1946 Ford Deluxe Convertible
1946 Ford Deluxe Convertible. Click image to enlarge

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Article and photo by Bill Vance

During the latter part of the Second World War and immediately following, the Ford Motor Company went through the worst period in its history. When founder Henry Ford’s son Edsel, the president of Ford, died in 1943, Henry again assumed the presidency. He was 80 years old and clearly not fit for the job.

He was under the strong influence of Harry Bennett, head of Ford’s Service Department (internal company police), an unsavoury character intent on gaining the presidency of Ford by being old Henry’s sycophant. While production chief Charles Sorensen, a 40-year Ford veteran and Henry’s most loyal employee, was busy keeping war production going, he was losing the internal political war to Bennett.

The U.S. government became so concerned about Ford’s chaotic management and its potential impact on war production it released Henry Ford’s 26-year old grandson (Edsel’s son) from the U.S. Navy to assume control. Old Henry stubbornly clung to the presidency, although the company was really being run by Bennett and Sorensen. In 1945 with the “persuasion” of his wife Clara, and Edsel’s widow Eleanor, he reluctantly stepped aside to make way for Henry Ford II.

Henry Ford II began as executive vice-president, and became president of Ford in 1945. He had the right instincts; his first administrative act was to fire Bennett. Sorensen had been allowed to drift away during old Henry’s dotage.

Under young Henry’s leadership, and the outstanding management team he built up, Ford gradually pulled out of the organizational morass that was reportedly losing it $10 million per month.

The first priority for all auto companies when the war ended in 1945 was to get back into civilian production to satisfy a starving market that had not seen a new car since February, 1942. Ford was the fastest, rolling its first 1946 Ford off the assembly line on July 3, 1945. It was presented to U.S. President Harry Truman.

The 1946, ’47 and ’48 Fords, slightly warmed over 1942s, carried Ford over until the arrival of its real company-saving, all-new 1949 model.

The Ford Motor Co. had redesigned its 1941 models from the bottom up. The stronger, X-braced frame came from the Mercury, and the bodies were bigger and roomier, thanks in part to a wheelbase increased from 2,845 mm (112 in.) to 2,896 mm (114 in.). But the transverse “buggy spring” suspension and solid front axle were still present, in spite of rivals Chevrolet and Plymouth both having independent front suspension since 1934.

The 1946s carried over the 1942 styling, the main difference being a horizontal bar grille replacing the vertical bar type.

Under the hoods of 1946 Fords could be found either six or eight cylinder engines. By far the most popular was the 3.9-litre (239 cu. in.), 100-horsepower V8 from the Mercury. In Canada, the old 85-horsepower, 3.6-litre (221 cu. in.) V8 was carried on until mid-1946, and the six was not made available.

The Ford six was a 3.7-litre (226 cu in.) 90-horsepower engine that been had introduced in 1941 as a replacement for the small, side-valve, 2.2-litre (136 cu. in.), 60-horsepower V8 that Ford brought out in 1937 as an economy model. The new six had good performance, in contrast to the sluggish V8 60 that had never enjoyed much popularity.

Ford offered a full line of 1946 cars, including a coupe, two-door sedan (Ford called it a Tudor), four door sedan (Fordor), convertible coupe and station wagon. They came in two series: Deluxe, and Super Deluxe.

In 1947, Ford added an attractive Sportsman, two-door convertible trimmed in wood, a la Chrysler Town and Country and Nash Suburban. There was also a Mercury version. The Sportsman was a limited production model to generate showroom interest, even though shoppers overwhelmingly ordered the more mundane models.

In spite of the Ford V8’s vaunted reputation for high performance, those post-war models were not that quick. Road & Track tested a 1947 Ford in its very first issue, June 1947, and reported a zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) time of 21 seconds and top speed of only 131 km/h (81.3 mph).

In comparison, Road & Track (2/’55) plotted 15 years of Chevrolet performance and reported that a 1941 Chevrolet, which wouldn’t be much different than a ’47, would accelerate to 96 (60) in 18.8 seconds, more than two seconds better than the ’47 Ford. The ’41 Chev’s top speed was 125 km/h (77.8 mph), probably a little slower than a ’47 Chev.

In spite of rather lacklustre performance, 1930s styling, and antiquated underpinnings, those 1946-’48 Fords developed a reputation as solid, reliable cars. They were replaced in mid-1948 by the new ’49 Ford, which was modern in every way.

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