‘While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever other car skinned, and even if my business hasn’t been strictly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V-8′
– Letter to Henry Ford from Clyde Barrow (of Bonnie and Clyde), 1934
Outlaws were not the only enthusiasts to recognise the power of Ford’s new V8. The Police also favoured Fords, and there was talk in Great Britain at the time of introducing them nationally as police cars. As you can see below, Ford Tudors were used: these two were registered in 1933 by London County Council. But transport decisions were made by individual forces and they were not adopted generally.
1932 FORD MODEL B TUDOR SALOON
Rare RHD British Version
British registered: 31st December 1932
Registration ’32 BE’
Our 1932 Ford Model B was the Online Bike Museum hack.
This much loved Model B saloon was restored in the mid-1990s; at the time she earned the nickname ‘Big Nellie’ which is painted on the driver’s door.
I bought her in 2004. At first, I wondered about painting over the name. But I was sitting in traffic one day when a man and boy walked past. I heard the youngster ask:
‘Dad, what sort of car is that?’
Dad glanced over and replied, quick as a flash:
‘It’s a Big Nellie.’
The Model B has been so popular with hot-rodders that very few remain in original condition. This one is not a V8, but the four cylinder option. The British model has sidelights on the wings (fenders) rather than cowl lights. I like hot rods and customs, but I’m averse to following fashions; hence this ultimate hot rod car is a stocker.
Big Nellie is in excellent all-round condition, though not concours; there are blemishes here and there. After the gearbox was replaced by Baz, she was fully serviced in summer 2011, when these photos were taken.
THE MODEL B FORD
The Model B ran for only two years, 1932-34, yet it has been one of the most iconic American cars ever since. James Dean died in a Porsche, but lived in a B. Bonnie & Clyde were driving their Model B sedan getaway car when they were ambushed and shot to death.
The introduction of the Ford Model B in 1932 was shrouded in secrecy. It came with a choice of two engines: a flat four, or the world’s first budget small-block V8. Here’s the back-story:
After a 19-year run and a production total exceeding 15 million units, the Model T – upon which the Ford empire was founded – almost caused that empire’s collapse. The car, though still surprisingly good even in 1927, had nonetheless been upstaged by its contemporaries, and the director of this epic, Henry Ford, was not blameless. His dogmatic resistance to change allowed Chevrolet to beat Ford to the number-one position in 1927.
That first body blow came in a year when new car registrations were down by nearly one million units. Chevy not only outsold Ford, but did it to the tune of a quarter-million vehicles. Ford Motor Company had been shut down most of that year, throwing 60,000 workers onto the street while Henry labored to rush his new Model A into production. The cost had been extremely heavy: hundreds of millions of dollars, plus the loss of market leadership again in 1928, when Chevy outsold Ford by another quarter-million units.
A good turn of speed and plenty of acceleration were qualities that soon endeared the Model A to the general public, putting Ford back on top in 1929 by over half-a-million registrations. The firm earned a handsome profit of $91 million.
Unfortunately, the economic boom ended abruptly as the Wall Street crash of October 1929 devastated the industrial world. The following year, helped by $29 million worth of advertising, Ford’s market share rose by over five percent, but sales actually fell by a quarter million. If anything, 1931 was even worse, with sales skidding another half million, and for the third time, Ford lost market leadership to Chevy. In fact, Ford’s production had plummeted nearly 50 percent, whereas Chevrolet’s drop was negligible.
Henry Ford knew that something had to be done, something that would catch the imagination of the buying public just as forcefully as his beloved Model T had done two decades earlier. Of course, Henry knew all along what was going on, but being a secretive man he disclosed few of his intentions. Engine development, for example, had been in progress all through the Twenties, and various configurations had been tried. But in the main, Henry liked fours: ‘I’ve got no use for a motor that has more spark plugs than a cow has teats.’
Nevertheless, Henry had said in 1929 (to a very select few) that ‘We’re going from a four to an eight because Chevrolet is going to a six.’ As he revealed his plans to engineer Fred Thoms, he also instructed him to ‘Get all the eight-cylinder engines that you can.’ Thoms duly acquired nine V-8s, most of which were of multiple-piece construction from high-priced cars such as Cadillac, LaSalle, Cunningham, and Henry’s own Lincoln, which sold for a towering $4,600.
However, while desiring the prestige of a V-8, Ford planned to produce more than 3000 engines a day, which meant that a cheap-to-produce monoblock design was critical to his plan. The 1930 Oakland and 1929 Viking (Pontiac and Oldsmobile companion cars) did have monoblock V-8s, but their engines were still expensive to manufacture; the cars were priced at $1,000 and $1,700, respectively.
Ford was determined to sell his V-8-engined car for $500-$600. Not surprisingly, it was nearly everybody’s judgment that a low-priced, mass-produced V-8, with the block cast in one piece, was impossible. Henry’s answer was simple: ‘Anything that can be drawn up can be cast.’
With the new V-8 engines almost ready, Henry Ford’s factories had to begin preparing to produce the 1932 Ford Model B and Model 18 cars – after some last-minute tweaking.
While Henry gave many directives for the mechanical design of his automobiles, he paid scant attention to styling, leaving that side of things to his son Edsel. He did, however, take notice of the public criticism of the A’s cowl-mounted gas tank. As a result, Ford decided it would be moved to the back and that a pump would deliver fuel. Edsel was more than happy about that move because it gave him and designer Bob Gregorie more freedom to work on the overall styling. Gregorie would create styling sketches that were checked by Joe Galamb and Edsel before being put up as full-size clay models.
Toward the end of 1931, Ford and many of its suppliers were already producing parts for what was to be called the Model B, but Mr. Ford wasn’t happy. By the first week of December, he had made up his mind. On the morning of the seventh, after just one hour in consultation with Edsel, he decided to temporarily abort production of the B and come out with the world’s first low-priced V-8 in 1932.
The production lines (which hadn’t really gotten started) were stopped, and cessation orders went out to suppliers. In the following days, most of the 50,000 workers became engaged in ripping out the old equipment and installing hastily designed and manufactured machinery for building the V-8.
At this point, the press was buzzing with speculation about Ford’s plans. When letters poured in urging Ford not to discontinue the four, Henry responded by saying, ‘We shall continue to make the four-cylinder model. The eight is only two fours, you know.’
Meanwhile, Henry and many others concentrated on changing the plant over to production of the V-8. The automotive world’s best-kept secret was out, and Ford was to about to produce the product that he hoped would be the key to free the company and America from the gridlock of the Depression. Henry had indeed started something: By the second week of February 1932, he announced the re-employment of 30,000 men, confidence was gaining, and America was beginning a gradual journey back to work.
By the end of the month, Ford announced his intention to spend more than $300 million in Michigan alone in 1932. Unfortunately, he could expect little return during the forthcoming year, when he planned to ‘risk all’ to produce 1.5 million vehicles.
With the public introduction of the 1932 Ford Model B and Model 18 looming, the press speculated about the new arrivals. The factory had nothing to say, but dealers indicated that Thursday, March 31, 1932, would be the first public showing. National, full-page newspaper advertisements (paid for by dealers) appeared on Tuesday, March 29, announcing the new Ford V-8. Two days later, more ads depicted for the first time the new V-8 engine and quoted prices ranging from $460 for the roadster to $650 for the convertible sedan. The four-cylinder Model Bs cost $50 less.
From a distance, the 1932 didn’t seem all that different from the Model A, but closer inspection revealed it to be all-new from radiator cap to taillight. Edsel and all who’d helped him could rightfully feel proud, for this was far and away the best-looking Ford yet – an opinion soon confirmed by the nation’s youth, who would covet the 1932 ‘Deuce’ for hot-rodding above all other cars.
As with the Model A, the design team had taken its styling cues from the imposing Lincolns that so embodied Edsel’s artistic taste. The objective had been a smaller-scale adaptation incorporating the same sculptured lines and fine detailing. And because the body design was coordinated with the new chassis being developed, the new Ford looked lower and sleeker, and in fact had a lower center of gravity for a better ride and handling.
The result was the first Ford that could boast both outstanding performance and beauty. As an impressed newsman wrote after the San Francisco preview, ‘In the new Ford car the eye is caught by the bright beauty of the rustless-steel head-lamps, and travels along the bead on the side of the hood toward the rear of the car [giving] the impression of an arrow in flight. The bodies are fresh and modern, from the gracefully rounded V-type [vertical-bar] radiator to the rear bumper. The convex lamps, full-crowned fenders and long, low running boards harmonize with the balance of the design.’
A wheelbase extended 2.5 inches to 106 inches enhanced not only external appearance, but interior room as well. And because the rear transverse spring was relocated behind the differential, the ‘spring base’ was 113.5 inches, allowing for both a smoother ride and a lowering of the car by 2 1/2 inches (also helped by replacing the Model A’s 19-inch wheels with 18-inch units).
Early Model Bs had a black-painted dash with only choke and throttle control knobs. The starter button changed position several times and at one point was a T-handled pull-rod. When the V-8 was introduced, it had an engine-turned panel with the throttle on the left, choke in the center, and a switch for the dash light on the right.
By April, the Model B had thorn brown, rather than black, panels with the throttle on the left and the choke on the right. No dash light would be provided until June, a month after the damascened panel was also made standard for all models. The starter button for all American cars was now on the floor between the clutch and brake, and many other minor changes were also seen.
Not everything went smoothly: there were production problems with the 1932 Ford Model B and Model 18. According to contemporary reports, 5.5 million people turned out to see the new Fords upon introduction, and within days the firm claimed 200,000 orders.
The question was, could Henry Ford meet the demand? Perhaps the biggest problem faced by the buying public was the fact that there just wasn’t much money around. People were either unwilling or unable to answer Henry’s call as they had in 1928 and 1929. Important though this fact was, it only served to disguise the real problem: Ford just could not deliver.
What was the Depression’s effect on the 1932 Ford Model B and Model 18? Unfortunately, the 1932 Ford Model B and Model 18 were not able to pull the country out of the Depression. Henry Ford could hardly expect his cars for the masses to be bought by the masses if they couldn’t find work to earn the money to pay for them.
Despite the difficult beginning, the V-8 would continue to receive many refinements and endure for another 21 years. The four, on the other hand, saw relatively few installations in 1933 and fewer still for 1934, so it was dropped. Fortunately for Ford and most of the auto industry, 1932 was the low point of the Depression, after which sales began a gradual improvement.
Though it was born in tough times and arrived needing further development, the “Deuce” Ford nevertheless has had many loyal and enthusiastic fans for a very long time, and still does. Among them are not only hot rodders, but old car enthusiasts in general-all of whom appreciate the 1932 ford Model B and Model 18’s timeless styling and snappy V-8 performance.
UNIQUE FORD ACCESSORY
My most unusual Ford accessory is a Ford bicycle. Though Henry Ford learned plenty from the cycle industry that preceded the introduction of the automobile, unlike other early car manufacturers he did not start by making bicycles. You can see a picture of him below, from 1894, with a bike.
The bicycle displaying the FORD name in its chainwheel was made by a little-known English company that shared the Ford name. No other survivors of this obscure marque are known.