Car History Year 1932
Date: Sunday, September 26 @ 22:56:21 UTC
If we were to adapt a modern day saying to suit the cir*****stances of 1932, it might run something along the lines of: "When the going gets tough, Henry Ford gets things going." For, when it came time to making things happen or shaking up an established method of doing a certain task, nobody was as effective as the founder of the Ford Motor Company. It's true to say that he was also cantankerous, irascible, pig-headed, stubborn, and much worse besides on occasions.
It's also true that he had a vast army of men that he could command to do his bidding, and would often set them impossible targets to test out an idea or prove a theory. Further more, history has a way of only telling us of the successes achieved by great men, and the mistakes they made along the way are often forgotten. There's no doubt Henry Ford made his fair share of errors while amassing a fortune from the Model T, but when old Henry got something right, it was usually a spectacular success.
Just such a brainwave was his decision to put a V8 engine in the 1932 models at the height of the Depression when thirteen million people were unemployed, the average wage had dropped by 60 since 1929 and even US President Herbert Hoover and basebal! hero Babe Ruth had volunteered to take pay cuts. Henry's reasoning might not have been based on a very logical train of thought - the main purpose seems to have been to outdo his arch rivals at Chevrolet. "We're going from a four to an eight, because Chevrolet is going to a six," is what he is quoted as having said in 1929.
But although the idea came about from a fixation with competition, the execution of putting it into production was the stuff from which Ford legends were made. Early in 1932, when the foundry at the huge River Rouge plant was crying out for help to overcome the problems it had in casting the new V8 engine against incredibly short deadlines, it was suggested that extra draftsmen should be hired to get engineering drawings done. Ford's reply was: "Sorensen can make all you want just from a sketch on the back of an envelope," an attitude brought about by Henry's inability to understand proper drawings and his dislike of them being used. While "Cast Iron Charlie" Sorensen was undoubtedly a wizard when it came to solving the difficulties encountered with manufacturing large quantities of a complex new design, even he couldn't do it all from just a scribble on the back of an envelope. Nevertheless, Sorensen had to agree with his boss at the time, but the necessary blueprints were produced without Henry's knowledge.
Such subterfuge was often employed when Henry Ford was involved in making decisions about how something should be done, and as far as the mechanical side of the Model 18 was concerned, Henry was very much in control. An article published in the Detroit News in February 1932 carried this quote from Edsel Ford: "My father is never happier than when he is solving some big mechanical problem. When the Model A was brought out he left many things to others, but I have never seen him give such attention to detail as he is now. He works for hours at a time trying to eliminate a single part. He figures that the fewer the parts in a car, the less the risk of trouble."
But Henry's quest for fewer parts didn't stop him from holding on to old-fashioned ideas, long after they had been discarded by other manufacturers and often in complete contradiction to common sense. Hydraulic brakes were not acceptable, the mechanical rod system giving rise to the Ford slogan "safety of steel from toe to wheel," but hydraulic shock absorbers were deemed to be okay, despite being more expensive. Transverse leaf springs were another thing that Ford would insist upon in the car's suspension design for many years to come.
Fortunately, thanks to his preoccupation with the nuts and bolts of his cars, Henry left styling matters to his son Edsel, saying "He knows style - how a car should look." Edse! was assisted by Joe Galamb and Eugene T. "Bob" Gregorie, and although it has been suggested that LeBaron or body manufacturers Briggs also had a hand in the design, this seems unlikely apart from the usual small modifications that might be requested by any supplier to make a component easier to produce. When compared to its predecessor the Model A, the Model 18 (the Model B shared the identical bodyshell but used a four cylinder engine) featured a more rounded look, especially on the radiator grille, front fenders and roof leading edge - not streamlining but a definite move in that direction, away from the utilitarian school of thought.
After some of the most intensive development work ever seen in peacetime, the first of the new Ford V8 engines came off the line in March 1932 and was ceremonially stamped by Henry Ford with the numbers 18-1, representing the first eight cylinder and the first of its type. Displacing 221 cu.in. and rated at 65bhp, it was the first such engine in volume mass production. Despite predictions, initial V8 production was slow, with many rejects. Once the cars finally got into the hands of the eager customers (cars ordered at the launch in early April weren't delivered until August in most cases), it was found that the new engine suffered many shortcomings. Overheating, excessive oil consumption, bearings and pistons wearing out rapidly, blocks cracking, fuel pump problems and much else besides, brought in numerous complaints and the Ford Motor Company was forced to issue corrective remedies and free replacement parts which cost millions of dollars.
In an attempt to counter some of this negative feedback, Ford staged a test to demonstrate the durability and reliability of the V8. A car was driven night and day around a 32 mile course in the Mojave Desert, California, for 33 days. At the end of the test, the car had covered 33,301 miles -equivalent to going one and a third times around the world according to the Ford publicists - at an average speed of 41.8mph (including stops), achieved 19.64 miles per gallon, and used "only" 1.5 pints of oil for every thousand miles.
Whether this exercise had the required effect is difficult to judge, and in more recent times it is the recommendations that Ford received from notorious gangsters like John Diliinger and Clyde Barrow (of Bonnie and Clyde fame, who actually wrote Henry Ford a testimonial letter) for the V8's superior performance in getaways that have often been given greater prominence. That the Ford could provide previously unknown speed and acceleration in a low-priced car when its engine was running on song is undeniable, but the haste to produce it caused no end of problems -some of which took years to eradicate.
If engineering was causing Ford plenty of headaches, things were also far from tranquil on other fronts. Four demonstrators were killed during the Ford Hunger March to the Rouge plant on March 6, organized to protest at the lack of jobs -after being idle for months while the new car was being prepared, workers discovered that there were less than half the jobs on offer than before. And to cap it all, much to Henry's chagrin, Chevrolet still outsold Ford by a wide margin as the Dearborn company had its lowest calendar year production since 1914 and lost $75 million in the process. The V8 would go on to be a winner and the 1932 Ford would become an automotive icon, but few in those dark days could have guessed it.
The Model eighteen was a good-looking car, even if it suffered from teething troubles mechanically. The V8 logo, carried on the tie-bar between the headlights has become a design classic. To assist cooling, the number of louvers cut in the hood was increased from 20 to 25. Inside, the comprehensive instrumentation was mounted in an engine-turned oval-frame in the center of the wood-grained dash panel. The ignition key and ignition system incorporated an anti-theft device.
Henry Ford may have been a difficult man to get along with but his instincts, in the broadest sense, were infallible. He had, after all, put America on wheels with his immortal Model T. Had various factors not conspired against him, it is probable that Ford would have moved directly from the T to the V8, having been experimenting with 8 cylinder engines since the mid-twenties. With the advent of the Model 18, America would emerge from the Depression equipped to move on to an age of performance for all, able not merely to get around but to travel at speed and in comfort - at least where the roads (which in many rural areas were still in horse and buggy condition) and the local highway restrictions, permitted it.
The Ford V8s dominated stock car racing for years and were favored by the Automobile Racing Club of America. In 1935, Ford was rewarded for his efforts with the news that he most wanted to hear: he had outsold Chevrolet - at last.
FORD MODEL 18 V8
90 degree V8 - cast iron block
221 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
3 1/16 x 3 3/4ins.
Coupe; Cabriolet; Roadster; Phaeton; Sedan; Victoria; Station wagon
No. of seats
2,422 lbs-2,684 Ibs
$475 - $640
AUBURN SPEEDSTER MODEL 12-160
Cast iron - 8 cylinders in line
320 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
3.13 x 4.25 ins.
No. of seats
11,145 (all models)
HUDSON TERRAPLANE ROADSTER
Cast iron - 6 cylinders in line
193 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
2 15/16 x 4 3/4ins.
Roadster; Business coupe; Sedan; Convertible coupe; Phaeton
No. of seats
2,010 Ibs-2,490 Ibs
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