Thursday, August 25, 2011
Text and Photography by David W. Temple
As the World War II drew to a close, poorly managed Ford Motor Company was in financial trouble which was a great concern not only to the Ford family, but to the U. S. Government as well; the government had major war contracts at stake. To rescue the company from certain oblivion, Navy Secretary Frank Knox (with President Franklin Roosevelt’s approval) ordered Henry Ford II’s early discharge from the Navy so that he could take control of the company. The board of directors instated 26 year old Henry Ford II as executive vice-president on January 23, 1944. The elder HF was reluctant to step down, but at the insistence of his wife, Clara, he resigned from the presidency on September 20, 1945, leaving the way open for his son to assume the presidency the following day.
The new president quickly found he was in over his head and knew he needed to surround himself with skilled managers and designers. With the internal corporate turmoil and the war at an end, Ford Motor Company’s stylists and engineers went to work on the design of their first completely new postwar car which became available for model year 1949. Its basic design remained in use through 1951. During this period the company’s first coil spring front suspension with parallel leaf spring rear suspension became the standard, thus replacing the archaic transverse leaf springs used front and rear in the previous years. Following archrival Chevrolet’s lead in the low-price market, Ford offered their first hardtop, dubbed Victoria, for ’51 just about one year after Chevy’s Bel Air and additionally the company’s first automatic transmission, the Ford-O-Matic, became available. There was much change for the better at FoMoCo and there was more to come.
After selling approximately three-million copies of the initial postwar offering, Ford unleashed a new lower, longer, wider body design to serve for the next three-year span. For ‘52, Ford expanded their lineup of cars from four to five. Replacing the Deluxe and Custom Deluxe six- and eight-cylinder series were the Mainline, Customline, and Crestline all of which were offered in six- and eight-cylinder tune with the exception of the latter which was available only with the flathead V8. Eleven body styles were divided among these ranks. “Ford’s first with the newest!,” Ford advertising proudly proclaimed as they introduced their first overhead-valve inline six-cylinder called “Mileage Maker;” it provided 101 horsepower at 3,500 rpm and displaced 215 cubic inches. Their ads further boasted of the Ford’s 115-inch wheelbase (up one inch from the previous version), suspended pedals (as opposed to the pedals linked through floor pan cut-outs used up until then which eventually lead to drafts and dust), and of their 110hp flathead “Strato Star” V8 which was an engine design that was actually twenty years old.
Surprisingly, the new six-cylinder proved to be almost as potent as the venerable old flathead. The Mileage Maker had a slightly higher horsepower per cubic inch ratio than the Strato Star V8 and proved notably faster in 0-60 sprints. However, Ford engineers had already designed an all-new V8, but Lincoln got it first before it trickled down to Ford two years later.
The succeeding year brought only mild revisions which included an updated grille, trunk ornamentation, tail lights, hubcaps and wheel covers, as well as side trim on the upscale models. Body style choices now numbered nine and prices for each model rose marginally, however, this was of little concern to most Americans. By this point two car households had started to become the norm and Ford made note of this trend in their ads by mentioning that 400,000 families owned two Fords. Many of these were station wagons. In fact, nearly 116,000 were built for the 1953 model year. According to Byron Olsen, author of Station Wagons, the station wagon “had become an established body type offered by most low- and medium-cost auto manufacturers. Ford remained the leader and would lead station wagon sales into the 1980s…”
With the design of the 1952-54 station wagons, Ford abandoned the use of structural wood used throughout the body type’s existence. Nearly all auto makers had switched to all-steel body station wagons by 1953. Wood remained in use as trim in conjunction Dinoc decal inserts produced by 3M to simulate the look of structural wood for the all-steel body, woody-look station wagon model through ’53; afterwards, the wood trim was replaced by the new wonder material, fiberglass.
In addition to the use of fiberglass for use as faux wood, the ‘54 model year brought other trim updates as well as new color choices (such as Highland Green, the color of our feature car), but more importantly the Y-block replaced the aging, though popular, flathead. The overhead-valve engine displacing 239 cubic inches in typical passenger car applications provided more horsepower and torque, plus improved fuel efficiency. Incidentally, Ford police cars received a 160hp 256 cid Interceptor that could provide a top speed in excess of 100mph. The “Mileage Maker” six-cylinder received an enlarged bore size that raised displacement from 215 to 223 cubic inches and upped output to 115hp @ 3,900rpm. This engine was added to the Crestline series which previously only came with a V8. Another significant enhancement was ball joint front suspension which represented a first in the low price field.
A new instrument panel with an “Astra-Dome” speedometer was yet another update given to the 1954 rendition of this body style. The speedometer’s semicircular glass dial had numerals illuminated in the daytime by light passing through the transparent hood behind it. At night the dial face received illumination from beneath by hidden light bulbs.
In addition to the above alterations, some body types were eliminated and others added. For instance the four-door, six-passenger station wagon in the Crestline series for ’54 was replaced with an eight-passenger version and the two-door club coupe was deleted from the Mainline group. Standard equipment for the latter consisted of the inline six, three-speed manual shift transmission, 3.90:1 rear axle ratio, rubber window moldings, horn button in place of the horn ring used in the upper series, one armrest, and one sun visor with the latter two being located on the driver’s side of course. The most expensive models comprised the more luxurious Crestline V8 series with the uppermost priced examples being the new two-door Skyliner with its tinted transparent roof insert, the Sunliner convertible, and the Country Squire station wagon with faux wood panels. Both the Skyliner and Sunliner were priced at $2,241 while the Country Squire required a payment of $2,415 in base form.
A partial list of optional equipment for all models included overdrive, Ford-O-Matic, power steering, power brakes, radio, rear mounted antenna, heater/defroster, turn signals, electric clock, and whitewall tires. One more option, power windows, was offered exclusively for the Customline and Crestline models. Dealer installed accessories included spotlights, outside rear view mirrors, and continental kit. All these features were said to make Ford’s station wagons “Worth more when you buy it… Worth more when you sell it.”
Despite the new V8 and instrument panel plus the myriad options and accessories Ford offered, its perennial rival, Chevrolet, managed to nudge ahead in the sales race late that year and claimed 17,453 more Chevys were sold by the end of the model year. At the time, some speculated Chevrolet had inflated its sales numbers by getting its dealers to register inventory that had not actually been sold.
The car seen here, a 1954 Ford Mainline Ranch Wagon, was owned by a Tyler, Texas resident at the time it was photographed. The owner handled nearly all of the restoration chores, but hired a professional body shop to apply the paint.
During the body-off-frame restoration, the floors were replaced with rust-free sheet metal from a Customline four-door sedan parts donor which coincidentally also had a very nice dash painted the correct color for his green station wagon. Only the dirt had to be removed from it to make it fresh again so it – instrumentation and all – was transplanted to the project car.
Today, more car collectors are restoring and preserving station wagons, thus they are definitely worth more as FoMoCo’s ads claimed about their ’54 line of wagons.
1954 Ford Mainline Ranch Wagon
Base Price: $2,106
Engine: 239 V8
Bore and Stroke: 3.50x3.10 in.
Carburetion: Single Holley 2-bbl.
Ignition System: 6-Volt
Transmission: 3-speed manual
Wheelbase: 115 inches
Weight: 3,459 lbs.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Text and Photos by David W. Temple
Ford’s truck series became much more modern with the introduction of a newly redesigned F-Series line for 1953. The F-Series which began in 1948 as the F-1, F-2, F-3, F-4, etc., were updated to become (among others) the F-100, F-250, and F-350 which were the respective designations for the ½-ton, ¾-ton, and the one ton versions in the so-called light-duty category. The F-250 actually replaced both the old F-2 and F-3 trucks. These light-duty trucks were joined by a number of heavy-duty types including cab-over engine versions. Ford’s trucks could be had with a regular bed, stake bed, or even without a bed for those needing to install a specially constructed cargo carrier. A panel truck was also offered. One other vehicle included in the truck group, was the passenger car-based Courier which was a sedan delivery vehicle having very little in common with the F-Series.
Of the 1953-56 models, the ’56 rendition was the most modern in appearance. A wraparound windshield (a styling craze originally introduced by General Motors) finally made it to Ford’s truck line, though it did appear the prior model year on their all-new passenger car line including the Thunderbird. The wraparound windshield forced a reshaping of the 1953-55 cab and doors. Ford’s truck literature boasted of the ease of entry and exit with doors “almost a yard wide.”
The new wraparound windshield was not just for the front; a desirable option for a ‘56 Ford truck was the wraparound rear window. When this feature was ordered, bright moldings were added to all windows. The standard rear window measured a bit over four feet, thus leaving wide pillars at the rear of the cab. The optional wraparound glass of 824 square inches certainly improved rearward visibility.
Other updates that freshened the styling of the F-Series for ‘56 included a new grille, “frenched” headlights, a dashboard similar to the passenger car line, and a 12-volt electrical system replaced the 6-volt system. This model year, running boards were painted to match the body instead of being painted black. Other changes improved upon handling qualities as well as aiding driver and passenger comfort. Ford’s designers concentrated on styling and comfort for the first time when designing the original F-Series and expanded on those aims with the new series; their ads expressed this approach with the marketing term, “Driverized.” This year also marked the first use of tubeless tires on all Ford light-duty trucks.
Another extra-cost option was the Custom Cab. Unless the Custom Cab was ordered, the grille, headlight and parking lamp bodies were painted Colonial White by the factory rather than being chrome plated. The Custom Cab option included the chrome-plated grille, bright metal molding around the windshield, key locks on both doors, side-mounted spare tire carrier, red or copper-tone vinyl seat bolster and facings, foam-rubber filled seat, headliner, sound deadener on the floor and rear cab panels, fiberglass insulation in the firewall, left armrest, twin sun visors, cigar lighter, and dome light.
Earlier inline six-cylinder and V8 engines continued to be offered for the 1956 F-100. The overhead valve six displaced 223 cubic inches and provided 133hp at 4,000rpm. A one-barrel carburetor fed the fuel/air mixture to the cylinders. The optional V-8 was of the Y-block family first available in Fords for the 1954 model year and in its original form it displaced 239 cubic inches – the same as the flathead it had replaced. To emphasize the new Y-block design, Ford’s truck literature called the eight-cylinder engine the “Y-8.” To keep up with the horsepower race of the times, displacement of the Y-block quickly grew to 272 cubic inches for the trucks (though passenger cars could be bought with the 292 or the 312 cid V-8s). The optional 272 gave the owner 167hp at 4,400rpm as well as increased torque. With either engine, the three-speed manual column-shifted transmission was standard. However, five transmission options were offered for the ’56 Ford pickup truck. These were comprised of three helical gear type Synchro-Silent manual three-speed versions subdivided into the standard issue type, a medium-duty version, and one with overdrive. A four-speed Synchro-Silent manual and a Fordomatic two-speed automatic were also offered.
The 1956 Ford F-100 illustrated here is owned by a resident of Westlake, Texas. The truck has been in the family since the owner’s grandfather purchased it new in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His grandfather used the truck for everyday transportation including hunting trips to Wyoming and Montana. The owner has fond memories of joining his grandfather on some of those hunting adventures.
In 1997, the truck was given as a gift and a restoration shop in West Texas was soon hired to perform a total restoration on it. Most readers are probably familiar with the occasional restoration shop horror story and this project soon became one of those. The owner who manages a business had little time to keep an eye on the process, but trusted the shop to do the job right. Unfortunately, patch panels for the cab were poorly installed, the original engine block was dropped from the engine stand, parts were lost, etc.; this was over a four-year period.
When the poor work was discovered, the pieces were packed up, taken away from the restoration facility, and a search for another restoration shop started. This search led to R&R Restoration in Longview, Texas. Over a two-year period they corrected the mistakes of the past and restored the family heirloom to better than new condition and to appear as it did almost from day one. As previously mentioned, the running boards for ’56 pickups were originally body color, but are black instead of Diamond Blue on the pictured truck. Within a week or two of purchasing the F-100, the grandfather had a minor mishap which left one of the running boards damaged. The running board was replaced and painted black; the other one was painted to match. At the time of the accident, black paint was readily available and therefore offered a quicker and less costly repair. Black was maintained for the running boards because this is the way it has appeared since his earliest days. The restoration included a replacement engine since the original block was seriously damaged when it was dropped, another cab to replace the poorly patched original unit, as well as some modifications to make it more comfortable and safer to operate for many years of fond recollections and new memories for the owner’s entire family.
Thanks to its styling and “driverized” design, the 1953-56 Ford F-Series trucks were extremely popular when new and remain so today with collectors.
1956 Ford F-100 ½-Ton
Base Price: $1,485
Bore & Stroke: 3.62x3.60 in.
Compression Ratio: 7.8:1
Carburetor: Holley 1-bbl.
Torque: 202 ft.-lb.@1,600-2,600rpm
Transmission: 3-speed manual
Wheelbase: 110 in.
Tire size: 6.70 x 15