1932 Ford Model B
1932 Ford Model B. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

The 1932-1934 four-cylinder Fords could be called the forgotten cars. Although they had the best four-cylinder engine Ford had ever built, with more power than the Model A, and sleek new Lincoln-inspired styling, they were doomed to languish in the shade of a more famous sibling. In spite of their virtues, Models B and C were overshadowed by that glamorous upstart fitted with Henry Ford’s exciting new V8 engine.

There is no doubt that the V8 was a sensation, bringing the smoothness of V8 power, heretofore the preserve of wealthier car buyers, into the realm of the average motorist.

Henry Ford had been planning to increase the number of cylinders in his engines for some time. The Model A Ford, introduced in late 1927 as a 1928 model, had been one of the most eagerly awaited new cars of all time, but it was still a four.

Like the Model T Ford, the car that put much of the world on wheels, the Model A had a four-cylinder, side-valve engine, albeit a smoother and more powerful one than the T. Sales started out strongly, but declined as the years passed.

A good part of the reason was that archrival Chevrolet had scooped its main competitors, Ford and Plymouth, with its all-new overhead valve six which offered “just a little more” for 1929. When Henry saw this he made up his mind; Ford would go to an eight.

V8 engines were not new, but because the cylinder block had traditionally been assembled from several pieces they were expensive and time-consuming to produce. This limited them to expensive automobiles.

Work on the new V8 began in secret in 1930 with three trusted engineers working under Henry’s direct supervision in a building at his Greenfield Village museum in Dearborn. Henry’s genius was to envisage a V8 engine block cast in one piece. Even though his engineers told him it couldn’t be done because of the intricacy of the casting, Henry refused to be dissuaded. It would turn out to be his last major technical contribution.

Finally, with the strong contribution of Henry’s closest aid, pattern-maker Charles (Cast Iron Charlie) Sorensen, a workable V8 engine emerged with a one-piece block. The new Ford V8 made its debut on March 31, 1932.

But not everyone was a devotee of eight-cylinder engines. “Twice the cylinders, twice the gas,” they said. Other cracker-barrel philosophers insisted, erroneously, that pistons running on a slant would wear out on the bottom side. Some of this armchair engineering did seem to be vindicated when many of the early Ford V8s quickly became oil guzzlers.

It took a while, but the engineers finally got the bugs worked out of the new V8, and it became as much of a Ford trademark as the Model T had been. It also became the favourite engine among hot rodders because of its potential for much higher horsepower output with relatively modest modifications.

In order to appease the conservative buyers who were not yet ready to accept eight-cylinder power, and to cover himself should the eight, God forbid, not be a success, Ford quietly continued the four.

The 1932 Model B, as the four was called, used the same body as the eight, but it could be distinguished from its more powerful, 65-horsepower sister by the lack of a V8 emblem on the headlamp tie-bar, and Ford script, rather than V8, embossed on the hubcaps.

The Model B was an improved Model A. Its side-valve engine was given a higher compression ratio, a stronger crankshaft, automatic spark advance, larger carburetor and manifold, and more aggressive valve timing. The result was 50 horsepower, 10 more than the Model A.

The 1933 Fords were restyled, moving away from the angular upright Model A look and taking on a more streamlined character. The wheelbase was increased from 2,692 mm (106 in.) to 2,845 mm (112 in.), which contributed to a better ride and added to the stylish appearance. The grille and windshield were more slanted, and valences were added to the fenders. The power of the V8 was increased by five hp to 75 with such changes as better ignition, higher compression, and improved cooling.

As previously, the four-cylinder model, now known as the Model C, was similar in appearance to the V8 except for identifying badges. But by now the new eight cylinder engine was in full flight and sales of the four declined dramatically.

Ford styling changed little for 1934 and the V8 increased its popularity and reputation for spiritedness even further with the addition of 10 more horsepower, now 85, where it would stay for several years. The Model C four, which would find less than 2,000 buyers that year, was discontinued.

The 1932-34 four-cylinder Fords were good enough cars but they were no match for the smooth, quiet and powerful V8, and thus they have been almost forgotten by history.

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