While the American auto sector has hit rock bottom, many people are unaware that Ford has been in a similar situation previously. By 1945, when Henry Ford II finally succeeded in wresting leadership of the corporation from his near-senile grandfather, the Ford Motor Company had devolved into an atrophied entity. When civilian automobile production resumed in 1946, Ford was in third place behind Chrysler and rapidly losing ground. Young Henry assembled a team of outsiders who promptly launched a crash program to construct Ford’s first modern postwar automobile. That car was the 1949 Ford, and it represented a significant improvement over the preceding model.
History of Some 49 – 51 Fords
While the straight six and flathead V-8 engines were retained, the ’49 represented a significant technical advancement, with a significantly redesigned chassis. The car was slimmer on the outside but roomier on the inside, and its all-new body styled by newcomer George Walker in collaboration with Dick Caleal (a freelancer who previously worked at Studebaker), Elwood Engel (who would later pen the ’61 Lincoln Continental), and Joe Oros abandoned the prewar separate-fenders look in favor of a sleek, unified new shape (credited with the Mustang). The 1949 Ford – which stayed essentially identical through 1951, except for the removal of the center grille spinner after 1950 – was a huge success, helping the company reclaim second place behind General Motors.
We recently got the opportunity to drive a 1950 Tudor sedan owned by Tom McMullen of Ann Arbor. McMullen has owned it for 32 years. “One of the reasons I enjoy this car is that it is so basic,” he explains. That is true. This Ford is equipped with a 95-horsepower (gross) flathead in-line six-cylinder engine, a column-shifted three-speed manual transmission, and no power steering or brakes. Nevertheless, the automobile is not entirely devoid of comforts; after all, it is equipped with a factory radio, an electric clock, and a Magic Air heater.
It’s noteworthy that, despite the car’s two doors, rear-seat occupants are not considered as second-class people. The bench seat in the back is identical to the front’s chair-high, three-person-wide perch, and rear-seat passengers benefit from roll-down glass and flip-open vent windows. What’s especially noticeable is the materials’ tenacity. Lift the colossal trunk lid to get a sense of the car’s substantial sheet steel. Demonstrate the thickness of the side glass by rolling down a window. Clearly, utilizing the fewest possible materials was a lesson that would not be learnt for years.
The ignition is activated by a delicate little key, but the engine is awakened by a separate chrome starter button, which idles pleasantly. The pedals are through-the-floor; we engage the clutch, grasp the white plastic ball at the end of the long shifter, and effortlessly move it into first gear. The Ford is surprisingly easy to maneuver, thanks to its massive white steering wheel, and we go out onto the two-lane roads that surround McMullen’s farmhouse.
In a 1950 Ford, you sit high and gaze out the split windshield and over the hood, the hood’s massive chrome strip showing the way. Although it does not appear to be delicate, you do not want to rush the old Tudor. You simply slow down and let the car to take you to a slower era.
The ’49-’51 Ford sits at that perfect crossroads in American history, when the country had fully emerged from the Depression and World War II but had not yet descended into the exaggerated consumerist culture that would accompany expanding affluence. Although times have changed much since then, this Ford serves as a hopeful reminder that the appropriate car may reintroduce a manufacturer to prosperity.
ENGINES: 95 horsepower 3.7L flathead I-6 100 horsepower, 3.9L flathead V-8
TRANSMISSIONS: Manual three-speed 3-speed manual transmission with overdrive Automatic three-speed (1951)
FRONT SUSPENSION: Control arms with coil springs
Rear Suspension: Live axle with leaf springs
BRAKES: DRUM BRAKES
APPROXIMATE WEIGHT: 2900-3550 lb
It is a Ford historical milestone and the quintessential American automobile at the start of the 1950s. Supply is plentiful, and parts availability is excellent. The automobile is mechanically basic, yet it is capable of withstanding the rigors of modern road travel. Convertibles are prohibitively expensive, as are wood-bodied station wagons, while coupes and sedans are reasonably priced.