UPDATED – Do you know your early Ford V8s like Scotty here? Can you call out a 1939 Deluxe or a 1938 Standard when you see them? It’s hot rod lore—stuff every gearhead ought to know. Motor City Garage will show you the easy ways to tell the Fords apart. Now includes ’39-40 Mercury.
…Most car enthusiasts know a 1932 or 1936 Ford when they see them. Their distinctive one-year styles make these cars easy to recognize. Other model years in the early Ford V8 era can be more difficult to sort out. For this we can thank Ford’s practice of using totally different front sheetmetal for the Standard and Deluxe passenger cars in these years; and even worse, the tendency for one year’s Standard model to mimic the previous year’s Deluxe. (Commercial bodies have their own issues to be covered another time.)
However, matters might not be as confusing as they may seem. Motor City Garage is here to break it down for you, year by year and model by model, using original factory photos for illustration.
We’ll start with the 1937 Ford. This would be Ford’s last passenger car for a few years in which the Standard or base model and the Deluxe shared the same sheet metal. The main visual signifier for ’37 is the grille, styled to evoke the Lincoln Zephyr introduced the year before. On the Ford Deluxe it’s bright metal and on the Standard it’s painted black. This is a 1937 Tudor Sedan in Standard trim. Note details such as the teardrop, non-sealbeam headlamps and the single, roof-mounted windshield wiper; they aid in differentiation.
The 1938 Standard is a sort-of facelift on the ’37. The same general grille theme is employed, but now wrapped around and carried down the sides of the hood without interruption. Note: In some years and materials, Ford used the official model names Standard and Deluxe, while in others the company apparently referred only to Ford and Ford Deluxe. Here MCG will use the terms Standard and Deluxe across the board in the interest of clarity.
Here’s where identification starts to be a little more complicated. This is a 1938 Deluxe, which uses totally different hood and grille sheet metal to distinguish it from the Standard. In the model years 1938 through 1940, Ford also periodically updated the bodies aft of the cowl, but not all body styles in the same years. This is a Convertible Sedan.
Here’s a 1939 Standard. The front doghouse is similar in theme to the ’38 Deluxe (and they’re often confused) but there are key differences, especially when the two are compared side-by-side. One easy tell: the shepherd’s crook or paper-clip hood side trim on the ’39, creating a scallop effect in the grille corners.
Here’s a 1939 Ford Deluxe, which has arguably the cleanest and plainest nose of the ’37-’40 passenger cars. Note the vertical grille slats; in the previous years they’re horizontal. This is a Tudor Sedan.
The 1940 Standard looks remarkably like a ’39 Deluxe but with different bright trim on the hood flanks and peak. The big difference for 1940 is the addition of sealbeam headlamps. The lamp bezels were painted body color on the Standard and plated on the Deluxe. Front door vent windows also made their first appearance this year, note.
And here’s the 1940 Deluxe sporting its distinctive three-piece grille with the center section done in bright metal and the two outboard segments painted body color. Note the cowl-mounted wipers and roof-mounted radio antenna.
September 14, 2012 — feature expanded to include 1939 and 1940 Mercury
For the 1939 model year, Ford’s upmarket Mercury line was introduced. Based largely on Ford components with a strong Ford styling flavor, the Mercury had a four-inch longer wheelbase, with the extra length added in front of the cowl to give the nose a longer profile. Styling chief E.T. Gregorie gave the new car what he called a “thick and heavy” look compared to the Ford. Note how the rear wheel arches droop down over the tires on this ’39 Mercury Tudor Sedan.
The ’39-’40 Mercury Coupe (’39 shown here) had a unique, hardtop-look roof with separate stainless frames for the glass. This wasn’t done entirely for style, but also to avoid the necessity for a full-surround door—the Coupe door was a half-height pressing shared with the convertible.
1940 Mercury Fordor Sedan. The ’39-’40 Mercury front doghouse looks rather similar to the ’39 Ford Deluxe or ’40 Standard, but there’s an easy way to tell the difference. The Ford’s grille slats are vertical, while the Mercury’s are horizontal. And just as with the ’39 vs. ’40 Ford, the ’40 Mercury is easy to distinguish from the ’39 due to its round, sealbeam headlamps.