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Post-War Car Design

A Facebook post by veteran motoring journalist Allan Dick describes the story of the Ford Pilot.  It was a reminder to me that there were just so many tales about the origins of the Pilot that, when writing the Ford in New Zealand book, I took the opportunity to tell it as it really was.  

Following the end of World War Two, all the the Ford Motor Company could realistically offer buyers was that there would be a Ford in your future!

At the beginning of the war, In 1939, British carmakers ceased all their civilian design and production capability in favour of war production.  Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941 the American carmakers did the same.

Following the end of the war, to kick start the industry Ford of Britain re-released their pre-war Ford 8 and Ford 10 models.  But Britain was effectively bankrupt and she still had the war to pay for.  So the British government looked to her export markets to earn overseas currency and insisted that all British manufacturers would export the majority of their production.  If they did not toe the government line, they simply would not receive raw materials.  For Ford this was a problem because their Commonwealth markets wanted large cars, which the Ford 8 and Ford 10 were not!

Before the war Ford of Britain had also produced a Ford V8, called the Model 62.  It's design was influenced by the restrictive British horsepower tax, so the Model 62 was smaller than the American V8s and, in appearance, it was more like the French Matfords.  Few were built - the export markets relied on American-sourced V8s and, in the home market, most who could afford to buy and run such a car would not have bought a mass-produced Ford.  However, for the post-war export drive, Ford of Britain resurrected the Model 62. 

Ford in America faced similar challenges, but they were more to do with shortages of labour and raw materials.  To kick start their post-war civilian production, Ford re-released the 1941-42 Ford V8 models.  When the first of these arrived in New Zealand in 1946 (see photo below left) they were marketed as a new model, because we had not seen a new car from America since 1939.  

By now, Henry Ford II was the head of the Ford Motor Company.  He was determined to produce new models, as quickly as possible, so as to save the company.  But it was not until 1948 that the first all-now post-war Ford was offered, in the form of the very first of the F-100 trucks, the "Bonus Built" (see photo above right).  This was the first pick-up designed by Ford as a pick-up, rather than as an adaptation of a car.

Meanwhile, Ford of Britain released the new Model 62 in August, 1947.  Just as the Ford 8 had become the Anglia, and the Ford 10 was now the Prefect, the Model 62 was also given a name - the Pilot.  The very first of these was fitted with the small 2.5-litre V8-60 motor, which quickly proved inadequate to power the car.  It is thought just six were built before the tried-and-true 3.6-litre V8 was resurrected for production.

And there lies the first of the tall stories concerning the Pilot - that they were all fitted with the baby V8-60.  Not so!  It was just six trial cars.  The second misnomer is that the Pilot is simply a revised 1936 Ford V8 (a claim that would astonish even a blind observer) and that the "36" badge on the radiator acknowledges that heritage.  No - that "36" is actually 3.6, which acknowledges the engine capacity.

Probably the most bizarre story about Ford Pilot (see photo below left) is that, when Henry II first saw it, he became so despondent with what the British arm of his company had produced that he burst into tears.  Rubbish!  Henry II was very much in touch with what was happening at each of the overseas branches and he knew exactly why the old Model 62 had had to be brought back to life.  

The Ford Pilot in the photo above is the highly-original example owned by Pilot enthusiast George Panfilow in Christchurch.  Yes, when it is compared to the design of the the 1946-1948 V8 from America (as above), the Pilot looks decidedly antiquated.  But, so too were all British cars at the time.  To illustrate that point, the dark green car beside it (above right) is another British pre-war design resurrected.  It is a Daimler - a model which has its origins back in the 1930s, which was also re-released post war as the DB18, and which was then "facelifted" in 1950 to become the Consort, "modernised" with built-in headlamps and a streamlined grille!  The Consort in the picture is from 1952.

Now, compare that to the design of the car that Ford in America released in 1949.....

That is the "Ford V8 Custom "Fortyniner" (above) and which comes with quite a story.  It is the product of "The Whizz Kids", who were taken on by Ford to save the business.  The Fortyniner was all new - except for the bits that weren't new, such as the sidevalve V8 engine and transmission.  But the suspension had been completely changed, and the slab-sided body indicated an exciting new future for Ford.

But the post-war planning for Ford of Britain was even more exciting!  At the 1950 London Motor Show their first all-new post-war design was shown - the 4-cylinder Consul and the 6-cylinder Zephyr (pictured below).  

Everything about these new British cars was new.  As you can see from the photos, the new Zephyr was very similar in appearance to the American Ford Custom.  But, under the skin, the changes were even greater than in the American car.  These were the "Five Star Cars", with each of those stars being an exciting technological innovation and a huge advance on all of Ford's past models.

Perhaps the biggest star was for awarded to the simple but effective MacPherson Strut independent front suspension.  This quickly went on to become the auto industry standard.  Under the bonnet was another very large star - the powerful overhead valve, oversquare engine which took full advantage of the removal of Britain's horsepower tax in 1948.  Brake and clutch operation was hydraulic, operated by pendant pedals.  Gone was the chassis - these cars were of monocoque design, and centre-slung seating promised a smooth ride for all aboard.

And, as we now know, everyone wanted to get aboard with the new Fords.  Just as we had been promised, these cars really were the Fords of our future!

But, as a reminder of where Ford of Britain had come from, the Consul and Zephyr would share new car showrooms right through until 1959 with another model that really did still date back to the 1930s - the Ford Popular.

This is all detailed in the Ford in New Zealand book, which includes all the local influences of out auto industry, including why we got the Ford Pilot here in New Zealand, but not the pre-war Model 62.   


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