A V8 engine was nothing new in the early 1930s, but one at an affordable price certainly was. Ford’s nearest rivals charged over $1000, the V8 Lincoln was $4600, yet Henry Ford planned to sell his V8s at $500. Ford himself preferred four-cylinder engines but chose an eight ‘because Chevrolet is going to a six’. Experiments began with an X8 – two banks of four cylinders in cross form – but, once V8 engines from various luxury cars were evaluated, Ford accepted a 60º V formation.
The 221ci (3.6-litre) V8-equipped cars cost only $50 more than the four-cylinder versions. Cheapest was the Deluxe roadster at $460. Although all 1932 Fords tend to get called Model Bs, that name was only applied to the four-cylinder cars. The V8 was called the Model 18: the first eight-cylinder.
For 1933 and 1934, Ford cars were offered as Standard or Deluxe, each with four or eight cylinders and all known as the Model 40. Deluxe cars were identified by twin lights on the cowl and dual exterior horns. They ushered in the streamlined era of design and could be specified with dual wipers, heater and radio.
Among changes to the 1934 model were a flatter grille with thicker surround, a second bonnet handle, and straight (not curved) bonnet louvres. The Detroit Lubricator carburettor was replaced by a superior dual-downdraft Stromberg that increased output by 10bhp to 85bhp. In 1934, for the first time in four years Ford made a profit, while bank robber Clyde Barrow famously wrote to Henry Ford praising his V8s as getaway cars – although it’s now believed that his letter was actually a forgery by Ford’s PR department.
It’s estimated that over half the surviving 1930s Fords have been hot-rodded – with parts so easily interchanged, substantial upgrades could be achieved with a socket set and perhaps a little welding. A great many Fords were destroyed on stock car tracks and in jalopy races but, thanks to the popularity of hot-rodding, aftermarket steel bodywork is widely available. It’s possible to build a complete 1932 Ford solely from brand new parts; the situation is much the same for the Model 40. The famous flathead V8 would stay in production with various changes until 1953. Although early engines suffered cracked blocks along with piston and bearing failures – a result of being rushed into production – a flathead should still prove capable of pushing an old Ford to 70mph and beyond.
Similarly, just because the cars are more than 80 years old doesn’t mean that a good one shouldn’t corner well and drive more than adequately on modern roads. Happily, the various pedals and controls are conventional to modern eyes. As with most classic cars, originality is prized, but perhaps more so with these because it’s a rare 80-year-old Ford that hasn’t been rebuilt at least once. Cars don’t come on the market all that often, tending to change hands between collectors. Opentop two-door roadsters and wood-bodied station wagons are the most desirable.
WHAT TO PAY
Searching for V8s, we found a 1932 Deluxe Fordor sedan ‘older restoration’ at $36,000, a $45,500 Deluxe Phaeton, and a completely original five-window for $50,000. A concours 1932 Deluxe roadster was $79,000.
We found only one 1933, a running four-door sedan with decent paint and interior for $22,500. A fully restored 1934 cabriolet was $59,500. A second, with a 12-volt conversion, was $65,500 in a private sale. One in original condition, other than a later Mercury flathead and wheels, was $75,000, as was another fully restored in 2017. Proving just how critical body style is, a complete, unrestored and drivable four-door ’1934 sedan was only $6500.
LOOK OUT FOR…
Four- and eight-cylinder cars were identical beyond powerplant and badging, so check the serial number on the chassis frame near the clutch pedal for an ‘AB’ or ‘18’ prefix (C indicates Canadian built) on a 1932. For 1933 and ’1934 the VIN is also on the left front pillar and again starts 18- or B. Overheating flatheads are largely a thing of the past and you should expect one to last 40,000 miles between overhauls; less if it’s driven hard. Regular maintenance and lubrication are essential. Construction was usually an all-steel shell, sometimes with wooden internal framing. Both rot. Uneven door gaps point to worn hinges at best, a twisted body/frame at worst. Bodies do flex; examine the front roof pillars above and below the ’screen corners and the panel below the bootlid on coupes. Check frames carefully; they are flexible enough that early 1932 cars required dealer-installed strengthening plates above the rear axle.
Ford built these cars in 33 countries and foreign cars can differ greatly from their American counterparts in bodywork design, and often came with smaller engines.