Hooray! It’s time for another thrilling episode of the MCG Car Spotter’s Guide! In this edition, we’re covering the Fords often credited with saving the company, the 1949 to 1951 models.
Today’s story is a tale of parking lamps. And taillamps and grille details. These are among the time-honored tools of the car spotter. Often, they’re the best way differentiate similar model years—say, in 1949-51 Fords, for example. In the accompanying photos, keep your eye on these subtle features and let’s dive in.
When the all-new ’49 Fords were introduced in June of 1948, the company was desperately in need of fresh product. The previous 1941-48 Fords, with their high-water body designs and buggy suspension, were obsolete the day they were introduced. The automaker rose to the challenge with the freshest styling from the Motor City for ’49.
The first Ford with a pure envelope body, with nary a hint of protruding fender or running board, the ’49 has been nicknamed the Shoebox Ford, a tag that seems unfair today. While a bit slab-sided, the design holds up well for its time. Of course, the signifying feature is the large bullet or spinner in the center of the grille.
Though the ’49s were plagued with development problems, including dust and water leaks, an entire suite of squeaks and rattles, and faulty front suspension geometry, the car was a big hit with the public with one million units sold. It was Ford’s biggest production year since 1930, and the company’s future was now secure under the leadership of 32 year-old Henry Ford II, grandson of the founder.
Here’s a 1949 Custom Tudor Sedan, Model 70B. Note the long rear side glass with opening quarter window. There were two trim levels for ’49, Standard and Custom, and five basic body types: Club Coupe, Tudor Sedan, Fordor Sedan, Convertible, and Station Wagon. Tudor Sedans like the above were by far the most popular, outselling all other body types combined.
For contrast, here’s the other two-door style, the sportier Club Coupe with its long deck and short rear passenger compartment. This body style was also offered in Business Coupe trim (72C) with a cargo platform replacing the rear seat.
The ’49-51 Station Wagon was also an all-new design. Offered only in a two-door version, the wagon featured a one-piece steel roof pressing, while the tailgate lower and external trim were wood (birch and maple). In 1950, wagons gained the name Country Squire.
For 1950, Ford addressed the ’49’s numerous first-year bugs, proclaiming the revised models “50 ways new” and “50 ways finer.” However, the ’49 and ’50 are nearly identical in appearance from middle distance. Here’s how to tell them apart. Above is the ’49 front end. Note the tapered parking lamps at the ends of the center grille bar and F-O-R-D spelled out in block letters over the center grille bullet.
And here is the minor 1950 facelift. The parking lamps are now rectangular and dwell below the grille bar in bright metal housings, while the block lettering on the hood has been replaced by the stylized Ford crest with red, white, and blue cloisonné. The differences are subtle but easy to spot once you’re aware of them.
And here’s a comparison at the rear. Above is the ’49, with modest oval taillamps and a bright metal deck lid handle, which also provides the license plate illumination.
The very similar ’50 Ford rear features a body-color deck handle and lamp assembly with a Ford crest above it to match the one on the hood.
Here’s a 1950 Custom Fordor Sedan in Cambridge Maroon Metallic. Again, note the revised parking lamp scheme for ’50. Though not quite visible here, the door handles were also changed for ’50, from a pull-type wishbone lever to a more modern push-button, another handy tell for car spotters.
Lacking a pillarless hardtop body style to compete with the new Chevrolet Bel Air, in 1950 Ford introduced the Crestliner, a Custom Deluxe Tudor post with special “Color Sweep” chrome trim, two-tone paint, and equally flashy interior in matching two-tone colors. Fender skirts and a padded vinyl top were also standard. Around 17,000 Crestliners were produced, compared to over 76,000 Bel Airs.
Of the three Shoebox Ford years, the ’51 is the easy spot: Instead of a single large spinner in the center of the grille, the ’51 uniquely sports a pair of smaller spinners. Note also the small, round parking lamps. This ’51 Custom convertible is shown climbing the carburetor grade at Ford’s Dearborn Proving Grounds, formerly Ford Airport. The building at upper left is the airport’s old passenger terminal, now long gone.
The real news for ’51 was the introduction of a pillarless hardtop. For the new body style, Ford revived the Victoria name, last used in 1934 on the automaker’s sporty close-coupled sedan. The Victoria, Crestliner, and Convertible were offered only with the 239 CID flathead V8, while the rest of the line could be had with the V8 or a 226 CID inline six.
The considerable body engineering required on the Victoria hardtop was directed by Gordon Buehrig, who was the designer of the famed Cord 810/812 15 years earlier. Note the Victoria’s three-piece rear glass and banded C-pillar treatment.
The zooty Crestliner Tudor was also continued for 1951 with revised side trim. This catalog art shows the matching interior configuration. Only around 8,000 ’51 Crestliners were produced, making them relatively rare today.
This view of a ’51 Tudor spotlights the changes to the rear for 1951. The taillamp fairings (“windsplits” in Ford styling lingo) are redone in bright metal, housing larger, more elaborate lenses. The deck handle is body color with bright trim, and the bright side moldings wrap around the body at the bottom of the deck lid. Cars equipped with the Ford-O-Matic automatic transmission (originally developed by Borg-Warner and new for ’51) wear a Ford-O-Matic badge over the deck lid handle.
Below are a few more ’49-’51 Fords. Can you name the years, car spotters?
Ford Custom Fordor Sedan and Country Squire Wagon
Ford Custom Club Coupe
Ford Custom Tudor Sedan