Little Deuce Coupe

Series

WORDS MICHAEL STAHL

88 FORD V-8 COUPE

1932

For many Americans, the first Ford V8 was the fastest set of wheels in town

HENRY Ford is justly famed for having put America and much of the world on wheels, through his pared-down and production-designed Model T of 1908. But Ford deserves just as much credit for making the world on wheels go (and look) faster, through a landmark model launched in 1932, the Ford V-8 Coupe.

Introducing Ford’s first V8 engine – known as the ‘flathead’ – the Coupe was sleek, stylish and technically advanced, especially from the driver’s point of view. Above all, it was extremely affordable: the V8 versions (known as Model 18) cost only $50 or so more than their four-cylinder (Model B) sisters in 1932, and as little as $15 more than rival six-cylinder cars from Chevrolet.

The flathead V8’s birth was not without its problems, the main one being Henry Ford himself; the success of the Model T and subsequent Model A had made Henry into a very prickly individual. Convinced of his own genius, he spent much of the 1920s pursuing the idea of an eight-cylinder radial engine, his so-called X8. Radial designs, while already common among aero engines, presented cooling and lubrication problems in cars that were eventually deemed too difficult to overcome.

The V8 configuration was already in use, most popularly with Cadillac from 1914. Ford had green-lighted a V8 in 1928, but Chevrolet’s introduction of a powerful and efficient six-cylinder in 1929 was a catalyst. Ford faced significant challenges in cost-effectively casting a V8 block. Designers also had to overcome headstrong Henry’s peculiar demands; early on, he forbade the inclusion of an oil pump.

The original Ford V8 – which ran, with updates, until 1940 – was destined to be a runaway success. Early sales were boosted by the fact that Model A production had already ended, but the new two-door Fords (followed by four-doors and, famously, the Australian-designed coupeutility – the ute) were wholly deserving.

They looked great, too. Most credit for the flowing, Lincoln-influenced lines goes to young designer Bob Gregorie (who would found Ford’s inhouse studio in 1935). However, Gregorie worked closely with Edsel Ford, whose refined taste and collegiate approach made him the polar opposite (and some say, the scapegoat) of his hard-nosed father.

From this uneasy father-and-son relationship, however, came a car whose cool style and cheap performance have made it an enduring icon.

Think ‘hot rod’ and chances are you’re thinking of a customised creation that started out life as Ford’s pretty little coupe.

Fast & factual 05

1

Beaut Aussie ute

Aussie legend Lew Bandt designed the world’s first ‘coupe-utility’ in 1933, based on a 1932 Ford V8 fivewindow ‘dicky-seat’ Coupe

2

Movie star

The yellow ’32 Coupe in American Graffiti (1973) is today credited with saving hot-rodding. Yet after filming, the car failed to sell for $1500

In detail

Keeping it simple

The Ford V-8 Coupes were built on a simple ladder chassis, though this one had superior rigidity to that under the outgoing Model A. Henry himself clung to the cart-sprung, solid front and live rear axle format longer than most, and Ford was also late in adopting hydraulic brakes (1939). The latter makes the 1939-40 cars most prized.

Art deco style

Painted Detroit steel was everywhere inside, but drivers no longer faced a manual sparkadvancer on the steering wheel.

Earlier cars (like the 1935 model pictured) were simple but stylish; later, more luxurious models were attractively trimmed with art deco-styled dashboard and door trims. Details like Bakelite instrument surround and metallic-painted highlights showed coachbuilding charm surviving Ford’s ruthlessly efficient factories.

Flathead Ford

The 90-degree ‘flathead’ V8 was so named for its then-common design of an inverted L-shaped head, with inlet and exhaust valves mounted in the side of the onepiece block-and-head casting. It wasn’t efficient, but with 3622cc and 49kW/176Nm, the Fords were still about 120kg lighter than fourand six-cylinder rivals. Outputs stepped up quickly to 56kW, then 63kW. The three-speed manual gearbox boasted synchromesh on second and third gears.

3

Heist society

Bank robbers John Dillinger, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker enjoyed the Ford V8’s performance; the latter pair were shot to ribbons in one

4

Rodding life

The Ford ‘flattie’ ignited the smouldering hot-rod scene, with an industry of performance parts catering for cheap used cars post-WW2

5

Artistic license

The Beach Boys’ 1963 hit song ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ is about Brian Wilson’s imaginary ’32, “with four on the floor”. e’

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