Wood you know the difference?

E ven the most partisan Chevy fan will, if asked politely, admit that Ford has built some nice cars over the years. If that Chevy fan remembers the hot rod era, he might well cite the 1939 and 1940 DeLuxe models as notable examples. The two would be good choices, even if they’re not quite the near-twins they seem to be at a quick glance.

Between the two years, Ford DeLuxe models in any body style show changes that might not be picked up by the casual observer, but the station wagons, in particular, wear features whose differences range from barely detectable to fairly clear. The biggest passenger compartment change is probably in the doors, as the 1939 body uses front-opening suicide doors at the rear, while the 1940 model’s doors are rear-opening all around. Beyond that, the changes are considerably more low-key: the ribs on the doors and quarter panels are styled and positioned differently, and thanks to some other comparably subtle revisions, the later body looks far more modern.

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Ready to go surfing? Better be able to tell the difference between a 1939 and ’40 Ford DeLuxe wood body first. To shake out the difference, look at the roof; ’39 models, like the example pictured here, have a lower and flatter roof, and the rear doors are hinged at the back.

The upper edge of the 1940 windshield post curves slightly rearward and allows for a better transition to the roof line than the 1939’s straighter post could provide. That’s a small improvement, but one that’s much more easily seen in the shape of the corresponding section of the door. It’s also mirrored at the rear post through some well-placed softening and rounding along the outer top of the body. All in all, Ford produced a much smoother look for its wagon in 1940.

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Changes between 1939 and 1940 Ford DeLuxe woodies extend beyond their grille and head lamp types. The 1940 Ford station wagon bodies, like the example pictured above, feature a rounder roof and front door window frames and every door opens at the front. And that’s just the start.

Ford sold 6,155 DeLuxe wagons in 1939, a figure that rose to 8,730 for 1940. It’s difficult to credit only the revisions to the wagon body for the increase, given the other changes to the cars between those years. At the time, Ford was taking an interesting approach to differentiating its Standard and DeLuxe models. In a given year, the DeLuxe would be restyled and the Standard would receive a close copy of the previous year’s DeLuxe look; the owner of the earlier DeLuxe had a car that still seemed new, but unfortunately for him, it actually seemed like the new cheaper model. Still, in DeLuxe form, Ford certainly succeeded with both the 1939 and 1940 models.

The 1939’s vertical-bar grille forms a wide “V” to match the point of the hood and the curve of the fenders – thus creating an impression that the car is wider than it really is – while slightly teardrop-shaped headlight bezels surround the last of the pre-sealed beams. Being a DeLuxe, of course, it’s not short on chrome. Beyond the headlight bezels, grille and bumper, the hood wears a chrome center strip over its entire length from the grille back, in addition to side strips and small bars at the front. The windshield wipers are of bright metal, as are the windshield frames, which are separated by a thin piece of body-color steel.

It all adds up to an attractive package with a nice art deco flavor, a statement equally true of the updated 1940 DeLuxe. Clearly, just one direct step from the previous year’s car and carrying the same general shape, the 1940 model wears enough detail changes to set it apart, and the most obvious is the grille. “V-ed” outward like its predecessor to match the hood shape, it lost the slight center dip and switched from vertical bars to horizontal units. A lone vertical bar remained at center to line up with the hood’s pointed tip.

In fact, the grille was now made up of two sets of much thinner bars with the center halves chromed and bracketed by a pair painted in the same color as the body. Those outboard grilles ‘ each broken by three horizontal chrome strips ‘ flow up and back into character lines on the slightly restyled hood that retains the center chrome and just one strip on each side. If the 1940 gave up some flash in the grille and hood, it offset the loss with its thicker headlight bezels that now housed sealed beams.

Mechanically, though, cars from the two years are much more alike. The hydraulic brakes that appeared in 1939 were, of course, retained for 1940. Both rely on the same flathead V-8, three-speed transmission, transverse springs and torque-tube drive, but for 1940, Ford moved the shifter to the column. With the addition of a flathead six for 1941, that basic mechanical package would see Ford through until 1949, when the company would introduce its first postwar design.

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