At the time World War II broke out the auto industry was pushing many revolutionary ideas. Among them, Studebaker released its first car with automatic hidden headlights and General Motors offered automatic transmissions in a variety of their models. When the conflict erupted on US soil in December 1941, the efforts of automakers shifted to wartime production. Designers and engineers once tasked with developing the next great automobile now raced to design vehicles, planes, weapons and other items that would help take down hostile enemies on two different fronts. The task left no room for civilian automotive production, let alone design. When the Nazis finally surrendered in May of 1945, Ford began to prep their factories for a return to normalcy, despite a raging war in the Pacific.
In July of 1945, about a month before Japan’s surrender, the first 1946 Fords began to leave the assembly line. Ford gifted the first off the line to president Harry Truman (perhaps hoping for some forgiveness for jumping the gun on civilian production). In any case, cars from all the automakers soon began to leave factories, but they all had one thing in common, they looked and performed nearly identical to their pre-war 1941/1942 counterparts.
The first 1949 Ford
The lack of innovation and design through the war years forced companies to start where they left off. Once production was restored, design efforts for the next great passenger automobile began to take flight. Again, Ford the charge among the Big Three of Chrysler, General Motors and themselves. For on this day in 1948, production of the first 1949 Ford car models began. The 1949 model year would be the first for most major automakers to debut their first all new post-war designs.
The 1949 Ford would come to market in June, beating Chevrolet by about six months and Plymouth by about nine. The cars carried models names such as the Custom or Standard Tudor or Fordor, referencing the number of doors on the car. They came in coupe, sedan, convertible and steel and woody wagon variationsRedesigned from the ground up in many ways, the new car did retain the drivetrain of previous Ford models. A 226 cubic inch six cylinder came standard, while an optional 239 cubic inch Flathead V8 made the car a bit more fun.
Aside from sleek new looks, the car received a number of engineering upgrades. Among them, a keyed ignition, the first in Ford’s history, coil spring independent suspension and Hotchkiss driveshaft. The car proved highly successful, with 1,118,740 selling over the 16 month model year. Those numbers returned Ford to the top of the sales charts among all automakers.
The Ford Forty-Nine Concept Car
The 1949 Ford cars influenced model designs for the next few years and beyond. In 2001 Ford unveiled the Ford Forty-Nine, a modern take on the classic car. While well received, sluggish sales of the retro Ford Thunderbird killed hopes of production. The what could have been became the woulda-shoulda-coulda to many car nuts. Alas, Ford doesn’t toy with cars anymore, so perhaps a it’s time to bring back the Ranchero. Or is that what the Ford Maverick is trying to accomplish? Sign me up.