Here’s a comprehensive guide that will show you how to identify the 1933 through 1936 Fords with all their ins and outs. We’ve rounded up scores of rare period photos, uncovered some unusual facts, and maybe even punctured a few popular myths, so come on along.
This is the second installment in the MCG car spotter’s guides. (The first was on the ’37 to ’40 Fords and Mercurys, which you can find here.) The story concept? We unabashedly ripped it off from Jeff Godshall’s wonderful spotter’s guides in the old (and much missed) magazine, Special Interest Autos. But where Godshall, a talented artist and car designer, was able illustrate the stories in his own hand, we must resort to photos, sticking to period and factory images when we can.
The ’33 to ’36 Fords are fairly well known today—or so one could assume. But even with these familiar cars, once drilling commenced there were a few surprises. Just goes to show that in automotive history, there’s always more to know. And that’s the fun of it.
If you would like to suggest a subject for a Spotter’s Guide feature, by all means drop us a note. MCG would love to hear from you. Ladies and gentlemen, the 1933 to 1936 Fords:
The Ford passenger car line was thoroughly updated for 1933, with a new body and longer, 112-inch wheelbase chassis to complement the revolutionary V8 engine introduced the year before. Most of the familiar Ford body styles were continued but with all-new styling, as with the ’33 Cabriolet shown above.
For the moment, make a note of the gently curving hood louvers and the single hood handle in the center of the hood side panel. These are the features that, in Ford lore, traditionally signify a 1933 model.
For the 1934 model year the passenger cars received a minor facelift, with the slightly scalloped grille profile and hood side louvers “de-arced,” that is, redrawn in ruler-straight form. Note also that the single, central hood handle has been replaced with two handles at opposite ends of the side panel—though only the rear handle is visible here.
This closeup of another ’34 Coupe also shows the straight grille and hood louvers. However, contrary to popular belief today, this was not a ’34 model change, strictly speaking. This was a running production change in September of ’33, whereas official 1934 production began in November ’33. So the curved grille and louvers do identity a ’33 passenger car, but a car with the straight grille and louvers could well be a ’33 or ’34. By the way. both model years were designated within Ford as Model 40.
The dashes in ’33 and ’34 Fords present a similar issue. Above is the dash used when the ’33 went into production. Note the separate, metal-finish instrument panel insert that attaches to the dash and houses the fuel, temperature, and speedometer gauges.
This dash is commonly referred to as a ’34, but actually it went into production late in the ’33 model year. Note there is no separate instrument panel insert; the gauges install directly into a low relief stamped into the dash pressing. In most other aspects the two dashes are similar.
MCG doesn’t mention these distinctions in order to sharpshoot anyone. If, from middle distance, folks want to keep on calling the curved-louvered cars ’33s and the straight-louver cars ’34s, that’s perfectly fine. Seems like a reasonable rule-of-thumb approach, actually.
There was one totally new body style introduced in 1934: a redesigned Victoria. Where previous Vickies (Model A, 1932, 1933) sported the familiar bustle-shaped rear bodywork, the new Victoria had a flat tail panel with, for the first time, an opening lid, shown above.
Deluxe body styles such as the Fordor Sedan, Cabriolet, and ’34 Victoria, shown here, were fully trimmed and finished by the body supplier (Murray, for example) and then carted to the Ford plant for body drop onto a chassis.
For 1935 the Ford passenger car line was again redesigned. The wheelbase remained 112 inches, but the front suspension was revised and the engine was shoved forward in the chassis to provide more volume in the passenger space. Accordingly, the resculpted grille was also moved forward, to well ahead of the spindle centerline, to maintain a long, pleasing hoodline. The cab itself was now bigger, rounder, and roomier in every direction
The Miller Ford race cars were a near-total washout in the Indianapolis 500 in 1935, but we included one here to note the strong ’35 production car flavor built into the design, mainly in the grille. A one-year design from the cowl forward, the ’35 is an easy spot.
The elegant Convertible Sedan body style was reintroduced in 1935 after a two-year hiatus. (Offered in ’32 but not in ’33 or ’34.) It was produced only in Deluxe trim.
One new feature for 1935 was the incorporation of an integral trunk. Available in both the Tudor and Fordor versions, these cars were marketed by Ford as Touring Sedans. The non-trunk models (small illustration upper right) were simply called Sedans in official Ford nomenclature. However, among hot rodders and restorers today, these are commonly known as flatback or slantback body styles. In similar fashion, the Touring Sedan is known in some quarters nowadays as a trunk sedan.
The ’36 Ford received new hood and grille sheet metal with a more rounded, nautical look, (Both Edsel Ford and his chief stylist Bob Gregorie were fans of marine design.) This was also the last year for separate headlamp pods in Ford passenger cars—from ’37 on, the lamp assemblies were faired into the fender and body sheet metal.
Additionally, in ’36 Ford’s welded wire wheels were finally retired, replaced with steel disc wheels in a bolt pattern that came to be known as “wide five” and was used from ’36 to ’39.
This was also the last year for the venerable Three Window Coupe, shown here (as in most years, available only in Deluxe.) Standard and Deluxe models for ’36 are most easily distinguished by their grilles: painted in Standard, chrome in Deluxe.
You can find dozens more ’33 to ’36 Fords to study in the slide show below, which includes both original photos and brochure renderings.