'32 Ford had it all: V-8, curves and simplicity
Lightweight, powerful car starts a stylish era at Ford. A generation later, hot rodders discover its charms.
He has bent sheet metal, sprayed paint, raced at the Bonneville Salt Flats and collected cars from Texas to Michigan. He has even known the satisfaction of working on them with his teenage son.
But although he has had the "disease," as he calls it, all these years, he still has trouble explaining the car's appeal.
"The body lines just all come together," he says, gazing out the window of his mid-Michigan farm home. "They flow."
He doesn't explain his disease. The appeal is self-evident. That's the way it is with the 1932 Ford. Starting with its difficult birth at Ford Motor Co., the car has inspired endless passion and creativity.
Henry's secret project
In late 1931, just months before production was to begin, Ford's foundry engineers were confronted with a problem in casting the car's V-8 engine block. They had no choice but to figure it out. Henry Ford had bet the company's future on the engineers' ingenuity.
In December 1931, he ceased production of the previous model, the Model A, and started retooling his factories for the '32 - as the foundry experts feverishly tried to perfect their techniques.
"Anything that can be drawn up can be cast," decreed Henry Ford, as reported in The Classy Ford V-8 by Lorin Sorensen. Henry Ford, his company riding on the outcome, would brook no doubters.
To maintain secrecy, he had established the
V-8 research team in the historic workshop of Thomas Edison. Henry had purchased the workshop, the center of intense creativity in the previous century, and moved it to Dearborn. The V-8 team was isolated in Edison's workshop to keep word of the project inside the company. Henry was eager to leapfrog Chevrolet, which had jumped ahead of him with a six-cylinder engine in 1929.
The Edison team developed a prototype. But the company's best foundry engineers could not figure out how to cast the engine block in one piece, which was necessary to keep costs down. One problem was that engineers had trouble keeping dozens of sand cores in place during casting.
With the deadline just months away, the foundry engineers were near panic. Henry had decreed that production on the '32 would start no later than April 1, 1932. Tens of thousands of Ford assembly workers were idle, in the grimmest days of the Great Depression, waiting for the engineers to get it right.
"I worked night and day," said a foundry worker quoted in The Classy Ford V-8. "We even forgot to go home, right through the Christmas season. One day in the foundry we had exactly 100 percent scrap. Everything was wrong. No one engine came out right. Just think of this: there were 54 separate cores in that mold - 54 sand cores that had to stay put just exactly right for the valve sections and cylinders and everything in that engine block."
Finally, Henry Ford's top engineer, Charles Sorensen, got involved. His energy and insight made the difference. He developed a pouring furnace that held two tons of molten iron.
It tilted and filled V-8 block molds as it moved down the casting line. He also devised sophisticated controls to ensure the proper alloy mix.
His team beat the deadline, and thousands
of workers poured into the company's Rouge complex to start assembly.
The first 1932 model was built on March 9.
The V-8 was a triumph. Luxury brands at the time had V-8s, but they were expensive. Henry Ford, true to his founding principles, built a powerful V-8 that car buyers could afford.
As the engine work progressed, stylists were creating a new look for the body. They were inspired by Edsel Ford, Henry's creative but deferential only son. Edsel was struggling to break his father's smothering grip, and he took an important step forward with the '32.
Henry Ford's grudging acceptance of better design came just in time. Car buyers were defecting from Ford in droves, tired of the Model A's utilitarian lines.
By today's standards, the lines of the 1932 Ford are subtle. The frame has gentle curves. The passenger cabin is boxy. But taken together, the lines achieved a simple elegance that would endure. The Fords of the early and mid-1930s are considered among the most stylish American cars of all time.
Henry Ford, impressed with the 1932's styling and the need to keep pace with the competition, finally authorized model-year changes. The 1932 started the era of annual changes at Ford Motor.
Ford Division sold 258,927 cars in 1932, shy of Chevrolet's 322,860. But it was a solid performance considering the company assembled no cars in January and February.
Resurgence in the 1950s
Fast forward to the 1950s. The Great Depression and World War II are over. Americans are throwing themselves into jobs, homes in the suburbs - and cars.
Millions of soldiers and sailors had returned from the war, and new cars were expensive. So they poured their energy into refurbishing old cars. The 1932 Ford, with the big V-8, light-weight and simple construction, became a favorite quickly.
The hot rod era was born. A new generation poured its creativity into the 1932 Ford. Their sleek, fast machines captured the country's imagination. The car became a symbol of postwar innocence, starring in a Beach Boys song, "Little Deuce Coupe," in 1963, and a hit movie, American Graffiti, in 1973. (The nickname "Deuce" comes from the "2" in "1932.")
From the Depression to the fabulous '50s, the 1932 Ford has been more than just transportation. It helped Ford Motor escape the depths of the Depression. And it provided thousands of creative Americans, happiest with grease on their hands, with raw material for their talents.
You can reach Charles Child at firstname.lastname@example.org.