased 150 pounds on average due to a beefier frame and bigger new bodies. The frame, lifted from the 1939-1940 Mercury, was wider and twice as rigid as the 1940 Ford, aided by an "X" box crossmember welded at eight points to the sidemembers.
The primary engine was essentially the 221-cubic-inch flathead V-8 introduced in 1932, except that by now it was rated at 90 horsepower at 3,800 rpm. The six (replacing the little gutless V-8 60) was a breakthrough only in that Henry allowed it to be produced. This was one of the many bewilderments of 1940s Fords. Old Henry was about as receptive to six-cylinder engines as he was to Roosevelt's New Deal.
The new Fords were distinguished by their three-piece grille, chubby-looking bodies, and sleek profiles enhanced by door handles flush with the stainless side trim and the nearly concealed gas cap. The doors, now over 3.5 feet wide in the Tudor, nearly covered the running boards, and total glass area was increased by nearly four square feet in the sedans.
Fenders, two-piece units to facilitate production, sported headlamps mounted farther apart and parking lights set trimly atop the fenders because containing them within the headlamp bezels had been made illegal in some states.
The wider bodies and frame permitted a seven-inch-wider front seat in the Fordor as well as more spacious rear seating. Not only was the 1941 Ford bigger, it rode better due to its longer wheelbase, greater length and weight, and a 125-inch "spring base" (distance between the transverse springs).
The ride was softer with slower-acting springs and shocks and a newly designed ride stabilizer. Seat springs and cushions were redesigned for greater resiliency. Combined with quieter engines; a frame that eliminated the old Ford shake, rattle, and roll; and better body construction and insulation; the 1941 Ford ushered in a new era of quiet and quality Fords that must have distressed old "hard ride" Henry.
While Gregorie was in charge of the whole design project, credit for the detailing and ornamentation went to Bruno Kolt and Willis P. Wagner. Especially noteworthy was the sweeping horizontal dash with all the gauges contained under a single piece of ivory plastic -- the same concept as in 1940, but better executed. Wagner would play a key role in trim and detail on all models through 1948.
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Introduction of the 1941 Ford Super DeLuxe
With a new series of top-of-the-line models, the company prepared for the introduction of the Ford Super DeLuxe. This series was offered as a Tudor, Fordor, coupe, convertible coupe (now with an electrically operated top), wooden-bodied station wagon, and a reincarnated coupe sedan (it had been dropped after 1938).
The Ford Super DeLuxe sported more chrome and stainless on the exterior than the other models, plus all manner of interior upgrades including a clock, choice of interior fabrics, "Kelobra" wood-grained dash and door moldings, and a smart Super DeLuxe horn ring. Another feature was crank-controlled vent windows. Super DeLuxe colors were Lochaven Green, Mayfair Maroon, Paradise Gray, Black, Harbor Gray, and Cayuga Blue.
The mid-range DeLuxe series listed a Tudor, Fordor, coupe, and woody wagon, but not a coupe sedan or convertible. Colors were Black, Harbor Gray, and Cayuga Blue. Predictably, the DeLuxe had less bright trim (no wheel trim rings, for example) and only the center grille was chromed.
But DeLuxes did retain dual windshield wipers and sun visors and some Ebony woodgrain. The Super DeLuxe and DeLuxe had the V-8 as standard equipment, the new six being a $15 delete option.
The new Special series came only as a Tudor, Fordor, and coupe -- and only in Harbor Gray, although any Super DeLuxe color could be had for $20 extra. And heresy to Henry for sure, for the new six was the standard -- and only -- engine offered. A true stripper, the Special received only a single horn, single taillight, and single wiper and visor.
Though two coupe versions were listed for other series, the only Special coupe had a top-hinged seatback that lifted upward from the bottom to expose the trunk area. In DeLuxe/Super DeLuxe versions, a split seatback pivoted forward into fold-down jump seats for two additional passengers.
Prices for the 1941s ranged from $684 for the Special coupe six to $859 for the Super DeLuxe Fordor V-8 to $1,013 for the Ford Super DeLuxe V-8 wagon, the first Ford to top the $1,000 barrier since the 1930 Model A Town Car. The new Ford Super DeLuxes averaged about $50 more than DeLuxes.
See the next page for information about the 1942 Ford Super DeLuxe.
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1942 Ford Super DeLuxe
The 1942 Ford Super DeLuxe, introduced on September 12, 1941, can only be described as less car for more money. Prices crept up across the board by about $100, and signs of material shortages were evident everywhere (an industry-wide problem).
Chrome couldn't be used except on bumpers and grille because nickel and copper were on the limited-supply list. Ford answered that one by using zinc plate on trim and varnish over it. Stamped steel horn rings and some grille parts replaced diecast zinc. Hubcaps were made of stainless steel, actually a quality improvement.
After December 31, all trim had to be painted (or plastic covered) -- even if it was already chrome or stainless, this so that no make would have an advantage over another. Ford painted its trim tan. Ugly as they looked, the "blackout" models are highly collectible now for their rarity.
Of course, no aluminum could be used, so pistons were made of a cast-iron alloy. Molybdenum replaced nickel in valves, gears, and shafts, another quality improvement. The Ford's frame now stood an inch lower, and the ride was improved via longer and wider transverse springs, twin lateral stabilizers, and two-inch-wider tire treads. In the quest for more quiet, Ford engineers added large cushion rubber insulators between the body and frame and improved the engine mounts.
The front end was all-new with a bolder hood and more impressive one-piece fenders. The grille was flattened and made rectangular, with a heavy ornamental frame surrounding two sets of vertical ribs separated by a heavy bright strip down the middle. Parking lights migrated from atop the fenders to inboard of the headlights. Ford's more massive look for 1942 merely followed an industry trend started by style-leader General Motors, and which had already been evident on Chevrolets -- and Plymouths for that matter.
Doors now flared out completely over the running boards, and rubber stone guards adorned the rear fenders. Splash pans were placed between the wider bumpers and body. Taillights went from vertical rectangles to horizontal ovals, and were trimmed with extra chrome on Super DeLuxes, which also boasted blue stripes in the grille, unique bumpers with a groove at the top, and more chrome around the windows. It was all part of the new "Stagedoor Canteen" look with "That old Black[out] Magic," to quote two hit tunes of 1942.
The instrument panel was much changed, though perhaps not improved. Plastic was used more extensively, including the radio grille. The former horizontal dash gave way to a General Motors-style treatment with the speedometer and clock carried symmetrically in big circles on either side of the speaker grille; the four gauges mounted to the left of the speedometer. Woodgraining remained on the dash, but overall one could argue that the use of plastics gave the interior a wartime look.
The same three series were listed, with all 1941 body styles continued. Prices rose to $780 for the Special coupe and $930 for the Ford V-8 Super DeLuxe Fordor. Six models were now priced over $1,000: Ford DeLuxe and Super DeLuxe wagons and the Ford Super DeLuxe ragtop, all with either six or V-8. Total output for 1942 ended up at a mere 160,432 units, making this the company's lowest production year since 1910, and just two percent of total Ford production from 1932-1948.
Part of the reason for the low production numbers for 1942 was the United States' impending entry into World War II. See the next page to learn how Ford fared during wartime.
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Ford Production During World War II
Ford production during World War II was transformed to aid the war effort. All civilian auto production was halted by February 10, 1942; any Fords built after that date were spirited away to government warehouses or turned over to the military.
Despite Henry Ford's anti-war views, his company contributed heroically to the war effort. Overnight, Charlie Sorensen and a few others had turned from cranking out Fords to building B-24 bombers, jeeps, tank engines, and a wide array of other military hardware. The Willow Run B-24 plant was really Sorensen's idea, and more than a year before Pearl Harbor he had somehow managed to get Henry's approval. That wasn't easy -- after suffering a second stroke in 1941, Henry became even more set in his ways.
Not long after Pearl Harbor, Edsel Ford's health went from bad to worse. Doctors diagnosed his problem as a stomach ulcer, but an operation in January 1942 revealed extensive stomach cancer. But the official cause of his death on May 26,1943, was listed as undulant fever from drinking contaminated milk from the Ford farms. Those close to the scene knew it was Edsel's longtime cancerous relationship with his father. For this, the family -- especially Henry II -- would never forgive the old man.
Although Willow Run had been finished for a year at the time of Edsel's death, it still wasn't turning out many B-24s, which had Washington worried. In August, young Henry Ford II was released from his duties as a naval ensign to help his grandfather, who was now president of Ford again after 24 years. Not that Henry particularly welcomed help or wanted to see the company in anything but a complete state of disarray.
Predictably, Henry II and Sorensen both tangled with Harry Bennett, who claimed no "boy" could run the company, and who blamed all of Willow Run's production delays on Sorensen. The elder Ford naturally listened to Harry, so Sorensen resigned under duress. Laurence Sheldrick, head of engineering, was fired. He and Gregorie had unwisely shown Henry II plans for modern postwar Fords with a "new fandangled" independent front suspension.
Old Henry and Harry made no bones about their dislike for young Henry's poking about. Still, the heir to the Ford fortune was made an executive vice-president in December 1943. From that time forward, the pressure was on old Henry from his wife, Clara, and daughter-in-law, Eleanor, to "let go." After a furor over an alleged codicil and a threat by Eleanor to sell her company stock, the old buzzard finally capitulated.
Young Henry became president on September 21,1945 -- and Harry Bennett was quickly sent packing. Former FBI agent John Bugas took his place, while Jack Davis returned from his California exile. A whole new, youthful regime, borne out of wartime experience, came in. A giant rebirth at Ford was at hand.
Henry II vowed to avenge the death of his father and rebuild the Ford empire as a monument to his memory. It was an obsession he carried to his grave, leaving the Edsel automobile and 30 years of fired Ford presidents as his legacy. Some even say that as Henry II grew older he became more and more like his grandfather. In any case, Henry II's story and Ford's incredible rebirth go way beyond the 1946-1948 models.
Continue to the next page to see how Ford rebounded from wartime with the 1946 Ford models.
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1946 Ford Models
Ford had a number of leftover 1942 body parts that went into 1946 Ford models. Henry Ford II got the first postwar car into production, and the very first one -- a white Super DeLuxe Tudor sedan assembled on July 3, 1945 -- went to President Harry Truman. Alas, only 34,439 more were assembled during the 1945 calendar year, but it was the quick return to production that put Ford ahead of Chevrolet.
However, there was no end of problems with the War Production Board, which controlled output and materials supplies, and the Office of Price Administration, which put many controls on the price of parts and cars. Henry Ford II claimed that he was losing $300 per car because he couldn't achieve volume production, and indeed the company was hemorrhaging about $10 million per month at one point.
The pent-up market created an unprecedented demand for new cars. Ford's advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson, created a brilliant teaser campaign: "There's a Ford in your future." Until July, it showed only parts of the "new" Ford in a crystal ball; then there a publicity blitz culminating in "V-8 Day" on October 26, 1945. More than a million Americans flocked into showrooms for the public introduction, and nearly half a million promptly placed their orders.
What the public saw on V-8 Day was the 1942 shorn of its military trim. The 1946 Ford had the 59 A V-8 block that had been used in the Mercury from 1939; it displaced the same 239.4 cubic inches and developed an even 100 horsepower at 3,800 rpm. The 225.8-cubic-inch six remained available. The Super DeLuxe and DeLuxe series were continued, but the Special disappeared. Meanwhile, the rear axle ratio went from 3.78:1 to 3.54:1.
Outside trim was nearly identical to the 1942 except for the new horizontal grille consisting of three stainless steel bars below a massive, chrome-plated pair of Ford "wings." The grille sported red striping within ridges in the metal. The decklid, meanwhile, carried two horizontal strips of stainless below the license plate, and color selections were greatly improved over those of 1941-1942.
One big difference for 1946 was the interior. While the DeLuxe looked pretty much like the 1942 in drab browns, the Super DeLuxe looked striking in navy blue and gray. The dash plastic over a navy-colored dash was pearl gray with red striping.
The instrument numerals were red on a black field with a chromed speedometer needle and clock hands. (An electric clock was standard on the Super DeLuxe beginning in 1942.) When one turned on the headlights at night, the gauges glowed beautifully with the red numerals backlit and the edges of the chromed needles outlined in white light.
Considering the car's price, the quality of the upholstery, its fit, and the fit and quality of the other interior/exterior trim was impeccable. So was the finish. Much of the detailing was done by Willis P. Wagner, later demoted to the Ford Truck Division when George Walker took over Ford styling in 1949.
Not until the 1954 Crestlines and 1955 Fairlanes would any Ford be this well detailed. And not until Ford's total quality control program of the early 1960s would overall Ford workmanship be this high.
All Ford body styles were carried over from 1942, although jump seats were no longer available in the coupe. A new model, the Sportsman, boasted wood trim, much like the 1946-1948 Chrysler Town and Country and the 1946-1948 Nash Suburban. Cynics would say that it was little more than a promotional scheme.
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1946 Ford Sportsman
Unlike the Nash, which was a four-door sedan (1,000 produced), the 1946 Ford Sportsman came only as a convertible. Meanwhile, the 1946-1948 Chrysler Town and Country straddled the fence with both a sedan and ragtop, and achieved total production of 12,439 units (two-thirds of them soft tops).
In all three cases, the woodies were designed to lure buyers back to dealer showrooms after World War II by adding a touch of glamour to a very familiar-looking model line. In Ford's case, the result was actually two cars, the Sportsman and a kissin' cousin, the Mercury Sportsman -- of which only 205 were built!
The idea attracted Henry Ford II because it was easy and cheap to execute. The company already had massive northern timber forests and a processing plant at Iron Mountain, Michigan. It had been supplying raw materials for Ford's woody wagons since 1936, and a convertible would be no more costly or difficult to build.
Each Sportsman began as a stock convertible with a section of rear sheetmetal cut away, replaced by a steel "skeleton." To this was fitted the wood framing, made from solid wood blocks and mitred together with handcrafted precision. All 1946 Ford Sportsmans used "A" type framing with full-length horizontal members. Later cars employed "B" and "C" styles with vertical segments. The 1946 rear fenders didn't match the wooden trunk lid's new curvature, but 1941 sedan delivery fenders -- with 1941 taillights -- did.
Otherwise, the Sportsman was much like any other 1946-1948 Ford, except that standard equipment included hydraulic window lifts, leather upholstery, and dual visor vanity mirrors. Despite its high price, $494 more than the $1,488 Super Deluxe ragtop (a 33 percent premium), the Sportsman was a fair success.
The first one was delivered to film actress Ella Raines on Christmas Day 1945, just three months after Henry II took over as company president. Another 1,208 followed for 1946, plus 2,250 in 1947, and 28 for 1948 (reserialed 1947s). All in all, the Sportsman accomplished its mission, and today it's a Ford to remember and cherish, a handsome reminder of a unique period in American automotive history.
Ford prices were way up for 1946 -- by nearly $300 on DeLuxes and $400 on Super DeLuxes, and dealers were still singing the blues. Even the Ford DeLuxe coupe with the six listed for $1,074, meaning there were no Fords left for under $1,000. Most people had to pay the dealer an extra $200 to $400 under the table to get their 1946 Ford.
A lot of other buyers didn't receive theirs until sometime during 1947. Some 468,022 of the 1946 models were produced, against well over a half million orders.
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1947 Ford Models
The factory-suggested prices for the 1947 Ford models went up $120 on average. Dealer prices went up a lot more. The factory, pretty much stopping the money-under-the-table practices, let dealers put their own prices right on the windshield. Some were charging up to $2,000 for dosed models and loading them up with every high-priced accessory imaginable.
All body styles carried over into 1947 and 1948, including the novel Sportsman. The shorter 1947 model year saw output reach 429,674 cars, while output inched up to 430,198 units for the even shorter 1948 model run (the 1949s came out early). The 1948s were virtually identical to the 1947s, though it should be noted that early 1947s were really 1946s, while the freshened "1947-1/2" models went on to become 1948s.
That meant minor trim changes highlighted by plain grille bars (sans the red striping), a mildly modified upper grille bar, series and engine designation on the front of the hood, and round parking lights below the headlights. Other tweaks included slightly lowered fender bright strips, curvier bumper guards, and a wide chrome piece above the license plate that doubled as a "FORD" nameplate.
The six also received a five-horsepower boost to 95. Though factory prices remained unchanged through 1947-1948, as did most of the specifications, the most disappointing change was the elimination of the beautiful backlit gauges. However, the new gold on black-and-white gauges were quite attractive in their own right.
Tom McCahill, reporting on the 1947 Ford and Mercury in the August 1947 Mechanix Illustrated, made these observations: "How do the 1947 Fords and Mercurys stack up with the 1946 models? Are they better, have they put more in them? The answer is: No, they are not better and they have put less in them. I have many friends in the Ford Motor Company and I doubt if they will like this article, but as I am really working for you readers, I will continue to report things as I find them.
"Anyone checking over either the new Ford or Mercury will find a number of places where dollars have been saved over the preceding model. For example, on the 1947 Ford Super DeLuxe offering, the small draft-prevention windows are no longer operated by a crank handle. Instead, you just push them by hand to the desired opening and trust to luck that they stay there."
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1947 and 1948 Fords
The 1947 and 1948 Fords marked the end of an era at Ford, the passing of the torch from one generation to the next, but these cars were not without their faults.
In his review of the 1947 Fords and Mercurys, "Uncle" Tom McCahill sniped at other minor details, but did have one backhanded compliment: "This year the engines on both Ford and Merc remain the same 100 horsepower V-8, the best ever built in Ford history -- but the rear axle ratio has been changed from 3.54:1 of last year to 3.78:1 of former years. During last year the once flash pick-up Ford found that in high gear at speeds under 40 mph, some of its competitors could not only stay with it but even beat it.
"But at high speeds the Ford and Mercury could outdistance all price rivals; they were among the best high speed cruising cars ever built in this country. You could cruise a 1946 Ford all day long at 70 without causing undue wear. In 1946 the Ford engine turned over fewer times per mile in high gear than any other car made in America, regardless of price, except for some cars equipped with overdrive. It now turns over an increase of about nine per cent.
"The 1947 change affects performance considerably. The 1946 Ford lost some of its [low end] flash and, in addition, hill climbing ability suffered considerably. This won't happen with the new 3.78 rear end. But today when you drive a 1947 Ford an even 60 the engine will be turning approximately the same rpms as a 1946 Ford engine doing 65. All in all the change seems to be worthwhile because the new models will prove more satisfactory performers to a wider range of buyers."
And McCahill concluded: "In today's market with all cars selling for more than they are worth, I don't know where you can find a better buy than offered in either the Ford or Mercury. For every owner found swearing at his Ford you'll find a thousand swearing by it."
The 1947-1948 Fords truly marked the end of an era. Old Henry Ford passed away peacefully in his sleep the night of April 7,1947. His last personal car was a dark blue 1942 Super DeLuxe Fordor sedan with a 1946 Super DeLuxe grille. Not long before his death, he and Clara saw a clay of the forthcoming 1949 Ford. He had little to say, which by that time in his life must have meant approval or at least contented resignation to the new wave in management.
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