Ford V8 Custom: The Fashion Car Of The Year

Images: Vrutika Doshi

Amongst the American carmakers in India, Ford has always had a leading role. Beginning with the distribution of the world’s bestselling car from the pre-war era, the Model T, in India, Ford Motor Company was also one of the early carmakers to set up assembly facilities in India. In the years leading up to World War II and then during the war itself, Ford’s Indian operations assembled thousands of cars, both for sale in India, as well as to buttress the war effort.

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The first series of the Ford V8 Customs, this one is from 1949

Yet Ford’s parent company went through several ups and downs. It was the untimely death of Edsel Ford, the President of Ford Motor Company in 1943, and the disputed return of his father, Henry Ford, to head the firm that caused havoc within the group. Previously, the two men had opposed each other on several issues, and the board of directors were against the return of Henry Ford, who was by then sick and unstable.

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The rear was simple with a pair of oval lamps distinguishing the car

The financial losses were such that the eldest son of Edsel, Henry Ford II received special authorization from the Roosevelt administration to be relieved of his obligations in the Navy so that he could take over the reins of the company. Henry Ford II became the president of the carmaker in 1945, and his first job was to straighten out the group and give the green signal to the development of an all-new car for the post-war era.

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The most striking detail of the styling was the single spinners of the 49 Custom

Work began on the new model in 1946, and designers came up with several sketches, and senior designer Eugene T. ‘Bob’ Gregorie (1908–2002) chose a range of three car models, one per make (Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln). With the last-minute intervention of George W. Walker, a new, smaller model was chosen while the one designed by Gregorie, which was planned for Ford, became the Mercury Eight (1949–1951), and that for Mercury became the new Lincoln model (the series EL), while the one at the top of the range became the Lincoln Cosmopolitan. The Fords’ frame was a ladder frame while the Mercury and Lincoln had an X-frame.

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By 1951 the front had been facelifted with two bullets on a bar

In the meantime, ‘normal’ manufacturing activities resumed both in the US and India, with Ford’s Indian operations restarting assembly operations of the cars that it was producing in the US, commencing with the 6GA Six, the Ford DeLuxe Fordor sedan, a dumpy, but spacious and comfortable car, until June 1948, when the all-new ‘49 Ford was unveiled.

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Otherwise, the 51 Ford V8 Custom retained the clean lines of the original design

As mentioned earlier, Gregorie chose a range of three car models for Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln. However, at the last moment, Ernest R. Breech (1897–1978), vice-president of Ford since 1946 called upon the advice of his designer friend George W. Walker (1896–1993), who later joined Ford and who concluded that the full-size Fords at the bottom of the range were too big and might sell poorly.

A new smaller model was chosen, and the 1949 models made their debut at a gala at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City in June 1948, with a carousel of five new Fords and two rotating chassis on display. The new car was a veritable design revolution.

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Under the bonnet both the cars feature identical 100bhp 3917cc Flathead V8s

With simple lines that were clean and well-integrated into the body, offset by a dramatic and artful bullet-nosed grille, the Ford Custom Deluxe Series would be named ‘Fashion Car of the Year’ by the Fashion Academy of America. Not surprisingly, the Custom Deluxe Series was a runaway success, not only in the US, but in markets like India too. And several of them have survive until today.

An extended model range included variants such as a Custom Convertible, two-door and four-door Sedans in Standard and Custom trims, the Club Coupe in six-seater Custom or Standard (which is rarer), the Business Coupe (which had identical bodywork to the Club, but with the rear seats replaced by a second boot space), as well as the Woody three-door station wagon. Reminiscent of the 1930s, the two-door sedans were commonly referred to as Tudor, and four-door as Fordor (contraction of the terms two-door and four-door).

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Instrumentation was simple yet comprehensive in featuring a speedometer and gauges for fuel oil temperature and an ammeter

Pune-based collector Zaheer Vakil used to have two Ford V8 Customs. Both are the four-door Fordor sedans, and both feature the much-coveted 100hp 239 cubic inch (3917cc) Flathead V8, instead of the 95hp 226 cubic inch (3704cc) inline six-cylinder version.

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Both the rear and the front bench seats can easily take three each

The older car, an early 1949 model V8 Custom, was acquired from Jharkhand in 2002, when it used to be owned by Ashok Sarkar. As the car needed restoration, Zaheer Vakil did a comprehensive job of it. The second car is from 1951. Acquired from Lt. Colonel N B Kale, from Nashik, in 1996 by Zaheer Vakil, the car received a comprehensive restoration recently, in 2017.

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Despite a full size spare, the boot space is most impressive

Powered by that bullet-proof V8, Ford Customs are an excellent entry point into a robust and reliable lifestyle reminiscent of the American way of life during the rock ‘n’ roll 1950s.

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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